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Daddy or Unicorn Fairy? | by jurvetson
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Daddy or Unicorn Fairy?

I am already doing the newborn gaze studies with A:B testing, as I leaned in Alison Gopnik's book Scientist in the Crib. Yeah, baby is more interested in magic unicorns than her papa.


I have gifted this book more than any other (to geek friends about to have their first child). It is not a parenting book, but it kindles an awe and awareness for the marvel of their minds, especially in the pre-verbal years when it might otherwise be difficult to connect.


And it leads to some practical experiments once you understand that babies signal their interest in things by where they focus their gaze, and that shifts over time as their brain develops.


At birth, much of the vision system is bootstrapping the vision system, from the color space to distance vision and initially edge detection. I took advantage of this at the hospital, when my son was one day old. I noticed that when I pushed the bassinet with the sleeping baby through the hospital hallway, his eyes would pop open as I turned the corner. When I looked up, I saw a right angle in the long line of fluorescent lights. And sure enough, when I closed my eyes and looked up, I could see the sharp edge of light through my closed eyelids. This was like food for baby’s developing brain; it made him happy to open his eyes to this visual treat. And it made it easy to get him to open his eyes for visitors by repeating this trick for them.


And when my daughter was first learning to speak, and had not mastered all of the sounds, I noticed her gaze flip around to me when a made a b or p sound. Imagine learning those for the first time. It is a very subtle difference in mouth position. And how else could we learn this but to watch someone else. So, I then had many days of enjoyable phoneme practice with her as she came to master the elements of speech.


I think Scientist in the Crib is fascinating not just for life in the crib, but for what it tells us about scientists as well. It is inspirational for adult life. From what I can see, the best scientists and engineers nurture a child-like mind. They are playful, open minded and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure. Newton and Feynman are famous examples.


I have come to celebrate the “child-like” mind. Here is one of Gopnik key conclusions: "Babies are just plain smarter than we are, at least if being smart means being able to learn something new.... They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations and even do experiments…. In fact, scientists are successful precisely because they emulate what children do naturally."

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Taken on November 19, 2019