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April 26, 2009

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Every Day Like Paris For The First Time

Jonah Lehrer + Allison Gopnik on baby brains:

The hyperabundance of thoughts in the baby brain also reflects profound differences in the ways adults and babies pay attention to the world. If attention works like a narrow spotlight in adults - a focused beam illuminating particular parts of reality - then in young kids it works more like a lantern, casting a diffuse radiance on their surroundings.

“We sometimes say that adults are better at paying attention than children,” writes Gopnik. “But really we mean just the opposite. Adults are better at not paying attention. They’re better at screening out everything else and restricting their consciousness to a single focus.”

This (in bold) is the money-quote, though:

Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults. She compares the experience of being a baby with that of watching a riveting movie, or being a tourist in a foreign city, where even the most mundane activities seem new and exciting. “For a baby, every day is like going to Paris for the first time,” Gopnik says. “Just go for a walk with a 2-year-old. You’ll quickly realize that they’re seeing things you don’t even notice.”

I can confirm that this is true.

Also, peep this graph charting synaptic activity + density according to age (via Mind Hacks):


Apparently, that’s where the real action is: contra Lehrer’s article, baby brains don’t actually have more neurons than adults, but way more (and way denser) synapses (aka the connections between neurons).

Also, just to free associate on the whole synapse thing: I had knee surgery a few weeks ago to repair a torn quadriceps tendon, and I’m in physical therapy now. Part of my PT involves attaching electrodes to my thigh to induce my quad to flex (this is called “reeducating the muscle.”).

Anyways, it is always weird to confirm that we are just made out of meat, and that if you run enough electrical current through a muscle, it’ll react whether or not your brain tells it to. That’s all your brain is — an extremely powerful + nuanced router for electricity.

Posted April 26, 2009 at 7:22 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Science


Maybe that's what *your* brain is, Tim. Mine nowadays is a capable and somewhat nuanced router for electricity. Except during power failures.

Great post, and wonderful image from Gropnik and how appropriate from The Flâneur. I was almost 30 before I first saw Paris and it's still burned deep into the memory core.

Posted by: Howard Weaver on April 27, 2009 at 04:29 AM

Ever since Matt mentioned health writers like Atul Gawande yesterday I've been browsing Amazon for other reads. I stumbled upon this (does HTML work in here? I guess we'll see!) and really want to read it, but I think it might freak out my boyfriend. Young women of childbearing age should be able to read well-written socio-medical works without the assumption that they are hormonal and baby-obsessed, dammit! :)

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