Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm with Her

Catching up with aging copies of The New Yorker magazine, I read an article by Margaret Talbot, "The Baby Lab: How Elizabeth Spelke peers into the infant mind (September 4, 2006 [yes, I'm that far behind!]).

The article is interesting, delves into research about early development of children and how their baby minds interpret the world, and notes the "uniquely human is the capacity to combine such core abilities—through the medium of language, Spelke surmises—into more sophisticated capabilities. . . ."

Talbot's article details: Spelke's work with eminent child psychologist Jerome Kagan, Spelke's acknowledgment of how Robert Fantzs' studies of the late nineteen fifties "gave us a set of tools that let us play Twenty Questions with a baby, visual stimuli, babies' implicit knowledge, and Steven Pinker's admiration for and later disagreements with Spelke—possibly due to gender differences.

Needless to say, I've grossly simplified an article that's a bit over my head, the ending of the article struck a chord especially in light of the current election and the disaster of a debate last night (to use only once a word the Republican candidate repeated so often it could spawn a drinking game).

Talbot quotes Elizabeth Spelke's post on Edge, a Web publication that airs scientific controversies:  "Humans are capable of discovering that our core conceptions are false and of replacing them with truer ones." Spelke's post continues:

Nobody should be troubled by our research, whatever we come to find. . . . Everybody should be troubled by the phenomena that motivate it: the pervasive tendency of people all over the world to categorize others into different social groups, despite our common and universal humanity, and to endow these groups with social and emotional significance that fuels ethnic conflict and can even lead to war and genocide.

Talbot's final paragraph, written only a year after Donald Trump's (1950s frat boy) locker room banter, is partly upsetting, partly prophetic, and slightly hopeful.

This mirrors her [Spelke's] belief that, in time, feminism will embolden more women to take up high-level careers int the physical sciences, and more of us will recognize how alike men's and women's minds really are. For Spelke, who has spent most of her life documenting the core knowledge that we're born with, the more important thing about it is our uniquely human ability to rise above it.

In an election where one candidate's unevolved core knowledge is dragging down discourse, I can only hope that Hillary Clinton can rise and stay above so that citizens who are currently responding with their guts will do a "Wait. What?" and vote with their heads.

CAPTION: some of the campaign buttons from The Forty-Five Pin Project, art directed by the Hillary Clinton campaign Design Director, Jennifer Kinon.

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