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Antique Blogs – Learning to Learn

Smallkate I wrote this in 1979 just after our daughter Katrina was born. As you can see, she’s now grown up and may not forgive me for posting this.

A few weeks ago my daughter Katy was born. She started out terribly; grey, streaked with blood, and with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Central Vermont Hospital took care of all that very well and now she is less the worse for wear than I am.

But she is helpless, incredibly helpless. It’s been a few years since I’ve had an infant to watch and I’d forgotten. She can’t hold her huge head up; she can’t use her hands; and her eyes discover the world piece by piece at random.

No other mammal has babies nearly as helpless as ours. Even blind puppies walk to their first nursing.  And the reflexive curling of Katy’s toes reminds me that, if she were a monkey, she’d already he able to hold onto a branch.

One theory is that the head is the problem. For better or for worse, humans have brains proportional1y far bigger than those of other species. The head built to contain this giant brain has run into an evolutionary trap. It’s almost too big to be born.

That is why humans have more trouble with childbirth than other species. And so, the theory goes, in order to be born at all, humans must be born prematurely. In other words, human babies are so helpless because they are still in an advanced state of fetal development. If they waited until they were as developed as other mammal babies, their heads would he too large for delivery.

I think there is another reason in the grand scheme of things why our babies are born with so much to learn.

The babies of other species come preprogrammed. They already have most basic motor skills. In general, the lower down the evolutionary ladder a species is, the more adult skills its babies have built in.

Our babies know how to nurse. Everything else they have to learn. It seems very inefficient that we have to learn to lift our heads, then learn to roll over, then creep, then walk. But I think this inefficiency serves a purpose.

While my daughter Katy is learning the simple task of making her hand touch what her eye sees, she will also he learning how to learn. As she tries and fails and tries again, her mind will learn how to retain experience. As her left hand learns what her right hand knows, her mind will learn to reason and extrapolate.

As Katy takes a year to learn the motor skills a monkey is born with, she will be preparing herself for the great task of mastering a spoken language. As she struggles pitifully to make a rattle work right, she will he learning to learn to read and write.

Above all, we are nature’s best learners. We have very dull eyes, puny teeth, a weak sense of smell, and we don’t hear very well. Our physical prowess is probably the laughingstock of the animal kingdom. But we can learn. We learn how to learn while we learn how to walk.

Welcome, Katy, to a genuine learning experience. And good luck.


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great post indeed!
Very thought provoking post. like others, i too believe that, who or what is responsible for such human births.
its quiet veyr disheartening and depressing to see helpless human births.

but you see impossible is nothing! with efforts and perseverance, we can help such peoples to live a more normal and an independent life.


I was thinking the difference between human babies and others is more like free-market vs socialism. In free-market people interact and learn and adjust. It is painful, difficult and long process of learning just like it is for human babies. In contrast, socialism freezes a structure of production and distribution that seems huge, and almost working from the start-go. Like the way Russia seemed to progress moving way past US in technology during the cold War. But we know the long term results.


Posts like this is the reason I started reading blogs. Very thought provoking. But I don't understand why humans would be born this way? I mean, who decides that humans should be helpless at birth while almost all other species can walk and run immediately after birth?

Michael Parekh


I think this great antique post officially makes you the world's first blogger.



That is exactly the point.

Why computer's programs of today are far away from human brain.

They are built as a finished product.
It can do a lot, millions of functions, but it stops there.
The computer in human brain has a very reduced number of functions, but has what no computer's program has: the function of learning.
And not just with a logic function like a syllogysm, if A is B and B is C then A is C.

The human brain can see when A can be C and when it cannot.
For the computer program those functions are very reduced and very definitive.
A computer will never understand that A could be C in the case of a rational behaviour, but it would never be C in an irrational behaviour.

The human brain is rational enough to understand also the irrational.

And the fact we cannot walk or do anything else when we are born is done on purpose.
We ARE OBLIGED to learn, that is, WE ARE OBLIGED to use our brain in order to survive, and WE ARE OBLIGED to develop it.

That is the side effect of being born human.
(even though lately I am beginning to doubt about the humanity of many...)


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