Why is it we dont see skin bags but husbands and

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Why is it we don’t see skin-bags but husbands and wives and children—people with thought and feelings, beliefs and desires like ours, including wounded pride that demands apologies? We don’t even really see the things in the room, either. The brown, bounded shape we think of as the table perpetually changes its form as we move around it. The apparently solid three-dimensional spoons and pepper mills are really just flat surface images on our eyes. The feel of the spoon in our hands is quite different from the shape we see. The surface of the table is full of discontinuities: white holes where it is hidden by plates and bowls. The soup changes its form even more radically as it moves from tureen to spoon to mouth until we lose sight of it altogether and only feel the warmth in our throats. We seem to know about a world of objects with prop- erties that are quite independent of us, a world of tables and spoons and healthy soup. But all we experience directly is an endlessly changing chaotic flow of sensations. This is the Ex- ternal World problem. The problem is perhaps worst of all when we turn to the sounds that come out of the holes in the skin-bags. Sit in a caf é in a foreign city. Suddenly you’ll realize that the thoughts and jokes and apologies that float so unself-consciously around the dinner table are really a blazingly fast succession of finely modulated noises, each just barely different from the last. Each word is actually nothing but a transitory whisper of a disturb- ance in the air that lasts for milliseconds until it’s replaced by the next. The most sophisticated computers can Ancient Questions and a Young Science / 5
barely decode continuous speech spoken by a single person in a calm voice. Yet for us the words are completely transpar- ent: we experience only the ideas of the people who speak them. We can hear a sentence spoken by a little boy with a soul full of excited indignation and a mouth full of soup and turn it effortlessly into a thought. This is the problem of Language. The sensitive three-year-old little brother at the table can do all these things, too. He experiences his brothers teasing him, not skin-bags moving. He sees tables and spoons and healthy soup, not undifferentiated colors and shapes. And he immedi- ately understands the significance of the rude joke and the apology that are actually no more than the most fleeting vibra- tions. How can he do it? Baby 0.0 The modern answer to this question is that babies are a kind of very special computer. They are computers made of neurons, instead of silicon chips, and programmed by evolution, instead of by guys with pocket protectors. They take input from the world, the flickering chaos of sensations, and they (and there- fore we) somehow turn it into jokes, apologies, tables, and spoons. Our job as developmental psychologists is to discover what program babies run and, someday, how that program is coded in their brains and how it evolved. If we could do that, we would have solved the ancient philosophical problems of

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