Sunday, October 01, 2006

From bright to boring.

Back in college, when we first had to use scientific calculators, most of my classmates bought the standard "prescribed model". Since I already had a scientific calculator at home, I did not buy a new one, though mine was a slightly different model. My friends' calculators had the Power On/Off button in the top right hand corner, and mine had the Power On button in the middle row, towards the right.

As it happens so many times, someone always needed a calculator urgently for some reason, and when their own was not within their reach, they would grab the nearest calculator lying around. Whenever anybody took mine, they would not find the Power On button. They would nearly panic and say, "Hey, your calcy doesn't have an On button! Where is it? Where is it?" All this, in spite of the fact that the Power ON button was the sole bright Red button among arrays and arrays of dull grey buttons, with "On" written prominently on it. Not one of them found it by themselves, because they were looking at the Top right hand corner.

Once, I had left this calculator lying somewhere at home. My cousin, barely 10 months old, crawled up to it, sat down, took it in his hands, drew out a small fat finger and pressed the On button, driving me into fits of delighted laughter. The next time anybody asked me where the Power On button was, all I would say was, "If my 10 month old cousin could find it at one go, so can you".

My uncle told me of an incident, where he took his one year old son to an art exhibition. My uncle paused before a painting of "modern art", and all that he could see was a hotchpotch of colours. As he was about to move on, his son suddenly shrugged his shoulders a couple of times, making the gesture he usually made when he wanted to denote a horse. My uncle, looked around, surprised, wondering where his son had spotted a horse, and then, with the image of the horse in mind, he looked at the very same painting he had been looking at all that while. He was startled. He could clearly discern a horse (misshapen, perhaps, but still, clearly a horse) amid that "mess of colours".

Learning: Kids are cleverer than us. (??) well, not exactly. Perhaps it is just that they have more open minds. Their brains are not conditioned. They still have the ability to see what is not always visible. Or they can see the obvious, while we miss it, because we don't expect to see it there.

Question: When, why, and how do we lose this ability that we had as children, and why do we grow up to be the boring one-dimensional people that we are now? I am sure there are many ways that we can again develop that kind of thinking and outlook. But, is there any way we can prevent our children from losing this natural gift?

27 comments:

anoop said...

I dont know how, but, i was thinking along the same lines. It would be good if a person got a re-start after 25 years of life on this planet.
a start with no prejudices,
a start with no beliefs,
a start with "selective amnesia"...

Anonymous said...

Unfortuantely,we are all victims of our own environments! For example, if we move to a new country with a totaly different culture from the one we are born and raised in, over a period of time, we find ourselves thinking differently!
-S

Annu said...

Children have open minds and generally are not biased while thinking. But as we grow up, our minds are conditioned to think in the way society does. It is upto us to retain our natural way of thinking as we grow up. Upto certain extent, we need someone to tell us in the beginning also it can always learnt through self learning.

Viky said...

Much depends on the people around, and how they mould the minds of their children.

Children should be allowed to explore. Their creativity should be allowed to bloom and flourish, and not nipped in the bud.

My little niece, when given a set of blocks, and asked to make a sun, chooses only the blocks which are bent at one end and makes a perfect circle. Even if you give her a straight block, she throws it away.

Kids see everything around them and relate it to something in their mind. The next time they see the object, they make a relationship. Their notations are different. How often do we not see a thing, just because we are not looking close enough - your calcy episode being a classic testimony to the same.

And when some of us do retain the ability to look at things like that, we dub them "lateral thinkers". :D

Inder said...

i think that we are pretty fine the way we are now. as we grow, our minds gets preoccupied by our own likes, goals, ambitions, dreams, desires, achievements, etc. i think it is pretty normal and perfectly agreeable.

the minds of kids are like clean slates and are very fresh. they are amused by the world around them and they look at it with keener eyes. when they grow up, their visions narrow down and they start looking for only what they want in their lives.

during the mid phase of our lives, we are busy making our lives better. during this phase, we are too busy and pre-occupied that we don't have time or desire to look at the world around us. we do it again when we step into the late phase of our lives.

i think one who exhibits child-like enthusiasm towards things during his/her mid-life is termed a dreamer/loser... :P

Gaby said...

There are two things that are thought to diminish and even eliminate child-like thinking- growing up and education. Since one is ineveitable what can be done for the other. It is argued that the uni dimensional thinking of adults which is blamed as being responsible for most ills is also responsible for most conveniences including the luxury of blogging- so is a pro quid pro for the child-like wonder at things.
The tabula rasa or blank slate theory is a romantic one- but not something any child would agree with- a reason to think adults are not so unidimensional and children are not so open minded as we make them out to be.
humans have children- only goats have kids- but we insist on the nomenclature of children as kids, ha ha ha

Chaitanya said...

I find kids Sharp, very Sharp! And a natural phenomenon that I see is we lose this sharpness as we grow and its a continuous process :-(

Why it had to be like this, God only knows ;-)

Chaitanya

GuNs said...

[:-D}Modern art is impossible for people with "developed" mentalities to understand. More often than not, I think these artists are making a fool out of everyone and earning millions. They draw some crap and then they say its a horse...so then everyone tries to FIND a horse in it and the way our mind works, we convince ourselves into believing its actually a horse somewhere in the painting !!

-PeAcE
--WiTh
---GuNs

GuNs said...

[:-D}Modern art is impossible for people with "developed" mentalities to understand. More often than not, I think these artists are making a fool out of everyone and earning millions. They draw some crap and then they say its a horse...so then everyone tries to FIND a horse in it and the way our mind works, we convince ourselves into believing its actually a horse somewhere in the painting !!

-PeAcE
--WiTh
---GuNs

chitra said...

Hmmm...we become focussed and goal-oriented thus losing track of all the "obvious" things in life.. :)

Anonymous said...

"calcy" ? May be this is a special word in indian english. I always thought it was "calC" in both written (abbrv) and spoken forms.

Anurama said...

Kids accept things as they are. As grown-ups, we want to change things the way we want them to be. Many of us dread to think of sitting at home without work.. It is this fear that drives us away from our creative self..

Madhooo said...

Yes, shruthi, as we grow we lose innocence and our minds become very rigid and closed. And that is why we probably become miserable and depressed. Somehwere I think we need to keep in touch with kid in us. We should let that kid out frequently.:)

Shruthi said...

Anoop, very true. I have another wish - similar to your selective amnesia - that some fab experiences could be erased from my mind so that I can re-experience them with the same first time euphoria.

S, yeah that is true.

Annu, as children, we do not realize how special is the gift that we have, and by the time we realize, it is too late. So yes, we definitely need somebody to tell us - but how?

Viky, ha ha! Good point about "lateral thinkers" - whereas that is the kind of thinking we were born with ;)
I think school is the culprit, partially - what do you think?

Inder, there is nothing wrong with us. It is just that life is much more beautiful and fulfilling when you see it the eyes of a child. And what is life about really? Being happy, isn't it, ultimately?
And if people can see how many "dreamers/losers" are happier than they are..., they wouldn't even think of calling them by those names! ;)

Gaby, ha ha ;)
If we forever remain with the childlike mentality, in all affairs of our lives, there is no hope for us. We have to grow up, for sure. But we can still retain childlike thinking for certain relevant parts of our life - I think the effort is worth it!

Chaitanya, we learn more, but we become duller, don't we? As people, that is :) More intelligent, but not interesting enough ;)

Shruthi said...

Guns, that might have been a valid argument, if it hadn't been totally opposite to the example I have tried to portray :) The child had no idea about art, modern, or not. He just happened to see a horse in the painting. Whereas we think that haaa anyway its a mess, lets move on to the next painting.
Though I don't claim to understand "modern art", I do not dismiss it. Some paintings make no sense, but are pleasant-looking nonetheless. I am sure there is something of value there, for the people who can discern it.

Chitra, yeah. exactly - like the blinders(?) of a horse!

Anon, I haven't seen it in written form, ever. Anyway, does it really matter? Both are atrocious abbreviations! ;)

Anurama, Rightly said. We see what we want to see. And your last sentence - that's thought-provoking. Thanks.

Madhooo, absolutely! And have you noticed that we are happiest when we have just let the child out? (Dancing in the rain, singing at the top of our voices, etc) ;))

Anonymous said...

Yes Shruti ... it is indeed sad that as we grow up and face the various challenges in life, Life itself teaches us to look at our reality differently!! Each person's reality is different and so each views the same phenomena differently - what is a "Horse" tosomeone can be " a mess of colour " to another ..... our formal education also does not help us to perceive - it teaches us to view everything in a predefined way thereby killing the creativity & initiative in most children.

Anonymous said...

As I read through the original post and comments..I remembered a saying " Be a child, If u can"
The most difficult proposition ever posed!!!! As we grow our prejudices rule us and stops us from accepting things as they are, being inquisitive, experimenting, and the zeal for relentless perserverance to achieve. Everytime we go ahead exploring we start feeling stupid of ourselves to ask others of things unknown to us and instead step back.
Learning ceases minute we cross a milestone WHY?...
why does the quest to know more, seek more stop?..
answers anybody

ANN said...

Adults create their own perceptions of reality, stay in it and they try not to change it. We all get into comfort zone. Children, in contrast dont limit themselves. An adult can be a 'child' if you break those reality perceptions once in a while. Try learning something new.. try asking 'why should it not be like it'..try breaking down something and putting back together..try taking a random bus and get down at a random stop (you will realise, your own city is a lot more different than you think it is)... keep the 'child' in you alive! simple, aint it?

yhac said...

"..Perhaps it is just that they have more open minds. Their brains are not conditioned..."

Exactly! Depending on the nature of the activity, the conditioning happens sometime between the second and fifth years I believe. Also, the increased ability of a child at tasks he is expected to perform as a normal adult, is often at the expense of this unconditioned state.
To be more efficient at some thing, you need to get conditioned to it.

For example, native japanese speakers can't distinguish between "r" and "l"(if I remember correctly) but they can when they are infants. They lose the ability sometime around their second year, approximately the time when they begin to pick up their own language.

raj plus said...

I saw a French movie (with English sub-titles) titled, "Newton's Apple", two days back. One of the characters, realising that extraordinary things were happening to ordinary people around him, sums it up this way, "When you see an apple fall, you can dismiss it as a mere apple falling. Or, like Newton, you can look at it and discover the principles of the Universe. It all depends on you".

We can't be children for ever, but we can try to retain that child-like enthusiasm and curiosity. As Marcel Proust put it," The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new lands, but in looking at the world through new eyes".

I must add, Shruthi, that I have discerned and admired the child-like enthusiasm that characterises your blog posts. So, you are best qualified to answer your own question that you have raised in the last para.

Anonymous said...

[ From a different/new anon ]

For the popular (populist ?) bloggers: Folks, could some of you write about chiken guinea (sp?), denuge, etc. that are affecting a lot of people in india lately. The chiken guinea seems to be a well studied and well understood disease but there does not seem to be anybody interested in making a vaccine. The last time somebody wanted to do this in 2000, they gave up for lack of funds after/before conducting trials for a new vaccine.

How about all of us writing to WHO collectively (throu' signature campaign) about somebody (like USA) funding this ? We know for sure that India will not fund until sonia gandhi is infected. And I'm sure none of the indian pharma labs will come forward for the fear that indian govt will price it for 1-paise the moment it is proven.

What a sickening (pun intended) state of affairs we have in this country :-(

sorry to be making an irrelevant (and/or uninteresting) comment here. I know you guys want to blog on more fun topics - but I've been going around making this (uninteresting) appeal to a few popular bloggers to see if something can be done using the blogosphere as the platform..

Thanks for reading...

Viky said...

Hmm, school? I don't know. It happens at all levels. Parents do it, too. But yes, given the exposure to "teachers" the kids have at an impressionable age, I think the school plays an important part.

Sometimes prejudices and lifestyles are developed by peer groups - friends in schools, room mates in colleges, etc. Remember how parents compare among siblings or cousins. That too contributes to curtail the creativity of a child.

It gets into a mode where it has do outdo every competitor, and loses out on a lot of other things. The success of so many "tuitions" in Bangalore and Mysore is a in-your-face example of the scenario.

Remember, we all were born very intelligent - education ruined us.

n said...

Habits, experience, laziness and change-resistance are some of the reasons for thinking and behaving a certain way. I disagree that children are more open-minded than adults (more curious perhaps). Grown-ups have simply seen a lot more than kids.

In your example of the calcy, the baby pushed the one bright object it saw probably for the first time. Might be worth seeing if the baby would play with the start button in another calcy in the top right position after “working” on yours for a number of times. Similarly, if the other kid had seen enough paintings (or their images) or heard/read about modern art being abstract, he probably wouldn’t have found the horse. Even kids are able to “predict” what happens in a TV soap/serial after having watched a few – why aren’t they more open-minded to other possibilities?

If a grown-up is exposed to something totally new (and what they think as exciting), their open-mindedness comes into the picture. A good example is an adult who travels abroad and communicates in great detail about the foreign country to relatives/friends (at least initially). Also, grown-ups tend to be more practical in thinking about what is required to lead their lives – so they wouldn’t have patience to decipher a painting or bother about the beautiful sky/nature when it doesn’t impact/alter their lives.

Sigma said...

Hmmm. I believe it is so because the mind of a child is not "trained" (or as you call, conditioned) to think or see things in a particular way. As we grow old, in the process of adapting to the world, to our surroundings, we "learn" to do things the way they have been done so far. And the people who do not do so, well, they end up as great artists, scientists, philosophers.
Living in the world as ordinary mortals, it is not so easy to keep an open mind, but what can be done is to encourage the child to ask questions, and then try to answer them rationally. The purpose being to inculcate a desire for knowledge. I think that would help children to think independently as they grow older.
Your post brings to my mind a couplet I read some time back (from a ghazal by Nida Fazli) :
bachcho.n ke chhoTe haatho.n ko chaa.Nd sitaare chhuune do
chaar kitaabe.n pa.Dh kar vo bhii ham jaise ho jaaye.nge

If I attempt a rough translation :
Let the kids' small hands reach for the moon and the stars
If they just read books, they will also become like us

Shruthi said...

Anon at 7 31, hmm... that's true...

Anon at 8 16, yeah... the fear of ridicule stops so many of us from forging ahead.. that is sad, actually.
The quest to know and seek more stops because you have "achieved your goal" - that of "getting a good job", "getting married to a good person" or whatever. After that, relax, and switch off your mind - that is what happens. Why?

Ann, those are pretty good tips for starters. The bus thingy is a great idea - should try it out sometime.

Yhac, that is an interesting bit of info about Japanese children. And "to be more efficient at something, you need to get conditioned to it" - is very true, and is probably the answer to this whole question!

Raj Plus, Those were good quotes, both of them. And thank you, Raj. I discovered, on a trip a few years ago, that my happiness and amazement doubled and tripled and quadrupled if I look at sights without preconceived notions, approached things with a fresh mind. Ever since, I made it a habit to do it in everything around me. I cannot say I have succeeded entirely - I still cannot bring myself to look at my work with wonder ;) - but in other spheres of my life, I have been fairly successful at putting these principles to work.

New anon, interesting idea. Will follow up on it.

Viky, hmm.. yes. you do have a point. But I think that ultimately school is the main culprit - the competition, the peer pressure - all these are byproduct of the schooling system. I might be wrong to put the entire blame on the education system, but by and large, it is the major contributor.

n, aren't we talking about the same thing? I am talking about children with fresh and open minds, and so are you.. And yes, you are right, grownups do approach new experiences with open minds, and the very point I am trying to put across is that - why not approach all experiences with open minds.

Sigma, that's a very valid point. Inculcate a desire, a thirst for knowledge. Get the child to ask "Why" at every stage, and frustrating as it might be, encourage the "Why"s.
And what a lovely couplet - thank you!

n said...

I was actually disagreeing with this statement in your post -

"When, why, and how do we lose this ability that we had as children, and why do we grow up to be the boring one-dimensional people that we are now?"

and trying to say that people from babies to oldies are selectively open-minded and never 'lose' the capability. Some (like kids) might seem a little more open-minded just because they haven't "seen it all" ;-) Kids and/or grownups don't approach everything with an open mind because they have experienced it before or made it a habit or don't care (reasons in the previous post) and so on.

Veena Shivanna said...

Prof, one of those nostalgic posts. Made me remember my water bottle which I had got in Mysore dussera exhibition which looked like a robot from outside. I preserved it for long!
Also the CAMEL Goemetry box was one of those which I was dreaming to own. Hero pen - which was like as costly as 40/- was really out of the reach. Finally my dad had got me this for my 10th exams demanding for the highest marks in the school. Those were really motivations which never works these days, If I say my team member about all these, they will call that as Carrot :-)

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