Over the holidays, we did some tinkering with our media system and I discovered I could watch TED Talks on our TV, and I proceeded to nerd out on TED for a few hours the other day. One talk I watched was entitled, “What do Babies Think,” by Alison Gopnik (psychology professor/researcher at U.C. Berkley and author of many books, including The Philosophical Baby). In this talk, Gopnik characterizes children’s consciousness as lanterns, with rays of attention shooting out in multiple directions at once, and thus receiving information from multiple directions at once. In contrast, our adults consciousness is more like a spotlight, where we are more likely attend to one concept, object, idea at a time. Children have a harder time focusing their attention, but their brains are more plastic and elastic, and they develop and expand in multiple ways simultaneously. Gopnik says that being a baby is like “being in love in Paris for the first time after you’ve three double espressos. It’s a fantastic way to be, but it does leave you crying at 3:00 in the morning!”
I love this! And, I think about the lantern-learning of children in my Music Together classes, experiencing melody, rhythm, tone, beat, phrasing, tempo, dynamics, harmony, community music-making, turn-taking, anticipation, humor, emotion, and so on–simultaneously. We adults end up focusing on a narrow band of stimuli at a time during class, but the children are tuned in to the whole experience. For some, this lantern-learning involves sitting still and staring. Other children need to move their lanterns around the room. Either way, it’s no wonder that they grow and develop so quickly, making music-development leaps from one semester to the next that might take an adult years to master.
Gopnik calls our children the Research and Development branch of humanity, while we adults take on Production and Marketing. I’ll buy that, and I’m imagining where our little music researchers’ learning spotlights will be shining when they are all grown up.