Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

What It’s Like to Be a Baby

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 19, 2010

Earlier today, I was tapping my toe. I was tapping it as fast as I could; at a point, I was hardly even controlling its movement, just trying to get it to vibrate as fast as possible. I started making smaller movements in order to be able to vibrate faster. After a little while, my toe stopped moving entirely — but a muscle was still vibrating.

How was that possible?

I could feel a muscle vibrating, and I could see movement on my foot. But it wasn’t on my toe: it was underneath the bridge of skin between my ankle and the top of my foot. I had been inadvertently vibrating this muscle all along, but previously my attention had been focused on my toe.

After some practice, I found that I was able to control this new muscle. I could not just vibrate it, but flex and unflex it independently of any other muscle. Sometimes I would accidentally flex other muscles (and I still do), but I was generally able to make this muscle move on its own.

The trippiest part was that I didn’t really know what I was doing to move the muscle. When we move our arms or legs, we understand exactly what will happen when we have a certain thought. We think to move our arm or leg, and a chemical reaction sends a message through our nerves and down to the muscle, causing it to twitch. But with this new discovery, I hardly knew what thought to think. The hardest part isn’t the movement itself; that’s not hard at all. No, the most difficult part is knowing what to think in order to will the movement. I believe that the best technique is to imagine that the skin on the top of your foot is moving upward and then will it to happen; but seeing as how this muscle is in effect still very young, I’m not sure.

I practiced flexing this muscle for about a half hour. After all that time, I still have trouble getting it to flex for the first time. And I can only do it on my right foot: on my left, the muscle might as well not exist.

Some time during those thirty minutes, I came to a realization:

This is what it’s like for babies all the time.

Babies are new. They, unlike us, are not used to using their muscles. It takes a lot of practice to figure out what they do and why, and how to work the controls. I at least have the advantage of already knowing how to use many of my muscles, so I know what to look out for; babies don’t have any such luxury. And for babies, it’s not just one muscle that they have to learn how to use: it’s all of them.

Perhaps the reason why learning to use this muscle was so mesmerizing is because we have a deep-seated instinct for learning new muscles. It’s simply irresistible. Such an instinct would drive us to become master puppeteers of our physical beings.

Now I feel like I understand babies better, if only a little. If you’ll allow me to offer some advice, I suggest that everyone try to learn how to use a new muscle today. Find a muscle that you didn’t know existed, and practice with it. It will change your life.

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One Response to “What It’s Like to Be a Baby”

  1. LRFLEW said

    I like this kind of entry.

    When we move our arms or legs, we understand exactly what will happen when we have a certain thought. We think to move our arm or leg, and a chemical reaction sends a message through our nerves and down to the muscle, causing it to twitch. But with this new discovery, I hardly knew what thought to think. The hardest part isn’t the movement itself; that’s not hard at all. No, the most difficult part is knowing what to think in order to will the movement. I believe that the best technique is to imagine that the skin on the top of your foot is moving upward and then will it to happen; but seeing as how this muscle is in effect still very young, I’m not sure.

    My only complaint with this sentence is that will causes muscle movements. Your brain is a bunch of micro-circuits connected together. During development, the brain figures out what each brain cell’s circuitry causes to an electrical signal, and aligns each other so that a signal that occurs when we need to walk goes to the right cells and comes out to your feet and legs. To move a muscle a new way, new brain connections need to be placed so as to connect to the appropriate muscle(s). This is how muscle memory is formed. Make sure you do it now, as around the age of 20, your brain stops growing, and reforming your brain becomes a much more tedious task.

    Babies are new. They, unlike us, are not used to using their muscles. It takes a lot of practice to figure out what they do and why, and how to work the controls. I at least have the advantage of already knowing how to use many of my muscles, so I know what to look out for; babies don’t have any such luxury. And for babies, it’s not just one muscle that they have to learn how to use: it’s all of them.

    This can be expanded to even more. I like to think about babies’ eyes, as they are a large complex of photo-sensitive pigments that make millions of connections to the cerebral cortex. I had also thought about this in the form of body-swapping. With millions of billions of neurons connected to the body, no two people have the same neuron setup, and if they swapped bodies (or brains, if you wish), their brains would have a lot of getting used to to do.

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