Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hardware and Software

Today my two-year-old daughter started wearing "big girl panties" for the first time in our continuing -- and largely unsuccessful -- efforts to potty train her. Physically, she's fully capable of being potty trained. This stubborn child can hold it for hours and will refuse to use the potty. The instant you put a diaper on her, she cuts loose. The hardware is in place and ready, but the software just isn't there yet.

Interestingly, the same thing happens with the developing human brain, and it's been fascinating to watch it happen with our daughter. Almost no one can remember anything before the age of two or three, and yet our memory systems are fully functional during that time. We easily remember things from twenty or more years ago, so why can't we remember being an infant or even a toddler? This was brought home to me when my daughter noticed a picture of her and her mother on the wall. This was one of the art nudes we did last year, and it's a picture of her breastfeeding with her mom. You could see she was puzzled by it, so I explained that she used to drink milk from her mother's breast. She gave me the most incredulous look I've ever seen on the face of a two year old. She was like, "No way, stop kidding, Dad." Even though it's been less than a year since she stopped breastfeeding, she has no memory of it whatsoever. It's like it didn't happen.

As it turns out, the memories are likely still there, but since she stopped breastfeeding, she's learned language. Her brain has changed to support the new paradigm, and it now literally can't access those memories that are stored in the old format. It's like trying to run an old Amiga program on a new Windows computer. The software is still there, but the hardware has changed to the point that it can no longer run it. It's amazing to see it happen in real time. What if we could build an "emulator" for those earlier memories? This would allow you to run your old stored memories and literally experience what it is like to be an infant. I can see a lot of potential for science fiction stories here. I might just write that one myself...

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