Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Glass Ceiling

There are some pretty impressive abilities out there in the natural world. Dolphins have sonar. However, there is a "glass ceiling" for each species in the present--a set of clear limits.

Nature is brutally frugal and efficient. Sure, it would benefit the squirrel to be outfitted with more strength and intelligence, but a set of invisible but real constraints (including the constant fight with pathogens) factor into the evolution of the squirrel and create that glass ceiling (invisible but iron-clad).

Then there's two-year-old Sally.

Monday she guided me over to the computer to help her play a game on pbs.org. I placed her hand just so on the mouse and placed her first two fingers on the left button. I placed my hand on hers to guide the mouse to interact with the web browser-based games. When I prompted her to "click," she would click the mouse. She soon began to get pretty good at guiding the mouse with little intervention. Her assimilation of the computer and interface astounds me.

Now she asks to play a game on the computer, which she calls the "puter."

It occurs to me that what I'm witnessing isn't really supposed to happen in nature. Like I said earlier, nature is ruthlessly frugal and efficient. If an organism doesn't absolutely have to have an ability, it won't get it through the aeons of evolutionary time. And, at times, an organism doesn't get something it needs or gets handicapped due to intra-species competition and goes extinct.

Let's say that computers have been around for maybe 20 years for the masses, and the Web has been around for 10 for the masses. Place a squirrel in front of the computer and it might be puzzled, but will not in any way think to assimilate it into its life.

Sally has been on planet earth since her beginnings as a fertilized egg for about three years. In that time, she's acquired language and is ready to assimilate computers into her life, looking to them for watching YouTube videos of cartoons and playing educational games. Her species haven't had computers through nearly all their history as we know it. This is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Now my friends who are maybe fluent in biology and some of the other sciences might add some additional justifications for why Sally's use of the computer is not astounding, because in the abstract, we're talking about tools and play, things that are old. I'll counter that with each layer of abstraction, a whole new array of wondrous questions and facts surface that invoke a sense of awe.

Other friends might agree that I'm witnessing nothing less than the spark of divinity.

In any event, this post records a moment where I pause, try to put things into perspective and experience a deep sense of wonder at my children.

For Sally, there is no glass ceiling keeping her from assimilating these new computers. She's ready for them. It's as if they've been here all along.

More could be said on the science of the situation, but I think I've laid down just enough for my purpose. Now I think I'll just end with a lyric from "What a Wonderful World."

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

1 comment:

Jodi Simon said...

that is wonderful.