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The Birth of Reason

March 11, 2016

Rest assured this is not a post about Plato, Descartes, Rousseau or the Age of Reason, subjects I’m not qualified to expound on. I’m no philosopher, but recently I did witness the birth of reason—as experienced by a toddler.


Mrs. Chatterbox and I live rich and rewarding lives, but there is one area that is lacking. We don’t have small children in our lives. Our only child is thirty-five and still looking for the right woman, so grandchildren are nowhere on the horizon. I offer this not as a complaint but rather as an explanation for why I was so intrigued by an incident I witnessed at our park and recreation facility where I swim.


After finishing my laps the other day, I made my way across the basketball court to the locker room. On this particular morning, a class of thirty toddlers were engaged in various activities. Instructors trying to organize the chaos might have had better luck trying to herd cats.


My eyes latched onto a tot with enormous blue eyes who staggered around in no particular direction until he stopped in front of three brightly colored plastic bowls of various sizes. He reached down and picked up the yellow one, looking quite pleased with himself. With his other hand he grasped the red one, leaving the blue bowl on the ground.


This was where it got interesting. He carefully studied the bowl in each hand, pausing to look down at the blue one remaining at his feet. It was obvious he wanted that third one very badly, but he was out of hands. He crouched low and returned the two bowls to where he found them so he could ponder the situation, unencumbered.


A broad smile lifted his rosy cheeks. He picked up the red bowl and set it inside the yellow one, picking them both up together. With his empty hand he snatched the blue bowl. Pleased with himself, he started laughing with delight. Proof that he’d never before done such a thing was provided when his beaming mother ran up and pelted him with praise.


I was reminded of that moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an ape first realizes an animal bone can be used as a weapon, flinging it into the air—an instant where a leap of evolution transforms an animal into a creature capable of reason. That iconic scene was but an illustration of an event that must have played out millennia ago when humanity was in its infancy. As I watched that toddler it played out again, as it will countless times in the future.




Many of you have small kids or grandchildren and witness such things all the time, but for me this was rare. That little guy was learning how to think, and I was privileged to witness it.  



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Problem solving is an interesting process to observe, particularly when it involves someone of toddler age (when the learning curve is at its steepest.
By: Bryan Jones on March 11, 2016
And as we get older, we don't often get to watch others actually think...
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 11, 2016
I have witnessed that same miracle when a child problem solves-perhaps for the first time and indeed is mightily proud of that accomplishment!
By: Kathe W. on March 11, 2016
How cool! I never wanted children, but it's interesting to see their little minds at work.
By: The Bug on March 11, 2016
And as we get older we seem to lose the ability to think. :D I have no young children in my life at the moment and I'm kinda hoping it stays that way for a bit!
By: LL Cool Joe on March 11, 2016
These events are always startling and warming even if you get to be around kids fairly often. Most parents are too exhausted to catch them all.
By: Tabor on March 11, 2016
What a wonderful post and experience to witness. It is unfortunate that as we age we also lose our child-like traits.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 11, 2016
I am late to the grandparent kingdom (was 63) and it's an unexpected pleasure because they (only son) weren't planning on having kids and changed their minds after ten years of marriage. Little Ian will be two this summer and it is such a joy to watch his little brain clicking away in endless discovery. The world is new and exciting. Hope you guys get to be grandparents one day, too. It's a gift. :)
By: Rita on March 11, 2016
What a wonderful observation! Life can be full of such joy and delight if we pause to look. Thanks for sharing such a great moment of discovery. Imagine how that little lad must have felt stepping into reason and thought. BTW we have just entered grandparent hood, late yes, but it happens. Hang in there.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 11, 2016
The birth of reason? Apparently, no one in the republican party got the memo.
By: Al Penwasser on March 11, 2016
And even better the little one worked it out for himself, and didn't have someone show him! Cool!! Cat
By: Cat on March 11, 2016
Thank God the kid didn't take the bowl and want to use it as a weapon:) Just joking but there was any strange black obelisk around was there??
By: Birgit on March 11, 2016
Excellent post, Stephen.
By: Catalyst on March 11, 2016
He had every right to be proud of himself!!
By: fishducky on March 11, 2016
I love that the little guy was so smart and so pleased with himself. Praise from Mom never hurts either. I always felt the 2001 scene was the discovery of killing, not just utilizing a tool. In that vein, there's a 4-yr-old in the news this week for shooting his gun-nut Mom in the back with one of her own guns. She used to heap praise on him for getting "jacked up" to learn shooting. Now he's learned to injure people. Great parenting, Mom.
By: Lexa Cain on March 11, 2016
A man who once worked at the Los Angeles zoo used to play a game with an orangutan. He would put peanuts near her cage but just out of her reach, and she would "fish" for them with a towel, dragging them back one by one, enjoying the challenge and the treat. One day, she sat with the towel a few minutes, dunked it in her water and wrung it out, and caught five peanuts at once! She had figured out how to increase the drag of the towel. It's amazing what people and animals can figure out when you give them time.
By: messymimi on March 11, 2016
thanks for sharing his glee. :)
By: TexWisGirl on March 11, 2016
Stanford ... here he comes!
By: Tom Sightings on March 11, 2016
How lucky and smart of you to have followed and realized that you had watched a young mind grow before your eyes. I wonder how many of these special events just go unnoticed. Nice job Steven.
By: Arkansas Patti on March 11, 2016
Isn't it fun when you can observe the little wheels turning in someone's head?
By: Pixel Peeper on March 11, 2016
I can see that kid's accomplishment really BOWLED you over!
By: Val on March 11, 2016
I'm with you. I don't have little kids around but I do like to watch them in action as they learn how to solve problems.
By: red on March 11, 2016
They are fun, especially when you can just observe. Very nice post. 2001...I never understood that movie. It is either the worst great movie ever made, or you need to watch it high.
By: cranky on March 12, 2016
I just love this post, Stephen. A good reminder how much there is to benefit from taking time to observe children at 'work'!
By: The Broad on March 12, 2016
I didn't witness it, but your telling of what you saw has filled me with joy!
By: Mitchell Is Moving on March 12, 2016
Is it truly reasonable to consider the theory of evolution reasonable? Yes, if one wants to believe that there is no God, it is certainly an option, but if our Heavenly Father really does exist, evolution is a farce of the highest order. After all, even if He did merely create the spark of life and then let nature take its course--would not nature also be part of His creation? Considering all of the implications, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to believe that so much has been left to chance when reason is truly applied.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on March 12, 2016
By: jenny_o on March 12, 2016
My blue heeler did as that boy did only with a frisbee and a tennis ball.
By: Snowbrush on March 13, 2016
You were lucky to be present for that moment, but also wise to observe quietly and let the scene play out. Some people who do have children at hand miss the fun because they pay no attention, or interrupt the child, or solve the problem for the child. You did the right thing and got a lovely reward for it!
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on March 13, 2016
Beautiful post. You're right. It's one of those wonderful moments life is full of. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on March 13, 2016
It is pretty cool, huh. Glad you got to see it first hand, Stephen. It's absolutely amazing watching their little brains figure stuff out and I'm grateful that I get to see it on a daily basis with my little people.
By: Mr. Shife on March 13, 2016
I am in the league with your son, looking for Ms. Right. I understand...
By: MICHAEL MANNING on March 14, 2016
Troubleshooting and problem solving are incredibly useful skills. They are intertwined with creativity. They will serve this youngun' well throughout his life.
By: Rick Watson on March 15, 2016
Oh, wonderful to witness a lightbulb moment. Thanks for telling us about it!
By: Jenny on March 17, 2016

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