The idea that new babies are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge of the world around them doesn’t sound unreasonable. With their unfocused eyes and wrinkly skin, tiny humans sometimes look more like amoebas than complex beings.
Yet scientists have built a body of evidence, particularly over the last three decades, that suggests this is patently untrue. “When kids are born, they’re already little scientists exploring the world,” said the filmmaker Estela Renner via a video conference from Brazil before a recent screening of her new documentary The Beginning of Life (streaming on Netflix) at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
“Babies are the best learning machines in the universe,” Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor who has spent decades studying child development, said in the documentary. “They’re the world’s original inventors,” echoed Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.
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