The Birth of the Scientific Method
This weekend, Patrick and I had the honor of hosting our 18-month-old granddaughter Hannah at our house for her first overnight away from her parents. She was a trooper and we (and she) had a marvelous time.
At one point, she and I were playing on the floor in Patrick’s and my bedroom. I handed her a small stone box with a fitted lid that contained eleven metal jacks.
Then I watched her while she spent the next 45 minutes exploring every possibility relative to those jacks and that box. She put them in one at a time, and in groups. She poured them out by turning the box sideways and upside-down, and she poured them out slowly, medium speed, and quickly. She took them out with one hand, and two. She took them out one at a time, in groups, and all at once. She put put the lid on right side up, upside down and sideways. She put both hands over the top of the box and turned it upside-down, and then when they didn’t fall out, she took away first one hand, and then the other.
She examined the box empty, and examined it again with all the jacks inside it. She picked up one jack on the palm of her hand, and held it out to me, saying, “Dat?” (Which is her request for information about a thing). I said, “That’s a jack.” “Jahk,” she said. And she said it again, touching various jacks: “Jahk, jahk.”
As I sat watching her, I realized in a way I hadn’t since my own kids were small that play at this age is entirely purposeful. She was learning everything she could about those objects and how they worked. She was creating and testing hypotheses as fast as her little fingers could try them out.
And I thought: this is how we’ve been learning and evolving since the dawn of time. It’s how we’ve figured out everything we’ve figured out – from planting seeds and building shelters all the way to understanding quantum mechanics and space flight.
It was wonderful to see that relentless, unstoppable will to learn – and to know how deeply it is built into each of us.