Richard Oliver spotted this from Mary Catherine Bateson:

Biologists used to talk about the fact that human beings are what is called neotenous which is to say that we never grow up. Thank heaven for that! If you look at a baby chimp, it’s almost identical to an infant human being, but it’s smarter and it develops and learns faster. But at a certain point, the chimp grows up and becomes less responsive. The shape of the skull changes, and the adult chimp is less like a human being, although very smart in many ways, less willing to learn, less willing to develop trusting relationships. Human babies are born extraordinarily immature and dependent, and our whole system of adaptation and survival as a species depends on the fact that we are cared for intensively over a long period of time. It is because of this that we can have an adaptation based on so much learning and we’ve been able to move over the entire surface of the planet, learning new adaptations – inventing science and technology and things of that sort – instead of following built-in instinctive programs.

The boy Earls has talked about this neoteny business before, but this quote triggers a further thought. I’m like the notion that our vulnerability and sensitivity, and the interdependence that goes with them, is what marks us out as human beings – and what actually makes us strong.

1 thought on “Vulnerability

  1. Ryan Lanham

    My way of thinking about it is that we evolved a capacity to rapidly evolve our software rather than our hardware. Learning is what we call that capacity. Knowledge is the current version of our learning…like a release.

    Like all analogies, it can be taken too far. But the gist of learning is the changing of wired brain function by programatic efforts–not structural changes.


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