2001 : WHAT QUESTIONS HAVE DISAPPEARED?

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Scientist; Spanish Television Presenter; Author, The Happiness Trip
Looking at the world upside down: what are we enhancing or what is vanishing in our brains while flat and dormant views of the universe are slowly disappearing?

Wrapped like hotdogs full of mustard, snorting in search of air to breath from beneath the blanket — like dendrites looking for the first time for new contacts — , the skull plunged in a floppy pillow and the eyes allowed only to stare at the grey sky, most of the time too flat and low to enjoy a more diversified life in three dimensions. What has been the impact on the newly born brain's positioned mummy-like, and tight for generations in the pram, of this upside down perception of the Universe?

We do have a point of reference to imagine what life was like during the first eight or nine months after birth, before the invention of the anatomically shaped infant car seat that makes our youngest travel and look around from their earliest age. I'll come to that later.

First let me insist for those unaware of radical innovations in evolutionary psychology, that no baby has ever been found — there are plenty of very reliable tests for that — , who after having experienced the glamour of looking at the Universe face to face, right and left, backwards and forward, has regretted the odd way of being carried around by previous generations. Not only that; no newly born would ever accept now to look at the Universe from other vantage points than the high-tech pushchair, carriages, and travelling systems for children aged birth to four years, developed in the mid-80's , out of the original baby car seat invented in America.

Just as monkeys become quickly aware of new inventions and adopt them without second thoughts, our youngest do not accept any longer to be carried in prams where they lied flat and dormant. They have suddenly become aware that they can be taken around in efficiently designed traveling engines, from where they can look at the world in movement practically as soon as they open their eyes.

If somebody thinks that the end of looking upside-down at the Universe during the first eight or nine months of life is not important enough to be quoted as the end of anything, think of what neuroscientists are discovering about what happens during the first five months of the unborn just after conception.

Professor Beckman in Wursburg University (Germany) has convinced at last his fellow psychiatrists that neuron's mistakes in their migration from the limbic to the upper layers of the brain of the unborn are responsible, to a very large extent, for the 1% of epileptics and schizophrenics in the world's population. By the way, the 1% is fixed, no matter how many neuroscientists join the battle against mental illness. It is like a sort of cosmic radiation background. The only exception that shows up is whenever deep malnutrition or feverish influenza in expectant mothers pushes the rate significantly up.

Likewise, very few scientist would refuse to acknowledge today, that what happens during the first five months of the embryo is not only relevant in the case of malformations and mental disorders, but also in the case of levels of intelligence and other reasonable behavior patterns. How could anybody discard then the tremendous impact on the newly born brain of interacting with the Universe face to face during the first eight to nine months?

Surely, if we continue searching for the missing link between a single gene and a bark — and I deeply hope that we do now that molecular biology and genetics have joined forces — , everybody should care about the end of the upside-down perception of the Universe, and the silent revolution led by babies nurtured in the latest high-tech travelling system's interactive culture.

Professor EDUARDO PUNSET teaches Economics at the Sarriá Chemichal Institute of Ramon Llull University (Barcelona). He is Chairman of Planetary Agency, an audiovisual concern for the public understanding of Science. He was IMF Representative in the Caribbean, Professor of Innovation & Technology at Madrid University, and Minister for Relations with the UE.