Saturday, January 12, 2008

Quotes from Lewis Padgett's short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" - mostly about infant & child psychology

Most quotes are about infant & child psychology - a main plot element of the story. Some of these are repetitive - saying the same in in different ways.

  1. "Only babies spilled food, Emma had been told. As a result, she took such painstaking care in conveying her spoon to her mouth..."
  2. "It is difficult to admit that children lack subtlety. Children are different from mature animals because they think in another way."
  3. "How can an immature human being understand the complicated system of social relationships? He can't. To him, an exaggeration of natural courtesy is silly."
  4. "From the standpoint of logic, a child is rather horribly perfect. A baby must be even more perfect, but so alien to an adult that only superficial standards of comparison apply. The thought processes of an infant are completely unimaginable. But babies think, even before birth. In the womb they move and sleep, not entirely through instinct... Nothing human is alien.

    But a baby is not human. An embryo is far less human."
  5. "Babies think differently and see differently."
  6. "All children are mad, from an adult viewpoint."
  7. "Babies, of course, are not human - they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes; the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. In short, babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own, which cannot be translated into the terms and categories of the human mind."
  8. "One can no more think like a baby than one can think like a bee."
  9. "you're implying that babies have a culture of their own, even a high standard of intelligence."

    "Not necessarily. There's no yardstick, you see. All I say is that babies think in other ways than we do. Not necessarily better - that's a question of relative values. But with a different matter of extension."
    "Babies don't have different senses from ours."

    "Who said they did? ... They use their minds in a different way, that's all. But it's quite enough!"

    "I'm trying to understand," Jane said slowly. "All I can think of is my Mixmaster. It can whip up batter and potatoes, but it can squeeze oranges, too."

    "Something like that. The brain's ... a very complicated machine. We don't know much about its potentialities. We don't even know how much it can grasp. But it is known that the mind becomes conditioned as the human animal matures. It follows certain familiar theorems, and all thought thereafter is pretty well based on patterns taken for granted."
  10. A discussion about alien abacus.
    "Your mind has been conditioned to Euclid ... So this thing bores us, and seems pointless. But a child knows nothing of Euclid. A different sort of geometry from ours wouldn't impress him as being illogical. He believes what he sees."

    "Are you trying to tell me that this gadget's got a fourth-dimensional extension?"

    "Not visually, anyway ... All I say is that our minds, conditioned to Euclid, can see nothing in this but an illogical tangle of wires. But a child - especially a baby - might see more. Not at first. It'd be a puzzle, of course. Only a child wouldn't be handicapped by too many preconceived ideas."

    "Hardening of the thought arteries".
    "Let's suppose there are two kinds of geometry... Our kind, Euclidean, and another, we'll call x. X hasn't much relationship to Euclid. It's based on different theorems. Two and two needn't equal four in it; ... they might not even equal. A baby's mind is not yet conditioned, except by certain questionable factors of heredity and environment."
    "The basis of Euclid. Alphabet blocks. Math, geometry, algebra-they come much later... On the other hand, start the baby with the basic principles of our x logic."
  11. On aliens.
    "we've got yardstick trouble again. By our standards these people might seem super-dupers in certain respects. In others they might seem moronic. It's not a quantitative difference; it's qualitative. They think different. And I'm sure we can do things they can't."
  12. "The perfect toy, you see, is both instructive and mechanical. It should do things, to interest a child, and it should teach, preferably unobtrusively. Simple problems at first. Later -"

    "X logic".
  13. "I use the word 'madness' purely as a convenient symbol for the variation from the known human norm. The arbitrary standard of sanity."
  14. On written languages.
    "I'm not implying that the kids are corresponding in an unknown tongue. If Emma draws a squiggle and says it's a flower, that's an arbitrary rule - Scott remembers that. Next time she draws the same sort of squiggle, or tries to - well!"
    "Our own language is nothing but arbitrary symbolism now. At least in its application."
    "The natural tendency is to simplify. Especially when a child is seeing something for the first time and has few standards of comparison. He tries to identify the new thing with what's already familiar to him... I had to find some familiar standard of comparison. Which is the only way of getting any conception of an entirely new thing."
Note: Author's name Lewis Padgett is a pseudonym for Henry Kuttner & his wife C L Moore writing together.