Here are some diary pages I drew while listening to Alison Gopnik talk about her research and her books The Philosophical Baby and The Gardener and the Carpenter on the podcast The Ezra Klein Show. Like Klein, I despise most parenting books, especially the “hey bro” tones of most of those aimed at dads, but Gopnik has not only helped me think differently about my kids, she’s helped me think differently about my own creative practice.
Gopnik was talking about childhood as evolution’s solution to explore-exploit tradeoffs and how children and adult are different kinds of creatures. The child mostly explores, the adult mostly exploits. (Children, she says are the R&D departments for the human race.) Then she brought up the octopus. The octopus has a split kind of brain. There’s a big brain in their heads, exploiting, basically, and then there are lots of little brains in their tentacles, exploring.
So, my thought is that we could imagine an alternate evolutionary path by which each of us was both a child and an adult. So imagine if your arms were like your two-year-old, right? So that you are always trying to get them to stop exploring because you had to get lunch. I suspect that may be what the consciousness of an octo is like.
After she said that, I thought, you’ve just described an artist.
The octopus has intelligence in its tentacles. When an artist (or a two-year-old) is drawing, there is intelligence in their fingers. The hand is moving beyond what the brain is telling it to do. The brain is being told as much by the fingers as the fingers are being told by the brain.
Later in the conversation, Gopnik says, “Going for a walk with a two-year-old is like going for a walk with William Blake.” This was the very advice of the artist Corita Kent: “Borrow a kid.”