Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Metropolis" and the moral life of babies.

Dealing with the topics in the title in reverse order, I'd like to call your attention to a couple of interesting items in the New York Times. First, there is an early preview of an article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine summarizing some current research on the moral development of infants and toddlers. Here's the lead paragraph:
Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the "naughty" one. But this punishment wasn't enough - he then leaned over and smacked the puppet on the head.
As author Paul Bloom observes, many developmental psychologists and others have long embraced the view that "we begin life as amoral animals" and need to be nurtured and socialized into morality. Bloom suggests that this received opinion may be in need of revision:
A growing body of evidence . . . suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone. Which is not to say that parents are wrong to concern themselves with moral development or that their interactions with their children are a waste of time. Socialization is critically important. But this is not because babies and young children lack a sense of right and wrong; it's because the sense of right and wrong that they naturally possess diverges in important ways from what we adults would want it to be.
To read the rest of Bloom's article, click here. For enlightenment of a very different sort, check out this article in yesterday's NYT on the recovery of an apparently complete print of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis. Originally released at a length of two and a half hours, Metropolis was withdrawn shortly after its Berlin premiere and later re-released in a much shorter version. Much of the footage cut from the original theatrical release was thought to have been lost forever until a print of the complete film was discovered two years ago - in Buenos Aires, of all places. The story of that print and its journey to restoration and re-release is quite fascinating, albeit in a very different way from Bloom's article on the moral life of babies. I commend both articles to your attention, especially if you're looking for a brief distraction at this busy point in the academic year. AMDG.


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