Children, by Scientific Principles

Children, by Scientific Principles

I am a very proud father and I feel incredibly blessed to have children. I also have a background and career in scientific and technical subjects. Much of science is built on the foundations of certain principles and theories which help us to predict things correctly and build things that work consistently.

Over my time as a father I have noticed that some of the scientific principles suggest a similar, corresponding, principle that applies to children. Bearing in mind that so far most of my experience is of children under 8 years old, for your amusement and perhaps comment, I share my thoughts below.

The observer effect

The observer effect is the fact that observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes it.

Whenever I take out my phone (or camera) to take a photo of my wonderful toddler doing something cute or funny, they immediately stop doing it and want to look at my phone to see what I am taking a picture of. Now although I am very glad that my children show a keen interest in everything that I do, this does limit my ability to create fond memories as a record of their passing through childhood. Having experienced this phenomenon from several different children on multiple occasions I can only deduce that this is some universal scientific principle regarding toddlers (well maybe that is an overstatement).

The observer effect ensures that the act of attempting to photograph a toddler in a cute or funny situation will necessarily change the behaviour of the toddler into running up to you and poking their head in between your eyes and the camera.

Heisenberg uncertainty principle

The uncertainty principle asserts a fundamental limit to the accuracy with which the values for certain pairs of physical quantities of a particle, such as position, x, and momentum, p, can be predicted from initial conditions.

When a child is a baby it is totally helpless and totally reliant on its parents in order to continue its life. One aspect of this helplessness that is particularly apparent, is that it cannot walk. In fact, when born, a baby cannot even turn or roll itself over. You can be pretty certain that if you put it down somewhere (occasionally this is necessary, much to the dislike of the baby — if not asleep) you will find that baby in exactly the same position as you left it.

By the time your cute and lovely baby can walk, you can be almost certain that the uncertainty principle will apply. If you take your eyes off a toddler for more than, maybe, 2 seconds, you can be assured that its position is not where it was initially, and that its momentum (which is surprisingly large for such a small object) is also unpredictable and taking it somewhere.

The uncertainty principle asserts that if you take your eyes off a toddler for a moment, the position of the toddler will be nowhere near where you last saw it and that its momentum is likely taking it into a dangerous situation for it or something in its environment.

Note: This principle does not apply after a child has learnt to focus on whatever game it is currently involved in, nor if the child is placed in front of a TV.

Correlation does not imply causation

The phrase “correlation does not imply causation” refers to the inability to legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two events or variables solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them.

Oh yes it does!

If there is a problem, a mess, a breakage, and your toddler is in the middle of it looking puzzled. They definitely caused it.

The phrase “Correlation implies causation” is usually true

Note: if there are older siblings somewhere within a 200m radius, there is a good chance they were also involved if not totally responsible

Big bang theory

The Big bang theory is the leading explanation for how the universe began. Simply put, it says the universe as we know it started with an infinitely hot and dense single point that inflated and stretched – first at unimaginable speeds, and then at a more measurable rate – over the next 13.8 billion years to the still-expanding cosmos that we know today.

Never leave a toddler unsupervised. However, in reality there are times when this has to happen and parents try to ensure there is a safe place to leave child to play on its own for short periods of time eg its own bed room.

If you hear a big bang immediately investigate. Likewise if you hear nothing then investigate.

The big bang theory states that if you hear a big bang something probably got broken.

A similar related theory

The big silence theory states that if you hear nothing then something is probably being disassembled

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is the problem-solving principle that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”, sometimes inaccurately paraphrased as “the simplest explanation is usually the best one.”

Aside from the obvious rules, that a child should not be given a razor, or anything else that is sharp, like scissors. Nor should they be left lying around, like on a table where you yourself were just using them, whilst you do something like answer the door to the postman. If you do make this mistake you will likely find holes snipped in anything snippable in the near vicinity – curtains, cushions, jackets, younger siblings hair!

Regarding Occam’s razor however, the ‘inaccurate paraphrase’ is probably one of the most useful principles. The younger the child, the more true it is. Young children cry a lot, well some do, especially at night in my experience! (I have yet to find a good principle or solution to children that won’t sleep through the night, I think this ranks up there with problems such as time travel or going faster than the speed of light). During the daytime, its usually pretty easy to fix a crying child with a simple solution.

Occam’s Razor is the problem-solving principle that the simplest things are normally the solution: food, drink, sleep, new nappy or a hug.

Irresistible force paradox

The Irresistible force paradox is a classic paradox formulated as “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

Have you ever tried to get a toddler to do something it does not want to do? Such as: eat its lunch because it is hungry, or change its smelly nappy!

My instinctive reaction is to attack straight on, after all, I am the parent, the child should simply do what it is told, yes!

Ha ha ha. It did not take me long to figure out the futility of that approach or wrongness of the assumption. A little bit of Googling and one comes up with “clever parenting” tips such as: pick your battles, keep calm, use distraction, etc. (What did we do before google?)

Take heart, those of you in that situation, in my experience, as the child gets older it is possible to reason with the child to get it to do what you want, and of course resort to bribery when all else fails. I hear, but have yet to experience, that the problem returns during teenage years.

The Irresistible force paradox means that no matter how much force/persuasion is applied in any format or direction, getting a toddler into pyjamas if it does not want to wear them, is impossible. (Feel free to substitute whatever task you like.)

Note: It has been observed that the more urgent it is to complete the task, the more immovable the toddler will appear to be. It is as yet, scientifically unproven whether this is a reality or a perception of the parent under pressure.

Universal law of gravitation

Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centres.

There are various child rearing principles that come to mind from this. Such as the attraction between a child and the food on your own plate, even if it is identical to the child’s own. Or the attraction of children to water, mud, or anything else that can be spread around. Maybe even, simply the attraction a parent has towards the lovely things a child does, like when it gives you a hug or kiss or those first few times it says “I love you Daddy”.

However, one of the things that I find quite fascinating, though at times frustrating or even heartbreaking, is the ability for siblings to love and hate each other at the same time, and seemingly randomly switch from one to that other in an instant.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that siblings attract and repel other siblings at the same time, directly proportional to….I have no idea, they just do!

Archimedes’ buoyancy principle

Archimedes’ principle states that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces.

There are here, of course, many potential jokes possible, regarding body fluids, of which, since having children I am now intimately more familiar with all the varieties, colours, and smells thereof. However, what comes to mind more is the concept of ‘displacement’.

Having a child displaces many things from your life. I mean it is obvious if you think about it, but I never quite realised quite how much immersion, and thus displacement, actually occurs. I have never been a social butterfly, however I distinctly remember having friends, going out, dancing with my wife. Though that all seems like a distant dream or another life.

It was another life, a life without children. Would I change it back? No chance. I might sometimes wistfully think back on those carefree days when I had no one to worry about but myself. One pair of shoes to put on as I walk out the door, the ability to walk out the door at 2 minutes notice rather than half an hour. Going out to dinner at a restaurant. Quiet moments during the day. A nice walk in the sunshine without carrying a wet or tired-legged little bundle on my arms. And, to be honest, I don’t miss it. I love having children despite the challenges and trials. What has been displaced is by far out weighed by what I have gained.

Having a baby displaces all social activities you were previously engaged in. Despite this the joy brought by a child far out weighs what you lose and one is constantly buoyed up by that joy.

I could go on, there are after all many more scientific principles, and many more things I could say about having children. But I will stop here, for now.

Previously Published on Medium

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