This article was last modified on March 28, 2007.

On Babies and Circles

Let us have a thought experiment for a moment. I’ll present a real-world example of a phenomenon that is both strange and difficult to explain, but yet universally true. Ready?

During a discussion with Mitsou Ronat about the theory of universal grammar and the possibility of an innate system of visual perception, Noam Chomsky cited a study that claims “if you present a small circle to a baby, which becomes a large circle, the infant will be startled. But if you present a circle, the size of which diminishes, there is no startle response.” [Chomsky: 52]

Now, the study being referenced would of course have a hypothesis as to why this occurs. But before I post that answer and discuss it, I am requesting a minimum of ten responses to this piece with guesses on why babies react this way. What evolutionary or behavioral trait triggers/elicits such a reaction?

Post your best hypothesis now.


Chomsky, Noam. Language and Responsibility. Pantheon Books, 1979.

Also try another article under Philosophical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “On Babies and Circles”

  1. Sethums Says:

    We fear things which suddenly get bigger for no apparent reason. But if the size decreases, there’s no room for that fear. It’s a natural, perhaps survival, instinct in most things to be wary of things larger than it. At least, that’s my guess.

  2. Trixie Says:

    Trixie’s malformed response is such:

    1. Optical illusion- enlargening an image causes the preception that it is approaching whereas the diminishing circle would appear to receed in distance and babies don’t have the contextual knowledge to distiniguish this illusion from actual distance.

    2. Large= Threatening. I feel as though this is a cop-out in evolutionary terms, listen to those assholes and everything is a fucking predator. Pussies.

    3. (Kind of Cockamamie) Babies mimic facial expressions and may be making an attempt to respond in mirror to the circle. Enlarging their eyes and mouths as the circle does so would produce what we register as a shocked response.

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