My question is simple: In a world where babies are born with the knowledge of an average adult, what would happen to the childhood of the child?

For example, how would this affect the learning of walking, the ability to speak, etc.

We have the following assumptions:

  • Parents are aware of this phenomenon before birth, it is something normal in this world
  • There is only one language in this world so there is no problem with learning foreign languages
  • Growth is physiologically normal

Edit: Let's suppose the baby has all the conscious and unconscious knowledge of an adult except for his physical abilities. For example, the baby could "inherit" a water phobia but not "inherit" being a darts champion.

In a world where babies are born with the knowledge of an average adult, what would happen to the childhood of the child?

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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean with "knowledge"? Does this only include conscious facts or things that are done more unconscious like the reflexes for save falling that a martial arts champion has? $\endgroup$
    – Buldelu
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ Do babies 'unlearn' things as they grow up? - if they start with the knowledge of an average adult, then no-one has less-than-average knowledge, so your 'average' isn't actually average. Also, a childhood is a long, complicated thing - would it be possible to perhaps (to make the question less broad) give a more exact list of what you do/don't want? i.e. you want to know how it affects speech, but not learning a foreign language, or do you just mean 'how does it effect the ability to learn (physical) things (like walking)?' as opposed to how it affects childhood? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ There was a point in pre-history when, (according to some anthropologists,) that Neanderthal children were born with most knowledge, but required reminding and learning muscle memories. The same way many baby animals know to hide or what to eat or not eat even if their mother dies.[link](en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_memory_(psychology) This is FYI, not an answer. sorry I cannot make the link work from my tablet. $\endgroup$
    – WRX
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ Does this change what the "average adult" knows? If this sort of genetic memory were normal in the world, every human being would possess the total cumulative knowledge of their entire ancestry. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ If children are born with more complex brains (possibly larger as a result) just how many will actually survive birth? I'm concerned that birth rates will drop substantially $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


Knowledge is useless without the emotional maturity to apply it. Ask anyone married to an alcoholic or addict!

A one-year-old may know all about how electricity works, but when the impulse strikes to stick a fork in a socket, that knowledge will mean nothing. Ask the parent of any teenage male!

Up until the age of about 6, the child simply does not have the capacity for conceptual thought. (Check out Piaget's developmental stages.) Adult knowledge is really only useful after that age.

The one effect it will have is that in the times when the child (older than 6) is calm and able to be rational, he or she will have more ability to cause havoc, because they will know how to, for example, take apart the toaster and use the heating element to make central heating for their dollhouse.

Formal reasoning "if A is dangerous, and B leads to A, then B is dangerous" doesn't develop until around puberty.

Even then, when they are capable of formal reasoning, the ability to assess risk develops much later. Brain development isn't complete until the early 20s, and until that time, people tend to take idiotic risks, especially people with a lot of testosterone in their systems. (This is why car insurance premiums are much higher when you have a driver under 25.)

The kids would behave a bit like idiot savants, or like Rain Man - having isolated pockets of extremely detailed information, but lacking the social/emotional resources to integrate that knowledge and behave like a regular adult who knows that stuff.

Depending on your definition of "knowledge", they may also behave like sociopaths, because empathy is a physically-learned skill, based on the bodily sensations that result from the action of mirror neurons.

Perhaps you are not aware, but phobias are learned physically, too. They are a physiological response to a perceived threat. The circuits that trigger phobias bypass the cerebral cortex (where thinking happens) and connect the perceptual input (sight, sound, smell, etc) directly to the amygdala (reptilian complex), which triggers the "fight or flight" response. So, "knowledge" as you define it, would not include phobias.

Emotions and proprioceptive feedback are so deeply involved in learning, making decisions, and dealing with obstacles that it is difficult to imagine how a human being could have much meaningful "knowledge" if the physical aspect of the learning process was removed. For example, children who don't crawl before they start walking have deficits in mathematical reasoning (due to poor integration of the two brain hemispheres), which can be repaired if they do a bunch of physical therapy.

As a way of resolving at least some of these dilemmas, you could consider Jean M. Auel's approach to this "inborn knowledge" in her Neanderthals in the Clan of the Cave Bear series. Children have all the knowledge of their ancestors, but it is subconscious, and they can only access it consciously once they have been reminded of it by another person. These remainders come at appropriate ages - the really dangerous knowledge is only activated after they reach adulthood and can deal with it responsibly.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to point out that the maturity level of the teenage male varies wildly, and that some of us aren't actually complete morons. However, thinking about the students in my average high school class, I'm forced to concede that the majority of us are as described. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the central idea here. But do you have an example of when a real (non savant) child might act as though "A is dangerous" and "B leads to A" but not "B is dangerous". $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Wow! I didn't realise this question is 4 years old! $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 18:03

There is an error in logic here...

If a baby had all the knowledge of an adult, and then learned anything, he would then have more knowledge as an adult than he did as a baby. If every person knew more as an adult than as a baby, that would invalidate the original claim that babies are born with the knowledge of an adult.

If no one learns anything in their lifetime, then nothing new can be invented. That would include society itself (or language, religion, fire, how to use pointy sticks to kill mammoth, anything). Therefore, if a people had all the knowledge of an adult as a baby, society could never develop, and your people would just be animals.

Conclusion: such a society could not exist.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! It would be totally static! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ -1 because the question clearly differentiates categories of knowledge in order to resolve this paradox. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Knowledge does not without context and contexts constantly change. These people would know this from birth, and the interaction between knowledge and contextual change would provide the avenue to grow. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 19:36

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