chapter-01

The Laughing Baby in 14 quotes

Each chapter of my book The Laughing Baby starts with a short quote or epigram. I was very pleased with these and so a few years ago I posted them all as a thread on Twitter (remember Twitter?). They give a nice summary of the book so I’ve recreated the list here. Enjoy.

Introduction.

“Babies are such a nice way to start people”

Don Herold

Even Hamlet wouldn’t disagree with that.

Chapter One: A Time Before Smiles

JM Barrie might be right about fairies. Although the scientific evidence is limited. And if there was a time before smiles it was a long time ago.

Chapter Two: Happy Birthday.

“The first thing newborn babies do is cry because their parents haven’t bothered to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them.”

It’s funny, but is it true? What did you do at the birth of yours?

Chapter Three: The Simple Pleasures.

A quote from the short and wonderful book Making Babies by Irish writer Anne Enright.

Chapter Four: SLEEP!?

A lyrical quote from Bengali Nobel Prizewinner Rabindranath Tagore. Most of his observations of babies were rose-tinted. One gets the sense that, even though Tagore had five children, someone else was usually left holding the baby.

Chapter Five: First Touch

“Never miss an opportunity to hold a baby”

Mary Ainsworth.

Advice on infant bonding from Mary Ainsworth is like advice on chess from Gary Kasparov. Just do it, OK?

Chapter Six: Tickling, Tumbling and Toe-Nibbling.

This chapter starts off with rats, Elmo and the worlds most ancient joke. It finishes trying to vanquish Cartesian dualism. I wasn’t expecting to have two chapters on touch. It must be the influence of my old boss Andy Bremner.

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Chapter Seven: The Joys of Toys

Is all about what babies learn from all the playing they do. And along the way, it tells the story of what happened when Cheltenham Science Festival asked me to put on a science show for an audience of babies.

Chapter Eight: Surprise!

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”

Ellen Parr (not Dorothy Parker as some people might tell you.)

“Babies love surprises. Except when they don’t.”

Me (I was quite pleased with that line so hopefully it’s original.)
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Chapter Nine: Laugh and the World Laughs with You.

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Victor Borge

The heart of the book and the best quote on what laughter really means.

Chapter Ten: The Sound of Happy

This one’s all about music. It includes a strong argument that baby opera was the first art form, some drumming from Sinead Rocha and narrates the tale of how Lauren Stewart and I helped Imogen Heap create The Happy Song.

Chapter Eleven: Happy Talk

Haiku #2107 from Calvin Olsen’s Ten Thousand Haiku The birth of words including some of my own research with Denis Mareschal and Bob French.
Oh & by the way..
Yay – Nim Chimpsky
Boo – Noam Chomsky

Chapter Twelve: Yes, No, Maybe, Baby

All about the concepts you can build once you have language. The theory gets a bit abstract as we end up interrogating Wittgenstein (early AND late). But the experiments are quite straightforward. Even a baby would understand them.

Chapter Thirteen: Friends.

I had wanted to quote lyrics from the Friends theme tune but you wouldn’t believe how expensive that would have been. Waay more than the £70 we paid using those 12 words of Wittgenstein in the previous chapter.
So I went with Anon.
Good ol’ Anon.

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Epilogue: Laughing Matters.

We made it. Let’s celebrate with a “poem” by me. You can see me “perform” it here at TEDx Bratislava in 2017. The first time I came on stage my mic was turned off so I had perform it twice. Hence the big cheer.

The poem later became the basis for the text of Babies Laugh at Everything.

Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of this post. If you’d like to buy the book, then follow the links on this page. If you’d like to buy a signed copy, drop me an email.

Soprano Lucy Knight performs in Musical Rumpus's Opera for Babies - Fogonogo.

Baby opera was humanity’s first art form.

For all sorts of reasons opera – even comic opera – is usually no laughing matter.

Tom Sutcliffe, Believing in Opera, 1997

Ask any professional musician the secret of good music and they will tell you that above all else, music is about emotion. This perhaps particularly true of opera, where the main instrument is the human voice and the main topic the human condition. Through music and drama, story and spectacle, opera aims to explore the highs and lows of life. Anger, joy, love, grief, jealousy and despair are all portrayed in exuberant spectacle. Richard Mantle, director of Opera North, calls it ‘the art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion’. Writer George Bernard Shaw said, ‘Opera is when a soprano and a tenor want to make love but are prevented from doing so by a baritone.’ Opera is deliberately intense and emotionally manipulative, although, as arts broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe observes, opera does not do comedy well. The pressure is too great and the stakes are too high.

Opera is technically, logistically and economically forbidding. Many fans of opera are unapologetic that it is the most extreme example of human art. Oliver Mears, director of opera at the Royal Opera in London thinks that ‘opera is important because it is totally unfeasible’. He adds that ‘in scale and cost it is the most excessive of all art forms, and in the totality of its artistic claims, is the most ambitious’. It is surprising then to learn not only that people make opera for babies, but that baby opera might have been the birth of all human art.

Musical Rumpus have been making operas for audiences of babies since 2011. Supported by the Spitalfields Music charity, their shows have been seen by around 15,000 babies in east London and beyond. I knew about them, but for a long time I had no idea what was involved. When I stumbled into the world of baby music myself, I decided it was time to find out. I know nothing about opera, so I took along my friend Sam Wass who, prior to becoming a baby scientist, was an opera director in Berlin. The last time I had been to anything resembling opera was a school trip to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance when I was twelve. My two abiding memories were that yes, indeed, comic opera is no laughing matter and that despite it being incredibly loud, I fell asleep. Therefore, even though it was opera for babies, I felt a bit intimidated and was glad Sam was there for moral support and to poke me if l looked drowsy.

Sam and I joined the tiny audience for Musical Rumpus’s latest show, Fogonogo, an opera about a volcano. It was the eighth show the company have created and the seventh collaboration between composer Sam Glazer and writer and director Zoe Palmer. Just like grown-up opera, baby opera is a full multimedia experience, with set, staging, costumes and orchestra, albeit on a much smaller scale, as the budgets and the subsidies are as diminutive as the audience. The cast consists of just two singers – we saw a performance by Lucy Knight, a soprano, and Peter Braithwaite, a baritone. The orchestra on this occasion had two musicians: Sam Glazer played the cello, accompanied by Rosie Bergonzi, a percussionist. The venue was modest too, one panelled-off corner of the public library in Stratford, east London. Buggies were parked and babies and their carers all found places to sit. The audience was small in number – around 20 babies, although previous shows have had as many as 50 babies, and then it really is a rumpus.

Musical Rumpus perform Fogonogo, in Stratford, East London, 2017

The numbers are usually kept low because the shows are intimate and interactive. In the show we saw, babies were seated in circle around some blue mats representing the sea, with small orange platforms as islands. From the start the performers were down on the babies’ level, moving gently, and sensitive to their reactions. The babies are mostly content to sit and watch, but there are always several infant actors wandering into the performance and handing props to the performers. But even the babies content to stay sitting with mummy or daddy are not left out; the performers take care to connect with every little person in the audience. The babies are part of the show: Zoe calls them ‘our gurgling, wriggling, crawling, chorus’ and their responses are incorporated into the performance. It means no two shows are the same, and this can be quite daunting for classically trained musicians. Zoe told me about working on a baby show with jazz singers in New York. They ‘got it’ much faster, happy to improvise around their infant accompaniment.

Fogonogo starts slowly, but the intensity builds. This is a show about a volcano, after all. Sam Glazer is very conscious that baby opera should explore the full range of emotions. Over the hundreds of shows he has done, he has become more confident that the music should not be unrelentingly happy. It should be sad. It should be scary. The babies will respond. They will engage. As Andrea Bocelli says, ‘To sing opera, one needs two things: the voice and the passion – and above all, the passion.’ Peter and Lucy both get to show off the power of their voices and the music becomes increasingly dramatic, even slightly frightening at times. By my count they are singing in at least four different languages: English, French, Italian and Volcano. The babies lap it up. Many are active participants; others are quietly transfixed. Zoe tells me that, in her experience, tears are very rare. For all of them, the music provides the thread through the performance, holding their attention and inviting them into the action.

American writer Ellen Dissanayake believes that something not too different from Musical Rumpus could have been the origin of music, art and even love. She thinks music and other arts evolved in tandem with our need for intimacy and belonging. In a wonderful book entitled Art and Intimacy she provides a deeply humanistic perspective on the evolution of art and culture that puts mothers and babies centre stage. ‘It is not surprising that societies all over the world have developed these nodes of culture that we call ceremonies or rituals, which do for their members what mothers naturally do for their babies: engage their interest, involve them in a shared rhythmic pulse, and thereby instil feelings of closeness and communion.’ (Dissanayake, 2000).

Ellen Dissanayake sits in her Seattle, Wash., home Dec. 11, 2008 with a carved female figure (nokwi) from the Kwoma people of Middle Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea, that was used in a yam ceremony and then discarded, which she acquired in 1981. Dissanayake is an independent scholar and author whose work focuses on the anthropological exploration of art and culture.
Ellen Dissanayake with Kwoma carving. Photo by Ingrid Barrentine.

In an earlier book, Dissanayake had proposed the notion of Homo Aestheticus (Dissanayake, 1994). She thinks art makes us feel good and feel bigger than ourselves. Art aims ‘to recognise an extra-ordinary as opposed to an ordinary dimension to experience; to act deliberately in response to uncertainty’. It was counter-revolutionary idea. Rather than looking for explanations of art and aesthetics in psychology or philosophy, she considered its evolutionary benefit. With a background in ethology and 15 years living in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea, she felt she had escaped the narrow Eurocentric perspective of most art theorists, who take their meanings from contemporary European culture and its phases and fashions over the last few centuries. She thinks modern theorists’ obsession with the meaning of words blinds them to a deep history of 5 million years of social living and preliterate culture. As a result, she gets very angry with all the relativism of postmodernism and literary theory, which claims that art gets its power because it is a signifier of nothing beside itself. Dissanayake does not stand for this: ‘Nothing? Fire is hot. Hunger is bad. Babies are good.’

Art and Intimacy takes things further. It argues that the arts are not tools of sexual competition but expressions of empathy and community. The book was born out of a year Dissanayake spent in Edinburgh at Colwyn Trevarthen’s lab learning about the ‘primary intersubjectivity’ created as mothers synchronise with their babies. Dissanayake proposes that the arts extend this to larger groups. She dismisses the sex-obsessed perspective of most evolutionary psychologists, who, she notes, are mostly male. If music and art are tools of courtship, this is minor, secondary role. The main evolutionary value of art, music and story is as shared experience. And, just as a mother’s attunement with her infant is beneficial for the baby’s well-being, art is good for our psychological well-being.

In Dissanayake’s account, the origin of art is social, not symbolic. It is found in activity, not imagery. As a highly social species we have a capacity for mutual engagement and for kinship and belonging. Even before we had language, it is likely that we sought and shared meaning by other means, and this is art. The dynamic, interactive nature of music serves this purpose well. We would have been able to sing before we could speak. Dissanayake thinks mothers’ musical engagement with infants is much more than the ‘soporific bliss’ of lullabies. It captures, holds and sustains the infants’ attention and explores reciprocity and the full range of emotional states. Anxiety, fear and anger all have life-preserving functions. The songs of mothers provide infants with a real experience of these darker feelings, balancing them with joy, surprise and love.

The songs, ceremonies and rituals of our ancient ancestors created community. So David Pountney, former head of the Welsh National Opera is on to something when he says that ‘opera is the embodiment of an essential human instinct: telling stories through music. It links modern, liberal intellectual and artistic culture with our primitive ritualistic origins.’ And yet, amazingly, baby opera brings us even closer to that ancient truth. Just as the feigned tickle of a baby might have been humanity’s first ever joke, a mother’s emotional songs to her baby might have been our first artwork.

Extract from my book The Laughing Baby – a popular science book about the delights of being a baby.

Front cover of The Laughing Baby

The Laughing Baby

The science of happy babies

Written by Dr Caspar Addyman

The Laughing Baby is a popular science book about baby psychology. Long before babies can talk, they communicate their experience of the world through laughter and tears. Until now, however, psychologists and parenting experts have largely focused on moments of stress and confusion. Developmental psychologist Caspar Addyman decided to change that.

For nearly a decade Caspar has run the Baby Laughter project, collecting data, videos and stories from parents all over the world. He has learned that laughter and smiles – crucial to reinvigorate the weariest of parents – are of central importance at the start of life. They define our cognitive and emotional development and provide a fascinating window into what babies are learning.

Moving chronologically through the first two years of infancy, The Laughing Baby explores the origin story for our incredible abilities, and how understanding them is key to understanding ourselves.

The Laughing Baby is published by Unbound.

Front cover of Babies Laugh at Tickles

Babies Laugh At Tickles

Published 6 June 2024

Written by Dr Caspar Addyman

Illustrated by Ania Simeone

Play along together and get little ones giggling with Babies Laugh at Tickles, a joyful board book with a giant sound button and an interactive tickle game.

Babies will love joining in with the story, as you are prompted to tickle them from their toes . . . to their nose! While the giant sound button, featuring the No 1 sound to make babies laugh – a giggle! – will stimulate the senses and develop motor skills.

Written by Dr. Caspar Addyman, a leading expert in what makes babies laugh, with adorable illustrations of smiling babies from Ania Simeone.

Cover of Babies Laugh All Day Long

Babies Laugh All Day Long

Published 18 January 2024

Written by Dr Caspar Addyman

Illustrated by Ania Simeone

Get little ones giggling with Babies Laugh All Day Long – a joyful board book with a soft squeaker button, perfect for little hands to press!

Written by Dr. Caspar Addyman, a leading expert in what makes babies laugh, Babies Laugh All Day Long has been scientifically developed to help babies and carers bond through reading and laughter.

With bouncy read-aloud words and adorable illustrations of laughing, smiling babies by Ania Simeone, little ones will love going through the five familiar daily moments together – nappy time, dinner time, play time and bath time, ending with a cosy bedtime scene!

Cover image for Babies Laugh at Everything

Babies Laugh at Everything

A picture book with laughter sound effects.

Written by Dr Caspar Addyman

Illustrated by Ania Simeone

Babies Laugh at Everything is scientifically developed to help babies and their carers bond through reading and laughter. Written by Dr. Caspar Addyman, a leading expert in what makes babies laugh, this book is packed with noises that are scientifically shown to be funny for babies, from WOOF to ATCHOO!

 

Babies can refine their motor skills by pressing the on-the-page sound buttons, and the mirror ending is perfect for stimulating baby senses. You could even try propping up the book for tummy time.

 

With bright and engaging illustrations by Ania Simeone, this joyful book is brimming with relatable scenes of family life in every shape and size – from funny mummies and happy daddies to silly siblings and giggly grannies! – and the bouncy rhyme is full of repetition to help with early language acquisition.

Caspar entertaining babies at Edinburgh Book Festival

Edinburgh Book Festival – Sat 19 Aug 2023

Peekaboos and Tootsie Tickles: The Science behind Babies’ Laughter with Dr Caspar Addyman

AGE 0-2

  •  Sat 19 Aug 11:00 – 11:30
  •  Baillie Gifford Creation Station
Attend in person
  • Baillie Gifford Creation Station
  • £5.00

There’s nothing quite like a baby’s laugh. But is there a sure-fire way to make your little one giggle? Join infantologist Dr Caspar Addyman in this interactive event for under-2s and their adults. Learn about the science behind getting babies giggling and hear extracts from Dr Addyman’s books Babies Laugh at Peekaboo and Babies Laugh at Everything before getting involved to try out some of his methods yourself.

https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/peekaboos-and-tootsie-tickles-the-science-behind-babies-laughter-with-dr-caspar-addyman-1-18847

Cover image for Babies Laugh at Peekaboo.

Babies Laugh at Peekaboo

Play along with grab-and-giggle pages and a mirror.

Written by Dr Caspar Addyman

Illustrated by Ania Simeone

Synopsis

“Babies who laugh more, learn more.” Dr. Caspar Addyman

Babies Laugh at Peekaboo is sure to get babies giggling! Written by Dr. Caspar Addyman, a leading expert in what makes babies laugh, this adorable book brings the game of Peekaboo to life with grab-and-pull pages and a shiny mirror. Dr Caspar’s research shows that playing Peekaboo is the best way to make a baby laugh, and this book is scientifically developed to help babies and carers bond through reading and laughter. Babies will love opening the pages to reveal smiling, giggling and laughing baby faces, beautifully illustrated by Ania Simeone. The shiny mirror at the back of the book is perfect for entertaining babies up to 18 months old – you could even try propping the book up for tummy time.

Reviews

Your little ones will gurgle and giggle along with this fun, interactive book as they grab and slide open the interactive pages to play peekaboo to find the baby within the gorgeously illustrated sturdy pages of this board book.

Mini Travellers

This thick sturdy board book is perfect for little hands to handle, and with is vibrant illustrations, it would be great to keep babies engaged during tummy time.

Booktrust