When Jean Piaget conducted his famous experiments on object permanence-in which once an object was covered up, the baby seemed to forget about it-Piaget concluded that the baby had been unable to store the memory of the object: out of sight, out of mind. The paradigm of the perpetual present has now itself been forgotten. Even infants are aware of the past, as many remarkable experiments have shown. Babies can’t speak but they can imitate, and if shown a series of actions with props, even 6-month-old infants will repeat a three-step sequence a day later. Nine-month-old infants will repeat it a month later.
Far from having no memories at all, very young children remember a lot like adults. In early infancy, the neural structures crucial for memory are coming online: the hippocampus, which is, very roughly, in charge of storing new memories; and the prefrontal cortex, which is, very roughly, in charge of retrieving those memories. But these neural regions and their connecting pathways are still developing. And they capture only part of the present as it flows by.