A five-year old explores infinite loops

I’m doing the dishes on a Thursday evening, Griffin is doing his homework. Tabitha is playing quietly with her plastic ponies on the living room floor, talking softly to herself as she likes to do.

She calls me in from the kitchen.

Tabitha: Daddy, why did you tell me skin is made of layers of skin?

Me: Huh?

T: When I was three or four, you told me that skin is made of layers of skin. But then that skin is made of skin, and that’s made of skin… Why did you give me that bad answer?

Me: I don’t remember that, but you have a good point. That was a crummy answer wasn’t it? If skin is made of skin, then what’s that skin made of? Must be skin. And that doesn’t answer your question at all.

T: Yeah. Why did you give me such a bad answer?

Me: I don’t know. But you know what that’s called? That’s an infinite loop. Skin is made of skin, which is made of skin, which is made of skin. It never ends.


Me: Did you realize that was a bad answer at the time I gave it, or were you thinking about it now and noticed it?

T: Oh, I was just thinking about that stuff. Like a light bulb in a light bulb in a light bulb.

Me: Huh?

T: Like a light bulb has a light bulb in it, and then a light bulb in that one.

Me: Wait. I don’t get it. Were you thinking about where the light in a light bulb comes from?

T: Yeah.

Me: And light comes from light bulbs, so you thought there must be a light bulb inside the light bulb for the light to come from?

T: Yeah.

Me: Wow. So that’s like my skin answer because each light bulb needs another light bulb inside it to give off light, and that never ends. It’s another infinite loop.

T: Right.



3 responses to “A five-year old explores infinite loops

  1. Both of those examples are infinite recursion, rather than infinite loops, but they’re still nice ideas for a five-year-old to explore. I wonder if one could get the notion of a base case for recursion across to such a 5-year-old.

  2. Awesome! I hope she thinks about this a bit more in the future as well. Did you explore the skin question with her again? It seems that she was searching for a more satisfying answer.

  3. I adore the thoughtful conversations you have with your children. They remind me of the conversations we had in our teaching methods classes – the genuine interest you showed in our ideas and questions is something I attempt to replicate in my classes. I always appreciated that!

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