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The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life Paperback – 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Psychologist Gopnik (The Scientist in the Crib) points out that babies have long been excluded from the philosophical literature, and in this absorbing text, she argues that if anything, babies are more conscious than grownups. While adults often function on autopilot, getting through their busy days as functional zombies, babies, with their malleable, complex minds and penchant for discovery, approach life like little travelers, enthralled by every nuance of their exciting and novel environment. Gopnik compares babies to the research and development department of the human species, while adults take care of production and marketing. Like little scientists, babies draw accurate conclusions from data and statistical analysis, conduct clever experiments and figure out everything from how to get mom to smile at them to how to make a hanging mobile spin. Like adults, the author claims, babies are even capable of counterfactual thinking (the ability to imagine different outcomes that might happen in the future or might have happened in the past). As she tackles philosophical questions regarding love, truth and the meaning of life, Gopnik reveals that babies and children are keys not only to how the mind works but also to our understanding of the human condition and the nature of love. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The great American psychologist William James described the infant's worldview as a `blooming, buzzing confusion.' Gopnik's book is a challenge to this notion. Based partly on her own pioneering studies, she brings to life the sophisticated mental capacities of infants. A great read." --V. S. Ramachandran, author of Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
"One of our best writers, Gopnik reveals the inner workings of those minds that have been wrapped in mystery for all of human time: our children's." --Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music
"In The Philosophical Baby, Alison Gopnik reveals the latest scientific discoveries--many of them quite surprising--about the developing minds of young children. She also presents a richly provocative and endlessly insightful story that unites the endearing other-worldliness of children's imaginations with some of the oldest and most profound questions in philosophy. This book is at once touching, eloquent, and masterful in its fascinating revelations about what makes us human." --Frank J. Suloway, author of Born to Rebel
"Alison Gopnik's absorbing, smart, and enjoyable book might be better titled The Philosophical Developmental Psychologist. Her remarkably thoughtful and carefully reasoned studies into how babies learn and think give intriguing insights and invite new ways of reflecting on consciousness and creativity in adults as well. In a refreshing counterpoint to speculations in evolutionary psychology, her lucid and engaging descriptions of experiments with babies demonstrate how much can be understood simply by asking the right questions with an open and critical mind. Parents and scientists will enjoy the insights but so will anyone who has thought about the question of what it means to be human." --Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics, Harvard University, and author of Warped Passages
"What is it like to be a baby? In this astonishingly interesting book, Alison Gopnik reminds us about what we can't remember. In the process, she teaches us a tremendous amount about the human condition and how the mind is made." --Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
“This book really makes you think about consciousness. The mind of a child is a strange and wonderful world." --Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures
"After convincing us that the seemingly familiar human child is actually wrapped in mystery, Alison Gopnik offers a compelling and convincing portrait of the opening years of life. This is scientific writing of the highest order." --Howard Gardner, author of Five Minds for the Future --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Gopnick argues, for example, that young children don't have the same self narrative adults have. I remember being appalled by my daughter's inability to describe what happened on her recent trip to the zoo. Gopnick argues that this happens because very young children haven't developed the story about themselves that allows them to go back and fetch prior events the way adults do. When I return from a trip to the zoo, I retain a story about finding a parking spot, paying admission, watching the monkeys near the entrance, etc. With very young children, there is no such narrative, only a series of events. These events are remembered. So if I ask a more direct question, like did you enjoy the monkeys in the big cage, she tells me about the big monkey chasing the smaller monkey.
Gopnik emphasizes the sophistication of children who can easily distinguish between imaginary, possible, and real objects. She tells us about how children can make sophisticated judgments about causal relationships after having seen only a few relevant events. She tells us how children can distinguish acts which are wrong because they hurt someone as opposed to things which are wrong because they are against the rules
Gopnik frames her discussion around philosophical themes such as reality versus fiction, discovery of reliable truth from messy observations, consciousness, nature of the self, love, morality, etc. She rightly argues that although topics such as these have long been important to philosophers, potential insights that could be provided by studying children have not been considered by philosophers.
Specialists will find this book unsatisfactory. There isn't a single graph. There are no statistics or numbers of any kind. There are no literature reviews describing areas where researchers get conflicting results. When experiments are reported at all, they are mentioned briefly with no detail. Gopnik is more interested in the big picture, discussing the main themes using mostly informal language. Just the same, she takes you through some of the toughest concepts in the field and isn't afraid to bring up technical terms, like lantern consciousness, whenever it is helpful to do so.
Finally, Gopnik's wit, graceful writing, and genuine feeling for children make her book a pleasure to read.
I wish more of the book were about the experiments. There is too great a ratio of speculation to actual results, and a lot of the speculation is based on the author's experience as a mother, but without the intimacy of a memoir.
Nevertheless, the book is worth skimming for the experiments alone. These are fascinating in themselves, and you can feel free to form your own conjectures from them.