The Philosophical Baby


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About the Author

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and an affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. She is an internationally recognized leader in the study of children's learning and development. She writes the Mind and Matter column for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of The Gardener and the Carpenter, and coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib. She has three sons and lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband, Alvy Ray Smith. In 2020, Gopnik was named a Guggenheim Fellow.


Gopnik (psychology, Univ. of California, Berkeley), coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib, now goes solo with a kind of Scientist in the Crib, Part 2. Once again, her goal isn't to offer child-rearing advice but to let the general reader know about the most recent findings in developmental psychology. This time around, the subjects include the growth of imagination attachment and morality (i.e., the "truth, love, and meaning of life" promised in the subtitle). And as with the prior book, the writing is engaging and accessible. Verdict The concept of the book-that, historically, philosophers haven't had much to say about infancy but that the work of contemporary developmental psychologists has changed all that-is debatable. Plato and John Locke, for example, had a great deal to say about human development, although not in concrete terms. (Those venerable gentlemen probably didn't have much child-care experience.) However, this is a fairly minor quibble. This work is still a good choice for anyone interested in the workings of the human mind and may appeal to those who like Stephen Pinker's books.-Mary Ann Hughes, formerly with Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Gopnik makes a good, and sometimes impassioned, case . . . [She] offers the captivating idea that children are more conscious than adults but also less unconscious, because they have fewer automatic behaviors . . . The Philosophical Baby is both a scientific and romantic book, a result of Gopnik's charming willingness to imagine herself inside the consciousness of young children." --Michael Greenberg, The New York Review of Books "Gopnik's description of what psychological research reveals about babies' surprisingly sophisticated thinking is fascinating." --Drew DeSilver, The Seattle Times "Gopnik is a fine writer, and her wit enlivens a subject that could easily veer into the overly abstract . . . She is also passionate about her subject. The Philosophical Baby isn't simply a summary of recent research on young minds. Rather, Gopnik seeks to place early childhood in the context of 2,500 years of Western philosophy." --Mark Sloan, San Francisco Chronicle "[Gopnik's] account of what the science of recent decades has had to say about infants' minds tells a fascinating story of how we become the grown-ups that we are." --The New York Times "Gopnik incisively and compassionately highlights the extraordinary range of mental capabilities of even the youngest child. What makes Gopnik's book stand out from the myriad recent books on consciousness is her overarching insight into the sophisticated ways that even infants think and scheme." --Robert Burton, Salon "Gopnik is at her most persuasive when she turns her attention to the nature of infant consciousness . . . As a guide to the field of cognitive development, there can be few people better qualified than Gopnik. This eminent developmental scientist writes with wit, erudition and an admirable aversion to jargon, and her book provides an intriguing perspective on some philosophical questions." --Charles Fernyhough, Financial Times "[A] fascinating and thought-provoking new book . . . For all the heavy subject matter, The Philosophical Baby is never ponderous. In fact, Gopnik explores the subject of how children think with a fresh, enthusiastic and wry voice . . . Fun and fascinating, The Philosophical Baby is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand child development and what it means to be human." --Amy Scribner, Bookpage "One of the most prominent researchers in the field, Gopnik is also one of the finest writers, with a special gift for relating scientific research to the questions that parents and others most want answered. This is where to go if you want to get into the head of a baby." --Paul Bloom, Slate "The Philosophical Baby offers a refreshing alternative to the current dominance of an evolutionary perspective in popular books on cognitive science, such as those of Steven Pinker. Not that Gopnik doubts that evolution has shaped our brains, but she places less emphasis on hardwired cognitive modules that evolved for a Stone Age environment and more on the cognitive capacities that allow us to transcend our biological predispositions and create completely new environments." --Ethan Remmel, American Scientist "Inspiring . . . Gopnik writes with a nicely personal touch . . . She uses a clear and very readable prose, squarely aimed at the general reader and sensibly divided into short sections, ideal for anyone burdened by babies or toddlers. Her pages are packed with provocative observations and cunning insights. I'd highly recommend this fascinating book to any parent of a young child--and, indeed, anyone who has ever been a baby." --Josh Lacey, The Guardian "The writing is engaging and accessible . . . a good choice for anyone interested in the workings of the human mind and may appeal to those who like Stephen Pinker's books." --Mary Ann Hughes, Library Journal "Psychologist Gopnik 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 . . . 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." --Publishers Weekly "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, Alison 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

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