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The Philosophical Baby


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A groundbreaking exploration into the minds of babies - and into what means to be human.

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 recognised 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 Philosophical Baby and co-author of The Scientist in the Crib. She has three sons and lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband, Alvy Ray Smith.


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.

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 * Guardian *
The Philosophical Baby has interesting things to tell us. They are clearly expressed and thought-provoking. And they do their work on the reader * Dailiy Mail *
An astonishingly interesting book... [It] teaches us a tremendous amount about the human condition and how the mind is made -- Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
Richly provocative and endlessly insightful... This book is at once touching, eloquent and masterful in its fascinating revelations about what makes us human -- Frank J. Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel: Birth Order; Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives
Absorbing, smart and enjoyable... 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, author of Warped Passages: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions

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