alison gopnik

alison gopnik bw


intro’d to Alison with this TED..

2011 –

What do babies think?

“Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species,” says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.

Alison Gopnik takes us into the fascinating minds of babies and children, and shows us how much we understand before we even realize we do. 

hard to figure out – what other people think/feel..

can babies/young children understand this really profound thing about other people

relationship to how long a childhood a species has and how large their brain grows

kind of like caterpillars and butterflies.. except children are the butterflies.. and we are the caterpillars crawling along

4 yr olds better at finding out unlikely hypotheses

what’s it like to be this young philosopher that can task 5 hypotheses in 5 min

when we say babies are bad at paying attention.. we really mean they’re bad at not paying attention…

taste of baby consciousness as adults… new experiences… 

coffee – mimmicks the affect of those baby neurotransmitters…

being in love in paris for the first time after you’ve had 3 double esspressos

if what we want is to be open, butter fly ish in our lives/thinking.. perhaps we’re wanting adults to be thinking more like children..

is it that we’re so much better younger.. or more that we’ve taught/compulsorized/perpetuated ourselves away from this gift/talent/self-directedness…?


alison on ai


recent post:

baby scientist

“Babies and young children are like the research and development division of the human species, and we grownups are production and marketing,” Gopnik says. What this means is that in many ways, babies are very good at thinking scientifically—as a number of experiments have shown–while many adults are not.

Understanding statistics and probabilities, for instance, is something that is difficult for most adults. So it’s striking that young children are actually quite good at solving problems using an intuitive understanding of probability.

It’s through this type of exploratory play that children discover causal relationships—they figure out how the world works, just like scientists try to do.

The upshot is that there is no substitute for exploration, unconstrained by rules or expectations, when it comes to generating creative solutions to our problems. In fact, as adults, the very process of exploring might just be enough to send our brains back into the more plastic and dynamic state of our childhood.

from interview – about 13 min in Alison says – early on we have brains that are designed for learning.

gray bio design law

like a child ness

25 min – children/babies learn from interacting with people.. so anything that keeps them from interacting – and especially with people – probably not good..

28 min – the more you learn, the harder it is to change your mind

children learning/demonstrating sophisticated probabilities from actually being exposed to them in real life events – getting the feel for the difference between 2 out of 6 and 2 out of 3…

alison gopnik quote


2010 talk:

2011 interview:

Q: It may not be the best way to learn, but they are learning something, aren’t they?

A: I don’t think there’s any scientist who thinks the way we typically do university courses has anything to do with the best methods for getting people to learn. I think what actually happens at universities, and in our high school system as well, is that we learn how to go to school. That’s the main thing our children become good apprentices at. What, of course, we want in a university is for people to learn the skills they’re going to need outside the classroom. So having a system that had more emphasis on inquiry and exploration but also on learning and practising specific skills would fit much better with how we know people learn.

Q: There’s perennially a hue and cry that this generation of university students is less prepared or inferior in some way to students in years past. Do you find that?

A: I think the biggest difference, and it’s sort of ironic, is that they’re over-prepared, especially at elite universities like Berkeley or Harvard or McGill or Toronto. Because there’s insane pressure on high school students to achieve and get into college, by the time they get here they’ve already got a mindset: “All right, it’s absolutely imperative that I get an A+ on every single test and I need to know what I have to do to achieve that.” But what we want in students is creativity and a willingness to fail. I always say to students, “If you’ve never at some point stayed up all night talking to your new boyfriend about the meaning of life instead of preparing for the test, then you’re not really an intellectual.” The issue—and this is actually much more a problem in the United States but even in Canada it’s true—is we’re selecting a group that has gone through so much pressure to get to university that they don’t have that wide-ranging curiosity that’s a really important part of having an intellectual life.

For universities, there’s a really interesting question: how do we get students to be really competent and good at doing things in a focused way, yet also have wide-ranging interests and curiosity? How can you design a program so that you can have both things? I’m not sure that our universities are good at doing either thing at the moment.

Q: It’s odd that universities aren’t seeking to apply the knowledge about the brain and learning they’re helping generate.

A: I do think it’s rather surprising, but I’m not quite sure how to fix it. I think universities are trying to figure out how we could use what we know about learning to change our education system, but it is sort of funny that they don’t necessarily seem to be consulting the people who are sitting right there on campus.


find/follow Alison:

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her site:

alisons site

her page on berkeley’s site:

alison on berkeley site

her posts on wsj:

alison on wsj


drug for better score



share by Bernd on fb july 2016 – he shared it embedded in this huge/deep share:

“The climate movement made an enormous mistake. We focused all our attention on fossil fuels, when we should have been pointing to something much deeper: the basic logic of our economic operating system. After all, we’re only using fossil fuels in the first place to fuel the broader imperative of GDP growth.”

A strange thing happened to mothers and fathers and children at the end of the 20th century. It was called “parenting.” As long as there have been human beings, mothers and fathers and many others have taken special care of children. But the word “parenting” didn’t appear in the U.S. until 1958, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and became common only in the 1970s.

People sometimes use “parenting” just to describe what parents actually do, but more often, especially now, “parenting” means something that parents should do.

like – mowing the lawn ness


It’s the wrong way to understand how parents and children actually think and act, and it’s equally wrong as a vision of how they should think and act.

thinking rev in reverse ness.. and how.. there can’t be a visible structure.. even if reverse.. because then.. we stop listening.. as evidenced in silence research and langer research.. et al


For most of human history, we lived in these extended family groups. This meant that we learned how to take care of children by practicing with our own little sisters and baby cousins and by watching many other people take care of children.

a nother way.. deep enough.. away from measuring.. back to listening..


It’s not surprising, then, that going to school and working are modern parents’ models for taking care of children: You go to school and work with a goal in mind, and you can be taught to do better at school and work.


More than any other animal, we human beings depend on our ability to learn. And the current thinking is that our large brain and powerful learning abilities evolved, most of all, to deal with change.

The immediate trigger for human evolution seems to have been a period of unpredictable climate variability in the Pleistocene era. It wasn’t just that the weather got warmer or colder, but that it moved from one extreme to the other in an unpredictable way. Humans are causing climate change now, but in the evolutionary past, climate change caused humans.

On top of that, human beings were nomadic, moving from environment to environment, and, thanks to culture, each new generation could create and modify its own environment. All this meant that humans had to adapt to an exceptionally wide range of exceptionally variable environments.


Human learning contributes even more to the variability of our children. Our parental investment and commitment allow each generation a chance to think up new ideas about how the world works and how to make it work better. Childhood provides a period of variability and possibility, exploration and innovation, learning and imagination.

1 yr to be 5 ness


If “parenting” is the wrong model, then, what’s the right one? Let’s recall that “parent” is not actually a verb, nor is it a form of work. What we need to talk about instead is “being a parent”—that is, caring for a child. To be a parent is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love, not to make a certain sort of thing.

After all, to be a wife is not to engage in “wifing,” to be a friend is not to “friend,” even on Facebook, and we don’t “child” our mothers and fathers. Yet these relationships are central to who we are. Any human being living a fully satisfied life is immersed in such social connections.


Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.


What should parents do? The scientific picture fits what we all know already, although knowing doesn’t make it any easier: We unconditionally commit to love and care for this particular child. We do this even though all children are different, all parents are different, and we have no idea beforehand what our child will be like. We try to give our children a strong sense of safety and stability. We do this even though the whole point of that safe base is to encourage children to take risks and have adventures. And we try to pass on our knowledge, wisdom and values to our children, even though we know that they will revise that knowledge, challenge that wisdom and reshape those values.

In fact, the very point of commitment, nurture and culture is to allow variation, risk and innovation. Even if we could precisely shape our children into particular adults, that would defeat the whole evolutionary purpose of childhood.

We follow our intuitions, muddle through and hope for the best.


As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows.

Alison Gopnick

Jean Liedloff

Krishnamurti – parents


jul 2016 – what babies know about physics and foreign language

But in fact, schools are a very recent invention. Young children were learning thousands of years before we had ever even thought of schools. Children in foraging cultures learned by watching what the people around them did every day, and by playing with the tools they used. New studies show that even the youngest children’s brains are designed to learn from this simple observation and play in a remarkably sensitive way.


We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments.


It’s not just that young children don’t need to be taught in order to learn. In fact, studies show that explicit instruction, the sort of teaching that goes with school and “parenting,” can be limiting. When children think they are being taught, they are much more likely to simply reproduce what the adult does, instead of creating something new.


children’s naturally evolved learning techniques are better suited to that sort of challenge than the teaching methods of the past two centuries.


Alison Gopnik (@AlisonGopnik) tweeted at 7:01 AM – 26 Sep 2017 :

Should be intelligent, but glad to see this talk up! (


jun 2010 – researcher challenges way schools teach


2009 book: philosoph baby

2016 book: gardener & carpenter


in Michael Pollan‘s how to change your mind (esp Robin and Alison bit):


franz vollenweider has suggested that the psychedelic experience may facilitate ‘neuroplasticity’..  but so far .. all highly speculative

carhart harris argues in the entropy paper that even a temporary rewiring of the brain is potentially valuable.. esp for people suffering from disorders characterized by mental rigidity..  disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility – entropy – in which more salubrious (health giving) patterns and narratives have an opp to coalesce 

oh entropy et al.. antifragility.. et al

am thinking.. a case for no training.. ness

the idea that increasing the amount of entropy in the human brain might actually be good for us is surely counterintuitive

to me.. very intuitive..

most of us bring a negative connotation to the term: entropy suggests a gradual deterioration of a hard won order, the disintegration of a system over time.. certainly getting older feels like an entropic process – a gradual running down and disordering of the mind and body.. but maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it.. robin’s paper got me wondering if, at least for the mind, aging is really a process of declining entropy, the fading over time of what we should regard as a possible attribute of mental life

i don’ think it’s a process of aging.. i think it’s a process of living a life of supposed to’s.. only natural for ie: whales in seal world..


certainly by middle age, the sway of habitual thinking over the operations of the mind is nearly absolute, by now, i can count on past experience to propose quick and usually serviceable answers to just about any question reality poses, whether it’s about how to soothe a child or mollify a spouse, repair a sentence, accept a compliment, answer the next question, or make sense of whatever’s happening in the world..

who says any of those are working.. not to mention.. good even if they did

w experience and time, it gets easier to cut to he chase and leap to conclusions – clichés that imply a kind of agility but that in fact may signify precisely the opposite: a petrification of thought

indeed.. whales in sea world..

a flattering term for this regime of good enough prediction is ‘wisdom’

a false term

reading robin’s paper helped me better understand what i was looking for when i decided to explore psychedelics: to give my own snow globe a vigorous shaking, see if i could renovate my everyday mental life by introducing a great measure of entropy and uncertainty into it..  to see if it wasn’t too late to skip out of some of the deeper grooves of habit that the been-theres and done-thats of long experience had inscribed on my mind

today we can do it.. for/with 7 bn  – ie: 1 yr to be 5 ness..

entropy et al.. antifragility.. et al


one of the most interesting things about a psychedelic experience is that it sharpens one’s sensitivity to one’s own mental states, esp in the days immediately following..  the usual seamlessness of consciousness is disturbed in such a way as to make any given state – mind wandering, focused attention, rumination  – both more salient and somewhat easier to manipulate..


if the neuroscientists are right, what i’m observing in my mind (spectrum ranging from contraction to expansion)  has a  physical correlate in the brain: the default mode network is either online or off; entropy is either high or low.. what exactly to do w this info i’m not sure yet..

1 yr to be 5 ness..  wake us up.. more highs (so to speak).. meaning.. more wonder, wandering.. whimsy.. eudaimonia

by now , it may be lost to memory, bu tall of us , even the pyschedelically naive, have had direct personal experience of an entropic brain and the novel type of consciousness it sponsors – as a young child..

1 yr to be 5 ness

baby consciousness is so diff from adult consciousness as to constitute a mental country of its own, one form which we are expelled sometime early in adolescence..

not yet scrambled.. to schooled.. not a natural/humane progression

is there a way back in?

yes.. today.. we can get to a nother way to live.. via mech (2 convers as it could be..).. that would allow all of us to leap at once.. to reset .. us..  in sync

talk to me man

the closest we can come to visit that foreign land as adults maybe during the psychedelic journey..  this at least is the startling hypothesis of alison gopnik.. who happens to be a colleague of main at berkely

there’s a nother way – (ie: findings from experimenting with it for 10+ years) –


alison and robin come at problem of consciousness from what seem like completely diff directions and disciplines, but soon after they learned of each other.. they struck up a convo that has proven to be remarkably illuminating.. at least for me.. in april 2016.. their convo wound up on stage at a conference on consciousness in arizona..  where they met for first time


both offer ‘altered state’..  that in a number of respects is a strikingly similar one..  she (alison) cautions that our thinking about the subject is usually constrained by our own restricted experience of consciousness, which we *naturally take to be the whole of it..

not naturally.. schooled to take it that way

she calls ‘professor consciousness’ .. ‘the phenomenology of your avg middle aged prof’

all of us really..whales in sea world..

‘if you thought , as people often have, that this was all there was to consciousness you might very well find yourself thinking that young children were actually y less conscious that we were’.. because both focuses attention and self reflection are absent in young children.. gopnik asks us to think about child consciousness in terms of not what’s missing from it or undeveloped but rather what is uniquely and wonderfully present – qualities that she believes psychedelics can help us to better appreciate and.. possibly.. re experience

cure ios city.. as detox

adults – spotlight/ego consciousness of adults.. .. w a point/goal..  vs lantern consciousness of children.. attention more widely diffused allowing the child to take in info from virtually anywhere  (by this measure, children are more conscious than adutls, rather than less)..

being *inexperienced in the way of the world, the mind of the young child has comparatively fewer priors, or preconceptions, to guide her perception down the predictable tracks. instead, the child approaches reality w the astonishment of an adult on psychedelics..

rather.. *inexperienced in the ways of sea world.. huge diff


gopnik believes that both they young child *(5 and under) and the adult on a psychedelics have a stronger predilection for the high temp search; in the quest to make sense of things, their minds explore not just nearby and most likely both ‘the entire space of possibilities’..

*before schooled.. hence.. the need for 1 yr to be 5 ness

these high temp searches might be inefficient.. higher rate of error.. require more time/energy.. yet there are times.. only ay to solve a problem

actually.. if we let go of all the supposed to’s.. (this isn’t a mechanical/efficeincy problem) .. we’d have the time/energy.. (not to mention the regenerating energy  from living this way) to ie: follow our whimsy/wonder.. everyday

the ai humanity needs..augmenting interconnectedness.. of 7bn alive people

meadows undisturbed ecosystem

gopnik has tested this hypothesis on children in her lab and has found that there are learning problems that 4 yr olds are better at solving that adults.. these are precisely the kinds of problems that require thinking outside the box..

rather.. that require thinking.. once you have a box.. not so much thinking.. as looking for right fits

ie: kids getting calaculus thinking.. ie: mathematical thinking .. more than hs/college/prof


the short summary is, babies and children are basically tripping all the time

high on life.. as we all should/could be


Alison Gopnik (@AlisonGopnik) tweeted at 1:35 PM on Fri, Apr 05, 2019:
I’m Alison Gopnik cognitive scientist and psychologist who studies how to make computers as good at learning as children. I also write the science column Mind and Matter for the Wall Street Journal. #unapologeticallyfeministscientist

imagine we just focus on tech as a good listener.. to daily curiosity  ie: cure ios city

2 convers as infra.. tech as it could be..


44 min

I talked to @AlisonGopnik last week about how infants are the key to artificial intelligence research. You should check this out. Will definitely make you look at kids – and the future – differently. And plus, you can hear my kids being cute on a podcast.
Original Tweet:

switch from thinking about knowledge to learning.. most of people that do that learning are babies and young children. .they are the best.. so.. describing this in computational terms.. turning into equation

the catch.. kinds of models.. are very hard/expensive to implement on computers.. expo explosion if try to implement them.. good at solving a lot of problems w lot of data.. but not very good at generalizing

kids are opposite.. from very small amounts of data.. can come up w very unlikely idea.. build structure to generalize.. question is .. what are they using to do that..t

curiosity .. love of life – thorson curiosity law

the way they’re trying to solve problems is diff (than ai/computers) 3 ways: 1\ model building  2\ exploration  3\ social learning ..

1\ can think of children as little scientists.. allows you to theorize/generalize

2\ perform experiments.. but we call it getting into everything.. 2 yr old seem to be designed to be noisy curious.. bad if trying to get out the door to preschool.. but good if find new info.. baby attuned to amount of info they can get.. that paying attention isn’t just random.. he’s (baby) paying attention to what is going to give most info.. computer good at specializing but not generalizing..people/children (v computer) can set up a new objective

not yet scrambled ness

3\ learning from us..  very sensitive to other people.. ai not good at that

interviewer @dannyfortson: sounds like you are trying to code curiosity..t

we need to listen to & facil curiosity.. can’t code it..

ie: cure ios city

curiosity based reinforcement learning.. get rewarded for making predictions for what you don’t yet know.. so can test children and ai on curiosity based actions..t

ugh.. rewards/incentives cancerous to curiosity..

try 2 convers as infra.. let go of testing..

we’re going to have to invent something new beyond what we are doing now..

ongoingly.. so let go..  just use tech to listen

unconditioned curiosity does that.. everyday

babies born w lot of ideas.. not blank slate

children good models.. because ones who are doing most of the learning.. *not just because contaminated w ie: school.. just learning are esp curious/creative

? ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work main reason .. no?

such a huge gap between machine and man.. fear of narrative.. something kind of human and not human.. we shouldn’t be worried about that.. but about regulating (ie: circuit breakers in houses w electricity so don’t burn down)

climate change you could worry about everyday 24/7 and that’s not enough.. we have to ration our worrying.. t.. we know there are computers that can think on their own


let’s worry/focus on getting us all back to curiosity.. rather then spinning our wheels trying to code/mechanize it

we want to try to understand why babies.. they look like they have little infra/ed.. and can solve problems.. we’re far away from solving that

industrialization in a way turned people into computers.. it might be that computers will liberate (from those things.. like industrial freed us from physical labor) us to do creatives things

every day these tiny creatures w no authority power status just astound us.. so i think it’s going to be a very long time till we understand this.. if we ever the mean time.. figure out what would happen if you had a system that was curious..t

what is your aim?.. to algo or restore us

to algo all this? (sounds like it.. but to what end?) or to free us up?.. two diff routes.. first futile.. second via: augmenting interconnectedness

babies/children who most people do’t pay attention to.. not much status.. i kind of like the idea that they are who we should have been paying attention to..t

i like idea that pre school teachers are the greatest force..t

? wow.. in spaces where we first are cancer-izing their curiosity?.. too late there.. to hubris ish there..

2 very diff things: children; children in school.. ie: whales in sea world

ie: chess, proving theorems, doing math.. things you think would be really hard and take great intelligence.. not so.. the hard.. distinctively human problems are one’s children are solving.. paying attention to..t

engineers now.. ‘this isn’t working..? i can find out things from going and looking at babies..?’..t

rather.. let’s try 1 yr to be 5

general idea that the way to go is to develop more structured models w deep learning.. we’ve been paying attention to representation and data.. the success of deep learning has waffled back and forth between data and knowledge.. w kids.. both are important..  data and abstract models..


from joi

My reading list with links to related talks, posts and classes:

Original Tweet:


everyday chaos, weinberger

carhart harris entropy law

explanation as orgasm (article), gopnik

I argue that explanation should be thought of as the phenomenological mark of the operation of a particular kind of cognitive system, the theory-formation system. The theory-formation system operates most clearly in children and scientists but is also part of our everyday cognition. The system is devoted to uncovering the underlying causal structure of the world. Since this process often involves active intervention in the world, in the case of systematic experiment in scientists, and play in children, the cognitive system is accompanied by a ‘theory drive’, a motivational system that impels us to interpret new evidence in terms of existing theories and change our theories in the light of new evidence. What we usually think of as explanation is the phenomenological state that accompanies the satisfaction of this drive. However, the relation between the phenomenology and the cognitive system is contingent, as in similar cases of sexual and visual phenomenology. Distinctive explanatory phenomenology may also help us to identify when the theory-formation system is operating.


alison on ai