(2009) by Alison Gopnik
childhood is a profound part of the human condition.. not just something all human beings share.. it is what makes all human beings human..t
science and indeed commons sense, tells us that in those early years they are learning more than they ever will again.. t
this book will focus on children under five.. and i’ll sometimes use the word ‘babies’ to talk about anybody younger than three..
in some ways young children are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults are..t
thinking about babies and young children can help answer fundamental questions about imagination, truth, consciousness, identity, love and morality in a new way..
how children change the world
more than any other creature, human begins are able to change.. children and childhood help explain how we change.. and the fact that we change explains why children are the way they are.. and even why childhood exists at all
the great evolutionary advantage of human beings is their ability to escape from the constraints of evolution.. we can learn about our environ, we can imagine diff environs.. and we can turn those imagined environs into reality…
and as an intensely social species, other *people are the most important part of our environ..
learning is about the way the world changes our mind, but our minds can also change the world.. developing a new theory about the world allows us to imagine other ways the world might be..t
understanding other people and *ourselves lets us imagine new ways of being human..
this book is about how children develop minds that change the world..
how childhood changes the world
the very fact of childhood – our long protected period of immaturity – plays a crucial role in this human ability to change the world and ourselves.. t
what is childhood? it’s a distinctive developmental period in which young human beings are uniquely dependent on adults.. childhood literally couldn’t exist w/o caregivers.. t
de ice et al
the protracted period of immaturity is intimately tied up w the human capacity for change.. imagination has to have some time to exercise it..
spaces of permission w nothing to prove
children protected from usual *exigencies (demands) of adult life.. there’s a kind of **evolutionary division of labor between children and adults.. children are the r&d devept.. the brainstorms.. adults are production and marketing.. they make the discoveries we implement them.. t
i don’t see **that (perhaps rather an unnatural/cancerous division of labor).. i think all of us should be in the imaginary realm.. our whole lives.. (rev of everyday life.. via fromm spontaneous law et al..) .. i think thinking adults are diff.. is a disturbance to our ecosystem… i think thinking we need production and marketing is a disturbance to our ecosystem.. call childhood a buffer for kids.. but leisure should be a buffer for adults.. i think what you are calling *exigencies.. are a farce.. ie: i believe that these 2 basic needs are for all ages of human beings..
to me.. this (thinking imagination ends w childhood et al) is why we’re where we’re at.. ie: ice ness et al
if we focus on adult abilities, long term planning, swift and automatic execution, rapid skillful reaction to the deer and the tigers and the deadlines, then babies and young children will indeed look pretty pathetic..
whoa.. i think that is a pathetic description of humanity.. ie: a disturbance to our ecosystem.. (planning, execution, deadlines.. how are those natural..?)
but if we focus on our distinctive capacities for change, esp imagination and learning, then it’s the adults who look slow..
not just slow.. but unnatural.. ie: doing the wrong things
i love that you’re saying all this about childhood.. but it has to be our entire life.. ie: changing .. imagining different.. spontaneous.. otherwise.. we’re dead/not-us.. (like most of us are today.. again.. it’s how things like prison.. detention centers.. abuse.. colonization.. et al.. get past us)
babies’ brains seems to have *special qualities that make them esp well suited for imagination and learning.. babies’ brains are actually more highly connected tha adult brains; more neural pathways are available to babies than adults.. as we grow older and **experience more, our brains ‘***prune out’ the weaker, less used pathways and strengthen the one s tha tare used more often
dang.. great ie of our specialized experts.. how can you not see that we aren’t **experiencing more.. we’re not ***pruning.. we’re killing off connections.. by not being alive everyday.. again.. great on the insight of children.. but you seem to be thinking legit adults are like whales at sea world.. (black science of people/whales)
the *special qualities of babies’ brains.. is that they’re not yet scrambled.. perhaps we focus on a way to quit scrambling ourselves.. (ie: w school/job/market/state/et-al)
baby’s brain look like old paris, w lots of winding, interconnected little streets. in adult brain those little streets have been replaced by fewer but more *efficient neural boulevards.. capable fo much **more traffic..
young brains are also much *more plastic and flexible – they change much more easily.. but they are much less efficient; they don’t work as quickly or effectively..t
prefrontal cortex.. capacities for thinking, planning and control
hmm.. are those us..? i think they may be.. not-us
recently neuroscientists have discovered that all of the brain is more plastic and changeable, even in adulthood than we ever thought before.. still, some parts, the visual system, for ie, seem to take their adult form in the first few months of life.. others, like the prefrontal cortex, and the connections between the prefrontal area and other parts of the brain, mature much more slowly.. the visual cortex is much the same at 6 months and 60.. while the prefrontal area takes on tis final from only in adulthood..
you might think this means that children are defective adults..that they lack the parts of the brain that are most crucial for rational adult thought..
no.. i’m thinking adults are defective.. intoxicated..
but you could equally say that when it comes to imagination and learning, prefrontal immaturity allows children to be superadults..
the prefrontal cortex is esp involved in ‘inhibition’ .. it actually helps shut down other parts of the brain.. limiting and focusing experience, action and thought.. this process is crucial for the complex thinking, planning and acting *that adults engage in
you mean .. *that whales at sea world engage in..
to execute a complex plan.. you have to perform just the actions that are dictated by that plan.. anyone who tries to persuade a 3 yr old to get dressed for preschool will develop an appreciation of inhibition
only if they’re so intoxicated as to think that preschool and dressing up .. are natural..
but as we’ll see, inhibition has downside if you are primarily interested in imagination and learning.. you want to remain open to anything ..the lack of *strong prefrontal control may actually be a benefit of childhood
1\ possible worlds.. why do children pretend
children have everyday theories of the world – everyday ideas about psychology, biology, and physics.. these theories are like scientific theories but they are largely unconscious rather than conscious, and they are coded in children’s brains, instead of being written down on paper or presented at scientific conferences.. t
imagine if we unleashed that.. (rather than squelching it at age 5).. not to mention.. making sci presentations irrelevant
children’s brains construct a kind of unconscious causal map, an accurate picture of het way the world works.. located in the hippocampus
knowledge is actually what give imagination its power, what makes creativity possible. it’s because we know something about those events are connected in the world that we can imagine altering those connections and creating new ones. it’s because we know about this world that we can create possible worlds…
2\ imaginary companions – how does fiction tell the truth
children are the world’s wildest and most enthusiastic creators of fiction
for a social species like ours, understanding what people can do, and acting to change what they do, is even more important than understanding and changing the physical world..
many anthropologists have suggested that the development of this ‘machiavellian intelligence’ was an engine of human cognitive evolution. individual humans are pathetic creatures literally unable to keep ourselves alive. our survival depends on our ability to *get other people to do what we want.. to make alliances, construct coalitions, and form teams..
? i don’t know.. i think a better route is to use tech to help us find the people that already want to do the things we want to do (gershenfeld sel).. alliances/coalitions/teams.. all seem to be a disturbance to our ecosystem
understanding children’s pretend play can help us understand why fiction is important to adults, too
the heyday of imaginary companions is between about 2 and 6 yrs old
on older children no longer primarily interested in understanding individual people (via imaginary friend).. instead they are trying to understand the elaborate social networks that will be *crucial for their adult lives.. **middle school classroom are full of alliances, exclusions, and battles, leaders, henchmen and outcasts, and children are often deeply absorbed in sorting them out..
children w autism are a particularly striking ie of the link between causal knowledge, imagination and play.. t
there is a great deal of systematic evidence that children w autism have trouble developing a theory of other *people’s minds..
people w autism also almost never have imaginary companions, or indeed, engage in pretend play at all..
an adult who maintains her link w the imaginary life of childhood seems particularly likely to end up writing fiction..
their obsessive and unstoppable pretend play – that parade of fictional counterfactuals – reflects the most sophisticated, important, and characteristic human abilities
while children may be useless, they are useless on purpose. because, as children, we don’t have to restrict our imaginings to the immediately useful, we can freely construct causal maps and exercise our ability to create counterfactuals.. we can compute a wide range of possibilities.. not just the two or three that are most likely to pay off.. t
useful = pay off
we’re missing it
this division of labor (adult and child)
which i think is a disturbance to our ecosystem
one of clearest differences .. inhibition.. the commonplace that babies and young children are uninhibited compared w adults is literally true, and we even have some ideas about the brain changes in the prefrontal cortex that lead to those changes in inhibition
and if so.. i’m thinking the changes in the prefrontal cortex are due to our ‘supposed-to’ lifestyles..
usually psychologists act as if this childish uninhibitedness is a defect. and, of course, if your agenda is to figure out how to get along well in the everyday world – how to actually do things effectively – it is a defect..
but if your agenda is simply to explore both the actual world and all the possible worlds, this apparent defect may be a great asset..
that’s what we should all be doing .. everyday.. rev of everyday life
they don’t choose to explore only the possibilities that might be useful – they explore all the possibilities..
the evolutionary outcome of this uninhibited exploration is that children can learn more than adults can..t
3 – escaping plato’s cave – how children, scientists, and computers discover the truth
thomas bayes 180th cent.. ideas about probability.. bayesianism gives you precise mathematical ways to get closer and closer to the truth..
combining bayesian learning ideas w the causal maps.. has turned out to give computer scientists and extraordinarily powerful way of constructing learning machines..
on babies doing stats.. probability that pre and ty go together but ty and ba don’t
if you play babies same kind of sound over and over .. they get bored and turn away from sound.. play something new and they become attentive and start listening and turning to the sound again
any child will put the most productive scientist to shame
but ..odd.. they don’t get into things in order to satisfy their immediate needs; their immediate needs are taken care of by adults.. why do young children expend so much energy and time, even putting their own safety at risk?
totally what we need 7bn people to be like.. today.. imagine that..
the drive to experiment seems to be innate
indeed.. everything as experiment
experimentation provides us w a way of learning things that are not innate.. t
ie: 2 convos as infra
we can draw much stronger conclusions from experimentation than from observation, but it is much easier to observe than it is to experiment.. experimenting means acting and acting takes energy and resources and determination.. however if you assumed that other people’s actions were similar to yours, you could vastly extend the scope of our experience w little expenditure of effort yourself.. you could let other people do your experiments for you
graeber model law.. for sure.. but today.. we are so out of balance in that regard.. imagine if we got to choose.. everyday.. who/what we wanted to observe.. ie: don’t get that choice till you are 20? 30? retired? .. or under 5..
these babies go beyond simply imitating the other person. instead they recognize the complex causal relationships among human goals, actions, and outcomes
barbara rogoff studying mayan mothers and children in guatemala.. she found that the mayan children developed a remarkable degree of skill w complex and dangerous tools at a very early age.. young children are constantly w the adults as the adults practice these skills
and today.. kids just w adults teaching/telling/lecturing.. not too often modeling curiosity; the thing they can’t not do, et al.. we could get back to that via 2 convos
hg child et al
on babies following logic of physical things.. ie: picking up a ball.. and how they learn to follow people’s minds.. because they are less predictable .. esp from person to person..
thinking they’re way better than us.. ie: maté not yet scrambled law
younger siblings rather surprisingly seem to learn about minds more quickly than older siblings, though they typically do worse on iq and verbal tests.. younger siblings develop exceptional emotional and social intelligence, while older ones develop more conventional schoolroom intelligence.. younger siblings are more likely to be peacemakers and charmers, while older siblings are the serious *achievers..
[dang.. that passage alone should be a red flag that we’re doing it wrong]
on the importance of language – to figure out what people think, you have to hear what they say
i don’t know.. why then are kids less scrambled .. and can sense things about people better..?
*children act this way (obsessive, tireless experimental play/observation/imitation) just because they are designed to rapidly and accurately learn the causal structure of the physical and psychological worlds around them..
indeed.. so why do we keep messing with that..? imagine 7bn people *(all ages) acting that way.. everyday.. as the day.
the methods of experimentation and statistical analysis seem to be programmed into our brains even when we are tiny babies..
4 – what it is like to be a baby.. consciousness and attention
babies are, at least by some measures, more conscious than we are
when we experience something new, or startling, or salient, our brains produce characteristic electrical patterns – brain waves – that are associated w attention.. as we try to make sense of the new event our bodies change as well as our minds – our heart rate slows in a distinctive way – and we enter an especially vivid state of consciousness….
by the time we become expert we can literally be completely unconscious of what we are doing..in adutl life it sometimes feels as if hours and even days can go by when we ar eon autopilot this way – perfectly functional, walking, talking, teaching, meeting – attending zombies
babies would give up following the ball rather than miss the gorilla in the room..
babies seem to be conscious of much more of the world at once
this capacity for very general attention makes babies such terrific learners..t
this lets babies and children construct new maps, and change their old ones, much more quickly and easily than adults do
early in life we are sensitive to more possibilities, while later in life we just focus on the possibilities that are most likely to be important and relevant to us
black science of people.. ie: 1\ we’ve been trained to not be us so.. this is like saying what an adult whale at sea world is like compared to a baby whale in the open sea.. 2\ the what is important and relevant .. is to not-us.. not to us
division of labor between babies (learn as much as quickly as possible.. to learn about world.. w/o any particular goal/plan) and grown ups (focus on learning about just the aspects that are relevant to your goals/place)
this is so not-us.. according to langer.. this makes adults mindless..
5 – who am i.. memory, self, and the babbling stream
consciousness isn’t just our awareness of the outside world. it is a distinctive internal experience.. we hear a constant ‘inner speech’.. often, more waking moments seem spent in these internal reflections than in registering the world outside
not today.. at least not with our authentic minds/hearts.. et al .. begs we give self-talk as data a try
the babbling stream of consciousness is closely related to our *sense of personal identity.. my experiences happen to me..
*sense of id.. is spot on.. because not really us..
even people who say they remember being abducted by aliens are n’t crazy and aren’t lying. they genuinely do experience the memories they describe.. best explanation… is that it starts w a particular kind of sleep disturbance..
6 – heraclitus’ river and the romanian orphans – how does our early life shape our later life
7 – learning to love – attachment and id
maté basic needs: a&a
secure babies conclude that caregivers will quickly make them feel better. avoidant babies think that t expressing distress will only cause more misery (look calm.. but testing heart rate went way up).. anxious babies are unsure that comfort will be effective..
since babies depend entirely on caregiving for survival, figuring out how that caregiving works is even more important than understanding everyday physics or biology..
from the time we are 4 or 5 we think we have a single, constant , unchanging id.. in alzheimer’s disease distant memories may be the only thing left..
8 – love and law – the origins of morality
on piaget and kohlberg arguing that even older children didn’t understand morality…. that truly moral ideas develop on ly in adolescence. until then children’s conception of goof and bad, wrong and right, are just a matter of rewards, punishments, and social conventions.. what your parents tell you to do is right, what you are punished for is wrong…
past few years.. some psychologists have suggested that.. on contrary, morality is innate.. this picture of morality is like chomsky’s picture of language.. a universal moral grammar, despite superficial cultural differences,
like chomsky’s view of language, these views don’t have much room for changes in moral thinking or for the moral discovery and growth that is to characteristically human
new developmental research shows that children do have something to tell us about morality, but what they tell us is diff from either the piagetian or the chomskyan story.. children’s knowledge does have an innate basis, but children also have powerful abilities to learn about the world and transform it and themselves…
literally from the time they are born children are empathic
this particularly human impulse to imitate is a foundation for rule-following
previous section was on rule following be ing good – ie: forks on left.. don’t lecture in pjs
children did think that it was wrong to break rules. they just recognized that it was a diff kind of wrong than hurting somebody..
they knew rules could be changed, but also you had to follow the current rules.. also understand basic structure of rules.. rules involve obligation, prohibition and permission..
we don’t have to persuade or coax or coerce them or directly change their desires and beliefs.. all we need to do is remind them to follow the rule
the very youngest children already understand that we can change the rules.. although we can’t change the basic moral principles of harm and help.. this gives us a characteristically human ability to implement new visions of reality.. changing the rules can make amazing new things happen..
let’s try these two rules.. just these two.. as infra
the human impulse to accept and follow rules means that rule based injustices can easily be perpetuated..
i don’t think this is natural.. nor good
9 – babies and the meaning of life
nor did children appear in the 2500 yrs of philosophy to come..(from socrates’ time)
in their pretend play, young children (cs lewis) explore the magic of human possibility in a particularly wide ranging and creative way
by imagining alt minds, alt ways that people might think and act, human beings can transform themselves and their communities.. the sense of magicl possiblity that is so vivid in children is also at the root of much that is real and important about our lives..
children can also tell us, more than anything else, about the spiritual intuition that we might call love..
how is it possible for humans to change.. learing, counterfactuals and caregiving.. or more poetically, truth, imagination and love..
in science and philosophy these three aspects are often treated. quite separate.. but for young children.. they are inextricably intertwined..
babies love to learn.. they learn by simply observing the unfolding stats of the events around them.. they are open to all the richness.. they pay attention to anything new/unexpected.. they actively do things they learn
this remarkable ability to find truth .. depends on the capacity to imagine and to love.. because we love babies (take care of their needs so they are free) .. they can learn.. by watching what the people they love do and listening to what they say.. caregivers implicitly and unconsciously teach babies at the same time that they care for them..
the human capacity for change means that we can’t figure out what it is to be human just by looking at the way we are now.. we need instead to peer *forward into the vast ramifying space of human possibilities.. the explorers we see out there at the farthest edge look very much like our children..
frustrating parts of book.. seems to be missing this.. huge
while i’m reading the book:
Alison Gopnik (@AlisonGopnik) tweeted at 5:04 AM on Thu, Jun 21, 2018:
So pleased to see the “superb book, The Philosophical Baby” and “lantern consciousness” featured in Michael Pollan’s terrific and fascinating new “How to Change Your Mind”