The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind

The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688177881
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/26/2000
Edition description: First Perennial Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 215,783
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and a leading cognitive scientist. She is past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and is the author of more than seventy papers on philosophy, psychology, and children's early learning. She has also written for The New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement. Mother of three, she lives with her family in Berkeley, California.

Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph.D. revolutionized the field of child psychology with his discoveries about how much infants know, learn, and remember. He is a professor of psychology and the University of Washington, and his research has been featured in Time, The New York Times, and museum exhibits worldwide. He and his wife, Dr. Kuhl, live with their daughter in Seattle, Washington.

Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph.D. is the world's leading authority on speech development and is a professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington. She was one of six scientists invited to present their research at the White House Conference on Early Learning and the Brain in 1997. Her recent findings on language acquisition and why parents speak "motherese" to their children made national headlines. She and her husband, Dr. Meltzoff, live in Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ancient Questions and a Young Science

Walk upstairs, open the door gently, and look in the crib. What do you see? Most of us see a picture of innocence and helplessness, a clean slate. But, in fact, what we see in the crib is the greatest mind that has ever existed, the most powerful learning machine in the universe. The tiny fingers and mouth are exploration devices that probe the alien world around them with more precision than any Mars rover. The crumpled ears take a buzz of incomprehensible noise and flawlessly turn it into meaningful language. The wide eyes that sometimes seem to peer into your very soul actually do just that, deciphering your deepest feelings. The downy head surrounds a brain that is forming millions of new connections every day. That, at least, is what thirty years of scientific research have told us.

This book is about that research. What are these deeply familiar yet surprisingly strange creatures we call children really like? Of course, human beings have always wondered, pondered, and even agonized about their children. But most of the time, the questions people ask are practical. Some are immediate, questions about how to get them to eat more or cry less. Some are long-term, questions about how to turn them into the right kind of grown-ups. These are important questions, crucial for the survival of any civilization (not to mention any parent), but we won't have very much to say about them. This book won't tell you how to make babies easier or smarter or nicer, or how to get them to go to sleep or to Harvard. There are lots of books that do that, or anyway say they do, right between the cooking andhouse-repairs sections in your local bookstore. Our questions are both harder and easier than the practical questions. We want to understand children, not renovate them.

While the purported answers to the practical questions fill volumes, all of us who have lived with babies and young children, or even just looked at them, have found ourselves asking deeper questions. We decided to become developmental psychologists and study children because there aren't any Martians. These brilliant beings with the little bodies and big heads are the closest we can get to a truly alien intelligence (even if we may occasionally suspect that they are bent on making us their slaves). Babies are fascinating, mysterious, and just plain weird. Watch awhile. A three-month-old catches sight of the stripes on a shopping bag and follows it carefully as her father carries it around the room, staring with intense cross-eyed concentration. A one-year-old visiting the zoo points at the elephant and says triumphantly and with great certainty, "Doggie!" A "terrible two-year-old" turns toward the expressly forbidden switch of the computer and slowly, deliberately, watching his mother every moment, erases the day's work. As we change diapers and wipe noses, all of us, no matter how preoccupied, find ourselves exclaiming, "What's going on in that little head of hers? Where on earth did he get that from?"

Developmental psychologists have had the luxury of asking those questions systematically and even getting answers to them. We're actually starting to understand what's going on in that little head of hers and where on earth he got that from.

Studying babies is full of fascination in its own right. But developmental research also helps answer a more general, deep, and ancient question, not just about babies but about us. We human beings, no more than a few pounds of protein and water, have come to understand the origins of the universe, the nature of life, and even a few things about ourselves. No other animal, and not even the most sophisticated computer, knows as much. And yet every one of us started out as the helpless creature in the crib. Only a few tiny flickers of information from the outside world reach that creature -- a few photons hitting its retinas, some sound waves vibrating at its eardrums -- and yet we end up knowing how the world works. How do we do it? How did we get here from there?

The new research about babies holds answers to those questions, too. It turns out that the capacities that allow us to learn about the world and ourselves have their origins in infancy. We are born with the ability to discover the secrets of the universe and of our own minds, and with the drive to explore and experiment until we do. Science isn't just the specialized province of a chilly elite; instead, it's continuous with the kind of learning every one of us does when we're very small.

Trying to understand human nature is part of human nature. Developmental scientists are themselves engaged in the same enterprise and use the same cognitive tools as the babies they study. The scientist peering into the crib, looking for answers to some of the deepest questions about how minds and the world and language work, sees the scientist peering out of the crib, who, it turns out, is doing much the same thing. No wonder they both smile.

The Ancient Questions

How can we know so much when our senses are so limited? This problem -- the problem of knowledge -- is one of the oldest and most profound problems of philosophy. The branch of philosophy called epistemology is devoted to it. Three versions of the problem are especially important and puzzling to grown-ups and children alike. We'll call them the Other Minds problem, the External World problem, and the Language problem. The new developmental psychology helps answer all three.

Take a perfectly ordinary event. Every Sunday night, we sit around the dinner table. We serve up healthy leek and potato soup (which must be eaten before you get dessert), pass the salt and pepper, butter the bread, push our chairs back from the big wooden table. We laugh, fight, and tease one another. One of the big brothers invariably makes a rude joke at the expense of the little brother, who is hurt and demands an apology. No experience could be more banal, more domestic, more comfortable and familiar. Except that, actually, we don't experience any of this at all...

The Scientist In The Crib. Copyright © by Alison Gopnik. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgmentsvii
Chapter 1Ancient Questions and a Young Science1
The Ancient Questions4
Baby 0.06
The Other Socratic Method10
The Great Chain of Knowing11
Piaget and Vygotsky14
The New View: The Computational Baby20
Chapter 2What Children Learn About People23
What Newborns Know25
The Really Eternal Triangle32
Peace and Conflict Studies35
Changing Your Point of View40
The Conversational Attic42
Learning About "About"44
The Three-Year-Old Opera: Love and Deception47
Knowing You Didn't Know: Education and Memory51
How Do They Do It?52
Becoming a Psychologist55
When Little Brother Is Watching57
Chapter 3What Children Learn About Things60
What Newborns Know64
The Irresistible Allure of Stripes64
The Importance of Movement65
Seeing the World Through 3-D Glasses67
The Tree in the Quad and the Keys in the Washcloth70
Making Things Happen73
Kinds of Things79
How Do They Do It?83
The Explanatory Drive85
Grown-ups as Teachers88
Chapter 4What Children Learn About Language92
The Sound Code94
Making Meanings97
The Grammar We Don't Learn in School99
What Newborns Know102
Taking Care of the Sounds: Becoming a Language-Specific Listener106
The Tower of Babble110
The First Words112
Putting It Together117
How Do They Do It?120
Word-Blindness: Dyslexia and Dysphasia120
Learning Sounds122
Learning How to Mean125
Chapter 5What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Minds133
Evolution's Programs134
The Star Trek Archaeologists139
The Developmental View: Sailing in Ulysses' Boat149
Big Babies153
The Scientist as Child: The Theory Theory155
Explanation as Orgasm162
Other People164
Nurture as Nature165
The Klingons and the Vulcans170
Sailing Together172
Chapter 6What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Brains174
The Adult Brain175
How Brains Get Built180
Wiring the Brain: Talk to Me183
Synaptic Pruning: When a Loss Is a Gain186
Are There Critical Periods?189
The Social Brain194
The Brain in the Boat195
Chapter 7Trailing Clouds of Glory198
What Is to Be Done?198
The Clouds206

What People are Saying About This

T. Berry Brazelton

This book is a valuable addition to parents' libraries. It clearly delineates the way small infants and children learn. After reading it, parents can be enthralled as they watch their new babies imitate, learn the 'rules' of communication, and of speech learning. What an interesting book by three eminent 'baby-watchers'!

Howard Gardner

“This book is at once a masterful synthesis of the latest findings about the minds of children and a provacative argument that young children resemble practicing scientists. Few books about human development speak so eloquently to both scholars and parents.”

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Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Did you know that, if you put your face right in front of a newborn infant and open your mouth wide, the baby will do the same thing? I tried this with my new granddaughter last year, and it's actually true. It seems babies are smarter than they look, and they have several avenues to increasing their knowledge. They know some things when they are born; their brains are arranged to learn in various areas; and their parents, not surprisingly, play a key role in helping them learn. One part of the book that I found particularly fascinating was the ingenious methods the scientists have devised to figure out what's going on in the brain of a 6-week old baby. This book organizes what's known now in a rapidly growing field, and makes a readable, entertaining book that would be fun to read for anyone who's dealing with small children.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
An alternate subtitle for this book could be: 'Our research on how children think, and our opinions about the rest of the world'. The book presents accessible and interesting descriptions of the authors' experiments, with conclusions about how infants' minds work. It is cleverly written, too, with helpful allusions to literature and pop culture. The analysis of how the results of the experiments fit into the rest of the world are less convincing, and overwritten -- all of chapter 5 could have been cut without no loss in the book's substance.On the frustrating side, the authors' core thesis -- that scientists are essentially doing what babies do: generating theories and then testing them, driven by a biological urge to explain the world around them -- isn't itself tested scientifically; it's just presented as an attractive idea. There's something particularly suspect when a trio of scientists discovers, much to their delight, that the beloved subjects of their careers are, in the ways that matter most to these investigators, just like them. It doesn't mean the theory is wrong, but it's odd that these authors -- clearly articulate and thoughtful, and dedicated to understanding how people think -- never consider the possibility that their thesis could simply be a case of projection. Overall, the book was worth checking out of the library and reading for the empirical information about how children think differently at different ages.
GrrlEditor on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I read this during the first year of my daughter's life and found it fascinating and insightful. Good science, written well.
Daedalus on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I'm not sure if I'm giving this book four stars because it genuinely deserves it, or if the high rating is perhaps more emblematic of my disgust for a majority of the childhood development books I've come across. Regardless, four stars.Where many books seem long on theory and short on empiricism, these authors take great pains (and supply fine footnotes) to document the fruit of modern childhood development studies. My only gripe about the book is that I'd still like a more in depth recounting of current research. Fortunately, most of the authors' peer journal submissions can be found online.
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