Sunday, August 23, 2009

End o' the book

So, finished The Philosophical Baby not much of huge excitement in the 2nd half of the book.

Okay, maybe not entirely fair.

Some interesting things on babies sense of self -- at a certain point, babies (again, under 3) will recognize themselves in a video shot just moments before seeing it, but won't get that the sticker put on their head moments ago in the video might still be on their head, while 4 year olds will immediately check their heads. There was some discussion, and I can't really remember all of it so it must not have made that much of an impression on me, of kids' sense of time - basically, they don't have a linear sense of time. This is in keeping with kids not being focused in on one thing but instead taking everything in. They take everything in both on a physical plane and then also on a temporal plane, not really distinguishing where or when in particulars.

Also, infants don't keep track of how they gained knowledge even when they can keep track of knowledge. When kids were told that the drawer had an egg in it and then were later asked (a) if the drawer had an egg (they'd answer 'yes') and then (b) how they knew, the answers they gave as to how they knew were largely unrelated to how they had really found out. Gopnik's theory (and it sounds plausible to me) is that babies' beliefs about the world are changing so rapidly that keeping track of where they got information is going to take up a good deal of time, energy, brain power and that reflecting upon source of knowledge as a way to determine authenticity of claim is something that only becomes useful once the majority of one's beliefs are fairly stable. Like I said, this makes sense.

Gopnik also makes the moderately mundane point that infants learn about love and relationships from their caregivers but then makes the more interesting point that the caregivers are also learning from the infants. That both caregivers and infants are teaching each other. This is an interesting way to think about the relationship being more reciprocal.

Lastly, and I think this is what irritated me, Gopnik makes a foray into ethics and, well, as someone who specializes in ethics, it wasn't terribly groundbreaking - and a bit historically inaccurate. Still, a few interesting points. Infants appear to be naturally inclined to help others and to want to stop the pain of others. Multiple studies back this up. Most of my students insist (with paucity of evidence) to claim that all humans fit Hobbes' misanthropic conception, but little evidence backs this up. Also, it appears that at a young age all but psychopaths make a distinction btwn the wrongness of breaking rules and the wrongness of hurting others (with latter being worse). Psychopaths, predictably, see no problem with harming others. In fact, psychopaths don't even recognize certain facial expresssions as indicative of pain whereas very young kids (younger than 3) do recognize such signs.

So, in the end, good book or not? I'd say it's an interesting book for someone who isn't familiar with infant development and so would recommend it to folks who are either non-experts but interested or to give to folks who the giver want to get interested.

Now I move on to Raz' Morality of Freedom!!

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