The philosophical baby: What children’s minds can teach us about the big questions
Here’s an event tonight worth putting on your winter coat for. A lecture on what children’s minds can teach adults.
Until recently, researchers thought that babies and young children were irrational, egocentric and amoral. But the last 30 years of scientific research has completely overturned that view - in some ways children are smarter, more caring and even more conscious than adults are. This new view of babies and young children has brought new and sometimes startling insights about some of the Big Questions of philosophy: questions like How can we find the truth? Where does consciousness come from? What is the nature of morality?
Professor Alison Gopnik from California is a world leader in this research, which she presents in Auckland in three lectures tonight and next week.
Babies aren’t just defective adults, her research shows. Children are for learning she says, and—and this might surprise you—baby’s minds are the most powerful learning machines on the planet. This confirms some of what Ayn Rand observed, based on Maria Montessori’s work:
At birth [observed Rand], a child’s mind is tabula rasa; he has the potential of awareness—the mechanism of a human consciousness—but no content. Speaking metaphorically, he has a camera with an extremely sensitive, unexposed film (his conscious mind), and an extremely complex computer waiting to be programmed (his subconscious). Both are blank. He knows nothing of the external world. He faces an immense chaos which he must learn to perceive by means of the complex mechanism which he must learn to operate.
If, in any two years of adult life, men could learn as much as an infant learns in his first two years, they would have the capacity of genius. To focus his eyes (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to perceive the things around him by integrating his sensations into percepts (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to coordinate his muscles for the task of crawling, then standing upright, then walking—and, ultimately, to grasp the process of concept-formation and learn to speak—these are some of an infant’s tasks and achievements whose magnitude is not equaled by most men in the rest of their lives.
What’s it like to be a baby? Says Gopnik, “It’s like being in love in Paris for the first time after you’ve had three double espressos.”
So maybe instead of getting children to be more like adults, we adults should become more like children.
It could be the pathway to genius.
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See Alison Gopnik tonight and next week at Auckland University:
Thursday 17 May 2012 to Wednesday 23 May 2012, 7pm
Venue: Fisher & Paykel Auditorium, Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road
Cost: Free admission and all are welcome. No booking required
Contact info: For further information phone 373 7599 ext 87698
A series of three lectures by Professor Alison Gopnik.
17, 21, 23 May 2012.
More details here.
And until then (or if you can’t make it), enjoy her recent T.E.D. talk “ What Do Babies Think?: