"Children are unconsciously the most rational beings on earth," says Alison Gopnik, "brilliantly drawing accurate conclusions from data, performing complex statistical analyses, and doing clever experiments." And not only does empirical work reveal this about babies and small children, but what is thus revealed throws light on some of philosophy's more intriguing questions about knowledge, the self, other minds, and the basis of morality. . . .
Llearning proceeds, says Gopnik, in ways that a scientist would recognize as familiar: by experimentation and recognition of statistical patterns. In the child the application of these methods is unconscious and instinctive, and it is aided by the presence of caregivers who provide active instruction. But the basis of child learning is no different from the more conscious and deliberate methodology of adult enquirers.
Studies of child development also suggest insights into consciousness, one of philosophy's most recalcitrant mysteries. Children appear to have a far more vivid awareness of the world around them than adults do, Gopnik, reports, because an adult's "spotlight awareness" that enables concentration on specific features of an environment involves losing the "lantern awareness" that brings the whole environment to the forefront of attention. This childhood form of awareness is likened by Gopnik to how adults feel when they visit a foreign country; they focus less on particulars and experience everything more globally because so much is unfamiliar. But whereas children have a more intense lantern awareness, they also have less inner consciousness of the kind that helps manufacture a distinctive sense of self, that autobiographical centre of memory and planning which is the "me" in all experience. That explains why they have less command of their behavior, and less sense of the future.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life
I haven't read this book (it comes out Aug. 4), but this review makes it look fascinating.