Descartes' Baby: How the Science Of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human Hardcover – Apr 13 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Erudite cognitive scientist Bloom (How Children Learn the Meaning of Words) deftly reconciles notions of human mental lifein art, religious belief and moralitywith the latest in child development research. Bloom's central thesis is that what makes us uniquely human is our dualism: our understanding that there are material objects, or bodies, and people, or souls. He opens with evidence of babies' capacity to understand physical processes. What's more, he argues, children can anticipate the goals and intentions of othersan ability he calls "mindreading." In a fascinating summary of research into children's ideas about representation, Bloom highlights a fundamental human cognitive preoccupation with intention. It is this preoccupation, he suggests, that explains the value of art in human society. In a similar vein, Bloom says, morality and altruism are inborn, not learned. Further, he argues counterintuitively that empathy and rationality can be mutually reinforcing, while impartiality and reasoned argument often have emotional roots. Keenly focused on child development as a gold mine for truths about human cognition, Bloom confidentlybut never aggressivelyengages with the thought of Chomsky, Dennett, Gould, Pinker and Piaget. His prose abounds with lively examples from conceptual art, contemporary fiction and his own child-rearing observations. The result is a delightful and humane study that makes rewarding reading for those interested in cognitive psychology's broader implications.
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"[A] fascinating read, penetrating but not off-puttingly so, and of far more intellectual weight than the average pop-psychology offering." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
When reading I could not stop recollecting myself as a child and juxtaposing the facts from the book with episodes from my childhood. For example, Mr. Bloom describes kids' imagining of God. As per one of the studies, they think that God is a human like creature with a voice and a face. Many kids in my kindergarten shared their vision of God in similar terms, but I remember a debate (if you can call it that) between other kids and me when we were arguing if God was a man or a woman. For some reason, the majority of kids were absolutely convinced that God was a man even though they could not explain why. The vision of God was changing with age - when I was a student, my professor of a set theory told me that God was infinity in its most abstract version. He was absolutely serious about that.
The book is practically infested with a great deal of facts and citations, which eloquently illustrate author's points. I have to admit that the author reminds me of Borges in this regard, whom he also mentions when describing some aspects of how human memory functions. Some of such illustrations are quite unusual. For example, when discussing the art and its role in human life, Mr. Bloom mentions a weird habit of Aristotle Onassis to have his barstools upholstered with the scrota of killer whales. Many might find it unusual at least and disgusting at most but it does perfectly illustrate how different human beings are in demonstration of status and power.Read more ›
The book is full of witty and fascinating anecdotes, as well as thought-provoking questions. The first chapters lay the groundwork by reviewing recent findings about the development of infants. The book steadily gains in interest as these findings form the groundwork for intriguing discussions of emotion, morality, and religion.
Although the author is apparently a professor at Yale, the book can be read by anyone who is interested in children or in how we end up the way we are. In fact, as I got further and further into it, I could not put it down.
Descartes' Baby is incredibly fun to read, and is smattered with bits of humor and amusing anecdotes about real children and adults. Indeed, one of the most humorous moments in this lively book is Bloom's account of a neuroscientist colleague's culinarily-motivated search for animals without a certain neural structure, because, he reasoned, animals without this certain structure surely didn't have consciousness and therefore we safe to eat.
Another strength of the book is Bloom's treatment of disgust. His view is both interesting and nuanced and falls naturally from his argument that we are intuitive dualists at heart. Other high points are his discussion of art and forgery, and his quite funny discussion of humor.
It's not often that I read nonfiction. Normally I find it either too pedantic or too technical and narrow in scope to appeal to an outsider. One of the tremendous strengths of this book is that someone without training in developmental psychology or philosophy can follow it with ease, while still finding it intellectually satisfying.
This book is truly a gem -- both entertaining and important. It's a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered about human nature.
Most recent customer reviews
This is a Terrific book. It is written in a lively, accessible style, yet says some serious things about what it is to be human. Read morePublished on April 19 2004
This is an amazing book. It is written with great clarity, insight, and humor while at the same time preserving scientific and conceptual rigor-a very rare combination indeed. Read morePublished on April 19 2004
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