I seem to be spending half my life staring into my newborn’s eyes, “wondering what she’s thinking and feeling,” said Josh Lacey in Britain’s The Guardian. UC Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik can’t answer that, exactly, but her new book, “The Philosophical Baby,” at least shows that my infant’s not a thought-free blob. In fact, Gopnik says that young children in many ways are smarter and more imaginative than adults.
I know I’d forfeit two months of my life for five minutes “inside a baby’s bulbous head,” said Yale psychologist Paul Bloom in Slate. But I’m not entirely convinced by Gopnik’s “romantic and optimistic” theory that I’d find unsurpassed “creative prowess,” aided by seeing everything completely new and unfiltered. Babies seem to understand the world better than she thinks, and their world could just as easily surprise us “not by its freshness but by its familiarity.”
The frustrating thing is, we all once saw the world through a baby’s eyes, said Anthony Gottlieb in The New York Times. Research like Alison Gopnik’s can’t recapture that world, but it can dispel the “false or misleading ideas” we inherited from Freud and Jean Piaget—it turns out young children can tell truth from fiction and grasp moral rules. Where Gopnik loses me is her rather “fond exaggeration” that studying children’s minds can reveal the meaning of life.