The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, And How Children Learn

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9780688159887: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, And How Children Learn

This book combines two worlds -- children and science -- in an entirely unique way that yields exciting discoveries about both. The authors show that by the time children are three, they've solved problems that stumped Socrates with an agility computers still can't match. The Scientist in the Crib explains just how, and how much, babies and young children know and learn, and how much parents naturally teach them. In fact, The Scientist in the Crib argues that evolution designed us to both teach and learn. Nurture is our nature, and the drive to learn is our most important instinct.

The new science of children also reveals insights about our adult capacities, helping to solve some ancient questions: How do we know there really is a world out there? How do we know that other people have minds like ours? It turns out that we find solutions to these problems when we are very small. But these astonishing capabilities don't disappear in later life, as the authors show in their engaging discussion of humans' potential for learning. In fact, they argue that even very young children -- as well as adults use some of the same methods that allow scientists to learn so much about the world.

Written by three top scientists -- themselves parents -- who conducted much of the pioneering research in this field, The Scientist in the Crib is vivid, lucid, and often funny. Filled with surprises at every turn, it gives us a new view of the inner life of children and the mysteries of the mind.

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Review:

A trio of nationally respected childhood-development scientists hailing from Berkeley and the University of Washington has authored The Scientist in the Crib to correct a disparity: while popular books about science speak to intelligent, perceptive adults who simply want to learn, books about babies typically just give advice, heavy on the how-to and light on the why. The authors write, "It's as if the only place you could read about evolution was in dog-breeding manuals, not in Stephen Jay Gould; as if, lacking Stephen Hawking's insights, the layman's knowledge of the cosmos was reduced to 'How to find the constellations.'"

The Scientist in the Crib changes that. Standing on the relatively recent achievements of the young field of cognitive science (pointing out that not so long ago, babies were considered only slightly animate vegetables--"carrots that could cry"), the authors succinctly and articulately sum up the state of what's now known about children's minds and how they learn. Using language that's both friendly and smart (and using equally accessible metaphors, everything from Scooby-Doo to The Third Man), The Scientist in the Crib explores how babies recognize and understand their fellow humans, interpret sensory input, absorb language, learn and devise theories, and take part in building their own brains.

Such science makes for great reading, but will likely prove even more useful to readers with a scientist in their own crib, acting as tonic to pseudoscientific how-to baby books that recommend everything "from flash cards, to Mozart tapes, to Better Baby Institutes." As the authors put it, "We want to understand children, not renovate them." --Paul Hughes

About the Author:

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and a leading cognitive scientist. She is past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and is the author of more than seventy papers on philosophy, psychology, and children's early learning. She has also written for The New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement. Mother of three, she lives with her family in Berkeley, California.

Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph.D. revolutionized the field of child psychology with his discoveries about how much infants know, learn, and remember. He is a professor of psychology and the University of Washington, and his research has been featured in Time, The New York Times, and museum exhibits worldwide. He and his wife, Dr. Kuhl, live with their daughter in Seattle, Washington.

Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph.D. is the world's leading authority on speech development and is a professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington. She was one of six scientists invited to present their research at the White House Conference on Early Learning and the Brain in 1997. Her recent findings on language acquisition and why parents speak "motherese" to their children made national headlines. She and her husband, Dr. Meltzoff, live in Seattle.

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