DESCARTES' BABY: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human

Paul Bloom, Author . Basic $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-00783-7

Erudite cognitive scientist Bloom (How Children Learn the Meaning of Words ) deftly reconciles notions of human mental life—in art, religious belief and morality—with 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 others—an 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 confidently—but never aggressively—engages 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. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Apr. 15)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 271 pages - 978-0-09-943794-9
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-465-00786-8
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4464-7362-7
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