The Infant Brain, Redux

An inter­est­ing fol­low-up if you enjoyed read­ing about the devel­op­ment of the infant brain last week: Seed Magazine inter­views Alis­on Gopnik, ask­ing about her research and “why everything we think we know about babies is wrong”.

Seed: You describe chil­dren as being “use­less on pur­pose.” What do you mean by that?

AG: It’s related to one of the basic things that came out of our research: Why do chil­dren exist at all? It does­n’t make tre­mend­ous evol­u­tion­ary sense to have these creatures that can­’t even keep them­selves alive and require an enorm­ous invest­ment of time on the part of adults. That peri­od of depend­ence is longer for us than it is for any oth­er spe­cies, and his­tor­ic­ally that peri­od has become longer and longer.

The evol­u­tion­ary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the abil­ity to learn and imagine — which is our great evol­u­tion­ary advant­age as a species — and our abil­ity to apply what we’ve learned and put it to use.

The art­icle also men­tions how Gopnik believes “Freud’s and Pia­get’s con­cep­tions of young chil­dren’s the­ory of mind are wrong”. A recent (cor­rel­at­ive) study has shown that she may be cor­rect.