Cover image for Descartes' baby : how the science of child development explains what makes us human
Descartes' baby : how the science of child development explains what makes us human
Bloom, Paul, 1963-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
xv, 271 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Foundations -- Mindreaders -- The material realm -- Artifacts -- Anxious objects -- The social realm -- Good and evil -- The moral circle -- The body and soul emotion -- The spiritual realm -- Therefore I am -- Gods, souls, and science.
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
BF311 .B555 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"If you really want to understand human nature, you must observe people as they are before they are corrupted by language and culture, by MTV and Hebrew school. You must look at babies." So contends psychologist Paul Bloom-whom Steven Pinker calls "the wunderkind of cognitive science"-in this fascinating account of how we learn to make sense of reality. All humans see the world in two fundamentally different ways: Even babies have a rich understanding of both the physical and social worlds. They expect objects to obey principles of physics, and they're startled when things disappear or defy gravity. Yet they can also read emotions and respond with anger, sympathy, and joy.In Descartes' Baby, Bloom draws on a wealth of scientific discoveries to show how these two ways of knowing give rise to such uniquely human traits as humor, disgust, religion, art, and morality. The myriad ways that our dualist perspectives, born in infancy, undergo development throughout our lives and profoundly influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions is the subject of this richly rewarding book.

Author Notes

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at Yale University.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this thought-provoking book, Bloom (psychology, Yale Univ.) posits that children are natural dualists, instinctively understanding the world as divided into two categories: physical objects and minds with intentions. While environment and culture shape the development of this mental framework, channeling it into diverse belief systems, he argues that a bias toward dualism is universal and that natural selection has made us a species particularly sensitive to other minds. He provides brief summaries of numerous intriguing child psychology experiments and anecdotes to illustrate his points. It could be argued that Bloom's forays into philosophy weaken the book, which is most compelling when the links between theory and behavior are illustrated with experimental evidence, as in sections that discuss autism, belief in an afterlife, and disgust. In addition, some sections are less clearly related to the author's thesis than others are. However, readers new to the study of psychology, as well as students and scholars, will find much to spark further interest and research. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Susan E. Pease, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A noted developmental psychologist, Bloom has written a readable account of the development of the seemingly dualistic quality (the physical and social worlds) of human nature in children and its subsequent expression in adult human behavior. The author draws from a gallimaufry of studies including experimental child psychology, evolutionary biology, art, theology, neuroscience, and philosophy. He organizes the book's eight chapters into four parts: foundations, the material realm, the social realm, and the spiritual realm. Bloom skillfully reviews traditional developmental topics (i.e., mental, perceptual, and moral development) from a dualistic perspective. Also included is an interesting chapter that reviews the literature on disgust. The book contains chapter notes as well as standard end-of-book apparatus. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Lower-/upper-division undergraduates, professionals, and general readers. G. C. Gamst University of La Verne

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
I Foundations
1 Mindreadersp. 3
II The Material Realm
2 Artifactsp. 37
3 Anxious Objectsp. 65
III The Social Realm
4 Good and Evilp. 99
5 The Moral Circlep. 123
6 The Body and Soul Emotionp. 155
IV The Spiritual Realm
7 Therefore I Amp. 189
8 Gods, Souls, and Sciencep. 209
Notesp. 229
Referencesp. 241
Indexp. 263