I confess the idea of babies carrying on philosophical investigations never crossed my mind until I met Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley. Gopnik, a cognitive scientist with cross-training in philosophy and common sense, has spent her career carefully and cleverly teasing out the previously unsuspected complexity of a baby's thoughts. In her new book, “The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life,” Gopnik incisively and compassionately highlights the extraordinary range of mental capabilities of even the youngest child.
What makes Gopnik's book stand out from the myriad recent books on consciousness is her overarching insight into the sophisticated ways that even infants think and scheme. Citing her work and that of colleagues, Gopnik makes a convincing case that, from a very early age, even before the acquisition of language, we are actively engaged in assessing everything from statistics (probabilities) to right vs. wrong in a moral sphere. Recently I sat down with Gopnick for a conversation about how each of us began our thinking, and how kids might presently be looking at the world.