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Alison Gopnik

  • American psychologist
  • Born June 16, 1955

Alison Gopnik (born June 16, 1955) is an American professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. She is known for her work in the areas of cognitive and language development, specializing in the effect of language on thought, the development of a theory of mind, and causal learning. Her writing on psychology and cognitive science has appeared in Science, Scientific American, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, New Scientist, Slate and others.


I think universities are trying to figure out how we could use what we know about learning to change our education system, but it is sort of funny that they don't necessarily seem to be consulting the people who are sitting right there on campus.




If parents are the fixed stars in the child's universe, the vaguely understood, distant but constant celestial spheres, siblings are the dazzling, sometimes scorching comets whizzing nearby.




Asking questions is what brains were born to do, at least when we were young children. For young children, quite literally, seeking explanations is as deeply rooted a drive as seeking food or water.




What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness.




What, of course, we want in a university is for people to learn the skills they're going to need outside the classroom. So, having a system that had more emphasis on inquiry and exploration but also on learning and practising specific skills would fit much better with how we know people learn.




The brain knows the real secret of seduction, more effective than even music and martinis. Just keep whispering, 'Gee, you are really special' to that sack of water and protein that is a body, and you can get it to do practically anything.




Children have a very good idea of how to distinguish between fantasies and realities. It's just they are equally interested in exploring both.




The science can tell you that the thousands of pseudo-scientific parenting books out there - not to mention the 'Baby Einstein' DVDs and the flash cards and the brain-boosting toys - won't do a thing to make your baby smarter. That's largely because babies are already as smart as they can be; smarter than we are in some ways.




Young children seem to be learning who to share this toy with and figure out how it works, while adolescents seem to be exploring some very deep and profound questions: 'How should this society work? How should relationships among people work?' The exploration is: 'Who am I, what am I doing?'




When nobody read, dyslexia wasn't a problem. When most people had to hunt, a minor genetic variation in your ability to focus attention was hardly a problem, and may even have been an advantage. When most people have to make it through high school, the same variation can become a genuinely life-altering disease.




In most places and times in human history, babies have had not just one person but lots of people around who were really paying attention to them around, dedicated to them, cared to them, were related to them. I think the big shift in our culture is the isolation in which many children are growing up.




One of the things I say is, 'You want to know what it's like to be a baby? It's like being in love for the first time in Paris after four double espressos.' And boy, you are alive and conscious.




We fear death so profoundly, not because it means the end of our body, but because it means the end of our consciousness - better to be a spirit in Heaven than a zombie on Earth.




We do nothing for children between the ages of zero and five. And we seem to be quite happy to have children growing up in not just poverty, which wouldn't be so bad, but isolation, lack of people around them, lack of support, lack of ability to go out and play in the dirt.




The youngest children have a great capacity for empathy and altruism. There's a recent study that shows even 14-month-olds will climb across a bunch of cushions and go across a room to give you a pen if you drop one.




I'm afraid the parenting advice to come out of developmental psychology is very boring: pay attention to your kids and love them.




What we want in students is creativity and a willingness to fail. I always say to students, 'If you've never at some point stayed up all night talking to your new boyfriend about the meaning of life instead of preparing for the test, then you're not really an intellectual.'




The ancient media of speech and song and theater were radically reshaped by writing, though they were never entirely supplanted, a comfort perhaps to those of us who still thrill to the smell of a library.




One of the most distinctive evolutionary features of human beings is our unusually long, protected childhood.




Scientists and philosophers tend to treat knowledge, imagination and love as if they were all very separate parts of human nature. But when it comes to children, all three are deeply entwined. Children learn the truth by imagining all the ways the world could be, and testing those possibilities.




Like most parents, I think, my children have been the source of some of my most intense joys and despairs, my deepest moral dilemmas and greatest moral achievements.




Being a developmental psychologist didn't make me any better at dealing with my own children, no. I muddled through, and, believe me, fretted and worried with the best of them.




The best scientific way to discover if one factor influences another is to do a controlled experiment.




For better or worse, we live in possible worlds as much as actual ones. We are cursed by that characteristically human guilt and regret about what might have been in the past. But that may be the cost for our ability to hope and plan for what might be in the future.




Something like reading depends a lot on just having people around you who talk to you and read you books, more than sitting down and, say, doing a reading drill when you're 3 or 4 years old.




On the Web we all become small-town visitors lost in the big city.




Culture is our nature, and the ability to learn and change is our most important and fundamental instinct.




Knowing what to expect from a teacher is a really good thing, of course: It lets you get the right answers more quickly than you would otherwise.




Our babies are like penguins; penguin babies can't exist unless more than one person is taking care of them. They just can't keep going.




Many philosophers say it's impossible to explain our conscious experience in scientific, biological terms at all. But that's not exactly true. Scientists have explained why we have certain experiences and not others. It's just that they haven't explained the special features of consciousness that philosophers care about.




Animals are certainly more sophisticated than we used to think. And we shouldn't lump together animals as a group. Crows and chimps and dogs are all highly intelligent in very different ways.




Each new generation of children grows up in the new environment its parents have created, and each generation of brains becomes wired in a different way. The human mind can change radically in just a few generations.




If you just, pretty much, take a random 15-month-old, just sit and watch them for 10 minutes and count out how many experiments, how much thinking you see going on, and it will put the most brilliant scientist to shame.




We say that children are bad at paying attention, but we really mean that they're bad at not paying attention - they easily get distracted by anything interesting.




I wanted to answer big questions about humanity, about how it is that we understand about the world, how we can know as much as we do, why human nature is the way that it is. And it always seemed to me that you find answers to those questions by looking at children.




The radio was an improvement on the telegraph but it didn't have the same exponential, transformative effect.



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