Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Book: How Babies Think

This book lays out, for the intelligent non-specialist, the recent literature on child development that adopts a cognitive focus, which is to say that it thinks about babies as little scientists, trying to sort out how the world works. Indeed, when the book was first published it bore the alternative title "The Scientist in the Crib". I suspect the current title resulted in more sales, but the earlier title gives a more direct sense of what the authors, all scientists, are up to.

I found much of the book new and quite fascinating. I had never really thought about some of the problems they discuss, such as how do you sort out objects from raw visual stimulation? How do you sort out words from a morass of sound? Babies face both problems, and do so with a mix of apparently hard-wired technology and learning. These problems are quite similar, by the way, to the problems faced by artificial intelligence researchers.

My main wish is that the book had been dumbed down a bit less than it was for a popular audience. It is not so trivial that I could not read it with pleasure, but there is more fluff around the substance than I prefer in this sort of book. Nonetheless, it is well worth the time, especially if you have or are about to have a little one around.