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Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human

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3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  167 ratings  ·  23 reviews
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 sci ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 27th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 2004)
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Blink by Malcolm GladwellOutliers by Malcolm GladwellFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Greatest Psychology Books
146th out of 373 books — 606 voters
Concepts, Kinds, and Cognitive Development by Frank C. KeilThe Language and Thought of the Child by Jean PiagetHow Children Learn the Meanings of Words by Paul BloomThought and Language by Lev S. VygotskyHow Children Develop by Robert S. Siegler
Best Cognitive Development Books
28th out of 39 books — 26 voters


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Community Reviews

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Hamdy
Bloom's style is unsurpassed, he is both interesting and intellectually fulfilling which is a hard thing to do. He also has a central theme in that he's using developmental psychology as a lens to look at essentialism being a wired-in property of human nature. This makes things much more interesting and provides a common thread to the book that keeps its direction well-maintained. His discussions of the nature of art, disgust and the understanding of the relationship between morality and disgust ...more
Tony
Accessible cognitive and developmental psychology, perhaps best suited for parents (of a secular bent) of infants and young children looking for general insights. This is not a parenting book but an extended thesis with some philosophy and experimental observations by a famous professor of psychology.

And the take-home message:

"Children take 'thinking' in the narrow sense, in terms of conscious problem solving and reasoning. If you ask [a six-year old] whether they can go for long periods witho
...more
Ilya
Humans, even small children, are as adapted to dealing with other people - understanding their intentions, judging their feelings and beliefs - as they are to dealing with inanimate things. The exception are autistic people, such as the author's brother, who consider people to be things; the author once worked in a camp for autistic children, and a boy climbed him to get a toy from a shelf as if he were furniture. The fact that autistic people have one ability working fine and the other complete ...more
Jstoutgator
Dec 05, 2013 Jstoutgator rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Readers who have a particular interest in this subject matter


Generally, I think the title is a bit misleading. It is not until the very last chapter that Bloom begins to tie the meditations and evidence of the book's content to the question of God's existence. And even here I would not compare it to Descartes; though still a philosophical writing, Paul examines things from a more general realm of understanding.

Personally, I found the research Bloom has done, and his accounts of others' research in this book very interesting. However, I found more intelle
...more
Deb
*Physical bodies, immaterial souls*


What makes us human?

Paul Bloom's book of _Descartes' Baby_ offers a rich and satisfying exploration of this existential question. At the core of this book is the premise that "we are dualists who have two ways of looking at the world: in terms of bodies and in terms of souls." (p.191). In other words, we see our bodies and souls as separate entities and "we do not feel as if we *are* bodies; we feel as if we *occupy* them." (p. 191)

This dualistic lens allows u
...more
Kin Guan
Kingsley Amis: "It is no wonder that people are often so horrible; after all, they started off as children". Although it sounds awful to children (after all they are little cute walking creatures that resembles us incidentally), the quote sheds light upon the nature of this book - how child developmental psychology reflects our behaviour as an adult. Our curiousity, morality, sense of good and evil can trace back to how children think and behave innately. Another excellent book on psychology - m ...more
Luke Meakin
Descartes' Baby is a great book, a great discussion of the complex processes and theories that govern our social consciousness.

Bloom puts forward fresh and exciting ideas that arise in childhood and eventually shape us into the socially-conscious animals we are. His use of a vast amount of research keeps the reader directly involved with the theory, the theory is always moving towards the eventual answer that is seemingly quite obvious.

Covering topics such as; the social construction of art and
...more
Kate
Jun 12, 2011 Kate rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: disgusted infants, anxious objects, guinea pigs of all stripes
Recommended to Kate by: 153 B
Shelves: sciences
"The senselessly cruel mother here is Mother Nature."

Consider the different ways in which one can die:

Aged
Bleeding
Executed
Found dead in the streets
Grief
Killed by several accidents
Lethargy
Mother
Plague
Poisoned
Suddenly
Vomiting
Wolf

"The art world was our conceptual oyster, and we ate it raw."

(It must be hard to be a psychopath—so much effort, all the time.)

St. Augustine was greatly influenced by Cicero's vivid image of Etruscan pirates' torture of prisoners by strapping a corpse to them face to face.
...more
Jen
This book discusses recent studies of brain development and early childhood, and makes the case that the way we perceive and understand the world explains human philosophy and art from an evolutionary perspective.

It's an intriguing thesis, and every section of the book had some interesting facts. Overall quite readable. But in the end I was left feeling that the book didn't quite pull together all of the threads and some sections really didn't seem relevant to the main point.
Liam
I had already heard about a lot of the content in this book. This is probably because of its heavy crossover, in content, with the writings of Blooms mentor and fellow linguist Stephen Pinker, and through reading other allied popularizers like Dennett, Dawkins and Baron-Cohen. But had I not already learnt of the content before, I should think that it would have made for a fascinating single collection of insights in the genre of cognitive science. ...more
Ellyn
The author of this book contends that people are natural-born dualists, and even babies see the world in terms of bodies and souls. I thought that this book had the potential to be very interesting, but instead I found it to be slow-moving and disjointed. It definitely did not contain as much information and theory about child development as I would have hoped, based on the title. By far the best chapter was the one on disgust, which was quite amusing.
Mary Noberini
Paul Bloom is a respected developmental psychologist who describes recent findings that suggest that babies are natural born dualists. He borrows from the evolutionary psychology approach to show how this innate dualism eventuates into the human concerns with art, spirituality and the moral sense. This is an easy to read book, not a professional tome.
Pavel
I expected more of this book. In particular, I would have liked to read about a larger number of different experiments with babies and children, supporting the view that we are natural-born Cartesian dualists. Besides, the main idea of the book seems to owe more to the psychologist Henry Wellman than Bloom actually gives him credit.
Skylar Lee
mindreaders, artifacts, anxious objects, and the moral circle most interesting.
not a page turner, partially because I've heard Paul Bloom's lectures before.
nature of such books, but it lacks a natural stream of ideas it wants to present.
not the most coherent read, but worth reading as food for thought.
Tracey
This was a very interesting read, and gave me quite a few new things to think about. I don't agree with a lot of the things that the author takes as givens in his arguments, but found his logic and thought processes quite fascinating. Overall, I really enjoyed this read.
Julie
Fascinating, informative and most importantly, highly readable. It trots along with just enough content and pace. I kept thinking he would run out of ideas or start to be less interesting, but no, consistently excellent all the way through. An inspiration of a book.
Sally
Each chapter examines an area or issue of child development, creating a mosaic of characteristis that contribute of our humanity. It is well-written, the author is appealing, and the research is very interesting, though the book is more episodic than comprehensive.
Avray
Fascinating, informative and most importantly, highly readable. It trots along with just enough content and pace. I kept thinking he would run out of ideas or start to be less interesting, but no, consistently excellent all the way through. An inspiration of a book.
Christie
I disagree with Bloom's conclusion, but I really enjoyed learning about child development and even babies are perfect little proto-people, but their own species as well.
Carl
Solid. Nothing particularly new, but a really nicely-written overview of key biological, psychological and moral issues that sums up what it means to be human.
Lauren
Great book! Especially for those interested in developmental psychology
Eric
Great book for expectant dads who want to study their child.
Dave
for content, it gets a 5+, but the style is a bit rough.
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Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has published more than a hundred scientific articles in journals such as Science and Nature, and his popular writing has appeared in the Ne ...more
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