Descartes’ Baby

Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom argues in Descartes’ Baby that humans have developed a dualistic way of looking at the world in response to evolutionary pressures. That is, human reproductive success depends on the ability to understand the world as both a place of objects, governed by certain physical laws, and a place of minds, governed by thought and emotion. Using the literature of experimental child psychology; the theoretical writings of Stephen Pinker, Noam Chomsky, and Jean Piaget; and his own experience as both the father of a child, and the brother of an autistic sibling, Bloom weaves a convincing argument that the very characteristics that make people human develop very early in a child’s life. Further, he suggests that an individual child’s development mirrors the evolutionary development of the species.

In so doing, Bloom demonstrates that way that even small babies understand that the world of objects has cohesion, continuity, solidity, and contact. Likewise, even small babies recognize that people are not objects. He suggests that babies become something like “mind readers,” anticipating the intentions of other people. This grows out of the evolutionary need for humans to be able to work together for the common good. Consequently, argues Bloom, morality, ethics, and altruism are inborn traits, not learned behaviors.

Covering such human endeavors as art, literature, and religion, (as well as the human response of disgust), Bloom writes a compelling, and at times humorous book about the human condition.