Episode 7

Alison Gopnik

Professor of Philosophy

Alison Gopnik is a 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.

Alison has an incredible childhood reading environment that she shared with her other siblings. By the time she was 16 years old, she had read a bunch of Jane Austen, Charles Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare and other great authors in literature.

Her latest book is The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children (2017). A strong scientific case for letting children guide their own learning.




Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Alison started reading at two and a half years old. This book was one of the first books she read.

It’s one of the books that captures what it’s like to be a child in terms of the strangeness, (the beauty of it) and the scariness (the alienation). She very much identified with Alice, the curious girl. She also finds it a philosophical book, like the idea of taking the idea and following it wherever it leads.

P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins

She read it at 3 or 4 years old. It's one of the books that was read together in the family. Sens of illusion is the key. If you're tuned into this, children books are fun.

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

One thing that children are the worst for is abandonment. This book gives a kind of practice for children growing up to be an adult, the idea of being alone in the world. She thinks Nania very well captures the idea of children going in adventure on their own.

The three books above help prepare children to take adventure on their own and prepare themselves for adulthood.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

A sense of creating your own world and your identity which is important to children: how do you create a version of yourself.The book's point is that you can create your own version.

The theory of mind is how it is that we’re looking at other people's minds.

Pride and Prejudice is a lovely example of people always trying to figure out what’s going on in other people’s minds.

Eve Curie, Madame Curie: A Biography

You need to be able to, as a computer science says, explore and exploit: look very broadly but then to be able to narrow in. This book is a beautiful illustration of this idea.

Plato, Plato: The Phaedo and the Meno

She read it before 16 years old. She thought it was one of the most wonderful things she ever read. She remembered questioning why it didn’t say anything about children. Two problems that have been difficult in her career life are the problem of knowledge: how do we know what’s going on in our life, and the theory of mind: how do we know our mind and the minds of others.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

She read it when she was an undergraduate at McGil University. She finds that the themes are not far from Jane Austen.

George A. Miller, Eugene Galanter, Karl H. Pribram, Plans and the Structure of Behavior

One of the great early texts about cognitive science. The book is trying to understand behavior in the framework of cognitive science which is basically thinking about the brain as a computational system that leads to patterns of behavior.

Jean Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children

She read it when she was an undergraduate. His books are very abstract and theoretical and at the same time vivid and experimental.

Cognitive Psychology, Ulric Neisser

It’s one of the foundational texts in cognitive science. His idea is that you could describe what’s going on in people’s minds as representations. They are representations that are manipulations of representations. You don’t actually just have a direct line to the world.