Childhood is evolution’s way of doing simulated annealing: Theory formation, causal models, and the evolution of learning and life history
Alison Gopnik (University of California, Berkeley)

November 5, 2018, 3:00pm - 4:30pm
Cognitive and Information Sciences, University of California, Merced

COB 2 290
5200 N. Lake Road
Merced 95343
United States

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University of California, Merced

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Abstract: In the past 15 years, we have discovered that even young children are adept at inferring causal relationships and that they do so in much the same way as scientists, using causal models and inductive inference to construct intuitive theories of the world. Not only can preschoolers learn abstract higher-order principles from data, but younger learners are actually better at inferring unusual or unlikely principles than older learners and adults. This pattern also holds for children in Peru and in Headstart programs in Oakland, California. I relate this pattern to computational ideas about search and sampling, to evolutionary ideas about human life history, and to neuroscience findings about the negative effects of frontal control on wide exploration and the effects of psychedelic chemicals on cognition.  My hypothesis is that our distinctively long, protected human childhood allows an early period of broad hypothesis search, exploration and creativity, before the demands of goal-directed action set in.

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