Childhood as Simulated Annealing: When (and why) Children are Smarter than Adults
Alison Gopnik (University of California, Berkeley)

September 19, 2019, 11:30am - 1:00pm
School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies (SoPHIS), Monash University

Monash Club, Monash University, 32 Exhibition Walk
Clayton 3800


  • Australian Research Council
  • Monash Neuroscience of Consciousness
  • Consciousness Research Network (CoRN)


Monash University

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I will present several studies showing a surprising pattern. 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. 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. My hypothesis is that the evolution of 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. This evolutionary solution to the search problem may have implications for Artificial Intelligence.

About the speaker 

Professor Alison Gopnik is the author or coauthor of over 100 journal articles and several books including Words, Thoughts, and Theories and the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books The Scientist in the CribThe Philosophical Baby and The Gardener and the Carpenter. She has also written widely about cognitive science and psychology for ScienceThe New York TimesScientific AmericanThe AtlanticThe New YorkerThe Times Literary SupplementThe New York Review of BooksNew Scientist, and Slate, among others. Since 2013 she has written the Mind and Matter column for The Wall Street Journal.  

For more information email Tim Bayne ([email protected])

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