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Two Breakthroughs

Recall that the question for this course is ...
Our focus is on two breakthrough sets of findings.
One concerns core knowledge, the other social interaction.

core knowledge

Take core knowledge first.
We will see that infants can tackle physics, number, agents and minds thanks to a set of innate or early-developing abilities, often labelled `core knowledge'.

We don't understand it.

It is important that we don't (yet) know what core knowledge is; `core knowledge' is a term of art.
I haven't explained what it is.
Rather, our position is this.
Some scientists talk about core knowledge, and formulate hypotheses in terms of it.
Since these hypotheses are supported by evidence, we can reasonably suppose they are true.
So there are some things we suppose are truths about core knowledge.
For instance, infants' core knowledge enables them to represent unperceived objects.
So we know some truths about core knowledge, but we don't know what it is.
You'd probably prefer it if I could tell you what core knowledge is first.
But here we have to work backwards.
We have to gather truths about this unknown thing, core knowledge.
And then we have to ask, What could core knowledge be given that these things are true?

is like knowledge:

  • guides behaviour
  • involves something like inference
  • concerns abstract features

is unlike knowledge:

  • no introspection
  • judgement-independent
  • domain-specific
  • signature limits
Several features distinguish core knowledge from adult-like understanding: its content is unknowable by introspection and judgement-independent; it is specific to quite narrow categories of event and does not grow by means of generalization; it is best understood as a collection of rules rather than a coherent theory; and it has limited application being usually manifest in the control of attention (as measured by dishabituation, gaze, and looking times) and rarely or never manifest in purposive actions such as reaching.

social interaction

Now turn to social interaction.
Preverbal infants manfiest a surprising range of social abilities.
These include imitation, which can occur just days and even minutes after birth (Meltzoff & Moore 1977; Field et al. 1982; Meltzoff & Moore 1983), imitative learning (Carpenter et al. 1998), gaze following (Csibra & Volein 2008), goal ascription (Gergely et al. 1995; Woodward & Sommerville 2000), social referencing (Baldwin 2000) and pointing (Liszkowski et al. 2006).
Taken together, the evidence reveals that preverbal infants have surprisingly rich social abilities.
  • imitation
  • gaze following
  • secondary intersubjectivity
  • social referencing
  • pointing
  • goal ascription
One problem for us is that these two sets of findings are typically considered in isolation, although I think there are strong reasons to suppose that understanding the origins of knowledge will require thinking about both core knowledge and social interaction.
My working hypothesis is that we can't understand early forms of social interaction without core knowledge; and that we can't understand how core knowledge leads to knowledge proper without social interaction.
The challenge is to understand how core knowledge and social interaction conspire in the emergence of knowledge.