Transcript: Are Children More Conscious Than We Are? | Mar 31, 2021

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a blue suit and shirt, and a spotted blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "Are children more conscious than we are?"

Steve says GENERALLY SPEAKING, CHILDREN APPROACH LIFE WITH GUSTO AND WONDER. WOULDN'T IT BE SOMETHING TO CAPTURE THAT, AND BE ABLE TO ACCESS IT AGAIN? FIRST, WE'D NEED TO UNDERSTAND IT. ALISON GOPNIK HAS SPENT MUCH OF HER CAREER TRYING TO DISCERN HOW BABIES AND CHILDREN SEE THE WORLD. SHE IS PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY AND AUTHOR MOST RECENTLY OF "THE GARDENER AND THE CARPENTER: WHAT THE NEW SCIENCE OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT TELLS US ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN." AND THE PRIDE OF U OF T AND McGILL JOINS US NOW FROM BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA ON THAT.

Alison is in her fifties, with long wavy brown hair. She's wearing round glasses and a red sweater.
A picture of her book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a picture of a child running through a field of yellow flowers.

Steve continues I THOUGHT THAT INTRO MIGHT GET A LITTLE SMILE OUT OF YOU, THAT LITTLE CANADIAN CONTENT REFERENCE AT THE END THERE. WELCOME BACK TO TVO, PROFESSOR GOPNIK. HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Alison says WELL, I'M VERY PLEASED TO BE HERE. THERE'S EVEN MORE OF A LINK THAN THAT. I HAVE BOTH PARENTS IN CAMPBELLFORD, ONTARIO, WHO ARE ACTUALLY I THINK AT THIS MOMENT GETTING THEIR SHOTS, AND A GRANDSON IN MONTREAL.

Steve says HOW ABOUT THAT?

Alison says I WILL BE ON MY WAY... I WILL BE ON MY WAY TO THE NORTH IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS.

Steve says AND WE HAVEN'T EVEN MENTIONED BROTHER ADAM AND HIS CAN-CON LINKS AS WELL. WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE GARDENER AND THE FARMER. A SPOTLIGHT IS HELPFUL IN DECIDING BETWEEN ADULT AND CHILD CONSCIOUSNESS. HELP US WITH THAT, IF YOU WOULD?

The caption changes to "Alison Gopnik. University of California at Berkeley."
Then, it changes again to "The Lantern versus the Spotlight."

Alison says YES. SO ONE OF THE GREAT QUESTIONS THAT YOU COULD ASK AS A PHILOSOPHER IS WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A BABY? WHAT IS CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE ACTUALLY LIKE? AND SOME PHILOSOPHERS OVER THE AGES HAVE ACTED AS IF, WELL, BABIES AREN'T THE SORT OF PEOPLE WHO WOULD HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE. HAVING CONSCIOUSNESS IS SOMETHING THAT IS RESERVED FOR ADULTS. BUT I THINK THAT ACTUALLY THERE'S GOOD REASON TO BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN HAVE IN SOME WAYS MORE CONSCIOUSNESS THAN ADULTS, BUT THEIR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD IS VERY DIFFERENT TO THE EXPERIENCE OF ADULTS. AND ONE WAY TO THINK OF IT IS THAT ADULTS' ATTENTION IS A LOT LIKE A SPOTLIGHT. THAT'S AN IDEA THAT PSYCHOLOGISTS HAVE HAD FOR A LONG TIME. SO WHEN WE PAY ATTENTION TO SOMETHING, THE THING WE ATTEND TO BECOMES VERY VIVID AND WE'RE VERY CONSCIOUS OF IT, AND EVERYTHING ELSE GETS SHUT OUT. WE CAN HAVE INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS. WE STOP PAYING ATTENTION TO THE THINGS WE'RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO. FOR CHILDREN AND BABIES IT'S A DIFFERENT STORY. CHILDREN SEEM TO HAVE A MUCH BROADER FOCUS OF ATTENTION. WHEN WE SAY THAT CHILDREN HAVE TROUBLE PAYING ATTENTION, WHAT WE REALLY MEAN IS THEY HAVE TROUBLE NOT PAYING ATTENTION. RATHER BEING FOCUSED ON ONE THING WITH EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE DARK, THEY'RE TAKING INFORMATION FROM EVERYTHING THAT'S GOING ON AROUND THEM. IT'S AS IF THEIR ATTENTION IS MORE LIKE A LANTERN, GOING OUT AND TAKING ATTENTION FROM THE WORLD, THAN A SPOTLIGHT JUST ILLUMINATING ONE SPECIFIC RELEVANT FACT OUT IN THE WORLD.

Steve says HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DISCERN WHICH IS A MORE EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN BY USING THE SPOTLIGHT OR THE LANTERN?

The caption changes to "Alison Gopnik. Author, 'The Gardener and the Carpenter."

Alison says WELL, ONE OF THE BIG IDEAS THAT I'VE BEEN WORKING ON RECENTLY IS THE IDEA THAT THERE ARE INTRINSIC TRADE-OFFS BETWEEN DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEING INTELLIGENT, DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEING IN THE WORLD. I'VE BEEN DOING A LOT OF WORK WITH PEOPLE IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, I'M PART OF THE BERKELEY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RESEARCH GROUP, AND THEY POINT TO ATTENTION BETWEEN WHAT THEY CALL EXPLORATION AND EXPLOITATION. SO THE IDEA IS THE KIND OF THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO ACT EFFECTIVELY IN THE WORLD, TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. THOSE ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE KINDS OF THINGS YOU NEED TO DO IF WANT YOU WANT TO DO IS LEARN WHAT YOU CAN ABOUT THE WORLD. THERE'S PROOF THAT THOSE TWO THINGS ARE INTRINSIC ATTENTION. YOU CAN'T BE A GREAT LEARNER AND EXPLORER AND A GREAT ACTOR AT THE SAME TIME. WHAT I'VE BEEN ARGUING IS THAT CHILDHOOD IS REALLY EVOLUTION'S WAY OF RESOLVING THAT. AS ADULTS, THAT SPOTLIGHT OF ATTENTION IS VERY USEFUL IF WE WANT TO ACTUALLY GET THINGS DONE. BUT HAVING THIS BROADER, MORE EXPLORATORY ATTENTION WHEN WE'RE CHILDREN ACTUALLY HELPS US TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND US, AND THEN WE CAN TAKE ALL THOSE THINGS WE'VE LEARNED AND PUT THEM TO USE IN ADULTHOOD. NOW, IT HAS SOME DRAWBACKS. IF YOU'VE EVER TRIED TO GET A TWO-YEAR-OLD TO PUT THEIR JACKET ON IF YOU'RE TRYING TO GET TO CHILD CARE. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN YOU WOULD BE VERY HAPPY IF THEY HAD MORE FOCUSED ATTENTION. BUT IT REFLECTS THE FACT THAT WHAT AIR AGENDA, AS IT WERE, IS LEARNING, FIGURING OUT ABOUT THE WORLD, NOT ACTING ON THE WORLD.

Steve says WELL, LET'S GO HALFWAY IN BETWEEN. NOT CHILDHOOD, NOT ADULTHOOD, BUT ADOLESCENCE. I'VE READ QUOTES OF YOURS WHICH SUGGEST THAT THE HUMAN BRAIN BECOMES A LEAN, MEAN ACTING MACHINE AT THAT TIME OF LIFE. HOW SO?

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Alison says WELL, IT'S BEEN SORT OF FASCINATING. WE DID A BUNCH OF EXPERIMENTS THAT SHOWED THAT WHEN YOU HAVE THESE KIND OF EXPLORATORY TASKS, VERY YOUNG CHILDREN, FOUR OR FIVE-YEAR-OLDS, ARE ACTUALLY BETTER AT THOSE TASKS THAN ADULTS. THEN WE WANTED TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS IN BETWEEN? WHAT WE DISCOVERED IS THAT THERE'S A REALLY STRIKING CHANGE IN ADOLESCENTS. SO IF YOU GIVE SOMEONE A TASK THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE PHYSICAL WORLD, HOW A MACHINE WORKS OR HOW AN OBJECT WORKS, THEN WHAT YOU SEE IS THAT AROUND ADOLESCENCE YOU SEE THIS SHIFT FROM THIS VERY BROAD EXPLORATORY KIND OF BEHAVIOUR AND THINKING TO SOMETHING THAT'S MUCH MORE FOCUSED. BUT INTERESTINGLY, IF YOU GIVE THEM A SOCIAL TASK, SOMETHING ABOUT HOW PEOPLE WORK, NOT HOW OBJECTS WORK, THEN YOU SEE THE OPPOSITE. THEN YOU SEE THAT THE ADOLESCENT ACTUALLY BECOMES REALLY FLEXIBLE AGAIN, VERY MUCH WHAT NEUROSCIENTISTS CALL PLASTIC. THAT'S WHAT WE LEARNED FROM NEUROSCIENCE, SPECIFIC AREAS OF THE BRAIN HAVE A REBIRTH OF FLEXIBILITY IN ADOLESCENCE. ADOLESCENTS MIGHT BE ESPECIALLY DESIGNED TO EXPLORE IN THE SOCIAL WORLD AND THAT'S OFTEN WHY THEY'RE ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF SOCIAL CHANGE. AGAIN, IT'S THIS IDEA THERE ARE TRADE-OFFS, DIFFERENT KINDS OF THINGS THAT PEOPLE DO DIFFERENTLY AT DIFFERENT STAGES OF LIFE, ALL THE WAY FROM CHILDHOOD TO ADOLESCENCE TO ADULTHOOD TO ELDERHOOD, WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT I'VE GOTTEN VERY INTERESTED IN, AND THEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES AT EACH OF THOSE STAGES OF LIFE.

Steve says ALL RIGHT. IF WE ADULTS USE THE SPOTLIGHT THEN TO LEARN AND IF YOUNGER PEOPLE TEND TO USE THE LANTERN AND HAVE A MORE DIVERSE WAY OF LOOKING AT THINGS, DOES THAT MEAN CHILDREN ARE, IN SOME RESPECTS, MORE CONSCIOUS THAN ADULTS SINCE THEY'RE ABLE TO TAKE IN APPARENTLY A MUCH BROADER PANOPLY OF A LANDSCAPE?

Alison says WELL, WHAT I'VE ARGUED IS THAT IF YOU TRY AND THINK ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS, THINK ABOUT JUST, YOU KNOW, THE INTENSITY OF EXPERIENCE, IT SEEMS TO BE CONNECTED TO THIS KIND OF LEARNING AND PLASTICITY. SO WHEN WE GET REALLY GOOD AT SOMETHING, WE DO IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN, WE ACTUALLY BECOME LESS CONSCIOUS OF WHAT WE'RE DOING. IT'S IN THOSE EARLY PHASES WHERE WE'RE EXPLORING THAT WE HAVE THE MOST VIVID CONSCIOUSNESS. A METAPHOR I'VE USED, FOR EXAMPLE, IF YOU THINK ABOUT TRAVELLING TO A FOREIGN PLACE WHERE YOU DON'T HAVE ALL YOUR PRACTISED THEMES IN MIND, YOU'RE ACTUALLY MORE CONSCIOUS OF WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND YOU THAN YOU ARE WHEN YOU'RE AT HOME AND YOU'RE DOING THE SAME THINGS THAT YOU DO VERY EFFECTIVELY AND EFFICIENTLY. SO I THINK THAT EXPERIENCES LIKE FOREIGN TRAVEL MAY GIVE US A HINT OF WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A CHILD, AND IF THAT'S TRUE, AND CHILDREN DON'T KNOW ANYTHING TO BEGIN WITH, ARE LEARNING EVERYTHING ANEW, THEN WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT IS TO ACTUALLY HAVE MORE OF THIS VIVID CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE IN GROWNUPS. I THINK ANYBODY WHO SPENT TIME WITH A SMALL CHILD, THAT WILL RING TRUE, RIGHT? SO YOU WALK DOWN THE SAME STREET THAT YOU WALK DOWN EVERY SINGLE DAY AND MOST OF THE THINGS THERE ARE INVISIBLE. WHEN YOU GO DOWN TO THE CORNER TO GET A QUART OF MILK. TAKE THAT SAME WALK WITH A 3-YEAR-OLD, AND IT'S LIKE GOING TO GET A QUART OF MILK WITH WILLIAM BLAKE. SUDDENLY EVERYTHING... YOU REALIZE, WAIT A MINUTE! THERE'S AIRPLANES IN THE SKY AND THERE'S PAPER ON THE SIDEWALK AND THERE'S GATES THAT CREAK BACK AND FORTH. SO I THINK THIS ACTUALLY DOES FIT WITH SOME OF OUR EXPERIENCE OF CHILDREN'S EXPERIENCE.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Steve says SO WOULD IT BE APPROPRIATE THEN TO CONCLUDE THAT THE MOST HIGHLY CREATIVE KIND OF THINKING HAPPENS MORE WITH THE LANTERN AS OPPOSED TO THE SPOTLIGHT?

Alison says WELL, OF COURSE IF YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT ADULT CREATIVITY, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S CHALLENGING ABOUT ADULT CREATIVITY IS THAT WE HAVE TO HAVE BOTH. SO WE HAVE TO GO BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE ABILITY TO EXPLORE LOTS OF POSSIBILITIES AND THEN OUT OF ALL THOSE POSSIBILITIES PICK THE ONES THAT ARE REALLY GOOD. PICK THE ONES THAT ARE REALLY USEFUL. IF YOU, AGAIN, SPEND SOME TIME WITH A 3-YEAR-OLD, YOU'LL HEAR THESE WONDERFUL, STRANGE IDEAS. BUT MOST OF THEM ARE ACTUALLY NOT GOING TO BE VERY USEFUL OUT IN THE WORLD OR VERY ACCURATE, AND THE JOB FOR AN ADULT PERSON WHO IS CREATIVE, LIKE A SCIENTIST, FOR EXAMPLE, IS FIRST TO GENERATE ALL THOSE IDEAS, FIRST TO DO THE EXPLORATION, AND THEN TO NARROW IN AND PICK SAY WHICH OF THESE IS WORTH EXPLORING? WHICH OF THESE WOULD MAKE A GOOD EXPERIMENT? ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I'VE BEEN DOING, THINKING ABOUT RECENTLY IS, IF YOU JUST COLLECT ALL THESE WONDERFUL THINGS THAT TODDLERS SAY, 3 AND 4-YEAR-OLDS SAY, IS THAT THERE USED TO BE A TELEVISION PROGRAM CALLED KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. WHAT YOU HEAR ARE THINGS THAT ARE BOTH, ON THE ONE HAND, INCREDIBLY CREATIVE, AND ALMOST ALWAYS COMPLETELY WRONG. I HAD A LOVELY EXAMPLE JUST THE OTHER DAY. WE HAVE A BIG CLOCK TOWER AT BERKELEY. AND ONE OF MY STUDENTS' 3-YEAR-OLDS WAS WALKING PAST IT AND LOOKED UP AT IT AND SAID. THERE'S A CLOCK VERY HIGH UP. THEY MUST PUT IT THERE SO THE CHILDREN WON'T BREAK IT. WHICH OF COURSE IT'S TRUE. IT'S WEIRD TO HAVE A CLOCK UP AT THE TOP OF A TOWER. WHY WOULD YOU DO IT AND WHY WOULD YOU PUT IT THERE? IT'S A PRETTY GOOD HYPOTHESIS THAT YOU HAVE IT THERE SO CHILDREN CAN'T BREAK IT. NOT SOMETHING THAT ANY GROWNUP WOULD COME UP WITH.

Steve says IT'S A PERFECTLY REASONABLE CONCLUSION IF YOU'RE 4 YEARS OLD.

Alison says IT IS.

Steve says EXACTLY. IS THERE A WAY FOR ADULTS TO EXPERIENCE THE LANTERN? HOW DO WE DO THAT?

The caption changes to "Smarter than you think."

Alison says YEAH. I DON'T THINK ADULTS EVER QUITE HAVE THE KIND OF BROAD CONSCIOUSNESS AND CREATIVITY THAT SAY 4-YEAR-OLDS DO, BUT I THINK ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT ADULTHOOD, ABOUT HUMANS IN PARTICULAR, IS WE CAN SHIFT BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THIS KIND OF MORE CREATIVE CHILDHOOD LANTERN STATE AND SOME MORE FOCUSED... THE MORE FOCUSED KIND OF SPOTLIGHT STATE. AND AS I MENTIONED, SOME OF THE THINGS THAT WE KIND OF KNOW ARE GOOD FOR CREATIVITY, LIKE DOING SOMETHING NEW, CHALLENGING YOURSELF WITH A NEW SKILL, BEING IN A NEW PLACE... I THINK A NUMBER OF FORMS OF MEDITATION HAVE THE SAME KIND OF CHARACTER. SO ODDLY ENOUGH JUST, YOU KNOW, SITTING IN ONE PLACE AND NOT BEING IN THE WORLD OF PLANNING AND THINKING AND TRYING TO GET THINGS DONE THAT WE USUALLY ARE, THAT CAN HELP US TO KIND OF RECONSTRUCT THAT MUCH BROADER... THAT MUCH BROADER SENSE OF AWARENESS OF EVERYTHING GOING ON AROUND US. THERE'S AT LEAST SOME EVIDENCE THAT THAT ALSO HELPS US TO RE-THINK OUR PROBLEMS, HAVE DIFFERENT ATTITUDES, CHANGE WHAT WE DO. SO THE MORAL IS: DON'T GO DO SOMETHING, JUST SIT THERE. AND SOMETIMES JUST SITTING THERE, LIKE THOSE SORT OF USELESS 3-YEAR-OLDS, IS A WAY THAT WE CAN RESET OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD.

Steve says APROPOS OF THAT, I HAVE TALKED TO ASTRONAUTS IN THE PAST WHO SAY THAT THE FIRST VIEW THEY TAKE OF EARTH WHERE THEY CAN SEE THE EARTH FROM... WITH A VIEW THAT NOBODY ELSE IN THIS WORLD GETS TO SEE, IS THAT SORT OF AN ADULT ENJOYING THE LANTERN VIEW OF THINGS?

Alison says WELL, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE IN SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS TALK ABOUT THE NUMINOUS, SO THAT'S A LOVELY WORD TO CAPTURE THAT SENSE THAT WE HAVE OF... THE WORLD IS MUCH BIGGER THAN WE THINK AND WE ARE MUCH SMALLER THAN WE THINK. THERE IS BEAUTIFUL WORK THAT A COLLEAGUE HAS DONE ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF AWE AND THE EXPERIENCE OF AWE IS WHEN, YOU KNOW, IT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE WERE ASTRONAUTS, BUT EVEN FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE NOT ASTRONAUTS, JUST SEEING A REDWOOD TREE OR SEEING SOMETHING THAT'S BIGGER AND MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN WE ARE. THAT SEEMS TO BE ONE WAY THAT ADULTS GET BACK INTO THAT... GET BACK INTO THAT CHILDHOOD STATE. AND ONE THING THAT I THINK IS WORTH SAYING ABOUT IT IS, IT'S EASY TO THINK ABOUT THOSE STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS LIKE AWE OR MEDITATION AS IF THEY'RE WEIRD, THESE KIND OF STRANGE HALLUCINATIONS WE HAVE, BUT I THINK THERE'S A PRETTY GOOD ARGUMENT THAT THAT'S WHEN WE'RE ACTUALLY SEEING THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WORLD AND OUR SENSE... OUR USUAL SENSE THAT WE HAVE THIS SELF THAT'S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THAT'S GOING OUT AND DOING THINGS AND WHAT IT'S DOING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD, THAT'S THE HALLUCINATION. THAT'S THE ILLUSION. IT'S A VERY USEFUL HALLUCINATION, BECAUSE IF WE DIDN'T THINK, OKAY, I HAVE TO GET ONTO "THE AGENDA" WITH STEVE AT 10:00 THIS MORNING OR THINGS WOULDN'T WORK AS WELL, BUT IT IS SORT OF AN ILLUSION COMPARED TO THE SENSE WE HAVE WHEN WE'RE STARING UP AT THE REDWOOD TREE THAT THE WORLD IS MUCH BIGGER THAN OUR INDIVIDUAL SELF.

Steve says FOR THE next PART OF OUR CONVERSATION, I ACTUALLY WANT TO TAKE US BACK MORE THAN A DECADE. BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN ON THIS PROGRAM BEFORE, AND I HAVE THE PROOF RIGHT HERE. SHELDON, IF YOU WOULD?

A clip plays on screen with the caption "February 22, 2010."
In the clip, a younger Alison speaks on screen.

She says 30 YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS SAY STARTING AS A GRADUATE STUDENT, MOST PHILOSOPHERS AND PSYCHOLOGISTS WOULD HAVE SAID BABIES WERE IRRATIONAL AND EGOCENTRIC. THEY COULDN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY. THEY WERE TRAPPED BETWEEN THE HERE AND NOW. THE LAST 30 YEARS OF SCIENCE REALLY REVOLUTIONIZED OUR IDEAS ABOUT BABIES AND HAVE TAUGHT US SCIENTIFICALLY THAT BABIES LEARN MORE, EXPERIENCE MORE, KNOW MORE THAN WE EVER WOULD HAVE THOUGHT BEFORE.

The clip ends.

Steve says A COUPLE OF FOLLOW-UPS THERE. NUMBER ONE, IS THAT THE BERKELEY BELL TOWER YOU WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT IN THE BACKGROUND THERE?

Alison says I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD THAT SET UP. THAT'S A PERFECT SETUP. THAT'S THE ONE THAT'S SO HIGH UP SO THE CHILDREN WON'T BREAK IT.

Steve says OF COURSE IT IS. THAT WAS 11 YEARS AGO. IN THE LAST DECADE THERE OF COURSE HAS BEEN A LOT OF RESEARCH DONE ON THE ISSUE OF THE DEFAULT MODE NETWORK IN THE BRAIN. SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT. WHAT IS THAT?

The caption changes to "The default mode network."

Alison says WELL, IT'S INTERESTING. IF YOU LOOK AT THE REMARKABLE WORK WE'VE DONE IMAGING WHAT THE BRAIN LOOKS LIKE WHEN WE'RE IN VARIOUS KINDS OF STAGES OF CONSCIOUSNESS, WHAT CAME OUT VERY QUICKLY IS THERE'S ONE KIND OF SET OF THINGS THE BRAIN DOES WHEN WE'RE FOCUSED ON SOLVING A PARTICULAR TASK IN THE WAY THAT I MENTIONED BEFORE. INTERESTINGLY, IF WE'RE NOT DOING THAT WHAT HAPPENS WITH GROWNUPS IS THAT WE RUMINATE, WE SIT THERE AND THINK ABOUT WHAT IT IS THAT WE HAVE TO DO IN THE FUTURE, WHAT HAPPENED TO US IN THE PAST, AND IN ADULTS WHAT YOU SEE ARE THOSE TWO SYSTEMS KIND OF SHIFTING BACK AND FORTH. SO A WAY I PUT THIS SOMETIMES IS I THINK OF THIS AS BEING SORT OF PROFESSOR CONSCIOUSNESS. IF YOU'RE A PROFESSOR, YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME SITTING IN YOUR CHAIR, DESPERATELY TRYING TO CONCENTRATE ON THE THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO, AND GETTING DISTRACTED INTO DAY DREAMING AND THINKING ABOUT ALL THE OTHER THINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO DO. SO THERE SEEMS TO BE THIS TASK-BASED NETWORK AND THIS DEFAULT NETWORK. THE DEFAULT NETWORK IS KIND EVERY WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE RUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT NOT A BETTER TASK. THE INTERESTING THING IS WHEN YOU LOOK AT PEOPLE IN THESE MEDITATIVE STATES OR OTHER KINDS OF STATES THAT WE THINK ARE MORE THAT CHILDREN ARE LIKE, YOU DON'T SEE EITHER THAT TASK NETWORK OR THE DEFAULT NETWORK. SO THOSE ARE SO CENTRAL TO WHAT WE TYPICALLY GET IF YOU PUT AN UNDERGRADUATE OR PUT AN ADULT IN THE MACHINE.

Steve says YOU'RE TAKING ME WHERE WE WANT TO GO. THE DEFAULT NETWORK. HOW DOES BETTER UNDERSTANDING THAT FACTOR INTO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF ADULT VERSUS CHILD CONSCIOUSNESS?

Alison says WELL, THE IDEA IS THAT ADULTS, AS I SAY, ARE GOING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THIS KIND OF TASK-BASED, ATTENTION-FOCUSED STATE. AND WHEN THEY AREN'T IN THAT STATE, EVEN WHEN THEY'RE SORT OF, AS WE SAY, INSIDE THEIR OWN HEAD, THEY'RE STILL PLANNING, THINKING ABOUT THE PAST, TRYING TO WORK OUT WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE. AND CHILDREN SEEM TO SORT OF EVADE BOTH OF THOSE STATES. SO CHILDREN ARE IN A STATE THAT DOESN'T SEEM TO BE REALLY MUCH LIKE EITHER OF THOSE, WHERE PARTS OF THE BRAIN, LIKE THE BACK OF THE BRAIN THAT'S INVOLVED IN PERCEPTION, SEEM TO BE MORE ACTIVE. OR THE PARIETAL PART OF THE BRAIN THAT IS ALSO INVOLVED IN SEEING THE WORLD AROUND YOU. THOSE SEEM TO BE THE PARTS THAT ARE REALLY ACTIVE IN CHILDHOOD. AND YOU CAN SHOW THAT A NICE ANALOGY THAT I LIKE IS, A LOVELY EXPERIMENT WHERE THEY GOT PEOPLE TO LIE IN THE STANDARD BUT MUCH TERRIFIC MOVIES, WATCH A REALLY ENGAGING MOVIE. WHAT THEY SAW WAS WHEN YOU WERE WATCHING THE ENGAGING MOVIE, YOU HAD DEACTIVATION OF THIS FRONTAL SYSTEM THAT GETS YOU TO DO THINGS AND THE DEFAULT MODE NETWORK. AND THAT KIND OF MAKES SENSE, RIGHT? IF YOU'RE REALLY ENGAGED IN A MOVIE, YOU AREN'T SITTING RUMINATING ABOUT WHAT TO DO NEXT, YOU'RE JUST CAUGHT UP. YOU'RE JUST OUT THERE IN THE WORLD. ONE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT IT FOR CHILDREN, AND AGAIN I THINK THIS FITS OUR GENERAL PICTURE FOR CHILDREN, EVERY MOMENT IS LIKE BEING ABSORBED IN AN AMAZINGLY COOL MOVIE, EVEN IF IT'S JUST WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND YOU IN THE MORNING AS YOU WAKE UP AND, YOU KNOW, HAVE YOUR BREAKFAST.

Steve says WELL, I THINK YOU HAVE SAID, IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT EXPANDED CONSCIOUSNESS LOOKS LIKE, HERE'S THE QUOTE: ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS HAVE A TEA WITH A 4-YEAR-OLD AND THAT BABIES AND CHILDREN ARE BASICALLY TRIPPING ALL THE TIME. NOW, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

Alison says WELL, ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS THAT'S COME OUT RECENTLY IS THERE'S BEEN WORK LOOKING AT SOME OF THESE KIND OF EXPANDED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS, OFTEN IN THE CONTEXT OF THINGS... AT LEAST SOMETIMES IN THE CONTEXT OF THINGS LIKE PSILOCYBIN OR OTHER SUBSTANCES THAT INDUCE THOSE STATES IN PEOPLE. BUT ALSO LOOKING AT WHAT HAPPENS NATURALLY WHEN PEOPLE GET INTO THOSE STATES. AND WHAT IT SUGGESTS IS WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE BRAIN IN THOSE STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS, THE PATTERN YOU SEE LOOKS A LOT LIKE WHAT YOU SEE IN CHILDHOOD. SO IT LOOKS AS IF YOU'RE SEEING MANY MORE LOCAL CONNECTIONS IN THE BRAIN, MUCH MORE PLASTICITY, MUCH MORE CAPACITY FOR LEARNING IN THE BRAIN, AND MUCH LESS TOP-DOWN CONTROL. AND AGAIN THAT SUGGESTS THAT SOME OF THESE STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS, LIKE THE... MIGHT BE NEUROLOGICALLY LIKE THE KINDS OF STATES WE SEE CHILDREN IS.

Steve says EVERYBODY IS GOING TO WANT TO GOOGLE THAT WORD.

Alison says IT'S N-U-M-I-N-O-U-S. ISN'T THAT A LOVELY WORD? IT CAPTURES A LOVELY CONCEPT. IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE GREAT POETS LIKE WILLIAM BLAKE OR WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, THE GREAT ROMANTIC POETS, THEY DESCRIBED... THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS THEY DID MOST WAS DESCRIBE THAT STATE AND AT LEAST SOME OF THEM LIKE WORDSWORTH THOUGHT THAT WAS THE STATE YOU WERE IN IN CHILDHOOD. BEFORE THEY HAD ANY OF THIS INFORMATION ABOUT NEUROSCIENCE IN THE BRAIN, THEY ALREADY, I THINK, GOT THE POINT THAT THIS WAS A REALLY SPECIAL STATE TO BE IN AND IT WAS A STATE THAT WAS CONNECTED WITH CHILDHOOD. SO WILLIAM BLAKE TALKS ABOUT SEEING A WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND, AND THAT'S KIND OF WHAT I THINK THIS STATE IS ALL ABOUT.

Steve says NOW I GATHER THE DEFAULT MODE NETWORK CAN BE OVERACTIVE IN ADULT BRAINS THAT ARE SEVERLY DEPRESSED OR ANXIOUS, BUT CAN BE DEACTIVATED THROUGH MEDITATION AND PSYCHEDELICS. SO WHAT DO WE INFER FROM THAT?

Alison says WELL I THINK WE'RE TOO EARLY ON TO REALLY KNOW EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING ON, BUT THERE CERTAINLY SEEMS TO BE SOME EVIDENCE THAT THIS KIND OF RUMINATION THAT WE GET WITH THE DEFAULT MODE NETWORK, THE THINKING OVER THINGS OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND NOT BEING ABLE TO ESCAPE FROM IT. THAT KIND OF RUMINATION IS CONNECTED TO THINGS LIKE DEPRESSION. SO IT'S AS IF YOU CAN'T ESCAPE FROM... AGAIN, YOU KNOW, THE BUDDHIST LONG BEFORE THEY HAD THE NEUROSCIENCE HAD NICE DESCRIPTIONS OF THIS, THE SORT OF MIYA, THAT STATE THAT YOU'RE IN WHEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD, IT BECOMES JUST CAUGHT IN THIS NARROW GROOVE. SOMETHING LIKE MEDITATION MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP KICK YOU OUT OF THAT NARROW STATE.

Steve says NOW, AS PROMISED WE TALKED ABOUT THE LANTERN VERSUS THE SPOTLIGHT AND NOW LET'S MOVE ON TO THE GARDENER AND THE CARPENTER. HERE'S A QUOTE FROM YOUR BOOK OF THAT TITLE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "The parenting trap." The quote reads "People sometimes use the word 'parenting' just to describe what parents actually do. But more often, especially now, parenting means something that parents should do. This prescriptive parenting picture is fundamentally misguided. It's the wrong way to understand how parents and children actually think and act, and it's equally wrong as a vision of how they should think and act. It's actually made life worse for children and parents."
Quoted from Alison Gopnik, "The Gardner and the Carpenter." 2016.

Steve says OKAY. LET'S PULL THAT APART. WHAT HAVE WE GOT WRONG?

The caption changes to "Parenting is not carpentry."

Alison says WELL, I THINK THAT WE HAVE A KIND OF PICTURE, WHICH IS ACTUALLY QUITE RECENT, THE VERY WORD PARENTING ONLY SHOWS UP IN THE 1970s IN THE UNITED STATES, THAT WE SHOULD THINK ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN AS IF IT'S A KIND OF WORK, THAT WE ARE TRYING TO GET A PARTICULAR KIND OF OUTCOME, WE'RE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING THAT WILL MAKE THE CHILDREN INTO BETTER CHILDREN LATER ON, AND IF ONLY WE READ THE WRITE BOOKS AND GET THE RIGHT APPS AND DO THE RIGHT THINGS, WE'LL DO THIS CARPENTRY, WE'LL BE ABLE TO CREATE A CHILD OF A PARTICULAR KIND. EVOLUTION SUGGESTS AND SCIENCE SUGGESTS THAT'S NOT THE RIGHT PICTURE. A MUCH BETTER PICTURE IS THE PICTURE WE CREATE THIS KIND OF PROTECTED SPACE FOR CHILDREN, AND THEN THEY DO ALL SORTS OF UNPREDICTABLE, UNEXPECTED, VARIABLE THINGS. THEY'RE ALL DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER, AND EACH ONE IS DOING DIFFERENT THINGS ALL THE TIME. AND IT'S ACTUALLY THAT DIFFERENCE, THAT VARIABILITY, THAT ALLOWS HUMAN BEINGS TO PROGRESS. SO ONE SHOULD THINK NOT SO MUCH ABOUT HERE'S THE THINGS THAT I NEED TO DO TO BE ABLE TO GET MY CHILD TO COME OUT A PARTICULAR WAY, BUT JUST BEING IN THAT RELATIONSHIP OF BEING A CARE-GIVER, TAKING CARE OF A CHILD, IS ACTUALLY HELPING TO ALLOW MANY, MANY NEW THINGS TO BLOSSOM AND HAPPEN. SORT OF LIKE IF YOU HAVE A NICE MESSY COTTAGE GARDEN LIKE MINE WHERE YOU DON'T KNOW FOR SURE ANY YEAR WHICH THINGS ARE GOING TO THRIVE AND WHICH THINGS AREN'T. BUT YOU'RE PROVIDING A SPACE WHERE LOTS OF DIFFERENT THINGS CAN THRIVE. AND THAT KIND OF AN ECOSYSTEM IS ALSO MORE RESILIENT. SO WHEN THINGS CHANGE, A GARDEN THAT HAS LOTS OF VARIABILITY, LOTS OF UNPREDICTABILITY CAN CHANGE WITH IT IN A WAY THAT ACTUALLY IS VERY PRODUCTIVE IN THE LONG RUN AND MORE PRODUCTIVE THAN IF YOU JUST TRIED TO DO ONE CROP OF THE BIGGEST POTATOES YOU POSSIBLY COULD HAVE. AND I THINK A BIT OF THE CULTURE AROUND CARE-GIVING AND CHILD-RAISING NOW IS LET'S MAKE THE BIGGEST POTATOES THAT WE POSSIBLY CAN. THAT'S PROBABLY NOT A GOOD IDEA FOR GARDENING AND I DON'T THINK IT'S A GOOD IDEA FOR OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHILDREN EITHER.

Steve says LATE SOME SOD, PLANT SOME FLOWERS, WATER IT NOW AND THEN, AND KIND OF GET OUT OF THE WAY?

Alison says EXACTLY. THAT'S EXACTLY THE ARGUMENT.

Steve says THAT'S GOING TO... A LOT OF HELICOPTER PARENTS ARE GOING TO HAVE A VERY DIFFICULT TIME TRYING TO FIGURE THAT OUT AND DO THAT. THEY VERY MUCH WANT TO BE CARPENTERS AND NOT GARDENERS. SO WHAT'S THE ADVICE TO TEACH THEM THAT IT'S ACTUALLY A BETTER IDEA AND YOUR OUTCOMES FOR YOUR CHILDREN YOU'RE GOING TO PREFER IF YOU GARDEN AS OPPOSED TO DO CARPENTRY?

Alison says WELL, I THINK... I HOPE THAT THIS MESSAGE IS NOT: OH, OKAY, THIS PARENTING PRESCRIPTION WAS WRONG, SO NOW HERE'S THE NEW ONE THAT YOU SHOULD BE ANXIOUS ABOUT. I HOPE WHAT THE MESSAGE IS IS THAT BY NOT THINKING SO MUCH IN TERMS OF HERE IS WHAT THE LONG-TERM OUTCOMES ARE GOING TO BE, WHAT HE'S GOING TO TELL HIS PSYCHIATRIST WHEN HE'S 20, AND THINKING MORE AT THIS MOMENT, IN THE PRESENT, WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH ME AND WITH THIS CHILD, AND BEING ABLE TO ACTUALLY ENJOY, APPRECIATE SOME OF THIS BROAD LANTERN EXPERIENCE THAT EVERY CHILD HAS, BUT THINKING MORE IN TERMS OF WHAT'S THE SATISFYING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ME AND THIS CHILD AT THIS MOMENT, RATHER THAN THINKING ABOUT IT AS IF YOU'RE SHAPING THE CHILD. THAT'S ACTUALLY GOING TO BE A MORE SATISFYING, ENRICHING AND LESS ANXIOUS RELATIONSHIP, BOTH FOR THE PARENTS AND FOR THE CHILDREN. ONE PRACTICAL THING, FOR INSTANCE, IS HAVING THE CHILDREN BE PART OF YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE INSTEAD OF THINKING THAT THERE'S A SPECIAL AGENDA THAT YOU NEED TO HAVE WHEN YOU'RE WITH CHILDREN. AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I REALLY EMPHASIZE IN THE BOOK IS A LOT OF TIMES IT SUGGESTS THAT CHILDREN ARE LEARNING JUST BY WATCHING THE EVERYDAY THINGS PEOPLE AROUND THEM ARE DOING, IMITATING THEM, LISTENING TO THEM. DOING THINGS LIKE HAVING THE CHILD PLAY WITH MIXING BOWLS WHILE YOU'RE COOKING. MY SON ACTUALLY HAS A MONTREAL DELI IN BERKELEY, AND HIS CHILDREN HANG OUT IN THE RESTAURANT, SEE WHAT PEOPLE AROUND THEM ARE DOING, FIND OUT ABOUT WHAT REAL WORKING LIFE IS LIKE, HELP SET THE TABLES. AND THEY ABSOLUTELY LOVE DOING THAT. IT'S ONE OF THEIR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO AND THEY'RE PROSPERING AND LEARNING AS A RESULT. I THINK IF WE HAD MORE... THOUGHT ABOUT CARE-GIVING MORE FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE, IT WOULD MAKE THINGS EASIER FOR EVERYBODY.

Steve says YOU KNOW, JUST FURTHER REMINDS ME OF HOW MUCH BETTER PARENTS MY PARENTS WERE THAN I AM, BECAUSE THEY USED TO TELL ME WHEN I WAS A KID, "GO OUTSIDE AND DON'T GET KILLED." IT SEEMED REASONABLY GOOD ADVICE.

Alison says I THINK THE IDEA OF SAYING, OKAY, GO, DO YOUR OWN THING. I'M NOT HERE HOVERING OVER YOU AT THIS MOMENT. I MEAN I THINK PART OF THE CHALLENGE IS THAT, IN THE PAST, THE WAY THAT PEOPLE LEARNED HOW TO BE PARENTS WAS BY TAKING CARE OF THEIR YOUNGER BROTHERS AND SISTERS, WATCHING THEIR AUNTS AND UNCLES AND GRANDPARENTS INVOLVED IN PARENTING, AND I THINK IT IS DIFFICULT FOR CONTEMPORARY PARENTS BECAUSE YOU'LL OFTEN HAVE PARENTS WHO HAVE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN INVOLVED IN CARE-GIVING FOR A CHILD BEFORE. I THINK IF WE CAN RETURN TO SOMETHING MORE LIKE A VILLAGE WHERE LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN CARE-GIVING, YOU GET LOTS OF CHANCE TO SEE CARE-GIVING AND MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT APPROACHES ARE TAKING CARE OF CHILDREN, THAT CERTAINLY IS CLOSER TO THE CONTEXT IN WHICH WE EVOLVED. AND I THINK THAT KIND OF TAKING A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD WOULD BE AN ADVANTAGE TO EVERYONE, AND THERE IS SOME EXAMPLES OF THAT. I THINK PEOPLE MORE AND MORE ARE TRYING TO, FOR INSTANCE, GET ELDERS INVOLVED IN CARE-GIVING, EVEN IF IT ISN'T YOUR BIOLOGICAL GRANDPARENTS. AND CHILDREN LOVE HEARING THE SPECIAL THINGS THAT THEIR GRANDPARENTS OR OTHER OLDER PEOPLE ARE DOING. SO I THINK THE IDEA OF TRYING TO NOT JUST THINK OF IT AS THERE'S A PARTICULAR PARENT, THEY HAVE A JOB, THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO SHAPE THIS CHILD. BUT RATHER THIS CHILD IS GROWING UP IN THIS RICH SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE, WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT IDEAS, THAT THAT WOULD BE A MORE PROSPEROUS AND HAPPIER WAY OF RAISING CHILDREN.

The caption changes to "Producer: Eric Bombicino, @ebombicino."

Steve says PROFESSOR GOPNIK, I HOPE WE CAN MAKE A DATE TO DO THIS AGAIN IN 11 YEARS AS WE ALWAYS DO ON THIS PROGRAM.

Alison says AS I SAY, IT'S ALWAYS WONDERFUL TO GET BACK TO MY CANADIAN ROOTS.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Steve says THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON "THE AGENDA." TONIGHT.

Alison says WELL, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

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