Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik explains why modern parenting is too goal-oriented. Alison and Julia discuss whether anything parents do matters, whether kids should go to school, and how kids learn discipline if you don't force them to do things.
United States


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00:00:20so if you enjoy podcasts like this one and you're interested in what stripe does I'd recommend you check them out they're always hiring learn more at stripe dot com welcome to rationally speaking podcast where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense I'm your host Julie a gala
00:00:51and I'm here with today's guest professor Alison Gopnik Allison is a professor of psychology and philosophy she's famous for her work on developmental psychology how children learn %HESITATION she's the author of several books including most recently the gardener and the carpenter what the new science of child development
00:01:08tells us about the relationship between parents and children Alison welcome to rationally speaking hi try to be here a few things I wanted to talk to you about today but let's start with your recent book %HESITATION you argue in your book that people modern parents think of parenting
00:01:26as a kin to carpentry where you have a blueprint in your mind %HESITATION for the kind of person that you want to create and you try to shape your child accordingly as they grow through teaching them how to behave instilling discipline %HESITATION teaching them good values are getting
00:01:45them classes in chess or piano war you know SAT prep it cetera but actually you argue in your book children are not so much analogous to act in a kind of raw lumber that you can shape into any shape that you want %HESITATION and they're more akin to
00:02:04seeds that will grow into something %HESITATION you know kind of of their own accord and you know you as the parents are more in the role of a gardener where you where you can you know weed the garden and and water the children and so on of but
00:02:19you you know you don't have quite so much control over what the final product looks like %HESITATION so first off feel free to you know amend my my summary of your thesis however you see fit %HESITATION but my first question is going to be what what is gardening
00:02:34in in the domain of parenting like what what are the things that we can do to affect our children turn out yeah I mean I think the point is that thinking in terms of the things that we can do to affect our children turn out is the whole
00:02:49wrong way of conceiving of the whole enterprise %HESITATION so it's not too much owl if you're in this has happened often in interviews that I've done %HESITATION it's not too much %HESITATION well if you just do your parenting the way I'd say if your garden your parents everything
00:03:03will go come out fines as opposed to the other way the carpenter parents the point is that the whole point of childhood is that %HESITATION from an evolutionary perspective it's a way of introducing a lot of unpredictable variability into the species as a way of having many many
00:03:19different options many different possibilities and and if you think about the in part of the reason why I made the analogy to gardening is at least if you're have a cottage garden all our %HESITATION organic gardening your going to what you really want in a garden like that
00:03:36is to have many many many different possibilities many different species that thrive in different conditions %HESITATION and when you have that kind of ecosystem that kind of variable unpredictably consisting of a system that's going to be much more resilient to change than if say your %HESITATION orchid hot
00:03:53house gardener just making one particular plant grow to its maximum amount and one of the things we really learned from biology is that that kind of monoculture that sense of here's the thing to do just make this one particular plant grow the best it possibly can ends up
00:04:11actually defeating the whole purpose of gardening or farming that actually ends up making %HESITATION organisms that are %HESITATION fragile they're not recently to change and making systems that are fragile and not resilient to change up to see that what I want to argue from a scientific perspective is
00:04:28that we should think about being a caregiver as a matter of you know providing the love and support and resources and care that we %HESITATION provide for children you can you can do the job and of course if you don't provide those things for your children they're not
00:04:44likely to thrive but sort of beyond that %HESITATION what you've got is a system that intentionally is is unpredictable and is going to generate new things so even if you could accomplish this goal of here's how I want my child to turn out a you would be defeating
00:04:59the whole point of childhood by doing that %HESITATION so first off maybe we should talk about how do we know that you know the carpentry model doesn't work well if you look at the data about what's the relationship between early experience in later life what comes out is
00:05:17that if there is an important relationship in the sense that when children don't have the kind of support and resources in general that they need when children are impoverished or abused they're more likely to have difficulties of various kinds when they become adults but given the baseline of
00:05:37you know attentive care givers who have enough money and enough resources and enough care givers who aren't isolated %HESITATION then there's not very much relationship between the kinds of things that parents stressed over like do you sleep train your baby your do not sleep train me maybe or
00:05:55even nowadays there's quake's battles about should you have the story facing front or should you have the stroller facing back you know do you get home or did you not give homework is not very much evidence that any of the kinds of things that middle class parents are
00:06:09consciously anxious and battling about make very much difference in the long run and even if you think about the the %HESITATION basic facts of resilience there's so much variability in my children alike and my parents are like in what environments are like that it's very hard to make
00:06:26the very best you can do is to make sort of statistical predictions about what's going to come out now again the general factor of do you have a number of warm attentive care givers that makes a difference %HESITATION but the kinds of things that people think that they
00:06:42can consciously manipulate by say reading a parenting about our %HESITATION our or %HESITATION token get having certain kinds of techniques or other or others there's not very much evidence of that makes much of a difference in the long so I've it's hard not to compare your arguments to
00:07:01that of another recent podcast guest of mine Bryan Caplan who a few years ago published the book selfish reasons to have more kids %HESITATION and his argument is %HESITATION is somewhat similar to yours that up parenting techniques basically don't matter in the long run they might have some
00:07:18difference in the short run but that tends to fade out over time and you know it looks like it kind of intuitively feels like it accounting matters because if you look at parents to put their kids in in after school programs and and spend a lot of time
00:07:31reading to them etcetera you see those children doing better in life %HESITATION but Brian points out you have to take into account that the kind of parents to do those things are are also genetically different from the kind of parents who don't %HESITATION and so if you want
00:07:44to tease apart the effects of genetics verses %HESITATION versus parenting you have to look at of children who are biologically the like the biologically related to their parents versus children who are adopted %HESITATION and compare their outcomes over time and when you do that it looks like jeans
00:08:04basically explain you know roughly all the variation in the in the outcome measures we care about like happiness and success and %HESITATION and I Q. and things like that and so yeah I'm wondering how that like is that basically what you're saying or are you saying something different
00:08:22things and I think I'm saying something that's quite different from that so this is the kind of well parents don't really matter argument that people made because it's all genetics and the first thing to say is that it's a little odd because in the sort of popular science
00:08:36world Zell hold argument about is that genes are is an environment is taken quite seriously and people talk about it a lot I think it's a fair summary that essentially anyone who is actually doing the science whether it's in biology or whether it's in developmental psychology things that
00:08:53that's not a useful distinction that that's the kind of folk distinction that doesn't capture what's actually going on in development and it's one of those cases with is really a very large gap between you know what you even read enough first year developmental textbook and what you see
00:09:10out in the world of %HESITATION public intellectual discussion about %HESITATION about psychology so the wisdom that comes out of the science is that that's not actually a really useful distinction of what happens is that there's these really complicated interactions literally from the time that %HESITATION %HESITATION the time
00:09:30then %HESITATION an egg is fertilized between genetic information and environmental information and we know the environmental information is shaping the way that genes are expressed checking the phenotype again from the very %HESITATION from the very get go and doing it in very complicated and %HESITATION and %HESITATION ways
00:09:47that we don't understand very well so I think as a scientist to the idea of saying we can partition off this much is jeans and this much is environment %HESITATION I just don't think that's a very good scientific you and not to eat you know even people who
00:10:00worked in the assumptions of behavioral %HESITATION hero genetics %HESITATION which where that was sort of the of the original picture I think would say that is well that actually the interesting things are that you've got all these non linear gene by environment %HESITATION interactions so so I think
00:10:18that's a I think there is that genes are is that parenting is not %HESITATION a sensible or intelligent or scientific way of thinking about %HESITATION thinking about the whole question but having said that %HESITATION I do think one of the interesting things that comes out of that literature
00:10:32is again this point about very ability so %HESITATION so we turn that the it's very hard to find systematic relationships between as I said before between particular kinds of parenting and %HESITATION and particular outcomes that go beyond just the fact that when you have a lot of resources
00:10:51you do better than when you don't have a lot of resources but again if this if this evolutionary picture is that the point of childhood is introducing variability and that's exactly what you'd expect so the picture is what it isn't kind of interesting paradox worn hearing tremendously for
00:11:09each individual child us which is what we what we all do tearing overwhelmingly for this particular child and being willing to provide resources and love suggests this child not all the other children the factors that is to allow %HESITATION allow unpredictable variability in unpredictable variability exactly the sort
00:11:28of that that's exactly what you end up seeing is that what some might call the non shared environment which just means that even when you have the same parents with different children you get an incredibly wide array of different kinds of %HESITATION you get %HESITATION incredibly wide array
00:11:44of different kinds of outcomes the point I'd make is that's not just because it's so easy that's actually that's not a bug that actually feature of how healthcare getting work but it doesn't mean okay are getting is important it doesn't count it's quite the contrary it's exactly because
00:11:58you have it committed resources it then you can have so much variation in the way the children come out the whole how do we know that the the love and resources matter like if if the if my description of the data is accurate battles %HESITATION that that adoptive
00:12:16and %HESITATION I'm getting this from from you know I'm summarizing Brian's work %HESITATION Brian summary of the literature %HESITATION if the if adoptive and biologically related children %HESITATION like have life outcomes that differ %HESITATION in a way that can be explained by genetics than why is that why
00:12:41is it not accurate to then summarize like the the whatever the parents are doing call it lover resources or parenting techniques none of that seems to actually predict outcomes why why is that not the right conclusion that's not the right conclusion and here's the reason why it's not
00:12:56the right conclusion if you're thinking about something like adopted versus biological parents of course that's happening in the context of parents and families who are already committed to having resources and %HESITATION %HESITATION already committed to having the resources that are available for Kerr giving %HESITATION energy I don't
00:13:16know if you've talked about this on the show but there's really fascinating work for instance by Eric Tyr calmer %HESITATION whose actually behavioral geneticists working in this field that shows that the degree of heritability of various kinds of features varies depending on socioeconomic status now that might seem
00:13:33kind of weird right so how would your environmental status change weather change how influential jeans were preferred you think about it for a minute you can see why that would be you can see why that would be true %HESITATION in an environment where you know you serve in
00:13:47middle class environment everyone's providing about the same amount of care everybody's providing resources for the children then as I said before the sort of small differences in parenting techniques %HESITATION are not going to show up and genetic differences are going to be more noticeable if you're talking about
00:14:03cases where there's differences in not basic Kerr giving %HESITATION and we have controlled experiments we have interventions the check this that for example %HESITATION providing early %HESITATION support in the form of %HESITATION early preschool or %HESITATION early %HESITATION at child visitor programs where someone comes and actually helps
00:14:23parents %HESITATION we have a lot of it it's I think it's good scientific evidence as we have for anything that that makes a difference to life outcomes in the long run again the point is that those interventions are in a bad you know do you let your baby
00:14:37for get out or not or does the baby sit in front of stroller in the back of the stroller or do you use this parenting technique argues that parenting technique does interventions are about do you have the basic resources %HESITATION to be able to %HESITATION %HESITATION care for
00:14:53four children at all and in those cases you can really see rather striking long term %HESITATION long term outcomes but the point is that's not about do I shaper particular kind of child that is there a garden is there enough support for children so that they can check
00:15:09themselves come out in the ways that you want and and that I think I think that body of evidence is really quite clear so it might seem a little confusing because after all it does that mean apparently matters it doesn't mean that parenting doesn't matter but again I
00:15:22think the important thing to say is that providing the care and support we have a lot of evidence of that matters because we have lots of evidence that children who don't have that in all sorts of ways to do worse than children %HESITATION than children who do but
00:15:35Hines of small variations in outcomes that and that but middle class parents trusted that don't and even more importantly I think the whole orientation a whole way of thinking about it in terms of %HESITATION what my job is as a parent is to bring about a particular outcome
00:15:51to shape a particular outcome I think that's just philosophically as well as scientifically just the wrong way of thinking about it and I give the example sometimes that you know we don't it's interesting that that very word parenting is a fairly recent invention it just came in appeared
00:16:05at the end of the twentieth century of course for millennia we've been we've been mothers and fathers but the idea that it's this goal directed activity that brings about a certain outcome that's a very recent idea and I feel you know we don't why if our husbands and
00:16:20we don't and even though we think that was are really important deep relationships that we have to put a lot of time and energy into we wouldn't think about whether our relationship with our spouse was a good one in terms of a well how are the how are
00:16:34they coming out are they better than they were ten years ago when I would just say no those relationships are really important relationships working for human beings to thrive %HESITATION and mutual info feedback and I think that's a much healthier way of thinking about relationships between parents and
00:16:51children so it still sounds to me like your model it is basically the same as prime Coppens model except X. accepts you know above a certain like minimum threshold of %HESITATION of like healthiness of of environments that and maybe Brian would say this to maybe his his model
00:17:11is just that like overall in general for typical household a parenting environments doesn't matter %HESITATION but but I I think I think hit his model would still allow that like if you abuse your child and and nutritionally deprive them they're going to turn out worse with the right
00:17:28metaphor basically be like if your as long as your backyard isn't full of pollution you can plant seeds and just let them grow you don't have to weed in water the garden maybe that's where I got thrown off with the metaphor is I was imagining guarding is an
00:17:42active thing right you know what I think is an important thing to say is look being a bad parent recorders more energy and water resources yeah okay anything else that you do %HESITATION so you know you think about think about it %HESITATION I I began to think about
00:18:01the difference the contrast between this and that say marriage so you know if I leave my husband alone all day and you know kind of come in at five o'clock and we make dinner and talk awhile and you know think about what his problems are then you know
00:18:16that's a pretty good that's being a pretty good life if I did that with the child that would be idiot child abuse in the baby would die yeah just the amount of work and attention and resources that you need to to keep a baby thriving at all %HESITATION
00:18:31is is it's staggering and importantly from an evolutionary perspective it's actually part of what makes us human so humans actually put mortgages resources into babies and always out since we were foragers then %HESITATION than any other species desk so %HESITATION if you look at your panties for example
00:18:49chimpanzees are independent %HESITATION when their %HESITATION when you're seven years old they're producing as much food as they're consuming and even in forager hunter gatherer societies that's not happening until kids are fifteen so %HESITATION is an enormous amount of work and energy so that's why it's not like
00:19:05just well you can third the seeds out %HESITATION to to have this process work at all requires %HESITATION %HESITATION resources images resources from individual parents but resources from the %HESITATION from the entire community and not actually is part of what happened in our evolutionary origin there's a lot
00:19:21of arguments note that it was exactly the demands of having a whole group of people who were taking care of babies together that led to a lot of our %HESITATION a lot of our other kinds of capacities for things like cooperation and %HESITATION an understanding and it's worth
00:19:37pointing out you know twenty percent of American children still are growing up in poverty and and worsen other growing up in social isolation without having a community of caregivers who are who are looking after them so we're not just talking about well some extreme isolated cases where %HESITATION
00:19:53children are being abused we're talking about you know she is I think we have good reason to believe that your office of American children are growing up in environments that aren't the kind of environments in which they could %HESITATION in which they could thrive and I think we
00:20:06could say that that's true and again it's a cut there's a kind of strange paradox particularly in the United States and where %HESITATION on the one hand we have you know billions of dollars being spent on this parenting industry %HESITATION to get middle class parents to make small
00:20:22adjustments in their baby that probably are can make any difference in the same time we have twenty percent of American children growing up in circumstances that we're pretty sure will %HESITATION make a difference in the negative direction and we can't seem to get the where with all to
00:20:35do very much about that so this is something that I had in mind when reading the literature on parenting before I got to your book that even if the effective average parenting is basically zero it could be that still matters in the tales that like really bad parenting
00:20:52does have a measurable a predictable intact and maybe also really good parenting has a predictable impact in that would necessarily show up in the in the data overall %HESITATION you've been talking about the the low end the low tale %HESITATION what it what is your impression even if
00:21:08it's just an intuitive impression if we don't have data about whether like exceptionally good parenting can make a difference and I'm sorry I know you don't like the word parent as a verb but like now I'm just saying like is it possible that it is actually possible to
00:21:24parents if you do it really well well again you know it kind of depends on partly or largely on what do you think get outcome is so for example I think it's probably and there's this is a paradox that comes up again and again and thinking about the
00:21:38psychology of I don't know if the college so let's say I wanted to have a child who had some you know particular scale I probably could or might be able to go and you know I could probably use behavioral reinforcement methods to shape that child to come out
00:21:57to have that particular do that particular thing but of course what you end up with if you did that is a kind of lack of resilience man now suppose the environment changes now that you've got a child who's in a different setting a different circumstance and %HESITATION and
00:22:11you want that child to be able to adjust deal with something new something that they've never been exposed to before %HESITATION one of the big ideas we've been thinking about recently is something that %HESITATION near scientists and computer scientists called explore export trade off and the the fault
00:22:29is not actually being incredibly well adapted and designed to do one particular thing actually have call us in terms of your ability to explore and find out what to do with new circumstances I think a nice example of that is if you look at the literature about %HESITATION
00:22:46the effects of play on later development %HESITATION and there's a kind of paradox because %HESITATION I think intuitively people feel as if it's really important for children to play it's something that they naturally do it something that %HESITATION old young of all species do but it's kind of
00:23:01puzzling about what what good effects does it have because if you take again any particular skill %HESITATION if you're going to do better if you're just a goal directed creature trying to accomplish that particular skill but we're placing to have benefits again is in this area of flexibility
00:23:17resilience being able to adjust to something new being able to come up with a new idea or a new skills and I think especially now in some ways %HESITATION we recognize that that's something that we want that's actually %HESITATION %HESITATION I think that's always been a really important
00:23:32feature of human beings one of the things that's always been distinctive about us is that we can thrive in more different environments and more unpredictable variable and haven't seen any other species %HESITATION way I like to put it sometimes is you know our environmental niches the unknown unknowns
00:23:48%HESITATION and it seems like a good idea to try to have both individual children and the whole community of children available to you to be able to to %HESITATION %HESITATION to do that and that's something again where the the %HESITATION the outcome of having a community of people
00:24:07who are all caring for individual children to have different strengths and weaknesses and %HESITATION and who kinda love those children on the same way that that actually seems to be a good that actually seems to be a good model for how to do that that certainly the evolutionary
00:24:21not it seems to me that we can be pretty confident that the environment isn't going to change so much for our children that there aren't some skills that we could predict would still be useful looked you know across ninety nine percent of of plausible up put possible future
00:24:37that they might inhabit lake so for example %HESITATION if I were if I were going to try to to raise a child I think I would there something that I I think I would try to instill like %HESITATION having a behavioral therapy %HESITATION has various suggestions for how
00:24:55to cope with anxiety or how to be resilient in fact %HESITATION and how to like stop yourself from from assuming the worst about any given situation or %HESITATION like keep respective in difficult times yeah and I I have other friends who have young children now and are trying
00:25:15to instill in them sort of general self efficacy like you know here's how to how to think about problems that come up in your life like you know there's usually something you can do like let's progress all together at cetera there's like different kinds of tactics you can
00:25:30attempt and I think the thinking is sort of a few instill these things at a young age they'll have this kind of generalized tool kits that will be pretty useful to them %HESITATION in in you know most features that they could end up and does that not like
00:25:43I don't know of any data on teaching CBT two kids got the thing and this is part of what the second part of my of my book is about %HESITATION again and it's it's tricky because the ideas are are a little complex it is also clear just as
00:25:58it's clear that adults are humans are investing incredible amount in their in their %HESITATION in their children just keeping their children giving that to their children that period of time as it is also clear that in in really enormously important thing that happens in that period of time
00:26:13it is not children figure out those values and strategies and skills that the previous generation Hans and because humans are such cultural species such cultural species that's a really really important things that %HESITATION that children are doing in that children are learning from character so children are indeed
00:26:30exactly learning whatever values or skills or knowledge %HESITATION is has been accumulated in their particular culture in their particular community and they're internalizing that figuring it out using it to figure out how the world works I'm and that's a really really important thing that parents are doing %HESITATION
00:26:46but one of the things that comes out of the the science is not %HESITATION children are amazingly good at extracting that information by doing things like watching what the people around them are doing or just listening to the everyday language that the people around them are using %HESITATION
00:27:05imitating the skills that they see other people there and %HESITATION that's one thing and the other thing is that it's really clear that each generation of children both takes on the on the cultural information that they got from the people around them and and modifies is in changes
00:27:20it and does on predict all things with it that are different from the values and skills and knowledge that that %HESITATION previous generation house and that's actually a ended in a mechanism for for cultural change and development so what that means is that you know and we have
00:27:35lots of beautiful studies that I describe in the book for instance if you %HESITATION do something in front of a child let one of the nice examples I have his cooking said one of the things that I up by doing that people have been doing the kids for
00:27:48ever is integrating them into you know the real things you have to do in life like your making lunch %HESITATION and the evidence is that when children are safe just imitating what someone else is doing like here's Graham %HESITATION whipping up the eggs now it's my turn to
00:28:02without the X. the sensitive to fine details in how you do that and what things are important what things are important and what you're intending to do in ways that go far beyond what you could self consciously manipulate so the children you know I think that picture that
00:28:19a lot of middle class parents home is okay I need to shape my child to have particular kinds of skills and if I sit there and self consciously read the manual the way I would if I was you know doing something my work I can make those children
00:28:32who otherwise wouldn't get that information I can make some by my self conscious %HESITATION deliberate efforts %HESITATION would come out with those values and I think what the evidence suggests is children are very very good at both kicking up and transforming the values by doing things like listening
00:28:50to details a language like a nice example that recently has come up is %HESITATION generics now you probably don't even know that you're using generics or you're not using generic what America things like %HESITATION girls don't cry when you use a linguistic forms implies that you're making a
00:29:07generalization about a whole category %HESITATION it turns out that kids it really sensitive to whether you say something like girls don't cry or you say this girl doesn't cry anymore many girls don't cry %HESITATION %HESITATION and you can already see how that might end up leading to stereotyping
00:29:23for example but you know I couldn't even tell you whether a sentence that I use tensioners and or or doesn't have generic that %HESITATION so I think I think the important thing is that by integrate and again from an evolutionary perspective if you look at how children have
00:29:38have been %HESITATION %HESITATION for most of human history again children our children are very good at learning the skills that are important to them but the way they learn it is through participating in the way that the skills of the way that people around them are engaging the
00:29:55skills by you know taking on a piece of the cooking or %HESITATION if you're in a culture where reading books is really important and reading books is really important rather than that there's a kind of explicit curriculum that parents can %HESITATION can articulate that will make the children
00:30:11come out and in particular what does this mean that we should in instead of worrying less about our our %HESITATION parenting we should maybe reallocate are worrying too you know how we're using language and what what impressions we're giving our children about the world and how they should
00:30:25be as people by the you know whether we used in every my advice is you know it's really important that we I think in the idea allocating are wearing is a good idea you were worried about something about climate change like to worry about your children and a
00:30:40lot of time worrying you bet whether you were doing the right thing or you're using the right language or you know your details of how your parenting are going are going to shape your children that's kind of a foolish thing to worry about %HESITATION in fact one of
00:30:55the things that are part of my summary sometimes is %HESITATION %HESITATION I think the answer is that if you're worried about your children you probably don't have anything to worry about if you're not worried that maybe you should work %HESITATION and that's a joke but it's there that
00:31:11element of it is true I think part of what's happened is and again this is a terrible catch twenty two this emphasis on the kind of high investment parenting model one affected clearly has is to make parents %HESITATION especially mothers guilty and anxious and worried and divided among
00:31:28themselves about whether the record they're doing the right things are not you know spending their time shaming each other on %HESITATION on blogs are wearing that they're going to be shamed about %HESITATION what their parents knew like and I think everything we know we suggest that's exactly not
00:31:42the environment in which that %HESITATION in which children going to track right %HESITATION you know I think the part of the problem and I don't I mean I have some ideas about solutions to this but you know so why is this happening well I think one reason it's
00:31:57happening is because for the first time in human history people are having children who haven't had very much experience with children so how do we solve this problem for most of human history with the way we solved it was by the time you have children yourself you had
00:32:11taken care of your younger brothers and sisters and cousins and %HESITATION your %HESITATION your you'd watched your parents take her children but you'd also watch your answer in your grandmother's in your uncle's in each of them did it in a slightly different way depending on who the child
00:32:25was so for most of history is how a lot of practical expertise by the time you were you were you were raising children and I think there's good reason to believe it's that kind of practical intuitive expertise that involve not anything that you could you know go out
00:32:40and %HESITATION and read %HESITATION %HESITATION a bunch of books about %HESITATION that really makes a difference as far as children are concerned and it's it's I do you think is a real issue that even for you know high resource middle class parents of those sources a kind of
00:32:56intuitive expertise have okay disappeared you know lots of people don't even have that we don't even have paid babysitters anymore because they're too busy stay for their SAT so then they think okay what what I should do is study for my parenting as a so would you say
00:33:11that the implication of your thesis for the education system is that having kids required to attend school and learn a certain curriculum is is not actually beneficial to them and and if we if families have the resources to justice on the school their kids like whether kids hang
00:33:29out at home and just like interact with the family and be left to their own devices to read whatever they find interesting that that would be better well in the broad scheme of things I think you know and there's been there's been many models of this over over
00:33:43the years that hunting %HESITATION children interacting with %HESITATION skilled community of people who are doing things well and who have the time and resources to %HESITATION integrate the children into their activities I think I think we have reason to believe that that would be at least as good
00:34:00in terms of outcomes is our current educational system as of now of course the problem is at the moment the way that you would do that would be you know having out particular mother for example to give that poor can stay home to do that ends up there
00:34:14it you end up having a kind of catch twenty two again without wanting to be too sentimental about our past if you look in fortresses side is what happens is that the children are right there with the people who were doing skilled activities and they're learning the skilled
00:34:28activities that those people are are doing and I think there's quite a bit of evidence that this kind of guided apprenticeship is a very very good way for children to learn skills that are going on in the world no course part of the problem is we have a
00:34:40much wider range of skills that we want people to learn now than he would have to say and %HESITATION for trickled so we can't just sort of say well look everybody needs to be able to do acts we have a much wider range more specialized things like doing
00:34:54mathematics or being able to decode print %HESITATION %HESITATION and and we don't have most people having the resources to be able to provide a rich environment but you know money one of the things I say sometimes is I think what especially with young children need more of his
00:35:11%HESITATION mud livestock and relatives %HESITATION though that the real environment several elements in an environment that will lead to make a rich learning environment for children very much my livestock and relatives around most of the time so we have to figure out how we can help schools and
00:35:27preschools that kind of provide the equivalent of mud livestock in reality is maybe that you know a sandbox and a hamster and a bunch of dedicated %HESITATION preschools and I think the same thing's true when you're talking about school I think probably in an ideal world you would
00:35:42have %HESITATION children who are interacting with people who are really skilled in particular %HESITATION in in particular abilities and that children from all we know are very good at learning enough context but of course we're not in that world so we have to figure out ways that we
00:35:59can make make the school more like the village and can I think there are some ideas about how to do that I have one long running disagreement with %HESITATION some of my friends who are new parents or who planned to become parents %HESITATION and that's over whether we
00:36:16should ever force kids to do something that they don't want to do %HESITATION and may I tend to be like I'm I'm pretty permissive in philosophy about about like leading sort of giving children autonomy and treating them as people %HESITATION like more so than maybe the average parent
00:36:32%HESITATION but at the same time it just seems to me that like there's so many things that there's at least like a large handful of things that children really do have to learn how to do %HESITATION that are not like fun are obviously useful to the child you
00:36:47know from the vantage point of being six years old %HESITATION and you kind of have to like like the only way that the child is going to learn how to you know do arithmetic or %HESITATION or like sit still and behave or be nice to other people as
00:37:00if you like kind of make the kid %HESITATION yeah and and then like as the kid grows up he will be grateful for that good habits that you've instilled in him and this is true of not everything in like parents probably over extended this principle beyond what they
00:37:13need to but it's at least trip some things and some of my friends think like basically you can just like talk to the kids like adults and if the kid doesn't want to do things than fine and he'll still turn out okay but seem down alternately what's your
00:37:26take yeah I mean again I think if you think about it is being the point of care giving is to %HESITATION manifest and in view the values that are important to you and children are very good at picking up on the values that are important %HESITATION in a
00:37:41particular culture and those values can be very variable and it's important to say you know different groups of people at different times and different individuals have different ideas about what's important in life but again imagine that you were interacting with someone at in %HESITATION cooperative situation at work
00:37:59or %HESITATION you know you have a community that's trying to do something it's hard to you wouldn't in most communities you wouldn't say okay well we were going to do this is no one is ever going to have to do anything they can just you know right independently
00:38:11make their decisions right that's not the way any human group works %HESITATION you're always in a situation in which there are norms and children are extremely sensitive again we have beautiful work about these children very sensitive storms if any good at picking up on what's the thing that
00:38:27we do what's the thing that's important for us you won the thing that for bidden for us to do that's one of the things that they're learning maybe more than anything else %HESITATION so not giving them signals that say oh yeah this is something that we really think
00:38:41is important in our culture our in our family or that I think is really important this is something that I think is just terrible %HESITATION you're depriving them of really really important information maybe the most important information that they can now %HESITATION but again that's not so what
00:38:58you're doing is saying this is this is what's important here's the cons habits that you should have here's what counts here's what doesn't count %HESITATION and then of course it's perfectly possible for children especially when they start for instance reaching adolescence to say you know what I don't
00:39:13think that's right I don't think those values important I'm gonna try out a different set of values but it's not gonna help if they don't at least have the information about what the values are that are important to %HESITATION that are important to the people around but again
00:39:28I think the evidence suggests that the idea that you have to have this very self conscious set of policies about %HESITATION about all this is it that's probably not with making much of a difference anyway what's making it differences the way in your everyday life that your %HESITATION
00:39:46engaging with the child and again it's a bit of a catch twenty two because you could think I want to be a really good care and I want to convey these values I want children to be like this %HESITATION but the best way to do that is just
00:39:59to be the parent that you are in a in a loving interactive relationship with this particular child all right well I think probably we should switch tracks at this point to make sure we have a time to talk about the other question I had for you %HESITATION which
00:40:14relates to an article that recently came out in the Atlantic magazine %HESITATION it was your review of Steven Pinker his latest book enlightenment now %HESITATION so pickers these as a is that by nearly every important metric of human well being the world has gotten a lot better in
00:40:33the last few centuries %HESITATION violence is down extreme poverty and disease are down lifespan is up etcetera %HESITATION which you know flies in the face of this common wisdom that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and in your review which is in the April
00:40:50issue of the Atlantic you expressed some reservations about that arguments you felt that Pinker was ignoring or down playing some of the problems with modernity can you talk a little about that yeah sure so I basically agree %HESITATION that things are and I think most need to be
00:41:08hard to find someone who would argue that we aren't better off than we were saying in seventeen hundred how are even you know fifteen hundred %HESITATION I think the evidence for that is that the evidence for that is really clear and indeed better off than we were in
00:41:21%HESITATION nineteen hundred %HESITATION in on all sorts of dimensions but what I argue in that piece is that there are dimensions of thriving that just aren't there in in not in tankers %HESITATION into hers world view and and you know what you might call the kind of neo
00:41:40liberal %HESITATION world view in in general and I think this is one of those cases I really I really like is Ireland's take on on liberal pluralism and that is that you know there are values in our lives as humans that are really intention with one another there
00:41:57isn't %HESITATION of formula you can use to maximize everybody's thriving because things that are important to us can really be opposed to each other %HESITATION and what I wanted to argue in the piece is one thing that really seems to be important for human beings are these flows
00:42:14often irrational attachments to a particular child for example or a particular partner or a particular town or a particular community and and I think those are really foundational to what people are like and and also interestingly in a larger sense they're they're rational so they might it might
00:42:35look irrational but I you know I love my particular grand child think that he is the best thing that ever happened on the face of the planet compared all those billions of others six year old on the planet %HESITATION but in a larger context those particular emotions actually
00:42:52end up being a really important part of the way that we %HESITATION deal with conflict the way that we can mediate all the differences in our interest and there's an interesting argument in the philosophical literature bit %HESITATION those emotions of care and trust and love and belonging and
00:43:08particularity and specificity %HESITATION actually help us to get out of kind of the typical prisoner's dilemma situation where everyone just acting to maximize their own %HESITATION during utilities ends up causing problems for everybody overall in the long run so if you just basically cared about one or two
00:43:28people you would be better than than just trying to have contracts that would make your life better %HESITATION and I think that's a really profound thing about human beings and I think there's tension between the kinds of devices we can use to make sure that everybody Max's maximizes
00:43:43their individual utility which is a picture of at least some versions of the local on light mint and and the simultaneous desire to %HESITATION to have this network of strong close attachments and I think there's at least some empirical evidence that you know maybe not over the last
00:44:00two hundred years but at least over the last twenty years and maybe not all over the world but at least in the United States and maybe not through all the United States but certainly in places like %HESITATION %HESITATION rural and low income areas that did those dimensions have
00:44:17really been under %HESITATION have really been under under threat okay so your %HESITATION if I'm understanding correctly your concern is that even though thinkers correct that's that they're in a far fewer people in the world in extreme poverty than there were and child mortality is gonna down it
00:44:35cetera %HESITATION the concern is that as the society is reduced poverty %HESITATION and develop more they will start to suffer from more of the problems that you're pointing out in the west %HESITATION you know like social isolation or or alienation written down of sort of close %HESITATION close
00:44:53ties basically and I think I can I think again it's one of those things where things like mobility %HESITATION autonomy uncensored real goods and unfortunately there really in conflict with other real goods like %HESITATION attachment and tradition and and particularity %HESITATION and I think one of the challenges
00:45:15for %HESITATION %HESITATION you know contemporary and lightens liberal society is to try and figure out how do you how do you negotiate those %HESITATION tensions and you know I'm a very good example of this budget we reserve just talking about is that we just take for granted if
00:45:30people talk about %HESITATION how do you get you know work family balance that we talk about that about the stress and trying to raise a family and have work at the same time and I think we treat that as if it's kind of a you know %HESITATION it's
00:45:43just a little problem around the edges but I think it's actually it's actually something deeper that's going on is there really importantly %HESITATION varying %HESITATION %HESITATION dimensions of human life and and it's challenging to figure out how you %HESITATION it's challenging to figure out how you put them
00:45:59together I'm I'm curious about whether we have any hard data about web didn't that would indicates that people are feeling lonely or or more alienated %HESITATION because one one thing that I like about thinkers book is that %HESITATION he he kind of goes beyond people sense that like
00:46:19all things are getting worse the world is getting worse and he you know says okay what does the data actually show %HESITATION and you know of course pretty and disease and things like lifespan are some very important metrics of welfare but they're not the only metrics as you
00:46:34say there's also social connectedness %HESITATION and I think he addresses that a little bit in the book %HESITATION but I'm wondering like you've been talking about sort of the sense that people in the west are getting less are are feeling less connected %HESITATION but what kind of hard
00:46:53data would you point to that state indicate that that's a problem in the west we're getting well here's here's an example of something and again it's interesting that this is recent this is it you know and again it's this is in the past let's say in the past
00:47:08twenty years or even a loss %HESITATION %HESITATION fifteen years in the United States %HESITATION but I think this is also happened in Europe and in other places so for instance the number of people who are %HESITATION not just you know legally married but partner has gone down substantially
00:47:26so you know one metric of social connectedness is you don't do you live with in close relation to other people or not or do you live by yourself and %HESITATION and again you know you can argue back and forth will maybe there's benefits to to having people who
00:47:44are living by themselves thing it's always tricky with humans about how much of this is choice and how what kinds of choices you can make but it certainly does seem to be true that the number of people who are married has gone down and interestingly if you look
00:47:58at specially in in a lower SCS context the number of people who are trying to raise families on their own the number of single mothers has gone up a new to both you know pretty clear %HESITATION as she **** tendencies and they have the consequence that you're not
00:48:15going to be a socially connected or have is meant as much of a network as he did %HESITATION as you did before %HESITATION and not a whole dimension of how do you raise your children what this gets back to what we were saying before is there a group
00:48:29of people who you can turn to when you're doing something like raising children %HESITATION this those are all things that really do seem to be trending in court we have trended in in the direction of being less socially connected is not a trend across all developed countries or
00:48:48is it are you to talk about the US in particular well it seems to be true in in Europe as well so it's %HESITATION %HESITATION that and some of the some of the kind of populist impulse that we see %HESITATION seems to be coming from dot trends that
00:49:05we certainly see you know these very radical %HESITATION drops infertility for example which is a good thing in general but one of the things it means is that you don't have the kind of white family support that you once we have and it should be said other countries
00:49:22of course do a much better job of coping with this than the United States because other countries have things like universal preschool are %HESITATION official %HESITATION ways of supporting people who are having children even if say the extended family which was once a way of supporting %HESITATION %HESITATION
00:49:37and supporting children is disappear %HESITATION another interesting statistic that %HESITATION that doesn't show up in Peter's book it doesn't show up in people's thinking very much at all %HESITATION if this came out of an interesting %HESITATION S. R. C. D. report so you know we talk a lot
00:49:53about women in the seventies mothers started leaving the home and going to work but we don't think about is when did fathers start leaving the home and going to work and in fact if you looked at the United States or looked at places in general but certainly the
00:50:10United States in say the nineteenth century the overwhelming majority people were working in agriculture and one of the things about working in agriculture is that if you're a farmer your home in your work at the same place so your children are kinda naturally have a group of people
00:50:27are taking care of the kids work and family are literally in the same place %HESITATION and the fact of industrialization which can had altered the benefits in other respects one of the things he did was separate out %HESITATION working life separate out work and family so this as
00:50:43you say it's hard to know whether the you know decrease and and rates of partnership or marriage is actually is a result of people you know having less connectedness in their lives by choice verses you know not by choice but couldn't we just look at the overall happiness
00:51:01statistics at like if if this if if these lower rates of of you know community supported that are are actually making people less happy than why wouldn't that to show up in the in the happiness metrics which do seem to be better for developed countries than undeveloped countries
00:51:18yeah %HESITATION I mean in general I think what the and I would argue you know you could go back and forth about this purchase those statistical specifics %HESITATION you know I think what the consensus about the happiness statistics is which %HESITATION goes tried to argue against in the
00:51:32book is that above a certain level things like income don't seem to lead to increases in in happiness %HESITATION so there's a kind of minimum %HESITATION level of prosperity which really does make a big difference in happiness but then there's a point at which that isn't the thing
00:51:50that's really making a big difference and again I think if you look at specific cases like if you look at and it's sure it's because %HESITATION again doesn't talk about the fact that the suicide rate has genuinely %HESITATION increased in many places up opioid addiction rate has genuinely
00:52:05increased again especially in places like in places like world United States %HESITATION and you know the suicide rate going up seems like a pretty good indicator of people well it yeah I guess it's confusing if I I think that happiness is well I I I I'm not a
00:52:25quick to get into the statistical arguments right now but I thought that happiness does correlate with %HESITATION the wealth of nations overall %HESITATION but again I can actually argue that on the spot so I won't try %HESITATION yeah I mean again it's pretty clear that up to a
00:52:38certain point that is certainly true and again that's the point that I think is a positive point about things but there's no question that you know having more prosperity being able to have enough to eat being able to you know have a warm house older things really do
00:52:50make a difference to people's arriving %HESITATION the point that I was just making is that there's a whole lot of other things that make a difference to people thriving like feeling connected to your community being able to %HESITATION have she's being able to be in the same place
00:53:05as your parents and grandparents %HESITATION being able to feel as if your children %HESITATION connected to your community on those are all things that we have lots of reason to believe are important for driving to and I don't think we're gonna have a good polity unless we can
00:53:19take both those dimensions into account and as I say some of the sad reality of human life is that there are a lot of cases in which those things might be %HESITATION might be intention and I guess part of the point if you wanna trying diagnose well why
00:53:33it no ifs pictures right and things are so much better why do people feel as if they're getting worse %HESITATION I think this dimension would be a good a good place to look to see what people think that they're getting worse well I mean one reason one big
00:53:48reason I think people feel like the world is getting worse is that they genuinely don't know that extreme poverty has plummeted like if you look at surveys of wheat where people are asked you know has extreme poverty gone up or down has %HESITATION has like child mortality gone
00:54:02up or down disease it cetera bait they genuinely think poverty has gone up in the world there like shocked when you tell them that the party has has plummeted not Justin in percentage of the world in absolute numbers of people living in extreme poverty is so it doesn't
00:54:15seem like a huge mystery to me why people think the world is getting worse if they if they literally don't know that the most important facts like that doesn't seem like a thing that we have to to reach for for explanations for UL along the lines of maybe
00:54:29people are feeling you know modernist on we well I don't think it's about modernist on way I think it's about %HESITATION if you looked at what people are so here's the puzzle right again if people if things are so much better you'd think that people would feel that
00:54:45in their everyday lot %HESITATION %HESITATION and they feel that in their projection of what's going to happen in the future %HESITATION so we're talking about statistics like do you feel like you're better off than you were %HESITATION if you're saying people people in the west think that they're
00:55:00not better off than they were writers ago %HESITATION so they you know they might be you might be willing and and another %HESITATION psychological point can I think oddly given thinkers like cold if you didn't pay much attention to it we have lots of evidence that peoples %HESITATION
00:55:16judgments about things light %HESITATION happiness or value are encouraged to we think in terms that we don't think in terms of sort of an abstract value we think in terms of you know compared to access them on a better off than I was before or do I think
00:55:32my children will be better off than they were before and from my perspective which I think is actually I think we have lots of reasons to believe that for a perspective that matters for human beings that psychological perspective in some sense the fact that we're all better off
00:55:47than we are we're in fifteen hundred you know it that isn't really relevant to those kinds of judgments and decisions and those are the things that shape the way that you feel about your life and the decisions that you're going to make say in a political context yeah
00:56:00I guess and unfortunately we don't really have happiness data from the fifteen hundreds so we can only really speculate about whether people were happier in fifteen hundred and you know one of one of the other things that we know is that there's a lot of Homosassa is when
00:56:13it comes to happiness and that's one of the things that comes out of the psychological research is that %HESITATION people tend to kind of return to you William famously terrible things can happen to people are wonderful things can happen to people and it makes much less of a
00:56:29difference to their happiness rating than they think it's going to be %HESITATION they think it's going to make a difference beforehand there's actually some fascinating work in economics arguing that this you know Donna treadmill that we all find ourselves on where you know you keep working to try
00:56:44and make yourself life better off if you don't feel any happier that there's actually some good reasons for why that you might have a motivational system that would like to know what counts is not to look back and say %HESITATION did things get better over the last three
00:56:59hundred years what counts is what should I be doing now and what I should be doing now it's going to depend on what anchors I'm at now what I think is important out what I think is missing yeah yeah I am I am a I'm pretty I I
00:57:14find the head on a treadmill argument pretty compelling %HESITATION and I'm I'm quite willing to believe that after everyone's basic needs are satisfied and they they have the autonomy to you know pursue whatever kind of life they once %HESITATION that above that point it might be hard to
00:57:30eke out more than small gains and happiness %HESITATION and that it's also possible that the increasing choices %HESITATION and increasing expectations the people have or or standards that they're comparing their life to might in fact make them less happy but I guess I just my preference would still
00:57:46be to get everyone in the world to the point where you know are as you were saying if if you're worrying about your children maybe your life is pretty good %HESITATION I'd like to get people in the world about points where there you know yeah I can deal
00:57:57with that problem when when we come to it any argument about that and as I as I said in the review you know that's a very positive aspect of that's a very positive aspect of working people talking and I think that's you know I think that's that's completely
00:58:10true and the fact that they're still lots and lots of work to be done to just get those basic kinds of the futility going for people and that maternity has has moved us very much in that direction I think all of those things there are completely true and
00:58:24an important things that are going to point out and I just think that the texture of the picture isn't isn't going to New York marketing really get a full picture of human thriving %HESITATION here's another you know nice example that I think is interesting if you think about
00:58:40happiness measures for instance there's a lot of evidence that having children it in the short run makes you less happy you know you're more stressed and there's more things you have to do but when you look at whether people feel as if they got deep satisfaction or it
00:58:57was important in their life to have children then they say yeah children are a deep important %HESITATION part of satisfaction so that's another question which is you know how do you sort out what what is right and that's about what it is but I think maybe a better
00:59:13word than happiness is thriving so you know when do you feel that a community or a person in our family is it or a child is thriving is is doing well is acting in an engaged satisfying way rather than just trying to %HESITATION quantify how happy their I
00:59:31will also not I'm gonna let you go in just a minute before but before I do I wanted to ask you if you could name a book or article or you or even like a a particular writer thinker who you don't agree with or you have substantial disagreements
00:59:47with but you you respect and think it's worth engaging with you know you think their argument is like like well thought out or their hypothesis is intriguing and worth considering even if you don't agree yeah one of the interesting %HESITATION %HESITATION controversies in my field is this question
01:00:03about how much is our understanding of the world our knowledge shape to buy and %HESITATION in eight forces that have happened over the course of evolution versus how much is the result of learning mechanisms that will actually let us go out and learn and I'm very much on
01:00:22the side in that debate it saying that learning mechanisms are really important that were able to really throw off the constraints of our %HESITATION our evolutionary history or are in a %HESITATION %HESITATION structure and that's that's a big central debate in my field and but on the other
01:00:38hand I think so alternative someone like Noam Chomsky is a good example times these arguments about %HESITATION about language and why you might think that language than eight I think those are those are good arguments as arguments that we need to take seriously and arguments that are informative
01:00:53and and tell us something important and trying to figure out where to those arguments go wrong and where the limited and we aren't they I think that's a that's a really important helpful thing for people to do do you would it be possible for you to recommend a
01:01:08%HESITATION either one of Chomsky's works or or a summary of of Chomsky's argument that people could could check out %HESITATION well you know in fact the picture has has been in the landing instinct has some summaries of %HESITATION has some summaries of %HESITATION of times he's arguments but
01:01:22I think you're better off actually reading Chomsky so there's there's actually kind of classic older but cold rules and representations that I think is that I think is a really interesting attempts to make that argument another book is someone who sadly %HESITATION four three just died recently %HESITATION
01:01:40Jerry Fodor's normal language saw where he tries to argue for an almost absurdly strong nativism view I think that's an interesting set of ideas to engage and would you also have to happen to have a recommendation for like a good rebuttal to voters and junkies idea yeah are
01:01:59%HESITATION with all this going to sound too good to go for it %HESITATION we're talking theories which is %HESITATION which is %HESITATION my academic vocal not so much the popular book but is still written in a written for a general audience I think is %HESITATION I think is
01:02:15a good example of that %HESITATION an argument includes a bunch of arguments against that %HESITATION you also made me think of and another sort of more popular example in the scientist in the crib which is my first book we also made some of the arguments in the other
01:02:30direction we made some of the arguments we explicitly sort of took on how much is this how much is in aid and how much is learned suspects well will it will link to the to all of those %HESITATION works to the gardener and the carpenter %HESITATION and and
01:02:44your website with with more of your research on it %HESITATION Allison thank you so much for coming on the show it's really been a pleasure having you thanks so much for having this concludes another episode of rationally speaking join us next time for more exploration on the borderlands
01:02:57between reason and on

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