Bloom, Paul 1963-
BLOOM, Paul 1963-
CAREER: University of Arizona, Tucson, faculty member, c. 1990-99; Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of psychology, 1999—. Visiting researcher, University College, London, and Collegium Budapest.
(Editor) Language Acquisition: Core Readings, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.
(Editor with others) Language and Space, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
(Editor, with Ray Jackendoff and Karen Wynn) Language, Logic, and Concepts: Essays in Memory of John Macnamara, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of chapters to books, including Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century, edited by John Brockman, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002. Contributor of scholarly articles to periodicals, including Child Development, Psychological Science, New York Times and Cognition.
SIDELIGHTS: Paul Bloom, a developmental psychologist and educator, has written many books on language acquisition and child development. Bloom's book, Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, draws upon research on the psychology of pre-verbal infants to examine such issues as the separation of body and soul, the basis of disgust, and the foundations of religion. Bloom, who worked with autistic youngsters as a teen, argues on the Edge Web site that infants are "natural-born dualists." By this he means that babies perceive the world in the same way philosopher René Descartes once described it: with a differentiation between the corporeal and the spiritual. Bloom's work has far-reaching implications for the human condition, from experiences of art and comedy to the building blocks of morality and religion.
"How do we think about the world before we are corrupted by culture and the world?" Bloom asked in a Houston Chronicle interview with Robert Lee Hotz. "One way to learn is to look at babies." Bloom's research, conducted at Yale University, where he is a professor, has explored how children acquire language skills, what expectations they exhibit before speaking, and how culture shapes their development. Descartes' Baby uses the results of experiments, as well as Bloom's interactions with his own son, to prove that babies think before they speak and have an awareness of themselves as distinct individuals. The book suggests that infants are hard-wired to feel that souls exist, and that this perception of humanity is an adaptation for survival based upon empathy and cooperation. Bloom himself is a materialist, as he explained in an article for the New York Times: "The qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal; they emerge from biochemical processes in the brain. This is starkly demonstrated in cases in which damage to the brain wipes out capacities as central to our humanity as memory, self-control and decision-making."
Written for a general audience, Descartes' Baby poses intriguing questions about why humans create art and why certain acts are viewed not only as disgusting but also as immoral. "Bloom is an excellent ambassador for cognitive developmental psychology," wrote Ethan Remmel in American Scientist. "He shows how seemingly simple, even trivial studies (such as ones that measure how long infants look at one display versus another) can actually reveal something important about human nature." Remmel went on to characterize Bloom as "one of those frighteningly erudite writers, with an encyclopedic grasp of the research literature and the ability to throw in the perfect . . . quote to illustrate his point." Phil Whitaker, writing in the Manchester Guardian, called Descartes' Baby an "entertaining, fluent and provocative book." A Publishers Weekly critic stated that the work is "a delightful and humane study that makes rewarding reading."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September-October, 2004, Ethan Remmel, "Dualists from Birth," review of Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, p. 476.
Guardian (Manchester, England), July 22, 2004, Paul Bloom, "Life: To Urgh Is Human," p. 8; August 7, 2004, Phil Whitaker, "Who Am I?," review of Descartes' Baby, p. 11.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), July 24, 2004, Anne Simpson, "Disgusted and Delighted by Our Too, Too Solid Flesh," p. 4.
Houston Chronicle, August 1, 2004, Robert Lee Hotz, "Experiment Implies Infants Can Think before They Can Talk," p. 15.
Library Journal, April 1, 2004, Susan E. Pease, review of Descartes' Baby, p. 110.
New York Times, September 10, 2004, Paul Bloom, "The Duel between Body and Soul," p. A25.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 2004, review of Descartes' Baby, p. 65.
Science News, June 19, 2004, review of Descartes'Baby, p. 399.
Scotland on Sunday, July 11, 2004, Andrew Crumey, "A Glimpse into the Mind of a Child to Keep Body and Soul Together," review of Descartes' Baby, p. 5.
Edge: The Third Culture,http://www.edge.org/ (October 7, 2004), "Natural-Born Dualists: A Talk with Paul Bloom."
Yale University Web site,http://www.yale.edu/ (October 7, 2004), "Paul Bloom."