full of rough and exuberant animal spirits
Seated in a cheerfully cramped monitoring room at the Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies, Elizabeth S. Spelke, a professor of psychology and a pre-eminent researcher of the basic ingredient list from which all human knowledge is constructed, looked on expectantly as her students prepared a
boisterous 8-month-old girl with dark curly hair for the onerous task of watching cartoons.
not easily borne; wearing
Seated in a cheerfully cramped monitoring room at the Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies, Elizabeth S. Spelke, a professor of psychology and a pre-eminent researcher of the basic ingredient list from which all human knowledge is constructed, looked on expectantly as her students prepared a boisterous 8-month-old girl with dark curly hair for the
onerous task of watching cartoons.
an area in which something operates or has power or control
Yet even before the recording began, the 15-pound research subject made plain the
scope of her social brain.
the state of being widely known or eminent
Dr. Spelke, who first came to
prominence by delineating how infants learn about objects, numbers, the lay of the land, shook her head in self-mocking astonishment.
fall or plunge forward
She dresses casually, in a corduroy jumper or a cardigan and slacks, and when she talks, she
pitches forward and plants forearms on thighs, hands clasped, seeming both deeply engaged and ready to bolt.
be in contradiction with
The lab she founded with her colleague Susan Carey is strewed with toys and festooned with children’s T-shirts, but the Elmo atmospherics
belie both the lab’s seriousness of purpose and Dr. Spelke’s towering reputation among her peers in cognitive psychology.
“That’s endearingly self-
deprecating, but she sells herself short.”
the psychological result of perception and reasoning
“I’ve always been fascinated by questions about human
cognition and the organization of the human mind,” she said, “and why we’re good at some tasks and bad at others.”
a long fixed look
a premise that is taken for granted
Dr. Spelke is a pioneer in the use of the infant gaze as a key to the infant mind — that is, identifying the inherent expectations of babies as young as a week or two by measuring how long they stare at a scene in which those
presumptions are upended or unmet.
constituting a separate entity or part
They know what an object is: a
discrete physical unit in which all sides move roughly as one, and with some independence from other objects.
the path followed by an object moving through space
Babies know, too, that objects can’t go through solid boundaries or occupy the same position as other objects, and that objects generally travel through space in a continuous
laugh at with contempt and derision
If you claimed to have invented a transporter device like the one in “Star Trek,” a baby would
the property of a more than adequate quantity or supply
Babies also can perform a kind of addition and subtraction, anticipating the relative
abundance of groups of dots that are being pushed together or pulled apart, and looking longer when the wrong number of dots appears.
the suit that has been declared to rank above all others
In guiding early social leanings, accent
substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction
Dr. Spelke has proposed that human language is the secret ingredient, the cognitive
catalyst that allows our numeric, architectonic and social modules to join forces, swap ideas and take us to far horizons.
memorization by repetition
Yet Dr. Spelke herself never fusses out or turns
demanding strict attention to rules and procedures
Scaling the academic ranks, Dr. Spelke still found time to supplement her children’s public school education with a home-schooled version of the
rigorous French curriculum.