The brain is highly structured, but it is also extremely flexible. It's not a blank slate, but it isn't written in stone, either.
Samuel Johnson called it the vanity of human wishes, and Buddhists talk about the endless cycle of desire. Social psychologists say we get trapped on a hedonic treadmill. What they all mean is that we wish, plan and work for things that we think will make us happy, but when we finally get them, we aren't nearly as happy as we thought we'd be.
What makes knowledge automatic is what gets you to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice, practice.
Animals are certainly more sophisticated than we used to think. And we shouldn't lump together animals as a group. Crows and chimps and dogs are all highly intelligent in very different ways.
Scientists and philosophers tend to treat knowledge, imagination and love as if they were all very separate parts of human nature. But when it comes to children, all three are deeply entwined. Children learn the truth by imagining all the ways the world could be, and testing those possibilities.
Imagine if baseball were taught the way science is taught in most inner-city schools. Schoolchildren would get lectures about the history of the World Series. High school students would occasionally reproduce famous plays of the past. Nobody would get in the game themselves until graduate school.
As adults, when we attend to something in the world we are vividly conscious of that particular thing, and we shut out the surrounding world. The classic metaphor is that attention is like a spotlight, illuminating one part of the world and leaving the rest in darkness.
From an evolutionary perspective children are, literally, designed to learn. Childhood is a special period of protected immaturity. It gives the young breathing time to master the things they will need to know in order to survive as adults.
The brain knows the real secret of seduction, more effective than even music and martinis. Just keep whispering, 'Gee, you are really special' to that sack of water and protein that is a body, and you can get it to do practically anything.
Being a developmental psychologist didn't make me any better at dealing with my own children, no. I muddled through, and, believe me, fretted and worried with the best of them.
Our babies are like penguins; penguin babies can't exist unless more than one person is taking care of them. They just can't keep going.
We have lots of evidence that putting investments in early childhood education, even evidence from very hard-nosed economists, is one of the very best investments that the society can possibly make. And yet we still don't have public support for things like preschools.
Childhood is a fundamental part of all human lives, parents or not, since that's how we all start out. And yet babies and young children are so mysterious and puzzling and even paradoxical.
I've had three of my own children and spent my professional life thinking about children. And yet I still find my relation to my children deeply puzzling.
If parents are the fixed stars in the child's universe, the vaguely understood, distant but constant celestial spheres, siblings are the dazzling, sometimes scorching comets whizzing nearby.
Texts and e-mails travel no faster than phone calls and telegrams, and their content isn't necessarily richer or poorer.
The radio was an improvement on the telegraph but it didn't have the same exponential, transformative effect.
One of the most distinctive evolutionary features of human beings is our unusually long, protected childhood.
Imaginary friends are one of the weirder forms of pretend play in childhood. But the research shows that imaginary friends actually help children understand the other people around them and imagine all the many ways that people could be.
What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness.