Humans often fancy themselves quite extraordinary specimens in the animal kingdom. But while most recent research undermines our centuries-long claims of human exceptionalism, there are some ways in which we are quite unique – especially when it comes to childhood and childcare. Indeed, even when compared with our closest primate relatives, humans spend a truly inordinate amount of time – roughly 15 years at the beginning and the end of the lifespan – as vulnerable creatures, not reproducing, and largely dependent on others.
In this Aeon Original animation, Alison Gopnik, a writer and a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, examines how these unparalleled vulnerable periods are likely to be at least somewhat responsible for our smarts. Exploring how different brain states accompany different life stages, Gopnik also makes a case that caring for the vulnerable, rather than ivory-tower philosophising, puts us in touch with our deepest humanity.
Interviewer: Sally Davies
Director: Léon Moh-Cah
Producer: Kellen Quinn
Animators: Léon Moh-Cah, Matei Monoranu, Andi Concha
Interview audio editor: Chloe Abrahams
Sound design: Matt Part
This Video was made possible through the support of a grant to Aeon+Psyche from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this Video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. Funders to Aeon+Psyche are not involved in editorial decision-making.
The key to geckos’ unrivalled climbing skills isn’t sticky feet. It’s subatomic
Technology and the self
Greetings from Green Bank – the small town where modern technology is banned
Stories and literature
What makes John Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ so enduringly powerful?
Far from frivolous, cuteness is a powerful – and still mysterious – force of nature
On a whirlwind morning, a couple learns if they’re facing an unplanned pregnancy
Philosophy of mind
Do we have good reasons to believe in beliefs? A radical philosophy of mind says no
In the search for life, might alien ocean worlds be a better bet than Earth-like planets?
Philosophy of religion
How a devout Catholic philosopher approaches the problem of evil
Love and friendship
When drawing your muse hundreds of times becomes an exercise in love