You have certainly done your homework. I was aware of 'gaze time' research indicating that 18-month olds expect 'object permanence' (i.e., they expect that "Existence Exists") -- as when either 1, 2, or 3 objects are passed behind a screen and then variations of 1, 2, or 3 objects are pulled back. However, I was not aware of all of this:
At 6 months, the infant will have some sensitivity to numerosity; will be able to detect numerical correspondences between disparate collections of items, even correspondences between visible objects and audible events; and will be able to detect the equivalence or nonequivalence of numerical magnitudes of collections (Starkey, Spelke, and Gelman 1990). At 7 months, still without words, the infant distinguishes global categories (e.g., animals v. vehicles) which will later become superordinates of so-called basic-level categories (e.g., dog v. car) yet to be formed (Mandler and Bauer 1988; cf. Rand 1969, 213–15). By 12 months, the infant reliably interprets adult pointing, looking from hand to target (Butterworth and Grover 1988).Holy cow, Stephen. Impressive findings. I have got to re-adjust my understanding of the conceptual learning curve for humans. All that said, however, I do have a contention with the writings of the British Columbia research article to which you linked as being related:
I suggest that instead of having problems deducing abstract concepts, they have a more elementary problem – perceiving conceptual connections between physically unconnected things. If items that infants are meant to relate conceptually are presented physically connected, infants of only 9–12 months can grasp abstract, conceptual relations.The problem I have with this is philosophical. The "elementary problem" as described does not extend the reach from the perceptual (concrete) to the conceptual (abstract) but, instead, keeps the reach perceptual -- merely "calling" it conceptual. Here is a re-wording of the above, in general terms, to show what I mean:
I suggest that instead of having problems deducting abstract concepts, that infants (and animals) have a more elementary problem -- that of using only their perceptual powers of awareness in order to ... [magical explosion and smoke here] ... using only perception to become conceptually aware!I don't buy that.
If you firmly attach prizes to objects so that the infant (or animal) "perceives" the object as something with a novel identity which always includes the prize -- i.e., if you pretend that the problem of the conceptual can be solved by doubling-down on the perceptual -- then the kids (and the animals) really do come to "understand" the supposed abstract relations!
In other words, perceptual powers of awareness can be taken as evidence of conceptual powers of awareness!