What If? Why Not? And Other Popular Questions

“Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder”
The Dialogues of Plato — Theætetus
By Plato
Est. 400 B.C.

At a birthday party over the weekend, the issue of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES came up.

“Do you do Santa Claus?” a parent asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.  “But only because Lori threatened to leave me if I did otherwise.”

I went on to explain how I was going to tell the kids that while Santa Claus was completely made up, he represented all of the good feelings that come from spending time with people you love and giving them things that you think they would enjoy.  But no, a man in a red suit did not care if they were good or bad during the year because that’s something that should be self-regulated and not encouraged through bribery and Big Brother BS that encourages performance-for-pay behavior that research has shown does not motivate people for the more creative, conceptual tasks that I think are going to be vital in the long haul.

After a sufficiently awkward silence, the first parent picked up the dropped, and somewhat deflated, conversation ball.

“We kinda make it a big deal in our house.”  And by “big deal” she meant that Santa Claus wrote long letters to their children detailing all of the good things they had done over the year and how proud he was of them.

“Yeah, that kinda feels like lying to me.”

“Don’t think of it like that,” she said sweetly.  “Think of it as creating a sense of wonder.”

Interesting spin, which I considered for all of 5 seconds before returning to my original position.

“Yup.  Still feels like lying.”

And that sense of wonder she referred to?  We do that every day by witnessing the ordinary and stretching our imaginations to the extraordinary with questions like, “how” and “what if”.

What if there were aliens on other planets?  What do you think they would look like?

Nick: 4 eyes and very long arms…and no ears.
Me: How would they hear?
Nick: They have a lot of fingers, so they would put them all on your mouth.
Me:  Would they be nice or mean?
Nick: Nice, because they would invite us for ice cream in their spaceship.
Me: That sounds like fun.

What if we could breathe water?

Nick: That would be so cool.  We could talk to octopuses because we wouldn’t need a helmet.
Me: What language do octopi speak?
Nick: It’s a special sound, like dolphins, but it’s squishier…because they have those sucky things on their arms.
Me: I imagine we’d have to do something pretty special to our genes – you remember the twisty ladder that’s inside our cells?
Nick: Maybe we could mix up the ladders from fish with our ladders.
Me: A little Moreau, but yes, maybe one day.

What if we could build a real lightsaber?

Nick: The laser would go to infinity.
Me: That would be a problem.  How do you think we could fix that?
Nick: We could get something to make it come back….maybe a mirror?
Me: That’s one idea.  So how would we stop it from going to infinity behind us?
Nick: We could get another mirror, a glove mirror.  Or maybe get something to wrap it up in so it stays.
Me: Those are all really great ideas.  Maybe one day you can build your own light saber if you want.
Nick: Only if it’s purple.

The parent ended our birthday party conversation with the opinion that we only had a short period of time to enjoy this sense of wonder.  But I’d like to think that our children never lose it, that with their feet firmly planted in this shared consensus we call reality, and their hands stretched upwards towards the unknowable and the unknown, they will never stop asking questions.

Never stop wondering…

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