Thursday, February 10, 2011

Young philosopher

I was a born philosopher.  I don't believe that all philosophers are born, or that they can't be made.  In my case, however, there is no doubt that pondering what most wouldn't give a second thought to just comes naturally.  My first experience with Xeno came 1985.  For those of you who don't know Xeno, he was the philosopher who thought up the paradox about the spear and the irreconcilable movement of the spear through space.  If time were infinitely divisible, then how could things go from one moment to the next in a progress?  The paradox is that a spear would have to cover infinite ground between instants.  He had others as well.  They generally followed the same type of reasoning.

My inner Xeno went like this.  I was sitting in the living room of our house on 7th avenue, which amounted to my universe.  I was probably wearing a onesie with a trap door or a tuxedo.  Obviously, I had been outside of the room and even the house.  I was aware of it too.  My mom and I would go to the park and take pictures of me razing hell in the leave piles.  Of course I'd been outside.  But, in my mind, I envisioned the universe-or whatever a four year old calls his conception of a universe-as the living room.  In drawing this analogy, I thought to myself, "Even if that door is the border of my universe*, there is still something beyond it.  And even if what's beyond is merely the door, infinitely thick, that is still something."  I concluded that there could be no end to space.  And it was far out.

In my young mind, that was a very interesting concept.  Between smashing GI Joes together and dominating dirt piles with Tonka trucks I would think about this stuff.  Obviously, I didn't solve the problem.  Nor did I try.  I was perfectly happy to just trip out on that thought.  I didn't channel my inner Leibniz until a few years later when I told my dad, "Hey dad.  I know why there's no gravity in space.  There's no up and no down."  What began as a patronizing father's prodding of a kid that didn't yet know how to read turned into something else.  I think he said 'mother effer'.

I had many other moments as a young child, contemplating my existence.  I thought about why I was here.  I wondered if it could be otherwise.  I tried to wrap my head around whether other people had the same experiences as I did.  Or was it some fantasy that only belonged to me?  Was my world a blissful deception that allowed me to engage others, but in a way that was singularly unique to me?

And now, I wonder if others had the same thoughts as children.  In my mind it's likely that having an education in the field helps me identify these early thoughts.  The mind of a child is truly remarkable.  The natural curiosity, having little in the way of preconceived notions, is a wide open door.  It occurs to me, even now, that it is only my memory that allows me to access these things.  Perhaps others simply forgot.  It would seem that I am still disposed toward trying to understand and break down my world.  Have others merely lost interest?

Philosophy isn't the pompous wisdom of men to the exclusion of all others, but the pursuit of knowledge.  And ultimately, wisdom.  The wisest of them all, and universally so even in his lack of certain knowledge was Socrates.  In a cleverly qualified position, he knew that he did not know.  I suspect, though, that he still had beliefs.  And convictions.  In his humility he taught us about our mortality.  And he taught us to be true.  Like Socrates, we should enjoy trying to find out, but be wary of unqualified proclamations.  And 'don't act like you know if you don't'.


Peter Anderson said...

razing hell? raising hell? both evoke funny images. i like yours.

Cwatts said...

To tell you the truth, I've never seen that written out, but I figured, if I'm gonna be wrong, I'd rather be wrong with the obscure one.