Monday, June 1, 2009

The Philosopher Within You

There’s the legend of the fish who swam around asking every sea creature he’d meet, “Where is this great ocean I keep hearing about?” A pretty small legend, true—but one with a pretty big message.

We are very much like that fish.

For consider, it’s hard to look at a newborn baby without thinking: what an incredible miracle. But when was the last time you looked at an adult and had the same thought? But why not? Every adult was a little baby; if the latter is a miracle then so is the former. But it never occurs to us to think this way for one simple reason: we’re so used to seeing people that we stop reflecting on them.

Or you drop something, a spoon, and it falls to the floor. But why? Couldn’t it, in theory, have remained floating in air or moved upwards? And how exactly does it fall to the floor, by “gravity”? There are no strings connecting the earth to the spoon. How can the earth pull on something from a distance, that it’s not even attached to? Why don’t we pause every time something drops and say: what an incredible miracle!

The most ordinary things contain a whole lifetime of questions, if only we are reminded to start asking them.

Children already know to ask these questions. Every answer you provide to one of their “Why?” questions just generates the next question. But we were all children once. What we need to do now is to let the child still within us—the philosopher within us—re-emerge. What we need now are a few seconds out of our ordinary conceptual habits. We need to take a cold wet plunge into the great deep ocean of thought.

It’s time to start thinking.

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