What do you want to do tonight? I know, let’s do philosophy!

Cole: How do we know all this isn't a dream?
Cole: How do we know all this isn’t a dream?

Words you will never hear: “What do you want to do tonight?” “I know, let’s do philosophy!” “Great, let’s invite the neighbors!”

I don’t blame people. The father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, said, “There is nothing so strange or so unbelievable that it has not been said by one philosopher or another.” Rene set out to find the one certain thing that a certain philosophy could be built upon. He decided that since he was thinking about it, he could at least be certain that he existed. “I think, therefore I am,” he said.

To prove Rene’s other observation about strange and unbelievable things, another philosopher, David Hume, came along and said no one really exists, and Rene only thought he did. You can see why philosophy has never become a popular recreational activity.

Yet we use it every day. For example:

Cole sat next to me on the couch, blond hair plastered to his forehead, sweaty from playing outside. He peered at me over his glasses; his small nose not up to the task of holding them in place.

“How do we know that all this,” he asked, gesturing widely, “isn’t just a dream?” Cole was ten years-old and he was asking a question that not only have philosophers wrestled with for thousands of years, but that Hollywood turned into a hit movie called “The Matrix.”

Was Cole serious? I played it off by singing, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” It didn’t work. “No,” he said, “I mean, this could all be a dream and we might wake up someday. How do we know?”

“We don’t,” I answered, summing up years of studying epistemolgy, that is, how we know anything. I watched him carefully to see if I had traumatized him. “That’s what I thought,” he said and then he turned his attention to a video game.

My comic book on Critical Thinking for Beginning Readers is almost finished. Never has it been more important to leave stuff out, which is harder than writing a one hundred page report with footnotes.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. : )


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