Budding Philosophers

I’ve been calling my wife Mrs. H online lately to honor her request for anonymity.  I mentioned that to her the other night and she said, “ah yes, I’m Mrs. HiggsBoson”.  I love being married to someone crazy about science.

Anyway, we were sitting around the table the other night and my daughter asked us if we were 100% sure about something (I can’t remember the topic).  At the same time both HiggsBoson and myself quickly said that there is very little we can be 100% sure of.  Here’s some of the dialogue:

Daughter: Is there anything we can be 100% sure of?

HiggsBoson: Some things, like I am 100% sure you are my daughter.

Howie: Ah, but what if one of us is just a brain in a vat?

HiggsBoson: Oh quit it with the crazy philosophy stuff will you? [while my wife loves science, she isn’t a huge fan of philosophy].

Howie: The kids know what I’m talking about.

Son: What’s a brain in a vat?

Howie: That’s the idea that your body doesn’t exist, but that all of your thoughts are just generated by a brain in a jar somewhere.

Son: Oh yeah, I’ve thought of that before.

Daughter: me too!

Both of our kids seem to share my interest in deep life questions (especially my son). My wish is for them to never go through the pain that I went through in my search for answers.  Right now they remind me of how I was when I was young – a time where thinking about those things was just plain fun!  I’m glad I decided to return to that perspective.  Our children will know that the unknown is not worth the worry. They will also grow up knowing that their mom and I don’t worry about some invisible mind somewhere that gets offended if we don’t see the need to search for it.  And most importantly, they will know that if they end up finding the concept of a deity comforting to them that we will still love them exactly the same even though we don’t see things the same way.

Dear HiggsBoson: Thank you for keeping some balance in our family and for keeping your 3 philosophers from going to crazy town.  I’m so glad philosophy doesn’t float your boat, because we desperately need that balance in our family.  And I’m also glad we met after I was done with my stint with religion and also done with my desperate searching period, because if we had met before that we likely wouldn’t be together.  And that would have been a crying shame since we fit together like 2 puzzle pieces (oh, and by the way, thanks for the huge jigsaw puzzle you guys gave me on my birthday – I’m enjoying it quite a bit).  Have a great Mother’s Day!

And to all my readers who are mothers: I hope you have a great Mothers Day.  Maybe you’ll find the following video as heartwarming as HiggsBoson and I found it:


17 thoughts on “Budding Philosophers

  1. Can I ask you Howie, do you miss at all having what I imagine to have been a kind of doubting faith, and can you say for certain it has now entirely dissolved without trace? Many thanks, Hariod.

  2. For the record, I don’t dislike philosophical discussions, and it’s not as if I haven’t entertained these thoughts before. I have, and to great degree, but I just find unanswerable questions tedious. With so few spare minutes in a day that aren’t already earmarked for work, making sure homework is done, cooking, being a soccer mom, etc. I would rather not waste my remaining minutes pondering the existential or metaphysical. I find little joy in that mental exercise, and even if there’s an invisible mind somewhere, what can you do about it. Will asking questions change the situation or make it more palatable? For me, that’s a big no, and that’s why I am so very glad you have a whole community of people here who are willing to delve into these questions with you so that I am spared (on a daily basis). At any rate, I wouldn’t get this holiday without your participation. 🙂 Thanks for a great Mother’s Day weekend.

  3. Hariod, those really are very good questions and I’d love to answer.

    I don’t miss it at all, because it was a time of great cognitive dissonance for me which left me quite a bit uneasy. It also seemed to foster a “them vs. us” feeling within me which was the kind of thing I have always hated. Also, strangely enough, while Christianity is supposed to bring with it a feeling of assurance about being in a good place after dying it actually ended up making me feel quite the opposite, because I was always wondering whether or not I was sincere enough in whatever I thought the God I believed in wanted of me. What I do miss however is getting together weekly with good friends and talking about things which at the time were very important to us. The connections and comradery that formed were deep. It’s a bit strange though what happens to those friendships when the main thing that creates the bond is removed. Luckily one of those friends from that time has remained a very close friend of our family and the subject of religion doesn’t come up when we hang out and isn’t even needed to keep the friendship in place.

    As to the second part of your question, I can say that it definitely has not dissolved without trace. My experiences many years ago were very intense and lasted for 5 years, and after that I searched several other religions for almost 2 years. My beliefs meant everything to me and the experiences have left an indelible mark on the person I am today. How exactly the traces manifest in me is not completely clear to me, but I just have some sense that something still sits there. Sorry I can’t quite answer the question very clearly. I think that’s about all I’ve got.

  4. The Wife – yeah I should have mentioned in the post that you actually do sometimes enjoy a good philosophical discussion as long as the ideas are new and not in the “unanswerable realm”. We’ve had some really good discussions on our long road trips, and even though I know you are partially being kind because you know I love talking about stuff like that, I also can tell the discussions are sometimes fun for you as well. 🙂

  5. From your reply, for which many thanks, it would appear that you still have faith in faith itself Howie, though now with no conceptual object attached to it. Does that make sense? One might argue that to dwell in such a state is an expression of great open-mindedness, and in any case, faith can be a very beautiful attribute in my opinion. Once we begin to attach objects to it, then naturally enough, doubt must increase, for we still are within the realm of faith, though now with something valued at stake.

    Perhaps that place of holding a faith in what may never be known is a wise place to stand, for why should our ape brains be able to conceptualise all that they at times intuit? I do not hold to deities and religious cosmologies myself, and yet remain of the very firm conviction that there is a fundamental error in total reliance upon the human animal’s capacity for conceptualisation in order to ever reach the ground-zero of ontological understanding.

    H.B. (another one, not Higgs Boson).

  6. I’m honestly not sure Hariod because I’ve always noticed the word faith is used in many different ways depending on the person using it. I am definitely curious about the way you are using it. Can you try and define it a bit more?

    I’m not like most atheists who seem to be bothered by the use of faith, understandably so since it is usually used by Christians in a way which seems to be a debate tactic. But very obviously that’s not your intent here so I’d like to understand more. I’ve actually written before that the word faith could possibly be used to describe how I believe in some very basic foundational beliefs (e.g. the external world is real) in order to live my life in a practical way, but I think you may be using the word differently here.

  7. Hi Howie and HB, hope you all had a great weekend.
    This is a good a dedication to a friend and a companion, I think.

  8. Yes Howie, responding earlier as to whether you had lost all traces of faith, you said: “I can say that it definitely has not dissolved without trace.” So, in a sense you have answered your own question of how faith can be described, as I do, as remaining existent without conceptual objects attaching to it. Presumably, as now a non-believer, you no longer have theistic concepts attaching to your faith, and yet somehow it remains, perhaps as some sort of instinct or intuition?

    If we look at Indo-Oriental soteriological philosophies, then throughout we see no stress on conceptual frameworks as models or templates for the actualised end-game of those philosophies. In point of fact, we see overt negation of all attempts to frame any object of faith, even to the point of tropes such as ‘Kill the Buddha’ which explicitly point to the transcendence of any conceptualising mind which might attach to feelings of faith. At the same time, we see almost super-human displays of faith and devotion in attempts to arrive at this point.

    To be a little more personal, and as you asked me how I myself was referencing faith here, then I would say it is the absolute trust, together with the psychological freedom promised in that trust, that the conceptualising, perceiving mind is not the domain of that same promised freedom. When I write about these things, I choose to distinguish between awareness and consciousness, because the latter necessarily subsists in a world of concepts and percepts, whereas awareness can be free of them – it is the Tabula Rasa of consciousness itself. That awareness is the doorway to the psychological freedom just referred to, and in which we can justifiably have faith as to its possibility. One could argue that this is indeed attaching an object to one’s faith, yet that is only so insofar as the supposed object [i.e. an idea] posits the negation of both objectivity and subjectivity by its very nature when actualised [i.e. not as an idea].

    P.S. Hi Onyango!

  9. Hi Hariod. I was thinking more along the lines of emotional traces that were left from my experiences, but it could be there is some sort of instinct or intuition left behind that I’m not all that aware of. Much of my own thoughts on questions in this realm are more uncertain than anything else, and I’m not sure being uncertain can be described as having faith.

  10. I hope it’s contagious John! There are too many out there that stress over these inconsequential things.

  11. It is contagious, because I’m almost certain your kids will build the same type of environment. Slowly but surely then we march towards critical mass 🙂

  12. Hey Vance (Toad) – Crazy Town is an okay place to visit sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to live there. 😉

    (btw, this hasn’t happened in a long time but for some reason your comment went to spam.)

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