I have my 10 year old reading philosophy. Mainly because her mind is always thinking about reality in ways that one who works at Google or with Ai does, so I felt I may as well get her ready for her journey by introducing her to thinkers of the past who have questioned and pushed our perception of reality. Reality and what is real is very tricky and for many of us adults and kids, we take reality as what our senses pick up… mainly our eyes, ears, and skin (touch)... but these ways of navigating our universe and our world are just tools we use to figure out what’s going on around us. I’d like to share a conversation, paraphrased of course, because I tried to type this as fast as I could without forgetting the most important lessons my 10 year old taught me about reality…
What is “LIFE”? What is “THIS”
Me: Tell me about what you read.
From her notes: These are some of the things I learned from this book. One thing I learned is philosophy in Greek means “love”. Also things that seem real like an imaginary friend some people say are fake or just in your head, but what if they were real and not just in your head. Lastly, we think we are real or things around us are real, but what if we are in a game or a simulation like Sims4. Those were the things I took from this reading section.
So instead of taking this short journal prompt “as is”, I asked her a few more questions. Again, this is me paraphrasing as best I could from my notes…
Me: So what is reality even? What happens to people when you challenge their ideas or their perception of what reality is?
Her: People get scared. People get angry. When you tell someone what they think or believe is possibly not what it is, they get thrown off and nervous.
Me: Why do you think this happens?
Her: This happens because people like knowing they are real and what they are experiencing is real because they can depend on it and trust it. Like a routine or like it is going to happen. Like what if what we see is tricking us and we aren’t real or we are living in a video game or we are something else? People would be very upset by that.
Me: How do you feel about “reality”?
Her: I don’t know if I would be ok with knowing that reality is not real. I would be scared and afraid. It would make me feel scared but also curious about what is behind the shield of what we actually see. Is it another layer? Is it nothing?
Me: That plant right there could be a totally different being from another place just watching me and waiting for me to water and care for it. We could be two players from different galaxies playing as members of this family for this time together or we could be totally just this flesh and bone and this is all there is... or we could be going to Heaven when this is all over or back into the game again. Isn’t it delightful either way that we get to be together like this right now?
(We both agree)
Me: The problem isn’t if something is real or not, the problem is what we are doing while we are here.
What is the purpose of a game?
Her: To win. Win the game...
Me: How about Animal Crossing? I know I joke about winning the game after I see K. K. Slider but is there a way to win that game?
Her: No. That game you just play and explore. You solve problems and help people and build your island. You can’t “win”. It’s like Minecraft.
Me: Right and so, what if this life were like those games? When we play to win, what happens?
Her: Other people lose. When we play to win, sometimes people make choices that harm others because they want to win. They put themselves and winning first.
Me: Ok so the other games like Minecraft or Animal Crossing, what are you doing in those games? What are you learning?
Her: You’re playing with other people or you’re playing alone but you’re doing things that aren’t competing. You’re creating and helping or exploring.
Me: SO… how are most people playing this game called “Life” that we are in right now as "mom" and "kid" on the Earth in the U.S. in 2021?
Her: They’re playing to win.
Me: Can you really “win” life? Like what if we played this game more collaboratively and creatively? What if rather than competing with each other we worked together to solve problems like global warming or hunger or broken political systems?
Her: We would be better off or have more fun.
Me: Why? Isn’t winning fun?
Her: Winning is fun when you win.
So… I can’t remember what happened after this but there were hugs and agreements. I won’t defend my ideas about competition… Competition has its place and is an important and fun vehicle for learning about yourself and the world around you… but right now, it feels like we’re all too focus on competing, testing, assessing for ranking, that we’re losing our ability to stop and think about what we’re here for and if how we are competing is even serving us well.
From my notes, I gather that when we question the reality we build for ourselves… Our religions, our political ideas, our family values, the places we send our kids to school, where we work, how our race or gender are interpreted by those around us... It doesn’t have to be an existential crisis level of questioning. Think small. We can question the reality of how our K12 education system is built, why our tax structures are the way they are, why our countries have the borders they do, or even why some people excel in this world and others do not. Any way that life has been designed to be lived (or any way a game is designed to be played) can and should continually be questioned. After all, humans past and present have designed our rules for engagement and like any “game” or quest, the rules can be changed. We can change them.
We all feel it right now, this sense of dread and discomfort about the world around us. Many of us are caught in echo chambers questioning reality, but we’re doing this in counterproductive ways that harm us and our neighbors. What if we shifted our energies and motivation. What if the doubt which fosters conspiracies and mistrust in each other was utilized to reinvent the way we live together, to investigate the discomfort of others, and to get to the bottom of why system breakdowns are allowed to be perpetuated when they could be easily fixed.
Reality is broken, so what can each of us do to shift our doubts toward problem solving and solution seeking? But collaboratively WITH OTHER PEOPLE… How do we foster collaboration on our life’s journey with the people in our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods… and OMG, even the strangers among us who could be allies on our path? How do we question the realities that WE can solve and how do we find people to join us in making it better?
If you want to join us on our continued journey of questioning and redefining reality (because that’s how we roll in our house), we recommend watching this Kurzgesagt video: “Is Reality Real? The Simulation Argument”
Question everything… but don’t get too enthralled by your existential dread. Instead, think about how we can make this life, game, simulation, whatever you call it better.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.