Toddler Teleology

Okay, as I keep trying to tell you, I’m a smart guy, right? And what’s more, I appear to have signed some kind of contract before birth so that, just like Sherlock Holmes, I would agree to be abysmally stupid in some things (I cannot find my way out of a paper bag), in order to be good at others (I remember almost everything I learned in middle-school science classes.) How’s that for a tradeoff? WHICH WAY TO THE MALL AGAIN.

One of the things that I had been looking forward to is that, when I had a kid, and they pestered me with lots of questions, I would actually be able to answer them all. “Daddy, why’s the sky blue?” No problem — I can begin with the properties of a photon as both a wave and a particle, work up to the varying wavelengths of visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum, how we interpret those as color, and then talk about how air scatters particular wavelengths BLAH BLAH BLAH but at least I’d, you know, know it. “Daddy, what makes an air conditioner work?” “Well, young whippersnapper, let’s make a piston out of a two-liter bottle and DERIVE BOYLE’S LAW, shall we? DEAR ACADEMY: YOU MAY SEND THE FATHER OF THE YEAR AWARD TO THE FOLLOWING ADDRESS.

Arrogant, smug fool. My child has absolutely no intention of asking questions like that. All the preparation I had done in middle school science (and later, as a schoolteacher, albeit one on movie sets) was to be able to answer cosmological questions. And then the work I did in college and grad school was all epistemological.

My daughter, clever little minx, is blinding me with teleology:

  • “Daddy, why is Freddy the Frog a toy?”
  • “Daddy, why the Farmer in the Dell?”
  • “Daddy, why is not a shoe?”

Now, you can try to make a kids’ explanation of Boyle’s law (“well, honey, when you squish things together, they heat up!”), but try to make an explanation of Husserl!? (“well, honey, you see, the world can be divided into the things as they actually are, the cogitatum, and the representation of that thing in our perceptions, which is itself a predicate of thought…”) (“Well, sweetie-pie, Heidegger says that we enframe the object of Freddy, understanding it as a standing-reserve of play…”) THAT IS BULLSHIT. It’s one thing to salt your dialogue with words you picked out of Continental philosophy, with extra jerk points earned for leaving them in Latin or German. It is another to actually make sense. So I finally asked her:

“I don’t know, sweetie. Why is Freddy the Frog a toy?”
“Because he’s not a real frog.”

I was just philosophically OWNED by a two-year-old. Sheesh, I should have been a damn Buddhist.

6 responses to “Toddler Teleology”

  1. Psychological warfare… that’s what it is I tell you. If they keep you in a state of confusion you may just break when they ask for that 30th ‘My Little Pony’.


  2. What are you going to do when she asks you about the Easter Bunny or Santa? Of course, St. Nicholas was a real person. I guess you could give her history lessons.


  3. You make me laugh! I’m sitting in my office, laughing out loud. Really laughing. Thank you.
    I swore off reading your blog a long time ago because I felt funny reading about my friends without really *talking* to my friends. But Kate and I have been having a devil of a time catching each other on the phone and I’ve been worrying about “Grandpa Bob” (as Jack calls him) so I caved today and read.
    And I’m glad I did. I totally feel for you with the knitting post. You poor man – as a still novice knitter myself, I don’t think it gets any better.


  4. I see that Lydia is advancing quite swiftly through Piaget’s Pre-Operational Phase. She’ll be ready for college in no time!


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