Friday Conversation

I have recently decided to begin audio recording conversations with my kids…inspired by some the wonderful moments captured spontaneously by producers of some of my favorite podcasts (many of which I have linked to here in the past).

Two weeks ago, while at breakfast at the local coffee house with AJ (in our customary seats with our usual orders), I recorded a conversation that I would not have soon forgotten, even if the recorder hadn’t been running:

Me: So, I have to tell you something buddy.

AJ: What Daddy?

Me: I was reading something on the computer last night that was posted to facebook by someone I know in Colorado, and I thought what he posted was a great idea. Do would like to hear what the gentleman’s idea was?

AJ: Sure.

Well…what is one of the first things that I do when I get home from work?

Give me a hug and kiss?

Yes, I do that. But after that. What is it that I do after giving you a hug and kiss?

You change your clothes?

Yes…but before that I will often ask you a question about your day. I might ask you for instance, “How was your day?” or “What did you learn today?” Right?

Right.

Well, Kyle (the gentleman in Colorado) posted something that recommended that should ask you what questions you asked that day.

Why?

Because, we do our best learning when we ask questions. It is more important to ask difficult or challenging questions than it is to know a series of easy answers. Asking questions means that you want to understand something and understanding itself is a wonderful thing. So, I know if you ask a good question, you are doing your best work in school…even if you don’t learn the answer.

But I should always remember the answer, right Daddy?

Sometimes there are no answers. That is what makes the question so important.

But not as important as getting the answer right. Right?

No, you are mistaken, buddy. Let me ask you this: what does Mommy do on the computer?

Facebook.

What does Daddy do on the computer?

SomaSimple.

Do you know why I am on SomaSimple?

Why?

Because SomaSimple is filled with other people who appreciate the importance of asking questions and being humble enough to understand that they (and science) do not yet have the answers. And that is okay, so long as we understand that a good question is still worth asking.

What don’t they have the answers to?

Not ‘they’, buddy…’we’. ‘We’, human beings, don’t know all the answers yet. That is what makes science so exciting.

What kind of questions?

Well…for instance…we do not understand how consciousness happens.

What is consciousness?

Consciousness is what you feel, who you are…it is everything that you experience. What part of your body do you think is responsible for making you ‘feel’?

The brain…

Exactly, and your brain is filled with all of these little cells called neurons that talk to each other and communicate with electricity, just like the electricity in your house. You can flick a switch on the wall and what happens?

The light turns on?

Yep. So every time you see, taste, hear or experience anything, there are little electrical signals in the brain where cells are talking to each other. What we (science) don’t understand is how those little signals become something we feel and experience – what we call consciousness.

Well, wait a minute Daddy. Let me try to figure it out. (long pause of about 45 seconds) So…Daddy, I just thought that if we are like doing something, then we want to do something else, I think those little things in our brain – I think they send things into our body, because our brain is what technically sends stuff to help our body move. So, what I was thinking that those – if you wanted to do something else – those would tell your body to go somewhere else.

[I think I know what he is trying to say] That is what happens to some extent, and we understand a lot of how that happens. We just aren’t sure how those – how something electrical becomes something that you experience.

Hmmm, let me think about that, because I can think of some good answers…I just have to think.

Just so you know buddy, some of the smartest people in the world have read lots and lots of books and have done lots and lots of research and they still don’t have the answers yet.

Well, what if a kid got the answer?

Then that would be an incredibly unlikely – but still possible – and awesome outcome.

What does unlikely mean?

In this instance, it is something that probably won’t happen, because what you need to do to come up with a good answer, is you need to have a good understanding of the subject you are thinking about before you can get to the answer. So, for example, you need to understand how the nerves in the brain work first before you might understand how they might create that experience for you.

Well…again, let me say my thing…

Okay…

Where was I?

I honestly have no idea.

Daddy…I think it is our heart that tells our brain – all those little electrical things in our brain – to do everything. That’s what I think.

Well, I believe that is what they used to think many years ago, because when the heart stops working, the brain stops working. People used to think that the source of all of our energy and thoughts might have come from the heart and now they understand that when the heart stops pumping, the blood stops going to the brain; then the brain can’t work anymore because the blood is the fuel for the brain.

But I think even if the heart is beating, it can still think that it is giving the thoughts to your brain. And that is what I think.

Okay, you are thinking about this really well…and I am proud of you for that, but let me give you a little bit more information. What if I informed you that when someone’s brain is damaged, but their heart keeps pumping…they still don’t have thoughts or experiences the way that you or I would. So we think that it is more the brain that creates that experience of consciousness and feelings – beyond the heart itself. Because, if the heart itself created those experiences for you, you would still experience them even if the brain was damaged.

Well, let me say this…I was thinking, maybe if you say what you just said again, then maybe I can come up with a better answer while I am listening to you. Can you please say it again, please?

You shared with me that you thought that it might be possible that we feel and think more because of our heart than our brain. Then I shared with you that we have evidence that if the heart is working and the brain is not that people don’t feel the same things anymore. So…

But, if the heart…What if the brain was damaged and the heart was still pumping. You said that…

The body is still alive, but you don’t feel anything anymore.

Well…let me say this. I was thinking, since you just said that about the heart and the brain, I was thinking that the heart and the brain work as a team to make those thoughts together, then they send those thoughts into your body and your body does what it needs to do to…to do other things. Do you want to put that on SomaSimple and see if they think that it might be a good answer?

I think that they would be very impressed with your answer, because you are 6-years-old and you do not have any formal training in neuroscience or physiology, but other people have tried similar answers and approaches to try to find the answer, but it has proven to be untrue. But…if it is something that interests you, when you get older it can be something that you learn about or try to study. Do you know what people are called who study the brain and how it works?

No.

Neuroscientists.

Hmmmm. That’s a funny name.

Well, you know what a scientist is, and ‘neuro-‘ deals with neurons, the little electrical cells in your brain and throughout your entire body too. They are the messengers that send…

Stop…Stop…Stop. I just came up with a good answer. Since they are in your whole body, maybe the brain and the spinal cord and the heart – I was thinking – all of those electrical cells in your body must all work together – plus the heart – to make everything. You know your thoughts…

You are right. It is called embodied cognition. It means that your thoughts and experiences cannot be separated from your body. Not just your brain. Not just your heart. Everything. That is a term that I still don’t fully appreciate or understand, but that I was first introduced to on SomaSimple.

Did anyone ever post that on there, because that could be a pretty good answer to a question.

You are right…it is definitely part of the answer. But, again, what we don’t understand is – ugh, I am trying to think of a good example for you.

Just put it in the same words that you therapists express it and I’ll try to give you the other part of the answer.

Well, often we do better explaining things through metaphor, which are stories or examples of things that are similar. So, for instance, the electrical signals in your brain are (at a small level) kinda like lightning. But those electrical signals not only help your muscles move…they also give you your experience. They help you see. They help you hear…

Stop. I think the whole body, plus the heart…

Don’t forget the heart is part of the body.

Okay…I think they all work together to make you see, hear, move, chew, even grow teeth. So…that might be another half of the answer. Do you think that could be another part of the answer?

I think so…but that still doesn’t explain how a bolt of lightning can make a movie happen.

What do you mean ‘a movie’?

When you see with your eyes, you see the whole coffee house, all the people. You see the blue walls and all the Christmas ornaments and decorations. There is a movie happening right in front of you..

Yeah, yeah.

That movie is happening because you have all of these little electrical signals happening in your brain. So on a much larger scale, if a flash of lightning happened and a movie suddenly appeared in the sky, we wouldn’t know how to explain that, but that is what happens every moment that we are awake and every moment that we are dreaming. Those little lightning flashes inside your brain are creating for you an experience that we just don’t understand yet.

Alright, so…wait…well, maybe you could just give SomaSimple part of the answer. Maybe they would think that that could be half of the answer.

And maybe they could build on it?

Uh-huh.

That, my friend, is science. Science is when one person finds a small piece of answer and another person finds a small piece of an answer and they – over time, years and lifetimes – people will take all of those little answers or puzzle pieces and put them together to develop a greater understanding of the whole picture, not just little pieces of a puzzle anymore.

Well…do you want to say that on SomaSimple? Because I think that is a really good answer for part of the question.

You know what? I would love to share it with them.

Cool. I would be happy…you can do that if you want.

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