Thursday, February 27, 2014

I'm Glad I'm Not Real

(by Amie L. Thomasson)

There once was a fictional character. And her name was May. May was four years old; or, at least that's what the story said. In fact, she had just been written quite recently "and so in that sense, I am a newborn fictional character" she liked to say. Especially when she was looking for a good excuse to curl up on the rug like a teeny tiny baby, suck her thumb, and bat at things in a homemade play gym.

Well May was a lovely little fictional character, bouncy, fun, very clever, and with an uncanny ability to eat olives. Put as many as you like in front of her, and they'd always be gone by the next page.

But still May was not happy, for although she appreciated the olives, she was lonely. "Why don't I have a mommy or daddy to take care of me?" she asked.

"But you do have a mother. I created you from words and pictures" her author said.

"That's NOT what I mean" the little girl sulked, and she slumped down right in the corner of the page, folding one edge over to hide herself.

"Oh alright then," the author said. And she made her a mother. A mother who loved her more than anything in the world, who taught her to paint and to laugh at herself, who sat on the floor for hours making zoos and block houses and earthquakes to destroy them. And she made her a father. A father with constant love and gentle patience, who taught her to bake banana bread and to play piano and to name every bird in the garden. And they were happy together.

They came to live in a book. A real hardcover book, with full color pictures and shiny pages. And the book came to be on the shelves of a little girl—a four year old girl, as it happens—by the name of Natalie. The various dragons and bears who lived in tatty second hand paperbacks on lower shelves really quite envied them.

Till one day, just before bedtime, Natalie spotted the book, sticking out slightly between a board book about ducklings and something involving a circus. What's this book? She asked. She had never seen it before. "I want to read it now! Can't we read it pleeeaaase?" She asked. "Well, it's a bit late," her mommy said, "but I guess we could read just this one." And they all plumped down on Natalie's fluffy red comforter, and her daddy began to read.

As they closed the book for the night, Natalie's mommy said, "well I'm glad little May got some parents and isn't lonely anymore." "But mooommmy," Natalie protested, "she's not REAL!" Oh yeah, admitted mommy, closing the book gently and turning out the light.

"I'm glad I'm real and not just in a book." said Natalie quietly as she curled up with her blanket.

"So am I, sweetheart," her mommy agreed as she kissed her soft cheek goodnight.

Well once the book was closed little May began to cry. "What does she MEAN I'm not real?" asked May who, like most children, had forgotten those muddled early days after she was first made, those days when she was lonely. Well, her mother explained, we are just characters in a book. We do what our author writes, there’s no more to us than she's given us, and we stay in the world of these pages.

But I want to get out of here! May protested. I want to be really REAL. I want to have toes (for these had never been seen in the pages). I want to know what happened when I was just two (for this had never been spoken of). And I want to go wherever I want to go, not where some author puts me! She railed. And she wept and she struggled and she stewed. Her mother cried a bit too, to see her daughter realizing these sad truths, but her daddy just held her hand.

You know, he said, since were not real, we'll never get sick (see: no sickness is ever mentioned). We'll never bump too hard off a slide. Or get bitten by mosquitoes.

And will no one ever steal the olives out of my lunch box? May wanted to know.

Nope, no one will ever steal the olives out of your lunchbox. Or your vanilla cookies either. And best of all, none of us will ever die—we can stay here together for always, loving each other in this book.

I'm glad we're not real, May decided. And she curled up in a corner of the page, sucking her thumb quietly, and went to sleep.


Extract from "I'm glad I'm not real" by Amie L. Thomasson, from The Philosophy Shop: Ideas, activities and questions to get people, young and old, thinking philosophically. Edited by Peter Worley (c)Peter Worley 2012. ISBN 9781781350492


Ron Mallon said...

This is great. So I wonder if May, conceiving of God as a supremely perfect being, proceeds to infer that God does not exist.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Wow, Ron -- the ontological argument for atheism!

Anonymous said...

Nice story. Thank you. Reminds me of the Matrix and Sophie's World and some other stuff I read in books. Thanks.

Jen said...

Beautiful story. The children's story the Velveteen Rabbit allowed a toy to become real based on experiencing real emotions, when it cried a tear over a little boy.

In a sense, May's question of reality has already made her slightly real. Cognition, emotion - the ability to be conscious and consider these things, to have feelings which included her conscious desire for a family, and not just olives.

May is quite real, whether she is able to jump out of the pages of someone else's creation or not, and live the dreams she will have as she grows. As she progresses in pages, perhaps not just four, but later - she will desire a brother or sister, friends, and eventually a spouse. She will dream of a career and changing the world. The world is seldom 100% within our control, and I think this emphasizes that.

One of the first philosophical concepts I learned was that if it can be conceived, there's a possible reality for it somewhere.

Thank you.

Howie Berman said...

Regarding the ontological argument proving an atheistic position; I always believed the ontological argument may trace back to Parminides' ontological argument.
If so, it's not so far out for the theological ontological argument to disprove God's existence- it is merely showing its roots.

Callan S. said...

A scant few charcoal marks across a cave wall and the thing that does not know how it works sees people questioning their own existance, for just how much it does not know how itself works.

It's like a kind of metric of our self unknowing, how just a few depicted fragments seem enough to make a being and with it another point entirely from unknowing.

sarah said...

What a simple, beautiful little story. Love it.