Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Most Amazingly Depressing Conversation I've Ever Had With A Child Of Any Age

It came from Younger Son, of course. We were riding the scenic chairlift over Cataract Gorge on the weekend. The conversation went like this:

"If you fell out of an aeroplane, would it be better to fall on land or water?"

"Well -- if you fall that far, it doesn't matter. You move so fast the water hasn't got time to get out of your way, and you just go splat!"

"Oh. What if the water was really deep?"

"Nope. Doesn't matter."

"Oh." Long pause. "If I died..."

"...I'd be really depressed. Please don't do that."

"Oh. If you died..."

"No, I'm trying to avoid that too. It's boring."

"Well, if you were going to die, would you want a quick death or a slow one?"

(Pause while I look at him in some horror.) "Uhh. I'll take the quick one, thanks."

"Me too. 'Cause if you died slowly, you'd have time to realise you were dying, and then you'd be sad."

Well. Fuck me. What else do you say to something like that? There are times when that little bugger scares me a little. What's he doing thinking about something like that at age six? And being so fearsomely rational about it? Yikes!

Dammit. Just thinking about that conversation makes me sad again!


  1. Did you see Gruen Transfer on wednesday? Shows that kids are very impressionable and younger son's biggest face time influence would be? Dr Frankenstein?
    I guess what i'm trying to say is that it's probably the result of many intelligent and logical conversations that he's had with you over the years

  2. Dirk said his kid is "Fearsomely Rational". From Dirk. Heh. You do know what most people's impression of you is, right Dirk? I would hazard a guess that it rhymes with "Rearsomely Fational." ESPECIALLY when you are delving into the fantastical and imaginary.

    To quote 3.10 from Yuma; "You don't plant a Radish and grow an Onion."

  3. I wish I could be as calm and rational about death as your son! Sounds like he's a philosopher in the making.

  4. It isn't just the thinking about mortality that's impressive there. He's showing he has a mental model of his own consciousness, sophisticated enough to understand why he might not want to know something in the future.

    A lot of adults don't seem to develop that...

  5. What D said. It's not necessarily a sad thing that the young fullah has developed a sense of mortality - probably the opposite, and if he hangs onto it thru his teenage years (when this usually departs forthwith) then all the better.

  6. Totally agree with directly above. My son has asked those types of questions all his life in a logical search for information sort of way, just figuring it all out in his head. Always made me a bit sad. He's 16 now and learning to drive, I'm happy he has a healthy awareness.

  7. Yah, Damian -- I got that. Like I said: the Younger Son alarms me at times. His older brother is enough like me at the same age that I can reasonably expect to stay ahead of him until he becomes adequately civilised. The Younger Son... thinks differently to me. And his mother. And I'm not entirely sure I'll be able to stay ahead of him as long as I'd like.

    It was really weird contrasting the two boys. Elder Son went through the Realization of Death a while back too. But he focused on the "this is the end. There is no more. Game over" factor, and the futility of it made him terribly unhappy.

    I don't blame him for that at all. It's taken me a long time to see my way through that tangle, and there are times it still depresses me.

    But the Younger Son has taken it aboard, and considered it -- very rationally -- from a different, and rather unnerving direction.

  8. Hope I'm not repeating the obvious too much here - I get the impression I don't really understand this stuff myself. I suspect my own way of coping with mortality at the moment is not thinking about it. Since we've pretty much determined not to have kids, thoughts regarding posterity that are coming up more frequently tend to the somewhat panicky, like time is slipping away.

    Something to watch for is where people who are good at that sort of mental model use it to attribute motivation to others. If that goes wrong, as any hypothesis can, the selective validation bias can make it seem like additional data points actually verify it further, even as it becomes more mistaken. The cure is basically Occam's razor and a conscious restriction to the empirically observable.

    Anyway death isn't necessarily game over - even for those of us who are forgoing achieving posterity the traditional way, it's just a matter of planting enough memes...

  9. FAAAAARK, thats almost " I'm not afraid of my own mortality", which could be real good...or bad. I then see a MAD scientist, or perhaps Evil Kan-evil re incarnate, or perhaps a lad not tied down with norma constraints, which could be really good for him, might give you and Nat the odd anxious moment or ten. But I suspect if you can guide him, you have a winner. I'm just glad YOU get that task, fuck its gunna be hair tearing, but you have plenty still.

  10. It's when you wake up with him at the foot of the bed saying 'don't worry dad you won't feel sorry' and he wastes you..thats when it's time to start worrying..

    sleep well :)

  11. Yes it would be worrying if he then asked you for the definition of patricide.

  12. I feel sorry for all those old folks sitting in nursing homes being subjected to funeral plan advertisements.

    I try to subscribe to a line of thinking that goes along the lines of: I had no choice being bought into this world and I don't get much choice being taken out works most of the time :-)

  13. I've been going through this with my 10 year old lately, which is tough to discuss.

    You could always tell the younger one, "but if you die slowly, they might be able to find a cure before you die!" Of course, that then brings into the discussion the definition and time frame of "slowly."

    But, Yobbo is right, if he's thinking of this stuff now, he might consider it if he's ever staring out over a gorge with his skateboard, wondering how fast he needs to be going in order to clear it.

  14. Damian: yep. Projection is a big problem. Always was for me, doubtless will be so for both boys. As you say, Mr William of Occam has a cure.

  15. Ah, Dirkest....younger son is simply bright and thinking. I still ruminate on death way too often. I don't wanna live to be old where I cannot do things but brain still works. i often think i don't want to crash in a plane cause you'd know all the way down it was going to be over. Horrorville. Some of us are just morbid?

    Glad to find you here. Visit me too. I'm lonely with no visitors.