The following conversation may have at some point become confused with the Phil101 course I took at university. I’ll leave it to your discretion at what point that occurred.
F: early thirty mother
M: her son three years old
A: ten month old daughter
The setting: a light afternoon snack at the table.
M: Are mice real?
F: Yes. Mice are real.
M: Are they this big? The real mice. Holds finger and thumb approx. 5cm apart Can we see them?
F: Yes. But we don’t have any in our house so there are none here to see.
M: Are tigers real?
F: Yes tigers are real. You saw one at the zoo, remember?
M: Do they come to tea?
F: No, tigers that come to tea aren’t real. Or at least I hope they aren’t.
A: unintelligible roar
M: Are dinosaurs real?
F: Ye-es. Dinosaurs were real. But there aren’t any dinosaurs anymore. They lived before there were people. But they were real.
M: Before the Romans?
F: Yeah. Before any people so, before the Romans.
M: Are dragons real?
F: No. Dragons are a bit like dinosaurs, but they are only in stories. Takes a sip of her single-origin coffee
M: Are witches real?
F: Some people call themselves witches. But they can’t do magic. Only witches in stories can do magic.
Silence, except for the noise of all three snacking on their organic vegetable crudités.
M: Is Santa real?
F: Well, what do you think?
M: I think he is based on the historical figure of Nicholaos of Myra, who lived in Asia Minor during the fourth century, and was therefore real. Sips his artesian water. Furthermore, his name and penchant for gift-giving live on in the story we call ‘Santa Claus’. You and Daddy use this mysterious ‘Santa Claus’ as the embodiment of the Christmas spirit of generosity, and so in that sense you could say he represents a real thing.
F: Good answer M.
A, overwhelmed by angst, throws her cucumber on the floor.
M: Am I real?
F: I think so.
M: But don’t you know?
F passes around the homemade spelt grissini and a pesto dip.
F: Well, according to Descartes the only thing we can be sure of is whether our own self is real. I know that I think. I think I am sitting here talking to you, but our senses can be unreliable.
F: Meaning that from my point of view, I am real. But am I sure that you are real? Your sister is real? This house? Perhaps I am solely a brain in a tank – and everything I perceive is being transmitted to me via external electrical impulses, instead of arising from physical experience. From my point of view, I can only assume you are real, but I have no way of knowing for sure. Of course you could say the same thing about me. It’s a thought experiment.
A: Like Schrödinger’s cat.
F: Exactly, A.
M: Schrödinger’s cat?
F: The one with the cat shut in a box, and while the box is shut we don’t whether the cat is alive or dead.
M: That doesn’t sound very nice for the cat.
F: No. Look, can we leave ethics for tomorrow. I feel we can give it the time it deserves then.
M: Okay. I don’t mind waiting for answers to my questions.
F hands around finger bowls and starched napkins.