I have a child who never stops asking why. She is my fifth child and she asks more whys than the other four combined. As she got older, the whys became more complex. She often gets stroppy when she perceives her father and I are trying to fob her off. Thus, I constantly bemoan the fact that I have a proverbial pain in the backside for a fifth child. But when I reached a stagnant point writing my novel Catching Infinity, fifteen year old Georgina provided the answers. On Einstein's Theories of Relativity, despite never having studied the subject in school.
In the story the protagonist Alice Liddell mused, "Because what are we, but the sum of our conscious thoughts?"
There are some very complex, mind-boggling theories out there about consciousness. It is a complex and mind-boggling area as it overlaps esoteric and the neurosciences, two very heavy subjects for mere mortals like myself. Like Physics and the story of Catching Infinity, there is no single unified theory that explains what consciousness is and how it works.
It sends me straight to the whisky bottle whenever conversations veer in this direction. Do you think and therefore exist, or do you exist and therefore think? The simple yet iconic Double Slit experiment shows that conscious observation is required for the photon to assume either one form or another, or in layman's words, 'to become real'.
Georgina (who is wired very differently from regular folks) asked me the very same question when she was four years old. On the eve of her fourth birthday, when we were preparing the party bags, the finger food, the hats and the balloons, she asked, "If nobody comes to my birthday party, will it still be a party?"
Here is a very interesting graphics of the life of Albert Einstein (please click on this link).
Like Georgina, Einstein was wired differently. He struggled through higher education, worked as a clerk, developed his theories of relativity in his spare time, discovered the most important theories of our time, won the Nobel Prize, tried to find the greatest theory of all time, failed and died wishing he knew more maths.
Though Georgina excels within the conventional school framework, her education does not stay within the confines of the British National Curriculum. Indeed, she finds great delight in pointing out where textbook authors went wrong. School after all is not about rote-learning but nurturing fertile young minds.
Thus, we allow her to go down the many alleys of the mind that her childlike curiosity takes her. She asks endless questions on car journeys, she muses aloud on these car journeys, and sometimes, you can almost hear the cogs of her mind clicking away in the backseat of the car.
Her questions are not confined merely to school work or the world around her. She asks deep questions about the future, about mutual intelligibility of languages, about the meaningless purpose of life. She often challenges us. We have to read more, think more, contemplate more, formulate more, to meet her halfway on her vibrant journey of discovery.
As we journeyed deeper and further with her on her own brand of Einsteinian journey, we realised that the framework in which she is subconsciously seeking to establish is the ancient teachings of Trivium and Quadrivium, taught in the Middle Ages and Classical Age. In a nutshell, Trivium is a three-in-one tool composed of the study and use of grammar, logic and rhetoric. These three subjects were taught in tandem with the Quadrivium, or the subjects of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. With a knowledge of these seven, you can deduce whatever you put your mind to and make things happen.
The protagonist of Catching Infinity, PW Vanderleyden, commented: "Human beings are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are."
And as Einstein himself once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
So do try to feel privileged the next time your child asks you "But why?". You are embarking on a very exciting journey.
First published in www.catchinginfinity.com