Adventures in Ethics and Science

A bath-time conversation:

Younger offspring: The water is pretty warm.

Dr. Free-Ride: Is it too hot? I could add some more cold water.

Younger offspring: No, it’s good. I’m just going to ooze in, like a snail oozing into its shell.

Dr. Free-Ride: Because easing in would be too conventional.

Five minutes later, the younger Free-Ride offspring had still not quite achieved submersion in the bath.

Dr. Free-Ride: You know, if you’re going to finish getting bathed tonight — in time for bedtime stories — you’re going to have to move it along. Either “ooze” all the way in now, or let me add some more cold water to the bath.

Younger offspring: Don’t get mad at me. It’s my body that doesn’t want to get all the way in the water.

Dr. Free-Ride: (turning on the cold water and swishing it through the tub) That’s an interesting change from what you normally tell me.

Younger offspring: What do you mean?

Dr. Free-Ride: When you don’t do your homework right after school, you tell me I shouldn’t blame you because it’s your mind that forgot.

Younger offspring: Uh huh.

Dr. Free-Ride: But now you’re telling me not to blame you for not getting all the way into the bath because it’s your body that doesn’t want to.

Younger offspring: Uh huh.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, if your mind isn’t “you” (for the purposes of blame), and your body isn’t “you,” what exactly are you?

Younger offspring: I’m me.

Dr. Free-Ride: But what’s your relation to your mind and your body?

Younger offspring: I have a mind and I have a body.

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you have anything else in your “you”?

Younger offspring: No.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, what I find interesting in this is that you don’t fully identify with your mind or your body. And I don’t know what else you could identify as yourself beyond your mind and your body.

Younger offspring: I’m my mind and my body.

Dr. Free-Ride: But they don’t always do what you want them to? That’s what it seems like you’re saying when you tell me not to blame you because it’s your mind that did something or your body that won’t do something.

Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: Fascinating. Does that mean that your body and mind only feel like “you” when you can get them to behave a certain way you want them to?

Younger offspring: Uh …

Dr. Free-Ride: Or when they’re acting in a certain unified way rather than acting in different directions?

Younger offspring: Mmm …

Dr. Free-Ride: What’s you theory on this? Can you explain it to me?

Younger offspring: You know, I’m in the water now, and I should get washed soon so there will be time for stories.

Dr. Free-Ride: Fine. Keep your novel theory of the mind-body relationship to yourself.

Younger offspring: Don’t blame me! I didn’t set bedtime.


  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    January 25, 2008

    Another wonderful dialogue! Just what I need on a cold morning…

  2. #2 Cuttlefish
    January 25, 2008

    “Younger Offspring”, it seems, is a part
    Of our culture, which is, at its heart
    Using language we learned
    Back when oil-lamps burned–
    We’re still horsing around with Descartes!

  3. #3 Warren
    January 25, 2008

    This is a remarkably Buddhistic dialogue.

  4. #4 Alan Kellogg
    January 25, 2008

    The disconnect between a very young child and his body shouldn’t be all that surprising. When you’re six your body doesn’t feel like it belongs to you, it feels more like something you’re wearing. It’s when the stretch receptors come online that the child realizes that he has a body. That it is his, and his to control. It’s liberating really.

    Right now Younger Sprog knows she has a body, but she has no real emotional attachment. She’s emotionally detached from it. In three years she’ll develop that attachment and go through the related changes.

    You can also tell her that it’s okay to admit the water is hot. Sprog the Younger; you’re six, you’re a girl, you have permission to tell mom the water’s too hot. (I do suspect it’s all a scheme to spend more time naked with you. Probably reminds her of when she was a lot younger and being bathed gave her a feeling of safety and contentment. It’s a special expression of trust and being able to so express that trust gives her a feeling of security.)

  5. #5 coathangrrr
    January 26, 2008

    I swear, you need to collect all of these and put them in a book or something. They’re too good.

  6. #6 Super Sally
    January 26, 2008

    Being less that familiar with Buddhistic philosophy, and more knowledgeable with her family tree:

    Lawyers are born, not made. [Only some of them actually go to law school, and practice for a living.]

    She does hold her own in a discussion/argument, doesn’t she?

  7. #7 chorth
    January 27, 2008

    This reminds me of Gregory Bateson’s conversations with his daughter in Steps To an Ecology of Mind.

  8. #8 Zuska
    January 29, 2008

    That’s a fascinating conversation! Younger Sprog is so lucky to have parents that encourage her to explore meaning in this way, rather than just fussing about the need to get the bath done.

    I too look forward to the production of a Sprog Conversations book.

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