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March 06, 2007

All you Philosophy Majors Will Have to Find Something Else to Argue About Now


Athena: Let's play "Questions."

Me: What's that?

Athena: It's a game where you ask me questions. Duh.

Me: All right. What is the meaning of life?

Athena: The meaning of life is to live life.

Me: Huh. Well, I guess that's as good an answer as any.

Athena: Yes. What, did you expect me not to get that one? (rolls eyes)

Posted by john at March 6, 2007 03:25 PM

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Ben | March 6, 2007 03:43 PM

Holy crap, why did I waste all this time thinking that you were the smart one? Your daughter rocks.

greenjet | March 6, 2007 04:00 PM

Is Athena accepting pre-registration for her blog?

Vincent | March 6, 2007 04:02 PM

While Athena's existential response to the metaphysical question is endearing, I'd be curious to see her response to the Socratic notion of the good and Nietzsche's redemption of nihilism through his use of the superman and the will to power.

MWT | March 6, 2007 04:04 PM

Wow. She's smart. I didn't figure that one out until I was in my 30s.

Mary Robinette Kowal | March 6, 2007 04:12 PM

What. It's not 42? I'm totally let down now.

Gary Boyd | March 6, 2007 04:12 PM

OK, John. Out with the truth now...Is Athena writing the books while you do research on the viability of game theory in the raising of children?

John Scalzi | March 6, 2007 04:14 PM

Are you trying to skew my results, Gary?

Chang, Webkinz Purchasiing Agent | March 6, 2007 04:17 PM

Hang on a sec. Are we going to be graded on this? I'm just taking this to fill out my credits.

Amanda | March 6, 2007 04:17 PM

You mean it's not to spend most of your time working until your old and bitter?

That's awesome.

claire | March 6, 2007 04:18 PM

"What, did you expect me not to get that one? (rolls eyes)"

She has a point. She is Athena after all.

Ray | March 6, 2007 04:22 PM

and being the father of a 11.5 year old, all I can say is they only get quicker and smarter. Not that I am implying that your daughter is slow and dumb. But, my daughter has inherited my humor and my wifes cool, direct delivery. Deadly I tell you.

Jemaleddin | March 6, 2007 04:24 PM

Seriously, this blog would be so much better if you just let Athena write it. It's obvious she's ghost-writing your novels. =-)

Randomscrub | March 6, 2007 04:33 PM

Any conversation between you and Athena sounds like it has all the makings of a riotously funny podcast.

Karen | March 6, 2007 04:41 PM

The goddess of wisdom has spoken. And she's a little snarky!

Jon | March 6, 2007 04:41 PM

I don't have kids yet, but it shouldn't be long now. When I have them, I sincerely hope I enjoy them as much as you obviously enjoy yours.

Kaytie | March 6, 2007 04:51 PM

What was the next question you asked? Or was that game-over, you lose?

Brian Postow | March 6, 2007 04:52 PM

I'm surprised that no one has commented that that's NOT how you play questions...

Although, I suppose that normally starting a game of questions with "let's play questions" automatically loses you a point...

Lucy Kemnitzer | March 6, 2007 04:55 PM

they only get quicker and smarter

Having raised two adults and had a hand in raising literally hundreds of children, I think this is illusional. Smart is the capacity of the very young. Nobody is as smart as a two-year-old (babies have to learn how to be smart, toddlers have it all in line). They get more something, though.

(I miss having real children around but I don't regret my grownup offspring at all, they are really fun to be with)

Snail | March 6, 2007 05:08 PM

That's a goal, not a reason :P


Pablo Defendini | March 6, 2007 05:13 PM

Hm, a Scalzi Family podcast (can't leave Krissy out!). Randomscrub might be on to something there. . .

Ian Mathers | March 6, 2007 06:01 PM

On behalf of philosophy majors everywhere:

"To live life" is what you're supposed to do.

What you're supposed to do /= the meaning of life.

The meaning of life would have to include, for example, why you're supposed to do what you're supposed to do. Athena, who is extremely sharp and enormously entertaining (seriously, if i ever have a kid I hope I'm half as lucky as you and Krissy), has given us a how instead of a why.

Ray | March 6, 2007 06:08 PM

Maybe I am dumb because "learning how to be smart" sounds like an oxymoron to me. Should I have said they (being children) become more intelligent as they age? Is not "smart" practical intelligence applied in our daily lives? I think all children are born with intelligence and age grooms it into "smarts". :)

John Scalzi | March 6, 2007 06:09 PM

Ian Mathers:

Unless she's suggesting is that it is the act of living the life is itself the meaning; i.e., the meaning is performative. Conversely, without the living of life, there can be no meaning to it.

Shawn Powers | March 6, 2007 06:42 PM

True, the more mundane example might be that the purpose of pizza is to eat it -- perhaps life's meaning is no more complex than it's being lived.

Look at us all getting so existential...

MWT | March 6, 2007 06:42 PM

That's the way I've come to understand it. There is no meaning of life. Life is the meaning.

Rasselas | March 6, 2007 06:55 PM

Zarathustra's coming down from the mountain, gang. Watch out, or he'll ask you to help him move.

Queenie | March 6, 2007 06:58 PM

The meaning of life is clearly 42.

Dean | March 6, 2007 07:00 PM

I have a couple of those. Mine are 10 going on 35, but it looks like Athena has a couple of years on them.

Andrew | March 6, 2007 07:09 PM

Brian Postow has totally beaten me to it, but since I did just rewatch the movie last night:

Me: All right. What is the meaning of life?

Athena: The meaning of life is to live life.
the proper answer is:
"Statement! One - Love."

Andrew | March 6, 2007 07:11 PM

Misplaced close tag there. Meant it to look like:

Me: All right. What is the meaning of life?

Athena: The meaning of life is to live life.

the proper answer is:
"Statement! One - Love."

Omaha Lisa | March 6, 2007 08:06 PM

Welcome to an exclusive club, John. My father (due to my brother, not me) and I are members along with a whole bunch of others.

It's the Raising Kids Who Are Smarter Than You Club. It's totally amazing, fun, frustrating, hair greying, and sleep losing. There will be times that you will listen to them, respond with a straight face, then go into your bedroom and laugh till you cry.

Strap in, John. It's gonna be a wild rollercoaster ride from here until she turns 25.

Jim Wright | March 6, 2007 08:28 PM

It's the Raising Kids Who Are Smarter Than You Club. Right. Amazing and fun? Uh huh, sure.

Example: When my son was four he came home from pre-school with a big piece of tagboard covered in green and black tempera finger paint. He waltzes into my office, holds this masterpiece up, and says "look what I did, Dad, do you know what it is?" Rorschach test time: show of hands - who's been through this? Anyway I'm looking at it and it looks like green and black blobs to me. I look into his big eyes and give it my best shot. "Is it a dinosaur," I ask desperately ('cause he's 4 and dinosaurs are a big toothy deal). You know what the kid says? (in a sarcastically pained voice that he obviously got from his mother) "Nooooo, Dad. It's just green and black blobs, I'm only four, I don't know how to paint. Duh!" and he walked away.

Four friggin' years old and he thought I was an idiot. I didn't starting thinking my dad was an idiot until I was in my teens. My wife says that's a sure sign he's gifted. He's ten now, it only gets worse. So, good luck with it John, do your life's work now because in a couple of years you're going to be reduced to the guy who's only function in life is to take out the trash and open the occasional pickle jar.

Malcolm Tredinnick | March 6, 2007 08:44 PM

On an unrelated note... you have a white armchair in your office?! Given how messy it gets (you've published the photos, remember), that's a brave move. Not implying that your house and carpets are anything other than spotless and hospital clean, but white furniture usually manages to pick up any fluff that floats around -- the sort of fluff that is generated by, say, piles of books and magazines. Like I said, brave move.

Steve Buchheit | March 6, 2007 08:56 PM

Okay folks, 42 is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, it's not the meaning of life.

Mighty Toaist, that daughter of yours.

John Scalzi | March 6, 2007 09:01 PM

Malcolm Tredinnick:

"you have a white armchair in your office?!"

It's actually a white loveseat, and it wasn't exactly in pristine condition when it found its way into my office, so the occasional spill (or whatever) won't mean much to it.

cyberspawn65 | March 6, 2007 09:19 PM

If only the philosophers of thed world had such a grasp of the way things are, they would not come up with some of the stupid notion they do(did).

James | March 6, 2007 09:19 PM

Is that a copy of Oblivion on your desk, John?

Cassie | March 6, 2007 09:57 PM

What's the next question?

Ben | March 6, 2007 10:15 PM

I'm glad that everyone is supporting the young philosopher, but the answer to 'Whats teh Meaning of Life' is OBVIOUSLY a mediocre film by Monty Python

Zzedar | March 6, 2007 10:29 PM

No, the meaning of life is dogs. Humans were put on Earth in order to make dogs happy.

Bryan Taylor | March 6, 2007 10:46 PM

Ben: Mediocre and Monty Python should not be placed in the same sentence. Ever. (Unless, of course, you're referring only to production quality.)

I think Athena nailed it. Stop worrying about the meaning of life and just live it. Figure it out once it's over. (You'll have plenty of time after you're dead.)

TypesetJez | March 6, 2007 11:36 PM

Okay folks, 42 is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, it's not the meaning of life.

So, Steve, the meaning of life is really 14? I never knew. I'm still going with "Athena's right as usual"

Ian Mathers | March 6, 2007 11:51 PM

Unless she's suggesting is that it is the act of living the life is itself the meaning; i.e., the meaning is performative. Conversely, without the living of life, there can be no meaning to it.

An act /= a meaning. Acts have meaning, sure, but they aren't meaning - those are two qualitatively different things. Without the living of life there can be no meaning, sure - but that does not mean the two things are co-identifiable.

(and yes, I'm making an argument, not stating facts)

John Scalzi | March 7, 2007 12:37 AM

Ian Mathers:

"Acts have meaning, sure, but they aren't meaning - those are two qualitatively different things."

I don't think this is logically true; I don't believe there is a logical bar to meaning being contiguous to an act in itself. This is why I noted the idea of the meaning being performative; it's analogous to J.L. Austin's performative utterances, in which the act of saying something is contiguous with the act of performing the act the language represents (the example Austin gives is saying "I do" at a wedding).

When Athena says "The meaning of life is to live life" she is expressing the idea that the act of living is the meaning; that the performance of living is generating meaning and that meaning is contiguous to the living -- indeed that they are inseparable: That living things create the meaning of their life as they live it and that axiomatically that all life has meaning because through living, meaning arises. Which is a cheerful thought, if you think about it.

What the question one should ask is whether meaning is concurrent with living -- if life has meaning even if the act of living is incomplete (i.e., one is still alive), or whether meaning only arrives when the life is completed; i.e., one sees the entire performance and sees the meaning in the whole of the action.

She's a deep eight year old, she is.

Spherical Time | March 7, 2007 01:39 AM

Odd. That's exactly what I say in response to that question.

She's a sharp one.

Craig Ranapia | March 7, 2007 05:47 AM

Memo to self: Never have children. Your ego is fragile enough without the risk of having your eight year old being more attractive, healthier (won't let them smoke until they hit double digits) and smarter than you.

grhm | March 7, 2007 07:01 AM

She's a deep eight year old, she is.

And being female will almost certainly be unfathomable, as this existential conjecture on what she actually meant is proof.

Adam Ziegler | March 7, 2007 07:29 AM

Hey John, do I remember correctly that you majored in philosophy at Chicago?

Adam's Reminder List Of Things To Not Do:

1) Poke hornets nest with a short stick.

2) Show up at gunfight armed only with knife.

3) Make amateurish attempt to debate philosophy with John Scalzi (or his daughter).

John Scalzi | March 7, 2007 07:31 AM

Adam Ziegler:

I do indeed have a degree in philosophy, from the school you mention.

Daniel Sroka | March 7, 2007 07:44 AM

Craig said: "Memo to self: Never have children. Your ego is fragile enough...."

Having kids is like shining a 1000 watt floodlight into your soul, showing exactly where all of your flaws and limitations lie. If it doesn't kill you first, it hopefully makes you a better person. With a 2.5 year old and a newborn, we are still working on the "if it doesn't kill you" part. :-)

Steve Brady | March 7, 2007 09:45 AM

I bet Athena will enjoy watching Buffy when she's older...

John Scalzi | March 7, 2007 09:47 AM

Buffy? That's so 2005!

Old Jarhead | March 7, 2007 01:05 PM

Oldest daughter (HS valedictorian, ND undergrad, Law school with honors, USMC Major) showed her colors early. She was changing schools and had been in the class of the Terrible Teacher - terrible (in the kids' opinion) because she was VERY demanding and had NO sense of humor.

So I was at work and typed up a letter ostensibly from the new school to my wife and I reporting that they had hired a new 6th grade teacher and that we would all be happy that it was the Terrible Teacher from the previous school. I knew she would be furious and outraged. I mailed the letter from the PO near the school and waited for the fun.

I get home from work and casually ask if there was any mail. My daughter says "Nice try, Dad, I held the letter up to the light and saw the government watermark on it - you're busted."

How can a sweet 5th grader be so suspicious of her father?

Old Jarhead

John Scalzi | March 7, 2007 01:10 PM

Ha! That's funny.

Jon Hansen | March 7, 2007 02:34 PM

I'm suddenly reminded of the Kurt Vonnegut line:

"To do is to be: Socrates.
To be is to do: Plato.
Do-be-do-be-do: Frank Sinatra."

NerfSmuggler | March 7, 2007 03:40 PM

Not to over generalize, but I've noticed that few women find philosophical questions interesting -- or to be fair, a lot fewer women than the few men who do so.

I've long suspected that it was not uninteresting because they didn't appreciate them, but because they were questions already answered (albeit ineffably). Athena (prophetically named) supports my thesis.

Let me know if she comes up with an aesthetic reasoning for death, which while needed for the whole system to work, still sucks.

Enough of this heavy stuff; time to watch some Bugs Bunny!

grhm | March 8, 2007 03:44 AM

Bugs is good, but my preference is anything starring Wile E Coyote. Classic era, not the cash in later period (80's?).

Maybe that bugs bunny/road runner movie, I laugh a lot at that.

grhm | March 8, 2007 03:47 AM

Apologies if I've left a hanging paragraph tag, I hit the post button instead of preview. Doh!

grhm | March 8, 2007 03:48 AM

That might have fixed it.

grhm | March 8, 2007 03:50 AM

> or maybe this. Arrgh!

Old Jarhead | March 8, 2007 03:06 PM


Its fun to read the comments on this and the other threads dealing with your precocious little girl and the posters certainly appreciate her uniqueness and charm. But relating back to your comments about how we get our kids all properly educated I am reminded that Athena's curiousity, sense of humor, confidence, do not arise from a unique gift from God or nature not available to any other child. She is who she is because she lives in an economically and emotionally stable home with parents who adore her and see that she has everything she needs and not everything she wants.

She is who she is also because she attends a decent school with teachers who care and have sufficient resources to convert that care into learning.

The greatest wasted resource in the US is not oil, water, electicity - it is the immeasurable potential of millions of children who could be (almost!) as bright, happy, charming, and precocious as Athena but do not have the support at home or at school to develop those traits. Your question about how to see that all these kids get a decent education is heartbreaking because no one seems to have an answer - and no one in government seems to be making much of a try to find one.

Old Jarhead

Rich | March 9, 2007 08:42 PM

Hmmm, a real Star Bright (Mark Clifton). I always wanted to read more of that world.

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