Monday, April 30, 2012

The Soul of a Seth Machine

I've given up feeling bad that I don't write on this often enough. The truth is, so much of what I find interesting is really personal to me and to the family/kids in general, it seems disloyal to post about it. Still, I realize that since I don't keep a journal, this is one of the few ways to preserve some of the fleeting moments in the family, so I really should be up on it more. I will try, but I am officially banishing the guilt!

I've been wanting to post about Seth for awhile now. We spend the most time together these days and so I get to still see a lot of what is going on in his head. Thomas is older now and is a little more closed off, though he inherited the LaBarge forthrightness and is often more than happy to tell me the things swirling around his nine-year-old thoughts. Not surprisingly, most of them revolve around Star Wars, video games, and unfathomable social connections/conflicts at school. I think if I were still a nine-year-old it would all make sense to me, but my adult brain has lost the ability to keep track of the constantly shifting loyalties and interests. Though, when I was nine, I had two best friends and that was pretty much it, so maybe not. Thomas is far more social than I ever was (I have actually been studying his interactions, hoping to learn something about getting to know new people, something he is good at and I'm not. Turns out, being friendly and open with them immediately is the key. Who knew?) and so moves through many groups and many friends and always has something to say about each one of them.

But that's a post for a different day. I've been studying Sethie, too, but for our similarities rather than our differences. He is in his own head a lot, like me, and likes to spend time absorbing different media. He can quickly memorize whole episodes of various shows and songs and will repeat them back verbatim--not as a party trick, but when he's by himself, like he's practicing for a play. I often wonder what this means to him: if he's just reliving something he enjoys, or if it's a deeper processing tool. Like I said, when I was a kid, social interaction flummoxed me quite a bit. I used to study how people in TV shows and characters in books resolved their issues and tried to apply those rules to how I interacted with people in the real world. Of course, any adult knows that TV shows and books aren't exactly true to life, and using them as a tool for figuring out actual people is a doomed enterprise, but I really craved that controlled environment. The conflicts there felt safe because they always led to resolution (usually by the end of the episode when everybody's hugging again) and no one seemed overly upset by argument, something I've always wanted to achieve (I'm a conflict avoider, but I wish I had more guts).

Seth is less shy than I was, but he does seem to study these things the way I used to. Again, it's hard to tell exactly what a five-year-old is thinking, but he's developed what I see as a parallel interest that makes me wonder if this strange world of free-thinking humans doesn't flummox him a bit, too. Sethie loves robots.

Of course, it's not unusual for a child to develop a studious interest in one thing: Thomas liked superheroes and still loves Star Wars. Lots of little boys like dinosaurs and cars, to the point of obsession. But Sethie's fascination with robots feels like something more to me. He seems to identify with them. Portal and Portal 2 are favorite video games in our house (in fact, we're obsessed. We even have a Portal themed bathroom in our house), but Sethie didn't like the games at first. Because of the turrets.

For Portal newbies, the turrets are egg-shaped, laser-sighting robots that fire on you, the main character, if you move into their sight range. Despite that, they enjoy intense popularity with the Portal crowd because they speak in very soothing, high-pitched voices (they are voiced by Ellen McLain, the woman behind GlaDos, the passive aggressive neurotic AI villain of Portal, who also enjoys a rabid fanbase) at odds with their attempts to kill you. When you come into sight, they proclaim in a bright voice, like they're greeting an old friend, "There you are!" and then of course start firing on you. When you move away, they ask plaintively, "Are you still there?"

The best way to disable the turrets is to knock them over. They will fire erratically for a time and then shut down. They have a way of making you feel bad for knocking them over, though--in the same soothing voice, they repeat, "I don't hate you" and the line that really got to Sethie, "No hard feelings."

He started to sob the first time he heard it. We were worried, of course, that as parents, we really shouldn't let him be watching a game where things fired on you and thought that was what was bothering him (we have much guilt for letting the kids watch/participate too much in our video game playing, but that's another post for a different day), but he didn't care about the character, he cared about the turret. He thought that instead of saying, "No hard feelings," the turret was saying, "No heart feelings", as in it didn't have feelings in its heart. He was devastated by this. Once we explained that the turret was just saying it didn't mind that we knocked it down, rather than being devoid of emotion, he calmed down again. I got a talking turret plushie for Christmas and Seth loves it. He sets it up in doorways and thinks it's hilarious to have it sight me and pretend to fire (should I be concerned?). He doesn't mind pushing it over, now, either, but when he does so, he repeats its words like he repeats the TV shows: "No hard feelings", "I don't hate you", "Shutting down", "Hey, hey, hey!"

He is fascinated by robots that move and think and potentially feel. One of his favorite movies is Astro Boy whose bright-eyed anime veneer covers for what many would consider a disturbing storyline: a government scientist loses his son, Toby, in a terrible accident. He decides to build an android replica of Toby and imbue it with the memories and mind of his late son. To protect the android from being destroyed the way Toby was, he of course fits it with defensive systems (guns and jet-pack feet, mostly. It makes sense in context, I suppose). For a long time, Seth really wanted to be Astro Boy. He replicated Astro Boy's "blue core" in playdoh (the energy source that, predictably, sits where his heart would be) and wore it on his chest for awhile. He watched the movie repeatedly, to the point where I had to coach him to start doing something else with his time. He would repeat Astro Boy's words to himself when he was alone.

After that he took up with Iron Man, who also has a core instead of a heart. He's been gunning for an Iron Man costume, which I will probably give into at Halloween time if he's still interested. More recently, my Game Informer magazine this month came with an article on an motion capture engine capability demo done for the GDC by Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. The demo shows the journey of a female android, Kara, from inception through self-awareness, to eventual destruction once its creator realizes it has sentience and concern for its own welfare. The elfin-looking android captured Seth's attention immediately (luckily he couldn't read the article and didn't know they took her apart at the end). He wanted to get the game and couldn't understand when I explained it was a demo for other game developers. It wasn't available to us. I even found the magazine in his bed with him at night, clutched under his arm. "What is her name?" he kept asking me. "What does she do?" "Can I see her?" "Can I play her game?"

Now, being interested in Kara might just mean he's a normal boy with a healthy budding libido (I think he's that, too, but yet another post for another day!), but I don't think he would have cared so much about her if she wasn't an android. You can tell that he wants to know if she feels, if she wonders, if, like he thinks the turrets and Astro Boy are, she is more than her parts.

Maybe he just wants to know if he is more than his parts. In some rudimentary way, he is curious about sentience, about souls. Nate and I have been going through our books in order to pare down the ridiculous number we have. I held up a book with the title, "Soul of a New Machine", one of Nate's books, and asked if we were donating it. Seth shouted, "No!" and rushed to take it out of my hands. Now this isn't a children's book and it isn't something he's read or even noticed before. All he heard was the title. I asked him, "Are you planning to read that?" He said, "Yes!" in a sharp voice and sat down on the couch with it. Of course, its lack of pictures and extremely dense type meant he gave up after a few seconds and left it there, but he still won't let us toss it. Somewhere in that book is the soul of a new machine, and he can't bear the idea that we might give it away.

For his birthday, he wants the Lego Mindstorms robot-building kit. It's a little old for him, though he uses Scratch with me to create programs and games on our computer and has a rudimentary understanding of logic flow already, so I'm interested to see what he could do with Mindstorms. He's already declared that when he grows up, he is going to own a robot factory.

I admit, though, I worry what he will do with the little robots he builds. Will he want them to transcend their primitive programming and be disappointed when they don't? Will he want to associate more with them than with people? There is something very appealing about a creature you can program, but even more, for all the AIs gone rogue that we see in movies, there are the Datas of Star Trek and the Legions of Mass Effect who are sentient, but uncomplicated in the way humans are. They are forthright, loyal, and reliable. Unaffected by the vices that plague people, their child-like curiosity and humility coupled with their super-human abilities make them a very attractive ideal. It's easier to be a hero when you don't have base desires to war with--and when you have machine guns for hands, I suppose. :)

Maybe he's already wrestling with the question that has made mankind itchy for as long as we've been around: where is my mind? Do I have a soul? Is it merely in the firing synapses of my brain, coalesced in a whole that I perceive as thought and free will? Is it like the driver of a car--a separate being entirely, encased somehow in my body and providing me with thoughts, feelings, and movement? We're Mormon, so we believe that we existed in spirit form before we came to Earth in these bodies and that spirit returns to the spirit world when we die, but that spirit and body together form the soul and none of us is complete without that bond. We look forward to resurrection and strive for eternal life, where our bodies and spirits will come together again and be perfect, no longer experiencing the weaknesses and pains of mortality. But we don't know how it works and those are answers we have to wait on. The soul of my Seth machine is in his body and his mind. He is an organic robot and something greater, too, with limitless potential. I want him to know it. I'm still trying to remember that about myself.

Until then, we can build Lego robots together and maybe he will one day be famed for his AI work. Maybe he will find something in that that will make us all change the way we think about ourselves and limit of our own creations.

Or maybe in a year, he'll be really into dinosaurs instead. He's five. Even after all this, I don't want to read too much into it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stuff I Know

Like most adults I suppose, I know a small amount about a wide variety of topics. Not enough to sustain a conversation with another adult who knows more, but enough, most of the time, to still be ahead of my third-grader.

Having kids gives you a skewed view of how good you are at things because, let's face it, they kinda suck at everything. At first anyway. I used to play soccer against Thomas when he was little and think, "Oh yeah, I still got it." I was seriously impressed with how much I remembered from playing soccer for--count them--ONE season as an eight-year-old (back in Tremonton they had a single league and just mixed the girls, what few of us there were, in with the boys at the age when cooties are considered real and so my one and only soccer team picture involves me and the boy next to me standing strategically apart to avoid contracting one another's gender). I'm like, kick with the inside of the sole. And...actually that's all I remember. But it was enough to put me over the top.

Thomas is eight now and he is way better than me. I'm convinced I've lost the ability to dodge with age, but it's probably true that I never had the ability in the first place. Plus, I get tired after about two minutes. Also, I can't run.

But I played soccer against Seth the other day and completely forgot about getting schooled by Thomas. I was hammering them past the little guy into our small backyard net and thinking, Oh yeah, I still got it. Kick with the inside of the sole! Sad, really.

But one thing I feel pretty good about is my math and science bonafides. Much as I didn't especially like math growing up, I took a lot of classes and then got tricked into taking even more when I signed up for a comp sci major not realizing math would be involved. And I've always enjoying random science tidbits, so even though I haven't had a science class in years, I still love to watch NOVA documentaries with the kids and talk about bacteria, atoms, the elements, robots, cells--you name it.

And I love to find out what Thomas is learning in class because I am a blowhard and can expound on topics with which I have only a little depth--because he is a third-grader and he doesn't know yet how much I am making up while thinking, That sounds about right. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.

Each week, Thomas gets a reading passage for language arts which he must practice each night for fluency. Last week it was about how snow is great and all, but blizzards aren't safe, so get inside people. This week's is about Mars.

I was bumping comfortably along with Thomas and his Mars passage until he got to this sentence, "People think that Mars was once like Earth."

I started huh-huh-ing. "Uh yeah, that's not right."

We'll get back to my supposed knowledge in a second--but it's just not fair to tell children at this age that sometimes things they bring home from school might not be right. Most children have an uncomplicated worldview of "right things" and "wrong things" with no Venn diagram showing a union between the sets and reasonably so. There's plenty of time to add shades of gray over the years. Why make them cynical and despondent this early? And frankly, this is the place that you are telling them they have to go from now until forever (which is how far away eighteen feels) because it is important and they are learneding and something from school is WRONG? Save it for big stuff.

So of course, rather than pointing out it was a just a reading fluency passage and he didn't need to even understand it, he just needed to read it and who cares how right or wrong it is, he argued with me. It's from my teacher, it is about Mars which is an important subject that I'm sure they would not screw up, and you have never been to Mars what do you know about it anyway?

Not wanting to endanger my scientician cred, I immediately countered with "Well, just because someone wrote it on a piece of paper, doesn't make it true." and I used big words like atmosphere and iron oxide while thinking the entire time, Oh crap. It has been awhile since I learned anything about Mars. What if there is new research? Did they find bacteria? Actual water? What do I know?

In my mind, I was imagining poor Thomas returning to school and telling his teacher, loudly, in front of the whole class, "My mom says this isn't true and my mom knows everything! Well, at least, it seems like she knows a lot from my limited understanding as a third-grader!" Or some such. And then the class laughs because the Mars rover discovered dinosaur fossils on Mars and I didn't read about it but everyone else did and their parents told them and I've caused a great humiliation to come upon my poor child because I am a blowhard! Also, he gets detention. Parent FAIL.

So while he was doing his math homework, I went to Wikipedia (natch) and read all about Mars. Turns out they have discovered that it might be possible for Mars to occasionally have liquid water, but still have no proof of even limited lifeforms. Ha! I am still a scientician!

Now Thomas's brain immediately replaces anything homework related with Star Wars the moment the homework has passed out of his hands, so he didn't care anymore, but it was important to me to go back and reiterate to him that there was no indication whatsoever that Mars had ever been Earth-like, even though it appears to have some water (in ice and gaseous forms mostly, with occasional liquid), and they are still looking for signs of life. He was grumpy because, 1) I'm still making him talk about homework and 2) I'm still pointing out my own rightness, even though by then I was just trying to clarify so he didn't announce anything embarrassing to his teacher and make us both look bad. I got to use big words again like sublimate and sedimentary deposits. He got to stare hopelessly at the ceiling until I got all the blowharding out of my system.

Just like my imagined soccer prowess, I have to admit that I still think, "I will continue to know more than my child, even as he gets older," and I haven't yet been disabused of the idea. The day will come. But maybe not until they find dinosaur fossils on Mars.

Maybe it will be Thomas that finds them. He will call me on his ansible and say "Ha!"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

if (!God) then Science() ?

I know I haven't posted in about a millions years, give or take an age, so probably no one is reading this blog, but a few things have been getting up in my gourd of late and I feel compelled to input my relatively pitiful two cents.

Two particular things have sparked recent tirades from me:

1) People, religious and non, making a fuss over whether or not Steven Hawking believes in God.
2) "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" which I picked up over the weekend, thinking it was a book on physics, and discovering that it's full of all sort of mystical hoo-doo instead.

Can we just stop mingling this religion and science business? This thing is getting old.

Once I was on the sideline of a debate whether Einstein, saying, "God does not play dice with the universe" was religious. My answer to that is, "Who cares?" What does it matter if Einstein believed in God or not? Why do people think that adding a Very Smart Person to the ranks of believers gives religion (or anything really) a leg up? Does it work for other things? If Einstein believed his mother had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a otherwise indistinguishable genetic clone, would everyone be jumping on the bodysnatchers bandwagon?

My point is, the reason we have these debates is because God is not within the realm of science and by that, I mean, God is not a testable phenomenon. No one has yet devise an experiment that can produce evidence of God or evidence of not-God. Saying that the universe can exist without God is the same thing as asserting that a mighty breeze caused the Red Sea to part. That is fine. There is a plausible, ordinary explanation for everything. I don't have a problem with people who think we live in a universe where a God figure is unnecessary. Just don't insist to me that means God doesn't exist. Because at that point, you're not talking science anymore, you have moved into the realm of religion and it is as religious to say there is no God as it is to assert there is one.

Let me move away from the God Question to explain what I mean by "religious". String theory is, at this point in time, also religious. It has its believers. For them, it is the heavenly ray of light penetrating the dark at the extreme edges of our mathematical understanding. I recently read a very excellent book called "Zero:The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife (which, unlike the "Wu Li Masters" I am about to rail against, is an actual book on science and while it discusses the religious proclivities of the various scientists it mentions, it doesn't bother to try to make sense of the God Question). Right now, Newtonian and quantum physics, don't exactly gel with each other. What happens at the scale of the infinitesimally tiny appears to be very different from what happens at the scales we are familiar with (and the scale of the absurdly large, such as those of the plants and the stars, etc.). Notably, Seife points out that Newtonian physics fails not just as the mass of a thing approaches zero, but also as it approaches what we might properly call "infinity", as much as we understand that concept. The idea of a black hole, and why it gives modern physics so much trouble, is that the mass of this object is so absurdly high, beyond even what we can comprehend, that nothing can escape its gravitational pull, not even light.

Why do these things throw Newtonian physics for a loop? Because of the polar ends of computation: zero and infinity. These two "numbers" cause many ordinary mathematical operations to fail. Adding a division by zero into a mathematical proof will allow you to prove anything to be true (Seife includes a proof that Winston Churchill is a carrot in the book's appendices). Reaching the state of "infinity" explodes out operations. They are nonsensical at a scale without limit.

The point of this is that String theory was created to eliminate the zeros. A black hole might rightly be considered an infinitely dense dot, having zero dimension, in space. Those ideas of "infinite" and "zero" make understanding what happens inside a black hole impossible. We cannot calculate it. String theory (and this is an extremely basic explanation) adds more dimensions to something that appeared to have zero dimensions before. When you're no longer dealing with zeros, the math comes out and rather prettily, too.

The only problem is that String theory cannot be tested. It is an experimental void. That is why it is religious at this point. You either believe in it or you don't. No one can yet demonstrate whether or not these strings actually exist.

You can see at this point why someone, using a lack of testable data, would be out of line to call String theory untrue, as opposed to just saying it isn't testable. And it is as ridiculous to say that String theory is bogus as it is to say that God does not exist. Get the idea of non-testable? Cannot be tested. That means it cannot be proved one way or the other.

I am both a religious person and one who is deeply interested in many of the sciences and I get very tired of this debate. Much of the history of science entailed Very Smart People trying to use their current scientific understanding to actually prove the existence of God (Pythagoras, another VSP as most people would agree, pushed the earth-centric theory of the cosmos: it was mathematically correct for the observable data at the time, and required God to be the one spinning the outermost sphere). As you may have guessed, that failed. Now it seems we want to go in the opposite direction, pushing current scientific understanding to disprove the existence of God. A word to nervous religious people everywhere, this will fail, too.

Here is my advice to everyone:
1) Religious people need to chill out. Just because a VSP makes an out-sized pronouncement about the necessity of God, it doesn't mean you have to get worked up about it.
2) Scientists ought to stop poking the religious people and get back to their work.

Enough about scientists who want to inject God, yay or nay, into something that is mathematical and nothing more--Hawking, I'm looking at you--I want to talk now about religious people who want to co-opt science for making pronouncements that amount to religion.

"The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics" by Gary Zukav appears to do just that. I admit that I'm not very far into it and I plan to finish it just because it is unfair to judge a book by a single chapter, but as Nate will tell you, I am having a hard time getting through it because I stop every other page or so to rant loudly about its logical leaps.

There is something about Eastern mysticism that gets really excited whenever "quantum"ness is brought up. Maybe because quantum physics are so poorly understood, it is easy to co-opt its terminology. Quantum simply means a very small thing, something so small that is perhaps not even detectable or observable. But we have detected and observed at least some of these "quanta", what we now think of as electrons, protons, photons, etc. and their behavior is odd. They are so small, they don't appear to obey Newtonian physics as we understand it. In fact, they are so small that just the act of observing them changes them (or maybe even creates them) so that we cannot simultaneously measure all their properties. They are so wacky that it actually appears that they blip in and out of vacuums, creating what is called "zero point" energy that can push two plates together in a place where nothing should exist.

What does any of this have to do with religion? Nothing. That's my point. Just as the Big Bang does not exclude God, quantum mechanics does not find Him. Listen to how Wukav tries to expand even Newtonian physics into some kind of Great Machine that excludes free will:

"Newton's laws of motion describe what happens to a moving object. Once we know the laws of motion, we can predict the future of a moving object, provided we know certain things about it initially...the ability to predict the future based on a knowledge of the present and the laws of motion gave our ancestors a power they had never known. However, these concepts carry within them a very dispiriting logic. If the laws of nature determine the future of an event, then given enough information, we could have predicted our present some time in the past...In short if we are to accept the mechanistic determination of Newtonian physics--if the universe really is a great machine--then from the moment that the universe was created and set into motion, everything that was to happen in it already was determined...Everything, from the beginning of time, has been predetermined, including our illusion of having a free will."

It is true that given enough information about my initial position, the force I exert, the mass of a ball, etc. you can predict where that ball will go if I throw it. But there is not enough information in the world that will allow you to predict whether I'm going to suddenly change my mind and throw it at your head (unless perhaps I'm Elin just finding out about Tiger...) The reason why is because we don't have mathematical laws for behavior. Newton's laws of motion are for motion. When you go past the concept that we can calculate ball trajectory (or planetary motion or anything other such thing) and begin to wonder "Wow. What about free will?" you have left the realm of science and are firmly in religious/philosophical territory. It is fine to philosophize about free will. But don't pretend that you got to that place in Newton's car.

Zukav goes on to talk about quantum mechanics and turns the very real speculation that observation might actually be an act of creation into something overwrought again: the invention of our own "reality", which he doesn't bother to define. Then the book stomps off again in search of metaphysical answers and the reader is forced along, even if all they wanted to know about was particle physics.

It might seem silly to criticize "Wu Li Masters", considering that it is an older book (published in 1979, only two years after I was born(!)) and because much of the actual physics discussed in it is sound (as Zukav points out, he had several physicists review each scientific assertion in his book for its accuracy). The problem is that quantum physics doesn't answer the questions that Zukav wants to explore. It can't. Adherents of so-called "quantum mysticism" might point out that many of the founders of quantum mechanics, such as Schroedinger and Heisenberg, were interested in its philosophical implications. Again, I say, "Who cares?" Then they were philosophers, too. VSPs can be both. It does not give either their science or their religion a leg up.

Essentially, my point boils down to this: we are unique and interesting creatures with a lot of questions about who we are, where we came from, and what the heck is the area under a curve? Science came into being for us to explore the testable questions we had about our world. Religion remains for that which is not testable, which can only be accessed by feeling and thought. Why do we get so worked up trying to tie the two together when they are clearly the matter/anti-matter combo of human experience?

Fairly recently, my son came home talking about "cavemen", which is about as much as a second grader can understand about evidence of ancient primitive humanoids. After some time, he realized the disconnect between what he had heard in school and the Adam and Eve story he knew from church. He wanted to know how they were related. I told him they weren't. "School is about things we have found out through discovery and experimentation. It is right as long as the discovery is real and the experimentation is well-founded," I told him. "Church is about trying to be like God and understanding what He wants for us to do here on earth. That pretty much boils down to loving each other." I told him it was okay to believe both in "cavemen" and Adam and Eve, even if they seem contradictory. "We haven't reached the end of our understanding," is all I said.

Now an explanation like that is likely to get up the hackles of some nonreligious, who think we only ought to only believe in and discuss what can be tested, and the hackles of some religious, who think we ought to fight evolution and any sort of scientific understanding that conflicts with the Bible or some other religious text. I have to believe it's because we are inherently logical and we want to tie up the things we experience in a beautiful mobius strip where one side is science and the other is religion and then they are one continuous band. I'm of the philosophy that someday we will, but maybe not in mortality.

Let me put it this way: if God exists, He is not threatened by science and we ought not to restrict our scientific exploration because we are afraid of where our God will go.

*An addendum*
Now that I've gone through an entire blog post using the term "science" like a catch-all, I really wish we could throw the word "science" away and come up with something new. The way it seems to get used these days is ridiculous, thrown back and forth across political spectrums like a hot potato. One side says, "You're anti-science!" LOB and then the other side catches it and says, "No YOU'RE anti-science", lobbing it back, "science" here appearing to mean "the conglomerate of all ideas that are true".

With the exception of theories that have been backed by mathematical proofs, science does not deal with truth. It deals with what is probable. Science is about statistics and whether or not an experiment has yielded a statistically significant difference, meaning something that is beyond mere coincidence.

Things are complicated. All things--the universe, the earth, people both in groups and individuals....everything is complicated. Devising an experiment that can isolate specific testable phenomena is the hardest part of a scientific endeavor. Correctly interpreting the raw data you gain from such an experiment ranks right below that in difficulty. A big part of becoming a scientist is learning how to do these two things. Some scientists do it well, others don't. Even VSPs can create a faulty experiment, tamper with data, and a defend a conclusion that may not be right.

Science is not a conglomerate and it is not true. It is perfectly fine to be "anti-science" if the science in question isn't sound. But, really, it's silly to lob that term around as if it actually means something. Give "science" a break. After all, as I just pointed out, it can't be God.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

I am letting the poor child finally watch Episodes 1-3 this weekend because they're airing on cable. I haven't been keeping him from them for good parental reasons such as shielding his innocence from the ill effects of witnessing grisly lightsaber dueling. I mean, heck, he's seen more police procedurals than is probably healthy for a seven year-old (hence his decision that a spot of green paint on our carpet upstairs constituted "evidence" of a possible "murder") and he's already seen the original trilogy. Instead, I didn't want to ruin his other kind of innocence: his belief in the inherent artistic excellence of all the Star Wars movies. I'm sorry, kid. You're in for an underwhelming ride.

But anyway, Thomas has been very much excited to have a Star Wars movie-watching day tomorrow, but discovered yesterday that Ep. 3 is, duh duh duh DUUNNNN, PG-13. He knows that generally that's off limits for him. So he asked why it was PG-13 and why I was letting him watch it.

"Well, it's PG-13 because there's some intense fighting in it. But it's on cable. They usually edit most of the scary stuff out, so I'm sure it's fine."

Tonight, still talking about getting to watch the movies tomorrow, Thomas moaned that he really wanted to see the real Ep. 3.

"What are you talking about? It is the real episode 3."

"But mom," he complained. "It doesn't have all the violence in it."

Me: "What?"

Him: "I want to see the violence! I like violence!"

This reminded me of the last time we were at the doctor's office. On the way out after our appointment, Thomas informed the doctor that he loved Star Wars and he wanted to be a TIE Fighter (which is, techically, a ship, but hey, if you're going to use your imagination, you can be anything you dang well want to be).

The doc who is very nice and calm and quiet and probably kumbaya-ya'ed his way through college in the '60s replied, "Oh, wouldn't you rather be a Tie Peace'er?"

Thomas and I just stared at him blankly, so he immediately explained, "I don't like fighting. I prefer peace."

To which Thomas replied, "I love fighting! Fighting is the best!" Then he ran down the hall, jumping up and down and screaming, "Yay fighting!" at the top of his lungs while I paid the bill.

Okay, so the "I want to see the violence!" line disturbed me a little (no really, I'll stop letting him watch murder mysteries with me, I swear), but in general, I have to go with Thomas on this one. I prefer peace, too, but that usually requires people who are willing, maybe even happy, to do some fighting. Yay, fighting!

As long as they're on the side of the green lightsaber.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Seth: "I'm a princess."

Me: "You're a princess?"

Seth: "And you're the Commando."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Doubting Seth

I had a very strange conversation with my three-year-old last night.

Sethie is still allowed to have a pacifier at bedtime. I learned my lesson when I took Thomas's pacifier away when he turned three and the child never napped again. I'll milk the napping as long as possible. But Sethie is a little too cognizant of his. He hides them around the house. He has special spots for them and if I take one away because it isn't bedtime yet, he will occasionally produce another one unexpectedly. He's like some kind of binky pirate--he has booty stashed all over the house.

The only official spot for the binky is what we call the "bink box", a little tin box that sits on a shelf in his room. It's where I deposit all the hidden binks I unearth around the house. Because the binks get spread out, it's often empty and at bedtime we end up doing the binky scour, so I try to locate at least one before we head upstairs to avoid the binky search-and-rescue operation. Last night, I spotted a bink that Sethie had left by the couch and dropped it in the bink box. As I was reading Thomas his bedtime story, Sethie stopped by the room--it was just like the look-in from the sergeant in all those police procedural shows: he stuck his head around the corner with a hand on the frame and gestured toward the stairs with a thumb, but instead of saying, "Captain, there's someone here to see you", he said, "I need to get my bink. It's downstairs."

I told him, "No--I grabbed that bink and put it in your bink box. Go look in the bink box."

Sethie paused and actually tilted his eyebrows. Then he said, "Mommy, I left it by the couch. It's downstairs. I need to go get it."

Ok, sergeant. "No it's not. I picked it up and brought it upstairs. Go look in your bink box."

Once again the eyebrows. "I don't think so, Mommy."

Mind you, Sethie is under three feet tall and weighs less than thirty pounds. He was wearing superman pajamas and holding his favorite green blanket. And I was having a discussion with him in which he was being SKEPTICAL I had actually acquired the bink and placed it in the box.

He was doubting the veracity of my statement. Is he supposed to even be capable of DOUBT at this age? Where is that developmental milestone listed? Age 3: "Speaks in complete four or five word sentences. Can throw a ball overhand. May doubt you are telling the truth and be determined to follow his own gut instinct."

Thomas was staring at me. I stared back. He started laughing into his shoulder. Finally, I said to Sethie in my Don't-Mess-With-Me-I'm-the-Mom voice, "IT'S IN THE BINK BOX. GO LOOK. NOW."

Sethie shrugged and walked out of the room. "Ok, Mommy, but I don't think so." I heard him head down the hall, uttering a few more, "I don't think so"'s as he went.

Of course a few seconds later, I hear him shout from his room, "Oh, right! It IS in here. Thank you, Mommy."

Next time, kid, I'll take a lie detector test.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sethism Redux

Sethie, trying to get himself out of his car seat the other day: "Uh, a little help here?"