Categories
Film Mindsets

Getting to know yourself Inside Out

I just watched Inside Out with our daughter. It’s a fun movie and I hadn’t seen it before today. If you haven’t seen it, it is very much one of those layered animated movies that kids can enjoy and that also contain a remarkable depth.

The idea of the movie is to represent a young girl’s emotions as she and her family relocate from the American Mid-West to San Francisco as five characters with their distinct personalities.

I knew what the movie was about before we watched it. What I really enjoyed about it was how the movie represented how our emotions interact and challenged common assumptions about which emotions have value and which don’t.

I’m not sure how much of the message our daughter took away from the movie but this is the sort of movie that you can watch again and again. I suspect that each time you watch it, you will take away a little more and, in the process, come to understand yourself a little better, inside out.

Categories
Events and Life

The tooth fairy versus the scientific method

Our daughter is about to lose her first tooth. Like many kids, she has grown up (so far) with the expectation that the tooth fairy will arrive to take her tooth and leave her some money.

She is actually pretty excited about this prospect.

Our son, on the other hand, has become a complete sceptic at 9 years old. He refuses to be persuaded that, among the many things in the Universe that we don’t understand yet, there could be tooth fairies. He knows the tooth thieves and source of the cash are his parents and he has no qualms debunking this particular myth when we mention it.

This, of course, distresses our daughter. She has been waiting so long for her teeth to start falling out that she is really hoping that a tooth fairy arrives at the appointed time.

This presents something of a dilemma for us. I try really hard not to lie to our kids about things, generally. Maintaining the myth of the tooth fairy is commonplace for parents, sure, but, in the case of our son, it feels wrong to go too far with this in the face of growing scepticism.

The Tooth Fairy versus the Tooth Mouse
The Tooth Fairy versus the Tooth Mouse

When it comes to our son, we have basically given up on the whole idea. He lost a tooth recently and I couldn’t even find it to craft an elaborate illusion of a tooth fairy’s visit (well, we’ve gone with the tooth mouse for him).

He lost his tooth or hid it from me and there was no cash waiting for him. He didn’t say anything so I think that phase of his childhood is decidedly over.

Our daughter is only 6 so we’re probably going to run with the tooth fairy/tooth mouse myth for now. I’m tempted to say the deception is really for her because she so desperately wants it to be true but this interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson about how his daughter debunked the myth using the scientific method gave me reason to think a little more about this approach:

I like what deGrasse Tyson said about there being so much wonder in the Universe that we don’t really need to invent things to keep our kids entertained and inspired. Still, does that mean that we need to abandon the tooth fairy so soon?

Perhaps the answer is that when our kids are old enough to deduce for themselves that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax (we leave notes “signed” by the tooth mouse), it’s time to hang up our wings and either come up with another rationale for the cash or just File 13 the whole thing.

What do you think?

Categories
Books Film Writing

The NeverEnding Story finally makes sense to me

I watched The NeverEnding Story when I was a child and I loved the movie. I remember it as being a movie that fanned my passion for reading and boy did I read as a child although, ironically, I’m not sure if I read the book too. I was one of those children who was reading a year or two ahead of the rest of the class. Mostly this was because I spent so much time in the school library.

The NeverEnding Story was one of my childhood favourites. If you don’t remember the story, it involves a terrible threat to the fantasy land of Fantasia (yes, that is the name) and a quest to save this land. At the same time, this is no ordinary quest. The whole thing is a story in a book read by our protagonist, Bastian.

It is a very “meta” story that, as I realised when I watched it with my children tonight, is the literary equivalent of “turtles all the way down”. I think I superficially understood the notion of a boy’s imagination creating whole worlds (that, in turn, were filled with beings whose imaginations created more worlds) when I first watched the movie.

That notion only really made sense to me this evening, partly with Neil Gaiman’s help. I’m currently reading his new book, “The View from the Cheap Seats”. I read something he said about the role of fiction authors and how they tell stories, on the train this afternoon. This part caught my attention, mostly because of his source code analogy:

We don’t give them the people or the places or the emotions. What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use to build the book themselves.

The combination of Gaiman’s quote and watching The NeverEnding Story from an adult’s perspective brought it all together for me. It only took me about 30 years to catch on.

At the risk of stating the obvious (bear with me, I seem to be a bit slow with this one):

  • The story Bastian reads, also called The NeverEnding Story, is, essentially, the same story we watch play out in the movie.
  • The story itself is just an arrangement of words and it requires the reader’s imagination to breathe life into this “raw code” and create the mystical world of Fantasia (or the not-so-mystical world of early 1980s America).
  • When we stop using our imaginations and reading fiction, the story’s Nothing starts erasing our fantasy constructs.
  • To rebuild these fantasy worlds, all you need is your imagination, plugged into a story of some kind.

This whole thing was a little too Inception for our son. At the same time, both kids finished off the movie on a real buzz. Our son grabbed a book on his way to bed and I found him reading it when I finally put him to sleep.

The movie is more than a little dated, for sure. But the story left our kids excited about books and stories, just as it left me excited about my next book when I watched it about 30 years ago. That is a win to me.

Image credit: The NeverEnding Story by ThiagoFragosso, licensed CC BY-ND 3.0

Categories
Science and nature

How Pluto passed up its opportunity for “planet” status for a friend

Do you remember when Pluto was a planet? Those were the days when we had 9 planets in our Solar System and then things changed. Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet. Do you know the backstory behind that change? What may seem like some astronomical body’s decision to reclassify this celestial body was really a story about friendship and finding one’s place in the solar system:

The official story, according to NASA, is this:

Discovered in 1930, Pluto was long considered our solar system’s ninth planet. But after the discovery of similar intriguing worlds deeper in the distant Kuiper Belt, icy Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet. This new class of worlds may offer some of the best evidence about the origins of our solar system.

Wouldn’t it be fun if there was some sort of meta story going on, though? That said, the real story is the New Horizons mission to send a probe to Pluto and beyond to the Kuiper Belt. This mission began in 2006 and the New Horizons spacecraft is due to reach Pluto around 14 July 2015, a little over 52 days as I write this. It will probably send back the best images we have of Pluto.

The fact that this spacecraft has been heading to Pluto for about 9 years is a reminder of just how vast our solar system is. Here is a mission overview:

You can follow mission updates on Twitter @NASANewHorizons:

If you are curious what the differences between a dwarf planet and a planet are, watch this short video too:

Categories
Entertainment Mindsets

Fear Is A Choice

I finally watched After Earth a couple nights ago. It received pretty lousy reviews and I was expecting a big disappointment. It wasn’t the best movie I have seen but I enjoyed it. One quote stood out for me. It is about the nature of fear which is a strong central theme of the movie:

Cypher Raige: Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.

Will Smith’s character included this as part of his account to his son of how he came to understand the nature of fear and make new choices about it. If I remember correctly, this was about 50 minutes into the movie.

Regardless of the movie’s quality, there is a lot to be said for this quote and it is something which I think about fairly often.