This morning my two-year-old daughter was playing with a beautiful felt picnic set that her grandmother bought for her from IKEA. Included in the set were many food items that Americans might think strange: sausages, a whole fish, eggplant and a pineapple. It is not that Americans aren’t familiar with these items, but that they just do not belong in a typical American picnic basket. Where are the sandwiches? Chips? Good old American red apples? And, how is one supposed to hack into a whole pineapple on a picnic? I have trouble elegantly cutting pineapple with the full use of my kitchen facilities and can’t imagine trying to do it in nature.
Anyway, my daughter picked up the pineapple and I asked her what she was holding. “A carrot”, she replied.
“Are you sure that’s not a pineapple?” I asked her.
“No. It’s a carrot,” she said and proceeded to feed it to her stuffed bunny rabbit.
This is one of those parenting moments where I have to decide if it is important to foist my commonly held worldview onto my child, or if I should go on allowing her to view reality in her own way. I decide that for my daughter the pineapple is a damn carrot, and she shall continue to view it as such if she wants to. For one, IKEA has not labeled the object “pineapple”, so who knows? Maybe it was intended to be a carrot, but it just happens to look like a pineapple.
But, more importantly, I am sensitive to how vulnerable we all are to the messages about reality that the world sends to us on a continuous basis. See, even if I do not work to convince my daughter that the carrot is actually a pineapple, the world will take care of it for me eventually. In this same way, the world has already implanted in her mind that bunny rabbits regularly subsist on a steady diet of carrots. Even without intentionally shaping their worldviews, children will still learn to see reality in a somewhat standardized manner.
Now this is not all bad. We need these commonly held beliefs in order to interact with one another in a meaningful way. Yet it is important to acknowledge that the names we give to things, and the categories into which we place them are artificial. We made them up in order to facilitate our inherent sociable tendencies.
Pam Grout gets at this notion with the second energy experiment in her book E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. This experiment is meant to show that the reality we experience is shaped by what we expect to find. For example, my daughter expected to find a carrot because, presumably, her bunny rabbit needed a snack. For her, there were no pineapples to be seen. Yet, perhaps if she needed a pineapple for some reason, the carrot would magically take pineapple form. My daughter has not yet learned that an object must adhere to ontological certainty, and so she is allowed to alter her perception at will. As Grout writes, this shows that “by changing what you look for, you can radically change what shows up in your world”.
In order to conduct this second experiment Grout instructs her reader to spend the first 24 hours looking for sunset beige cars, and the second 24 hours looking for butterflies. If we intend to see sunset beige cars, the universe will reveal a bevy of sunset beige cars. If we convince ourselves that there are butterflies abound, we’ll be swatting those suckers away from our faces in no time.
As a dutiful reader, I make my intention to see cars, but not sunset beige cars. That’s too easy! Instead I am off to look for pink cars. I’ll let you know what happens…