BookTalk: Children’s Book of Philosophy

By Sharon Kane

children's book of philosophyDon’t be fooled by the word Children’s” in the title of DK’s Children’s Book of Philosophy: An Introduction to the World’s Great Thinkers and Their Big Ideas (2015). Based on what I learned as I read the book, I can assure you it is not just for children. It’s filled with thought-provoking questions such as “Is there life after death?” (p. 62), “How do I know if I am real?” (p. 38), “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (p. 14), “What is happiness?” (p. 70), “Can we think without language?” (p. 66), “Are people naturally good or bad?” (p. 118), and “Isn’t philosophy a little weird?” (p. 9).

The book is filled with biographical and other information about philosophers, beginning with the great ancient trio of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and taking us through the centuries with guides such as Descartes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Simone de Beauvoir. Plenty of photographs and a multitude of anecdotes explain and discuss philosophical principles. Sidebars contain timelines, symbols, quotes, and ethical dilemmas to contemplate.

As our students read novels and analyze disciplinary texts, perhaps they can apply some of what they learn, or are exposed to, in this book. It contains few, if any, definitive answers, but it does contain examples of convictions that various leaders, activists, and thinkers have acted on. Although philosophers may disagree over ways to answer questions such as “Will there ever be world peace?” and “Is war ever right?” (p. 114), it’s comforting to know there is one principle that any number of philosophies and religions espouse: the Golden Rule.

appropriate for middle and high school

philosophy, social studies, ELA, history, art, science

BookTalk: The Soul of an Octopus

by Sharon Kane

soulofanoctopusI have enjoyed the books naturalist Sy Montgomery has written for the Scientists in the Field series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), so I was eager to read her newest book, this time marketed for adults: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (2015, Atria Books). To say this book surprised and moved me is an understatement. Immediately, I was surprised to learn that the scientifically correct plural of octopus is not octopi, but octopuses. “It turns out you can’t put a Latin ending—i—on a word derived from Greek…” (p. 2). And virtually every page thereafter surprised me as I read the facts and supporting descriptions about octopuses’ intelligence, including their ability to play, interact with humans, and recognize individual people. I was surprised by the author’s passion, bravery, and lengths she went to interact with octopuses, both in captivity and in the ocean. And I was surprised at how much this reader came to appreciate and care about our fellow sentient beings. In fact, I have found myself interrupting my own work to watch YouTube clips of octopuses. Sy Montgomery has written a dangerous book!

Chapter titles reflect the names of individual octopuses Sy became friends with and fell in love with: Athena, Octavia, Kali, Karma. She also tells the stories of the tight community of fellow humans bonded by their interactions with the invertebrates. Here is how Sy relates the grief felt after Kali’s death:

Bill’s affection for his animals is as clear as the spine-tipped fin on the chimera’s back. That such a meticulous caring man has lost the most intelligent, outgoing, and beloved of them all—lost her in her healthy, vigorous, promising youth—and worst, lost her, he believes, because of his mistake—seems brutally, cosmically wrong…. Bill’s sorrow sweeps over my own like a sob. (p. 181)

In the final chapter, “Consciousness,” Sy describes being in a church built on the site of a former temple dedicated to the octopus. She meditates on what it means to have a soul, offering various definitions from religion, philosophy, and psychology, concluding, “If I have a soul—and I think I do—an octopus has a soul, too” (p. 228). Recognizing that she is on a scientific expedition, still she prays. “I pray I’ll finally get to see more than just some suckers under a rock…,and for my friends at the aquarium. And I pray for the souls of the octopuses I have known; those who are alive, and those who have died, but whom I will never forget” (p. 228).

Those who want to learn more about the scientists who study octopuses in the wild can turn to Sy Montgomery’s The Octopus Scientist: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk (2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

I think I’ll go watch another video clip. An octopus awaits.

 

Appropriate for middle school and high school

(biology, ELA, psychology, philosophy)