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My Brother the Philosopher

My brother tormented with amateur philosophy.

By Sean PatrickPublished 21 days ago Updated 21 days ago 5 min read
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My Brother the Philosopher
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Trying out a little journaling and I was reminded of a childhood memory, one of those formative memories. This is a memory of my brother and how he shaped the way I think and see the world via his elevated form of bullying. Actual philosophers, please forgive me, this is a recollection from childhood of concepts that are, I am sure, I am misremembering or misinterpreting. It will become very clear that I have not personally studied or catalogued actual philosophy.

When I was quite young, my brother broke my brain. He did it with the kind of ease that comes with years of training in torturing younger siblings. He was the middle of 5 children overall, so he had years of being tormented himself to draw upon when he began torturing me. So precise and devastating was his ability to ruin me that I was never prepared for it. I could never see it coming. It was like Charlie Brown and that damn football. I always believed that he would let me kick and he would always find a new way to leave me in a pile on the ground.

So, how did he break me on this occasion? Well, he'd begun taking philosophy courses which, for older brothers with trusting, loving, adoring younger siblings, this is like training to be a super villain. Not only could he physically dominate me, now an actual institution of learning was equipping him with the tools needed to intellectually destroy people. There really should have been a rule that said if you are an older brother, you're not allowed to take philosophy courses, the knowledge is simply too dangerous for those with a moral flexibility that only comes from being an older sibling.

On this occasion of intellectual destruction my brother asked me if I existed. I'm not kidding, that was all it took. Bear in mind, I was a child, I was not prepared to have to defend the fact that I merely existed. He posed the question just like that: Do you exist? I looked at him quizzically, deeply confused. What do you mean do I exist? You're speaking to me right now. If I didn't exist, that wouldn't be possible. And he replied, but can you actually prove that you exist? And again, I had no idea how to respond to such a seemingly nonsense question.

The age I was at the time, I was not prepared for an existential crisis. Hell, I wasn't even yet educated enough to say, "I think, therefore I am," which was, I believe, the correct answer to his question, if it weren't merely an attempt to destroy my fragile early teenage psyche. So, instead of having a smart answer at hand, I started pointing out physical characteristics, I mentioned our mother, our father, our other siblings. To which he replied, how do you know that they actually exist. Frustratedly, I replied asking him if he existed. His reply was... maybe, but how can you know for sure.

I can't tell you how long this infuriating tete a tete carried on. What I can tell you is that I was left in tears and my poor mother had to reassure me that I did indeed, exist. I was of the age that my mother was THE authority on all things, so this did soothe my frayed nerves, but my brother was not going to stop so easily. He really enjoyed the crisis of existence that he'd created in my smooth unformed mind. This was simply too delicious, too large of a target not to continue shooting at. What he did next would haunt me for a while.

I was in my room and my brother, who never came to my room, came to my room. With a malevolent gleam in his eye, my brother asked me, if I can't see something, how do I know that it exists. For instance, I cannot currently see the Statue of Liberty, I'm not in New York, I am not on the island where Lady Liberty stands, so how do I know it's actually there? There is no answer to that question, it's a dead end. Everyone who isn't a naive 12–13-year-old child, is aware of the fallacy at play in this question.

So, I grabbed a book and pointed to a photo of the Statue of Liberty, concrete proof that it exists. So, he drilled down. He had me on the hook now, he was about to reel me in and destroy me. Right, but that's just a picture, how do you know it's real? But then he asked me, how I do know for sure that the world outside of my bedroom actually exists? If you can't see it, how do you know it's actually there. I replied that of course the world is there when I can't see it, that's a ridiculous question. And he said, but how do you know. What if the world disappeared when you weren't looking at it and only reappeared when you could see it.

I kid you not dear reader, I didn't sleep for two days as I pondered this question. Even my loving, brilliant, and caring mother could not console my broken little mind. It wasn't until I went to a Chicago Cubs game that weekend that I was able to leave this question behind and continue living my life as a normal child. Years later, I saw the movie The Matrix, a film that offers you a world that is only an approximation, an A.I generated reality that hides a secret world behind it. The Matrix triggered me right back to that moment talking to my brother. Only this time, I was emotionally ready for it. I was an adult who could make the proper distinction between my chosen reality, what I choose to believe is real, and the philosophical notion of existence as a condition of believing.

And yet, there are times when I do still wonder if the world is always as I choose to see it. Then, I am reminded that I am single, slightly overweight, deeply underpaid. Life has ways or reminding you that if you could choose reality, you probably would not choose the one you are currently convinced exists. This is not me saying that I am unhappy with my life, I have a terrific life with endless opportunities for things to improve or otherwise. I think that is what my brother was really getting at, in the end. For all of his super-villain tendencies, the true lesson was to consider the infinite possibilities of the world. Make choices but remember that they don't define you. There are an infinite number of possibilities if you take the time to think about it.

Most importantly, don't be afraid. Maybe the world only exists when you see it. That goes for the good and the bad things of the world. Try to see as much of the world as possible and more and more the world will exist with you in it.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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  • Kendall Defoe 21 days ago

    I have been donating books in preparation for a move, and I saw a man at a local book box looking for something to read today. He asked for philosophy and I gave him a Charles Murray book. Beginning to regret it...

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