Eurekamp! Asking questions only a child could dream up

(Edmonton) Children attending the Eurekamp! Wondering at the World summer camp mull over questions that even University of Alberta philosophy professor John Simpson finds perplexing.

“Some questions they’ve asked include wanting to know the difference between a human and an animal; what animals should be taken care of; can all animals be pets, and one of my favourites, whether humans can be pets,” said Simpson, camp organizer.

These are the kinds of questions Eurekamp!, the umbrella camp for a series of week-long summer camps run out of the Department of Philosophy, encourages its eight- to 13-year-old participants to ask.

Simpson says the camp, which bills itself as offering “adventures in ideas for curious children,” provides students a space to think through generally accepted ideas with their peers, while offering campers a potential to change their minds.

“When they’re comfortable enough to twist a question around and see it in a non-standard way—can humans be pets?—they’re really going off the beaten path. One says, ‘humans are very different from animals,’ another says, ‘no, humans are animals.’ One of the questions they’re really asking is what’s the difference between a human and an animal? And they’re really polarized on this question,” he said.

Simpson likes to call these discussions around the man’s relationships with animals “penguin philosophy,” named after a real penguin that made a surprise appearance at the camp July 5. He says the penguin prompted questions around relationships with animals, such as the role of animals in people’s lives and any ethical concerns in those relationships.

“They did not know that a penguin was coming, and were quite excited,” said Simpson. “They‘ve never seen a penguin before.”

Camper Darynka Chernyavska, is clear on what ought to be the relationship between animals and humans. “Some animals can be a pet and others can’t. And that should be based on what the animal wants.” But she says animals don’t always get to decide. “That’s kind of bad,” she said.

Fellow camper Alec Zaiane agrees to a point. “Penguins should not be pets because they use up too much room,” Zaiane said. His mom, U of A graduate student Jane Zaiane, says the camp is a great for two of her children who are attending Eurekamp!

“I ask what they do all day, and they say, ‘we discuss things; we look at things in new ways,’ she said.

At Ideas Safari, another camp, Simpson says this year’s theme on personal identity has campers asking a centuries-old question: “who am I?”

“They have to think about what’s essential to who they are. Some say it is memories, while others question what happens if you lose your memory.”
Simpson says Masterminds, the third of the camps, is for campers who want to think very seriously about how to play games, which are metaphors for relationships and for solving logic problems.

“Our hope is that the contribution made throughout all of these camps is openness to listening to others. The world is a complicated place and we cannot hope to solve the problems of the world until we understand what they are.”