The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Life, Consciousness, and Existence
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Life, Consciousness, and Existence
"The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.28)
Let's consider Pooh as a young child for a moment. Young children start out as being egocentric—only thinking about things from their own point of view—and then they learn to consider other peoples' perspectives. This actually starts to happen at a predictable age, usually around 4-5 years-old. So with this in mind, we can really see how Milne tries to show us how this development happens. Pooh is starting to consider another being's existence, but still, it's all about him and his needs.
"I shall do what I can by singing a little Cloud Song, such as a cloud might sing […] How sweet to be a Cloud / Floating in the Blue!" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.89-91)
Here, our hero actually puts himself in someone else's shoes. Here's that "Theory of Mind." Of course, clouds don't sing, but, well, baby steps.
He was humming this hum to himself, and walking along gaily, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else (Winnie-the-Pooh.2.3)
And now we start getting into some pretty deep philosophical considerations. What is it like? Can we ever know? What do you think?
"Suppose," he said to Piglet, "<em>you </em>wanted to catch <em>me</em>, how would you do it?" (Winnie-the-Pooh.5.31)
Pooh seems to have a pretty good handle on perspective-taking now. He's even encouraging Piglet to do it too. Thinking about what someone else might be thinking is a good strategy for solving these kinds of problems.
Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water. (Winnie-the-Pooh.6.1)
Eeyore is another kind of philosopher altogether. Milne introduces him staring at his own reflection, considering himself. What better image of someone trying to tackle life's big questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Is that a pimple or a bug bite?
"That, Piglet, is a <em>very </em>good idea. It is just what Eeyore wants to cheer him up. Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon." (Winnie-the-Pooh.6.59)
This is undoubtedly true. We here at Shmoop this is a pretty good depiction of Milne's worldview. Something so simple as a balloon can make everything better for everyone. Again, it shows our small characters thinking big thoughts.
"Thank you, Piglet," said Eeyore. "You don't mind my asking," he went on, "but what colour was this balloon when it—when it <em>was </em>a balloon?" (Winnie-the-Pooh.6.131)
Milne implies something along the lines of "it's the thought that counts." But not just in the gifting sense. If we take step back we can consider Eeyore's balloon as an example of a thing's true identity, or <em>essence,</em> as some Greeks might put it. Two things are going on here. First, Eeyore's excitement about the color and the size of the balloon when it <em>was</em> blown up implies that an object's past attributes or potential attributes are still important even when they don't exist anymore. At the same time, the past tense, "when it <em>was </em>a balloon," implies that even though the floppy thing Eeyore has consists of the same material as the balloon, it's <em>not </em>a balloon anymore because it's not blown up like we expect a balloon to be. Leave it to Eeyore to make us get all deep and theoretical.
Tigger took a large mouthful of honey...and he looked up at the ceiling with his head on one side, and made exploring noises with his tongue and considering noises, and what-have-we-got-<em>here</em> noises...and then he said in a very decided voice: / "Tiggers don't like honey." (House.2.39-40)
Milne often shows us how his characters discover things about themselves. In this case, Tigger pretty much starts with a blank slate—he doesn't even know what kind of food he eats. Notably, Tigger arrives at this basic knowledge through sensory, oral exploration. That's what babies do, too.
Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn't matter a bit, as it didn't on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything there was to be known […]. (House.6.102)
Milne doesn't tell us how CR would know all this, or just what he would know. It is the most vague thought in the book, probably. And therein lies its brilliance. There's no specific philosophical thought at all, just the invitation to ponder. Kind of a oneness-with-the-universe moment.
"Tigger is all right really," said Piglet lazily. "Of course he is," said Christopher Robin. "Everybody is really," said Pooh. (House.6.120-122)
This is an optimistic outlook on people in general. Agree or disagree?
If Rabbit / Was bigger / And fatter / And stronger, / Or bigger / Than Tigger, / If Tigger was smaller, / Then Tigger's bad habit / Of bouncing at Rabbit / Would matter / No longer, / If Rabbit / Was taller. (House.7.23.)
Pooh is very diplomatic here. While some of the characters are quick to blame Tigger for his size and bounciness, Pooh's the one who gets at the real problem. The conflict lies in the difference between Tigger's energy and the others' desire for peace and quiet. Who's to blame depends on whose perspective you're taking. Blaming Tigger for being bouncy is as silly as blaming Rabbit for being small.
"Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
"Supposing it didn't," said Pooh after careful thought. (House.8.32-33)
This is one of Pooh's Zen moments. The tree will fall, or it won't. Thinking about only one of those options is cause for anxiety for Piglet, but thinking of the other side of the coin helps him calm down a bit.
"What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying, 'Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing."
"I like that too," said Christopher Robin, "but what I like doing best is Nothing." (House.10.30-31)
It's good to know what you like best in the world. Ask yourself this question, because it's hard to answer. Us? We like dipping Oreos in milk for just the right amount of time before eating the whole cookie—softened, but not soggy—in one big bite.
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