When he rang the doorbell, Zia hadn't planned to step inside.
He was there to pick up his fiancee who was babysitting, but she
couldn't leave (the parents were running late) so Zia agreed to hang out
for a bit. His fiancee said, "Let me introduce you to the kids" — the
2-year-old girl, the 7-year-old boy and, most important, squatting, with
no shoes on, surrounded by ants on the back patio, the oldest — the
9-year-old — the one he would make world-famous on YouTube.
This is the boy he now calls "The Philosopher."
Nine is what fourth-graders are. You don't expect them to be wise;
they're still boys. When the two started talking, there was no hint of
what was about to happen, except for the slightly odd introduction. His
girlfriend said he "is interested in cosmology." "Really?" Zia thought,
"cosmology?" So he leaned in and asked — just to be a badass — "What do
you think about dark matter? Any ideas?"
Wait! I Need To Film This
boy looked up, started to answer, and almost immediately Zia thought,
"Wait!" Zia Hassan is a Washington, D.C.-based musician, blogger,
teacher-in-training and video cameraman and he's learned to act on
instinct, and his instincts were telling him, "I need to film this." He
said to the boy, "Uh, can I film this? Is that all right with you?"
boy didn't mind. And here, a million-and-a-half views later, is what
the boy told him about the universe. I don't know the right words to
describe what I feel watching this. Quiet surprise? Joy? Mystery? You
should just look for yourself ...
We all know smart kids, who are curious, who collect information.
"I knew more things in the first 10 years of my life than I believe I
have known at any time since," says
the writer Bill Bryson. But what Bill knew growing up in Iowa was
local: "I knew what was written on the undersides of tables and what the
view was like from the tops of bookcases and wardrobes. I knew what was
to be found at the back of every closet, which beds had the most dust
balls beneath them." Boys gather information by climbing, crawling,
But this 9-year-old — what he knows is
different. It's not local; it can't be found looking under a couch. It's
mind stuff, found mostly in books or college classrooms, or by letting
your mind run free.
I Could Be Wrong ... I Could Be Wrong ...
I wondered, did he learn about multiverses, free will, the odds of
intelligent life in the universe? How does he manage to be so aware of
what he doesn't know? "Of course, I could be wrong," he says over and
over, offering his opinions in the most unassuming, gentle way. And his
brother, talking about how baseball satisfies our need for drama ("We do
not have that kind of suspense in our lives."), he's doing it too —
thinking, connecting, reflecting — and he's 7!
What's going on
in this house? Are these kids outrageously smart? Zia says they're
"certainly bright," but not scarily so. Is it something the parents are
"I've gotten lots of questions about how they've raised
[their kids]," Zia wrote me. "I don't think they have a particular
method or anything like that. They're both excellent human beings and
they treat their kids as if they're intelligent young people, and not
children who couldn't possibly understand how the world (or universe)
This, he thinks, may be the key. These kids are
encouraged to think out loud, to say what they think, even if they might
be wrong. Each is appreciated. The parents, he says, "are also in awe
of their children." And that frees them.
"I think there are a
lot of kids who think about interesting things," Zia says. "It's my
guess no one really asks them about it."
Maybe that's what this family does: They turn to their kids, and they ask.