The first chapter of the book was entitled “The Garden of Eden” the story was well written, I was able to imagine the environment and I was able to see how Sophie would react on those given situations. The first questions that Sophie receives make her think about who she is and where the world came from. These questions are easy to ask and almost impossible to answer, but what is most amazing of all is that people stop asking them.
Sophie realizes that she has never really thought about these things before, and when she does she understands that nothing could be more important. It seems that knowing who we really are is necessary for our lives to have meaning and import.
Sophie thinks about the fact that the world is part of the universe and that must come from somewhere.
Sophie did not accept that something must have come from nothing. Sophie also thinks that even if God created the universe, he himself must have come from somewhere. As a reader I also feel the same as Sophie’s reaction and also ask myself “who am I’’ and “where the world came from’’. As little children we are tremendously inquisitive, and we wonder about everything, but as life goes on we begin to take certain things for granted even though we do not understand them.
The Top hat
The second chapter was entitled “The Top Hat’’. Sophie tells no one about the strange letters, and is uninterested in playing with her friend Joanna the next day. After school she rushes home and finds a letter written to her. It contains three pages describing philosophy. The letter suggests that what is most important in life is philosophizing attempting to understand ourselves and our role in the world. There are not many philosophical questions, but there are many ways to answer each one. Life itself is like a magic trick, and philosophers must always observe it with wonder. After reading the letter, Sophie goes back to the mailbox and finds another one, which stresses the fact that all that is required to be a philosopher is the capacity for wonder. Babies have this capacity, but most people become inured to life and no longer find it wonderful.
Philosophers are different from others, and the philosopher writing the letters wants Sophie to never lose her sense of wonder. The letters will comprise a philosophy course for her to take. Sophie tries to have a philosophical discussion that night with her mother, but it only leads to her mother wondering if Sophie has begun taking drugs. What is most important in life is asking these philosophical questions and most people do not ask them. In fact, a philosopher has more in common with a child than with most adults. Gaarder seems to think that most people live their lives without actually partaking in the most important part of living. It is thinking that is critical and not just thinking about practical, everyday affairs. We need to think about life itself, to ask why about everything that we normally take for granted.
A day later, after school, Sophie finds a letter from her dad, working far away, and then another on philosophy. This letter describes the situation leading up to the beginning of western philosophy. Before the Greek philosophers, people explained life through myths—stories about the gods. But the early Greek philosophers questioned the myths and began looking for other explanations for why the world is the way it is. Sophie thinks about this and realizes that making up stories to explain the workings of nature is not so far-fetched, for she would do the same if she did not already have other explanations. Sophie learns that before people started turning to other types of explanations, they made up myths to explain what they could not understand. After reading about this, she thinks that she probably would have done the same thing—when things seem to happen of their own accord it is easy for us to believe that there is some higher power behind their actions.
But what is important is to attempt to explain things using our reason rather than making up stories. With our reason we may be able to actually gain an understanding of the world, whereas the myths simply transfer the uncertainty elsewhere. Sophie realizes that the suggestion that God created the world does not really answer anything. Although for some it might solve the issue of where the world came from, Sophie understands that one could simply ask where God came from, and we would be back to the same problem. The philosophical questions are not to be escaped through easy answers but rather to be struggled through, and the implication is that a good life is one that constantly involves battling these issues. I also realize that the suggestion that God created the world didn’t really mean anything because we actually didn’t know where God came from.
The Natural Philosophers
Later that afternoon, while Sophie is thinking about philosophy, her mother finds one of the letters. Since it has no stamp, she thinks it is a love letter, and Sophie lets her think that in order to maintain her privacy. Inside it are three more philosophical questions, and Sophie puzzles over them for a day before she receives the next package. The letter tells her that her philosophy course will go from ancient Greece up to the present moment. It also points out that it is very important when assessing each philosopher to understand what his project was—what questions he was attempting to answer. Sophie learns that the ancient Greeks believed the world was eternal, and so they did not ask about where it came from but rather were interested in the question of change.
The natural philosophers believed that there was one substance that all things were made of. Some thought it was water, others air, but they were all left with the problem of how changes occurred. Parmenides believed that nothing actually changed, and he held to his reason despite the evidence of his senses, making him the first rationalist. Heraclitus believed in his senses and felt that nothing stayed the same. But Empedocles resolved this problem by suggesting that there were four basic substances and that all changes are the result of intermingling of the four. He also makes a distinction between “substance” and “force”, something that scientists still do today. Anaxagoras, from Athens, believed nature was made up of infinitesimal particles but that each one contained part of everything. Sophie thinks about all of this and concludes that one cannot learn philosophy; one can only learn how to think like a philosopher.
After reading the last packet, Sophie finds another white envelope in the mailbox. It asks only why the Lego is “the most ingenious toy in the world.” She thinks about this question, and the next day receives a packet about Democritus, the Greek philosopher who believed that everything was made up of tiny, invisible, and eternal particles called atoms. She learns that physicists today still believe that there is some smallest particle in the physical world. Sophie is amazed by the fact that Democritus managed to use the philosophers before him to come up with a new theory.
Sophie finds another envelope with three new questions on it, and she decides to send a note of her own. She writes a letter to whomever it is who is teaching her philosophy, inviting that person to coffee. She leaves it in the mailbox and then goes upstairs to go to bed. Just before falling asleep, she thinks she sees a man in a beret come to the mailbox, put something in, and take out her letter. Sophie goes and gets the envelope and learns that the ancient Greeks were fatalists—they believed that everything in life was predetermined. However, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides and the doctor Hippocrates began to look for naturalistic explanations for the events that occur in life. The next day is Saturday, and when Sophie wakes up, she finds a scarf with the name Hilde on it.
Sophie goes into her hiding place and finds another letter there. It is a response to her own, and she learns that Alberto Knox is the name of the philosopher who is communicating with her and that he will send his letters via a messenger. He also mentions that she may come across a silk scarf that belongs to someone else and that she should take care of it. Sophie is bewildered because the letter was delivered directly to a secret spot and she cannot comprehend the connection between the philosopher and Hilde Moller Knag. She gets the next package, delivered directly to her by a Labrador, Alberto’s messenger. The letter in the package tells her the dog’s name is Hermes. Sophie learns about skepticism, the belief that we cannot have true knowledge about the world, practiced by the Stoics in Athens. Then she learns of Socrates, who lived in Athens and spent his time conversing with people throughout the city.
What we know of him comes from the writings of his pupil, Plato. Socrates would ask questions in an attempt to get people to come to proper philosophical conclusions on their own. He was considered subversive and condemned to die, and, rather than appeal for mercy or flee Socrates drank hemlock and died. Socrates believed in principles that he upheld. He knew that he did not know very much, and this made him much smarter than other people. Socrates had faith in human reason and believed that people were only happy when they acted according to their reason. Therefore, if someone knows what the right thing to do is in a situation she will do it, because it will make her happy. Socrates did not believe that people would deliberately act in a way to make them unhappy. Sophie gets into another discussion with her mother after reading the letter, but her mother seems quite unreceptive to these ideas.
Sophie receives a videotape that evening and she is amazed to see that it contains Alberto in Athens. He tells her all about the way the city used to be and how Socrates would talk to people who went by, and then, somehow, he takes her back to ancient Athens. Alberto speaks to Socrates and Plato, and then Plato gives her a few questions to think about. Sophie is astounded by the videotape and cannot figure out what is going on.
The next day, Sophie thinks about the questions that Plato gave her, and when she receives a letter describing his philosophy, she learns that they are central to his thought. Plato set up a school, called the Academy, and much of his work is preserved. He believed that everything in nature changes, but that there is an eternal world of ideas outside of the natural world. Plato thought that each thing that we see is an approximation of some perfect idea that exists somewhere else. We cannot have true knowledge about things that change, so we cannot actually know the real world, but we can have true knowledge about things that we perceive through our reason.
Thus Plato was very fond of mathematics, because it involves solely the use of reason. Plato believed that people were made up of a body that is a part of the natural world but also an immortal soul that is in contact with the world of ideas. When we are born, our soul no longer has the knowledge of that world, but through experience we jog its memory and recollect the true and perfect ideas. Plato suggested a few ways of ordering human civilization, based upon ruling through reason, and he believed that women were just as capable of reasoning as men.
The Major’s Cabin
After reading about Plato, Sophie tries to follow the path that Alberto’s dog Hermes had taken into the woods. She comes upon a little lake and sees a red cabin on the other side of it. Without knowing why, Sophie uses the little rowboat at the shore to go over to the cabin. She knocks, and then enters, and inside she sees paintings entitled “Berkeley” and “Bjerkely.” By looking around, Sophie figures out that the cabin belongs to Alberto and Hermes. She looks at herself in a mirror and thinks that her image blinks back at her. Then Sophie finds Hilde Moller Knag’s wallet inside as well as an envelope with her name on it, which she takes.
She runs away when she hears Hermes barking, and she cannot row back across because the boat slid down the bank into the middle of the lake. Sophie reads the questions in the letter, but does not think much about them because she has to explain to her mother what happened without getting her mother too worried. She explains everything away without mentioning Alberto and convinces her mother that she does not have a boyfriend. Her mother tells her the cabin she went to is called the major’s cabin. Sophie writes the philosopher a letter, apologizing for her actions, and then thinks about the questions he gave her. Then she talks with her mother, who feels she is growing up very fast and is surprised to learn that Sophie is not excited about her approaching fifteenth birthday.
Later that afternoon, Sophie receives a package containing information on ##Aristotle# plus a small note saying that Alberto is not upset with her but that he will have to move. Aristotle, she learns, was a pupil of Plato’s. His project involved studying the changes within nature, and he believed in the use of one’s senses. Aristotle believed that Plato’s world of ideas did not exist but that the eternal idea was really a concept—the idea of a horse that we have after seeing many of them. Therefore, that eternal idea is in our minds but it comes from the natural world. He did not think there was any reality beyond what we could perceive. Aristotle felt we have innate reason, but not innate ideas. Things have a substance and a form, and the former describes their physical characteristics while the latter describe their limitations or possibilities.
Aristotle believed in different types of ##causality# one of which was “final” cause, the purpose that he assigned to everything in nature. For example, it rains “because plants and animals need rainwater in order to grow.” He attempted to categorize nature and also founded logic. Aristotle sees man at the top of nature followed by animals and then plants, and God to him is the force that set the stars in motion. He believed monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy were good forms of government but warned against the dangers of each. Unlike Plato, he viewed women as “unfinished men.” Aristotle’s ideas have a great effect on Sophie, and she organizes her room after reading the letter. Then she has another discussion with her mother, who thinks her daughter is growing stranger and stranger.