Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sophie's World

Hey people...once again, sorry for not updating my blog. Yes, it's the usual I'm not gonna bother typing it again here. :p

Anyway, one of my assignments for my History & Philosophy of Psychology subject actually required me to read a book, do a book review plus a 3-minute recording of me reading my favourite part. Of course, I could hardly expect stuff like the Twilight Saga or Harry Potter to be in the reading list. Instead, among the titles we got were Confucius's The Analects, Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontent, Ibn Khaldun's Al-Muqaddimah, Hamka's Tasauf Moden, and - oh, joy!! - Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. It seemed like the most fun book to read, and luckily it did turn out to be fun. Well, it was mostly about Philosophy, but the way the author presented it made Philosophy actually seem quite interesting. He used lots of simple metaphors to describe what a certain philosopher meant and the way that philosopher thought. Plus, the book covers almost all the philosophers to ever exist. The story is set in the 1990s in Norway. So I'm just going to literally copy-and-paste my assignment here...but just the synopsis. Let me know if any of you wants a copy of this book or if you suddenly decide to like philosophy. :D

Sophie’s World is about 14-year-old Sophie Amundsen who receives a mysterious letter in the mailbox when she returns home from school one day. The envelope is addressed to her, and in it is contained just one question: Who are you? The next day, Sophie receives a strange postcard addressed to a “Hilde Moller Knag” From then onwards, Sophie’s life changed forever. Everyday, Sophie would receive an envelope containing “lectures” on philosophy by a mysterious philosopher. In the beginning, the lectures explained the meaning and concept of philosophy using simple terms and metaphors but still managed to make Sophie look at the world around her with a newer and broader perspective. In one of the letters and a “video trip” to Athens, the mysterious philosopher introduces himself as Alberto Knox to Sophie. He teaches her many things about past philosophers, their philosophy project and their method of philosophizing. For example, Socrates was more concerned with man and his place in society compared to the forces of nature. His method of “discussing” philosophical matters with everyone he meets by asking questions and exposing their weaknesses, whether the highest-ranking man in the society or a servant doing odd jobs, aroused the irritation of those being questioned by him. Therefore, the people of Athens found him guilty and sentenced him to death. Other philosophers whom Sophie learned about with Albert Knox are Kierkegaard who suggested that it is more important to find the kind of truths which can make an individual’s life more meaningful, Freud and his psychoanalytic theories, and other philosophers like Marx, Darwin and even the natural philosophers of the pre-Socratic era such as Democritus and Empedocles.

At the same time, Sophie has also been receiving mysterious letters addressed to Hilde Moller Knag sent by her father, Albert Knag. She has also been finding properties of Hilde, such as a red scarf belonging to Hilde under her bed. As Alberto Knox was teaching Sophie about the Renaissance, Descartes and Berkeley, Alberto told Sophie that they are both in the mind of Albert Knag and that they have to find a way to escape. It is at this point that the story changes to Hilde’s point of view. Hilde is given a copy of Sophie’s World in a ring binder by her father on her 15th birthday as a way of teaching her philosophy. When Hilde starts reading, she is caught up in the story and she is sure that Sophie is a real character who is out there somewhere. Meanwhile, Alberto Knox has a plan to escape from Albert Knag’s mind, and they must carry out the plan during Sophie’s philosophical garden party in honour of her birthday, for that is when Albert will return home from Lebanon. As the party becomes more and more chaotic, the climax of the party being when someone rammed the Mercedes car into the apple tree, Alberto drags Sophie and together they “disappear into thin air”. They now live in the spirit world where they are invisible to everyone except for those who are like them, such as Snow White, Peter Pan and other fictional fairy tale characters. They drive to Hilde’s house where Sophie sits next to Hilde and tries to talk to her – but of course, to no avail. Sophie watches as Hilde’s father returns home and is lovingly embraced by Hilde and her mother. She feels envious of Hilde because Hilde is made of real flesh and blood and has a family, something which Sophie felt that she could never have. But Alberto tells her that since they have cut the “umbilical cord” connecting them to Albert, they can now do anything they wish, including returning to Sophie’s home. The story ends with Albert and Hilde discussing the big bang while Sophie tries various methods of attracting their attention, which she finally succeeds in doing when she manages to set the rowboat adrift.

“A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.”
- Martin Tupper