Sophie’s World: A world of wonder and discovery

Who are you? Someone with their own thought, knowledge, and morals? Who are we? Do we humans actually know as much as we think we do, or is everything just an illusion masking what we are supposed to see? 

Do we really understand the concept of our existence, how we came to be, and why we were brought on earth to live, to flourish, to create, and eventually die? Surely we were made from something, for something must come from something. But where did that come from? 

The 1999 drama-adventure film 'Sophie's World' by director Erik Gustavson stars Silje Storstein as Sophie. (Photo from Alchetron)
The 1999 drama-adventure film 'Sophie's World' by director Erik Gustavson stars Silje Storstein as Sophie. (Photo from Alchetron)
Sophie’s World tackles these topics. The book does not force any specific ideologies onto you, but offers you a wide array of theories and speculations by many philosophers to choose from as you concoct your own ideology of the world. With ingenious analogies and baffling questions, Jostein Gaarder helps the reader build their own train of philosophical thought as they journey into Sophie’s astonishing world.

How was the world created? Is there a life after death? These are the first few questions the author casts upon his unsuspecting fictional character, Sophie, through the anonymous philosopher, Alberto Knox. 

The book is not only doused with letters about philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, and Aristotle, but also includes discussions on the various religions and myths that humans have believed in to explain and rationalize the unpredictable nature of the elements. 

Around the end of the story, we find out that nearly the entire first parts including Sophie and Alberto are actually a part of its own book and we wind up following the story of the reader named Hilde instead. This sudden shift in perspective adds complexity to the story, rendering the reader unsure what is true and what is not.

The main character, Sophie is a simple 14-year-old girl, living a normal life until she receives a series of anonymous letters dedicated to her, whose writing and name she does not recognize, and a long essay about how to think and solve things philosophically. She finds it odd and initially assumed it was simply a mix up in the mail although no mailman had passed by.

'Sophie's World' (Sofies verden), a 1991 novel by Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder, follows 14-year-old Sophie as she discovers the history of philosophy.
Later she becomes suspicious of the content as she sees her very name and address on it. As her curiosity gets the better of her, she reads the anonymous letters being sent to her house and ends up engrossed in her own little world as she learns about philosophy in her secret hiding spot underneath her garden. 

Over the course of a few days, she realizes how easy it is to see things philosophically.

She rediscovers the old arguments about whether or not we came from water (Thales), air (Anaximenes), or small indivisible particles (Leucippus and Democritus), and even reignites her younger self’s amazement at the limitless possibilities of Lego blocks (since these represent atoms, the building blocks of matter). 

As Sophie continues to communicate with the philosopher, she ends up wanting to delve deeper into the world of philosophy. She realizes how preoccupied her family and friends are with trivial and boring facts and knowledge, that no one even wonders how they came to exist, or how wonderful it is to be alive, and able to breathe the air and discover everything as it is and was.

Sophie finds out that if you think philosophically, the people around you are likely going to be shocked and confused. It means each person has a role to play in our society, and people who view things with speculation and live with the benefit of the doubt are not quite accepted for their controversial ideas.

In the past, some people lived complacently and were satisfied with what they know, and were not bothered by the fact that they did not know as much as they thought they did. They loved routine and were revolted by thoughts that ignited their innate curiosity because they were already happy with what they had. As a result, some philosophical theories had been rescinded and some philosophers were even killed simply because people refused to keep an open eye.

One philosopher who got persecuted because of this was Socrates. He challenged those who he spoke to by making them think for themselves instead of getting into an argument with them, as he let them discover the truth for themselves. It made it easier for him to prove his point. He was not the only one quite ahead of their time.

The causes and goals of these philosophers were to seek the sole truth and to express their love of knowledge and everlasting thirst for the world. Philosophers were bold enough to dare to answer the biggest questions of their time, and they risked their lives for it.

Philosophers have helped us grapple with the basic understanding and nature of things from a philosophical point of view by answering questions through reasoning when there were not much scientific practices yet. How do seasons change? How does water come out of those gaseous clouds? Why do leaves change in some countries? To solve these questions, some philosophers like Rene Descartes and Plato believed that one could only discover the real truth through rational reasoning instead of basing their beliefs on old knowledge.

This book helps the reader see and think of things philosophically and become more aware and curious of the way the world works and how they managed to end up in it. It is complex, but is appropriate for a quick overview of the course of history and how we can apply this knowledge in our daily lives.

Sophie’s World dares us to stand at the edge of the world, to be bold enough to think of the controversial, and to be dauntless when venturing into a world of the unknown. One’s imagination and will are the only limits.

The author is a 13-year-old student.

Topics: Sophie’s World , Jostein Gaarder , Alberto Knox

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