苏菲的世界 Sophies World-33

文章来源:吉林市济群培训    发布时间:2020-06-22   浏览次数: 34
The alarm clock showed 11:55 p.m. Hilde lay staring at the ceiling. She tried to let her associations flow freely. Each time she finished a chain of thoughts, she tried to ask herself why.

Could there be something she was trying to repress?

If only she could have set aside all censorship, she might have slid into a waking dream. A bit scary, she thought.

The more she relaxed and opened herself to random thoughts and images, the more she felt as if she was in the major's cabin by the little lake in the woods.

What could Alberto be planning? Of course, it was Hilde's father planning that Alberto was planning something. Did he already know what Alberto would do? Perhaps he was trying to give himself free rein, so that whatever happened in the end would come as a surprise to him too.

There were not many pages left now. Should she take a peek at the last page? No, that would be cheating. And besides, Hilde was convinced that it was far from decided what was to happen on the last page.

Wasn't that a curious thought? The ring binder was right here and her father could not possibly get back in time to add anything to it. Not unless Alberto did something on his own. A surprise ...

Hilde had a few surprises up her own sleeve, in any case. Her father did not control her. But was she in full control of herself?

What was consciousness? Wasn't it one of the greatest riddles of the universe? What was memory? What made us "remember" everything we had seen and experienced?

What kind of mechanism made us create fabulous dreams night after night?

She closed her eyes from time to time. Then she opened them and stared at the ceiling again. At last she forgot to open them.

She was asleep.

When the raucous scream of a seagull woke her, Hilde got out of bed. As usual, she crossed the room to the window and stood looking out across the bay. It had gotten to be a habit, summer and winter.

As she stood there, she suddenly felt a myriad of colors exploding in her head. She remembered what she had dreamt. But it felt like more than an ordinary dream, with its vivid colors and shapes ...

She had dreamt that her father came home from Lebanon, and the whole dream was an extension of Sophie's dream when she found the gold crucifix on the dock.

Hilde was sitting on the edge of the dock--exactly as in Sophie's dream. Then she heard a very soft voice whispering, "My name is Sophie!" Hilde had stayed where she was, sitting very still, trying to hear where the voice was coming from. It continued, an almost inaudible rustling, as if an insect were speaking to her: "You must be both deaf and blind!" Just then her father had come into the garden in his UN uniform. "Hilde!" he shouted. Hilde ran up to him and threw her arms around his neck. That's where the dream ended.

She remembered some lines of a poem by Arnulf 0verland:

Wakened one night by a curious dreamand a voice that seemed to be speaking to melike a far-off subterranean stream,I rose and asked: What do you want of me?

She was still standing at the window when her mother came in.

"Hi there! Are you already awake?"

"I'm not sure..."

"I'll be home around four, as usual."

"Okay, Mom."

"Have a nice vacation day, Hilde!"

"You have a good day too."

When she heard her mother slam the front door, she slipped back into bed with the ring binder.

"I'm going to dive down into the major's unconscious. That's where I'll be until we meet again."

There, yes. Hilde started reading again. She could feel under her right index finger that there were only a few pages left.

When Sophie left the major's cabin, she could still see some of the Disney figures at the water's edge, but they seemed to dissolve as she approached them. By the time she reached the boat they had all disappeared.

While she was rowing she made faces, and after she had pulled the boat up into the reeds on the other side she waved her arms about. She was working desperately to hold the major's attention so that Alberto could sit undisturbed in the cabin.

She danced along the path, hopping and skipping. Then she tried walking like a mechanical doll. To keep the major interested she began to sing as well. At one point she stood still, pondering what Alberta's plan could be. Catching herself, she got such a bad conscience that she started to climb a tree.

Sophie climbed as high as she could. When she was nearly at the top, she realized she could not get down. She decided to wait a little before trying again. But meanwhile she could not just stay quietly where she was. Then the major would get tired of watching her and would begin to interest himself in what Alberto was doing.

Sophie waved her arms, tried to crow like a rooster a couple of times, and finally began to yodel. It was the first time in her fifteen-year-old life that Sophie had yodeled.

All things considered, she was quite pleased with the result.

She tried once more to climb down but she was truly stuck. Suddenly a huge goose landed on one of the branches Sophie was clinging to. Having recently seen a whole swarm of Disney figures, Sophie was not in the least surprised when the goose began to speak.

"My name is Morten," said the goose. "Actually, I'm a tame goose, but on this special occasion I have flown up from Lebanon with the wild geese. You look as if you could use some help getting down from this tree."

"You are much too small to help me," said Sophie.

"You are jumping to conclusions, young lady. It is you who are too big."

"It's the same thing, isn't it?"

"I would have you know I carried a peasant boy exactly your age all over Sweden. His name was Nils Hol-gersson."

"I am fifteen."

"And Nils was fourteen. A year one way or the other makes no difference to the freight."

"How did you manage to lift him?"

"I gave him a little slap and he passed out. When he woke up, he was no bigger than a thumb."

"Perhaps you could give me a little slap too, because I can't sit up here forever. And I'm giving a philosophical garden party on Saturday."

"That's interesting. I presume this is a philosophy book, then. When I was flying over Sweden with Nils Holgers-son, we touched down on Marbacka in Varmland, where Nils met an old woman who was planning to write a book about Sweden for schoolchildren. It was to be both instructive and true, she said. When she heard about Nils's adventures, she decided to write a book about all the things he had seen on gooseback."

"That was very strange."

"To tell you the truth it was rather ironic, because we were already in that book."

Suddenly Sophie felt something slap her cheek and the next minute she had become no bigger than a thumb. The tree was like a whole forest and the goose was as big as a horse.

"Come on, then," said the goose.

Sophie walked along the branch and climbed up on the goose's back. Its feathers were soft, but now that she was so small, they pricked her more than they tickled.

As soon as she had settled comfortably the goose took off. They flew high above the treetops. Sophie looked down at the lake and the major's cabin. Inside sat Al-berto, laying his devious plans.

"A short sightseeing tour will have to be sufficient today," said the goose, flapping its wings again and again.

With that, it flew in to land at the foot of the tree which Sophie had so recently begun to climb. As the goose touched down Sophie tumbled onto the ground. After rolling around in the heather a few times, she sat up. She realized with amazement that she was her full size again.

The goose waddled around her a few times.

"Thanks a lot for your help," said Sophie.

"It was a mere bagatelle. Did you say this was a philosophy book?"

"No, that's what you said."

"Oh well, it's all the same. If it had been up to me, I would have liked to fly you through the whole history of philosophy just as I flew Nils Holgersson through Sweden. We could have circled over Miletus and Athens, Jerusalem and Alexandria, Rome and Florence, London and Paris, Jena and Heidelberg, Berlin and Copenhagen . . ."

"Thanks, that's enough."

"But flying across the centuries would have been a hefty job even for a very ironic goose. Crossing the Swedish provinces is far easier."

So saying, the goose ran a few steps and flapped itself into the air.

Sophie was exhausted, but when she crawled out of the den into the garden a little later she thought Alberto would have been well pleased with her diversionary maneuvers. The major could not have thought much about Alberto during the past hour. If he did, he had to have a severe case of split personality.

Sophie had just walked in the front door when her mother came home from work. That saved her having to describe her rescue from a tall tree by a tame goose.

After dinner they began to get everything ready for the garden party. They brought a four-meter-long table top and trestles from the attic and carried it into the garden.

They had planned to set out the long table under the fruit trees. The last time they had used the trestle table had been on Sophie's parents' tenth anniversary. Sophie was only eight years old at the time, but she clearly remembered the big outdoor party with all their friends and relatives.

The weather report was as good as it could be. There had not been as much as a drop of rain since that horrid thunderstorm the day before Sophie's birthday. Nevertheless they decided to leave the actual table setting and decorating until Saturday morning.

Later that evening they baked two different kinds of bread. They were going to serve chicken and salad. And sodas. Sophie was worried that some of the boys in her class would bring beer. If there was one thing she was afraid of it was trouble.

As Sophie was going to bed, her mother asked her once again if Alberto was coming to the party.

"Of course he's coming. He has even promised to do a philosophical trick."

"A philosophical trick? What kind of trick is that?"

"No idea ... if he were a magician, he would have done a magic trick. He would probably have pulled a white rabbit out of a hat. . ."

"What, again?"

"But since he's a philosopher, he's going to do a philosophical trick instead. After all, it is a philosophical garden party. Are you planning to do something too?"

"Actually, I am."

"A speech?"

"I'm not telling. Good night, Sophie!"

Early the next morning Sophie was woken up by her mother, who came in to say goodbye before she went to work. She gave Sophie a list of last-minute things to buy in town for the garden party.

The minute her mother had left the house, the telephone rang. It was Alberto. He had obviously found out exactly when Sophie was home alone.

"How is your secret coming along?"

"Ssh! Not a word. Don't even give him the chance to think about it."

"I think I held his attention yesterday "


"Is the philosophy course finished?"

"That's why I'm calling. We're already in our own century. From now on you should be able to orient yourself on your own. The foundations were the most important. But we must nevertheless meet for a short talk about our own time "

"But I have to go to town . .  "

"That's excellent. I said it was our own time we had to talk about."


"So it would be most practical to meet in town, I mean."

"Shall I come to your place?"

"No, no, not here Everything's a mess. I've been hunting for hidden microphones."


"There's a cafe that's just opened at the Main Square. Cafe Pierre. Do you know it?"

"Yes. When shall I be there?"

"Can we meet at twelve?"

"Okay. Bye!"

At a couple of minutes past twelve Sophie walked into Cafe Pierre. It was one of those new fashionable places with little round tables and black chairs, upturned vermouth bottles in dispensers, baguettes, and sandwiches.

The room was small, and the first thing Sophie noticed was that Alberto was not there. A lot of other people were sitting at the round tables, but Sophie saw only that Alberto was not among them.

She was not in the habit of going into cafes on her own. Should she just turn around and leave, and come back later to see if he had arrived?

She ordered a cup of lemon tea at the marble bar and sat down at one of the vacant tables. She stared at the door. People came and went all the time, but there was still no Alberto.

If only she had a newspaper!

As time passed, she started to look around. She got a couple of glances in return. For a moment Sophie felt like a young woman. She was only fifteen, but she could certainly have passed for seventeen--or at least, sixteen and a half.

She wondered what all these people thought about being alive. They looked as though they had simply dropped in, as though they had just sat down here by chance. They were all talking away, gesticulating vehemently, but it didn't look as though they were talking about anything that mattered.

She suddenly came to think of Kierkegaard, who had said that what characterized the crowd most was their idle chatter. Were all these people living at the aesthetic stage? Or was there something that was existentially important to them?

In one of his early letters to her Alberto had talked about the similarity between children and philosophers. She realized again that she was afraid of becoming an adult. Suppose she too ended up crawling deep down into the fur of the white rabbit that was pulled out of the universe's top hat!

She kept her eyes on the door. Suddenly Alberto walked in. Although it was midsummer, he was wearing a black beret and a gray hip-length coat of herringbone tweed. He hurried over to her. It felt very strange to meet him in public.

"It's quarter past twelve!"

"It's what is known as the academic quarter of an hour. Would you like a snack?"

He sat down and looked into her eyes. Sophie shrugged.

"Sure. A sandwich, maybe."

Alberto went up to the counter. He soon returned with a cup of coffee and two baguette sandwiches with cheese and ham.

"Was it expensive?"

 "A bagatelle, Sophie."

"Do you have any excuse at all for being late?"

"No. I did it on purpose. I'll explain why presently."

He took a few large bites of his sandwich. Then he said:

"Let's talk about our own century."

"Has anything of philosophical interest happened?"

"Lots ... movements are going off in all directions We'll start with one very important direction, and that is existentialism. This is a collective term for several philosophical currents that take man's existential situation as their point of departure. We generally talk of twentieth-century existential philosophy. Several of these existential philosophers, or existentialists, based their ideas not only on Kierkegaard, but on Hegel and Marx as well."


"Another important philosopher who had a great influence on the twentieth century was the German Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived from 1844 to 1900. He, too, reacted against Hegel's philosophy and the German 'historicism.' He proposed life itself as a counterweight to the anemic interest in history and what he called the Christian 'slave morality.' He sought to effect a 'revaluation of all values,' so that the life force of the strongest should not be hampered by the weak. According to Nietzsche, both Christianity and traditional philosophy had turned away from the real world and pointed toward 'heaven' or 'the world of ideas.' But what had hitherto been considered the 'real' world was in fact a pseudo world. 'Be true to the world,' he said. 'Do not listen to those who offer you supernatural expectations.' "

"So ... ?"

"A man who was influenced by both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche was the German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger. But we are going to concentrate on the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who lived from 1905 to 1980. He was the leading light among the existentialists--at least, to the broader public. His existentialism became especially popular in the forties, just after the war. Later on he allied himself with the Marxist movement in France, but he never became a member of any party."

"Is that why we are meeting in a French cafe?"

 "It was not quite accidental, I confess. Sartre himself spent a lot of time in cafes. He met his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir in a cafe. She was also an existential philosopher."

"A woman philosopher?"

"That's right."

"What a relief that humanity is finally becoming civilized."

"Nevertheless, many new problems have arisen in our own time."

"You were going to talk about existentialism."

"Sartre said that 'existentialism is humanism.' By that he meant that the existentialists start from nothing but humanity itself. I might add that the humanism he was referring to took a far bleaker view of the human situation than the humanism we met in the Renaissance."

"Why was that?"

"Both Kierkegaard and some of this century's existential philosophers were Christian. But Sartre's allegiance was to what we might call an atheistic existentialism. His philosophy can be seen as a merciless analysis of the human situation when 'God is dead.' The expression 'God is dead' came from Nietzsche."

"Go on."

"The key word in Sartre's philosophy, as in Kierkegaard's, is 'existence.' But existence did not mean the same as being alive. Plants and animals are also alive, they exist, but they do not have to think about what it implies. Man is the only living creature that is conscious of its own existence. Sartre said that a material thing is simply 'in itself,' but mankind is 'for itself.' The being of man is therefore not the same as the being of things."

"I can't disagree with that."

"Sartre said that man's existence takes priority over whatever he might otherwise be. The fact that I exist takes priority over what I am. 'Existence takes priority over essence.' "

"That was a very complicated statement."

"By essence we mean that which something consists of--the nature, or being, of something. But according to Sartre, man has no such innate 'nature.' Man must therefore create himself. He must create his own nature or 'essence,' because it is not fixed in advance."

"I think I see what you mean."

"Throughout the entire history of philosophy, philosophers have sought to discover what man is--or what human nature is. But Sartre believed that man has no such eternal 'nature' to fall back on. It is therefore useless to search for the meaning of life in general. We are condemned to improvise. We are like actors dragged onto the stage without having learned our lines, with no script and no prompter to whisper stage directions to us. We must decide for ourselves how to live."

"That's true, actually. If one could just look in the Bible--or in a philosophy book--to find out how to live, it would be very practical."

"You've got the point. When people realize they are alive and will one day die--and there is no meaning to cling to--they experience angst, said Sartre. You may recall that angst, a sense of dread, was also characteristic of Kierkegaard's description of a person in an existential situation."


"Sartre says that man feels a//en in a world without meaning. When he describes man's 'alienation,' he is echoing the central ideas of Hegel and Marx. Man's feeling of alienation in the world creates a sense of despair, boredom, nausea, and absurdity."

"It is quite normal to feel depressed, or to feel that everything is just too boring."

"Yes, indeed. Sartre was describing the twentieth-century city dweller. You remember that the Renaissance humanists had drawn attention, almost triumphantly, to man's freedom and independence? Sartre experienced man's freedom as a curse. 'Man is condemned to be free,' he said. 'Condemned because he has not created himself--and is nevertheless free. Because having once been hurled into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.' "

"But we haven't asked to be created as free individuals."

"That was precisely Sartre's point. Nevertheless we are free individuals, and this freedom condemns us to make choices throughout our lives. There are no eternal values or norms we can adhere to, which makes our choices even more significant. Because we are totally responsible for everything we do. Sartre emphasized that man must never disclaim the responsibility for his actions. Nor can we avoid the responsibility of making our own choices on the grounds that we 'must' go to work, or we 'must' live up to certain middle-class expectations regarding how we should live. Those who thus slip into the anonymous masses will never be other than members of the impersonal flock, having fled from themselves into self-deception. On the other hand our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves, to live 'authentically' or 'truly.' "

"Yes, I see."

"This is not least the case as regards our ethical choices. We can never lay the blame on 'human nature,' or 'human frailty' or anything like that. Now and then it happens that grown men behave like pigs and then blame it on 'the old Adam.' But there is no 'old Adam.' He is merely a figure we clutch at to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions."

"There ought to be a limit to what man can be blamed for."

"Although Sartre claimed there was no innate meaning to life, he did not mean that nothing mattered. He was not what we call a nihilist."

"What is that?"

"That is a person who thinks nothing means anything and everything is permissible. Sartre believed that life must have meaning. It is an imperative. But it is we ourselves who must create this meaning in our own lives. To exist is to create your own life."

"Could you elaborate on that?" /"Sartre tried to prove that consciousness in itself is nothing until it has perceived something. Because consciousness is always conscious of something. And this 'something' is provided just as much by ourselves as by our surroundings. We are partly instrumental in deciding what we perceive by selecting what is significant for us."

"Could you give me an example?"

"Two people can be present in the same room and yet experience it quite differently. This is because we contribute our own meaning--or our own interests--when we perceive our surroundings. A woman who is pregnant might think she sees other pregnant women everywhere she looks. That is not because there were no pregnant women before, but because now that she is pregnant she sees the world through different eyes. An escaped convict may see policemen everywhere ..."

"Mm, I see."

"Our own lives influence the way we perceive things in the room. If something is of no interest to me, I don't see it. So now I can perhaps explain why I was late to-day."

"It was on purpose, right?"

"Tell me first of all what you saw when you came in here."

"The first thing I saw was that you weren't here."

"Isn't it strange that the first thing you noticed was something that was absent?"

"Maybe, but it was you I was supposed to meet."

"Sartre uses just such a cafe visit to demonstrate the way we 'annihilate' whatever is irrelevant for us."

"You got here late just to demonstrate that?"

"To enable you to understand this central point in Sartre's philosophy, yes. Call it an exercise."

"Get out of here!"

"If you were in love, and were waiting for your loved one to call you, you might 'hear' him not calling you all evening. You arrange to meet him at the train; crowds of people are milling about on the platform and you can't see him anywhere. They are all in the way, they are unimportant to you. You might find them aggravating, un-pleasant even. They are taking up far too much room. The only thing you register is that he is not there."

"How sad."

"Simone de Beauvoir attempted to apply existentialism to feminism. Sartre had already said that man has no basic 'nature' to fall back on. We create ourselves."


 "This is also true of the way we perceive the sexes. Simone de Beauvoir denied the existence of a basic 'female nature' or 'male nature.' For instance, it has been generally claimed that man has a 'transcending,' or achieving, nature. He will therefore seek meaning and direction outside the home. Woman has been said to have the opposite life philosophy. She is 'immanent,' which means she wishes to be where she is. She will therefore nurture her family, care for the environment and more homely things. Nowadays we might say that women are more concerned with 'feminine values' than men."

"Did she really believe that?"

"You weren't listening to me. Simone de Beauvoir in fact did not believe in the existence of any such 'female nature' or 'male nature.' On the contrary, she believed that women and men must liberate themselves from such ingrown prejudices or ideals."

"I agree."

"Her main work, published in 1949, was called The Second Sex."

"What did she mean by that?"

"She was talking about women. In our culture women are treated as the second sex. Men behave as if they are the subjects, treating women like their objects, thus depriving them of the responsibility for their own life."

"She meant we women are exactly as free and independent as we choose to be?"

"Yes, you could put it like that. Existentialism also had a great influence on literature, from the forties to the present day, especially on drama. Sartre himself wrote plays as well as novels. Other important writers were the Frenchman Albert Camus, the Irishman Samuel Beckett, Eugene lonesco, who was from Romania, and Witold Gombro-wicz from Poland. Their characteristic style, and that of many other modern writers, was what we call absurdism. The term is especially used about the 'theater of the absurd.' "


"Do you know what we mean by the 'absurd'?"

"Isn't it something that is meaningless or irrational?"

"Precisely. The theater of the absurd represented a contrast to realistic theater. Its aim was to show the lack of meaning in life in order to get the audience to disagree. The idea was not to cultivate the meaningless. On the contrary. But by showing and exposing the absurd in ordinary everyday situations, the onlookers are forced to seek a truer and more essential life for themselves."

"It sounds interesting."

"The theater of the absurd often portrays situations that are absolutely trivial. It can therefore also be called a kind of 'hyperrealism.' People are portrayed precisely as they are. But if you reproduce on stage exactly what goes on in the bathroom on a perfectly ordinary morning in a perfectly ordinary home, the audience would laugh. Their laughter could be interpreted as a defense mechanism against seeing themselves lampooned on stage."

"Yes, exactly."

"The absurd theater can also have certain surrealistic features. Its characters often find themselves in highly unrealistic and dreamlike situations. When they accept this without surprise, the audience is compelled to react in surprise at the characters' lack of surprise. This was how Charlie Chaplin worked in his silent movies. The comic effect in these silent movies was often Chaplin's laconic acceptance of all the absurd things that happen to him. That compelled the audience to look into themselves for something more genuine and true."

"It's certainly surprising to see what people put up with without protesting."

"At times it can be right to feel: This is something I must get away from--even though I don't have any idea where to go."

"If the house catches fire you just have to get out, even if you don't have any other place to live."

"That's true. Would you like another cup of tea? Or a Coke maybe?"

"Okay. But I still think you were silly to be late."

"I can live with that."

Alberto came back with a cup of espresso and a Coke. Meanwhile Sophie had begun to like the cafe ambience. She was also beginning to think that the conversations at the other tables might not be as trivial as she had supposed them to be.

Alberto banged the Coke bottle down on the table with a thud. Several people at the other tables looked up.

"And that brings us to the end of the road," he said.

"You mean the history of philosophy stops with Sartre and existentialism?"

"No, that would be an exaggeration. Existentialist philosophy has had radical significance for many people all over the world. As we saw, its roots reach far back in history through Kierkegaard and way back to Socrates. The twentieth century has also witnessed a blossoming and a renewal of the other philosophical currents we have discussed."

"Like what?"

"Well, one such current is Neo-Thomism, that is to say ideas which belong to the tradition of Thomas Aquinas. Another is the so-called analytical philosophy or logical empiricism, with roots reaching back to Hume and British empiricism, and even to the logic of Aristotle. Apart from these, the twentieth century has naturally also been influenced by what we might call Neo-Marxism in a myriad of various trends. We have already talked about Neo-Darwinism and the significance of psychoanalysis."


"We should just mention a final current, materialism, which also has historical roots. A lot of current science can be traced back to the efforts of the pre-Socratics. For example, the search for the indivisible 'elemental particle' of which all matter is composed. No one has yet been able to give a satisfactory explanation of what 'matter' is. Modern sciences such as nuclear physics and biochemistry are so fascinated by the problem that for many people it constitutes a vital part of their life's philosophy."

"The new and the old all jumbled together . . ."

"Yes. Because the very questions we started our course with are still unanswered. Sartre made an important observation when he said that existential questions cannot be answered once and for all. A philosophical question is by definition something that each generation, each individual even, must ask over and over again."

 "A bleak thought."

"I'm not sure I agree. Surely it is by asking such questions that we know we are alive. And moreover, it has always been the case that while people were seeking answers to the ultimate questions, they have discovered clear and final solutions to many other problems. Science, research, and technology are all by-products of our philosophical reflection. Was it not our wonder about life that finally brought men to the moon?"

"Yes, that's true."

"When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, he said 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' With these words he summed up how it felt to be the first man to set foot on the moon, drawing with him all the people who had lived before him. It was not his merit alone, obviously.

"In our own time we also have completely new problems to face. The most serious are those of the environment. A central philosophical direction in the twentieth century is therefore ecophilosophy or ecosophy, as one of its founders the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess has called if. Many ecophilosophers in the western world have warned that western civilization as a whole is on a fundamentally wrong track, racing toward a head-on collision with the limits of what our planet can tolerate. They have tried to take soundings that go deeper than the concrete effects of pollution and environmental destruction. There is something basically wrong with western thought, they claim."

"I think they are right."

"For example, ecophilosophy has questioned the very idea of evolution in its assumption that man is 'at the top'--as if we are masters of nature. This way of thinking could prove to be fatal for the whole living planet."

"It makes me mad when I think about it."

"In criticizing this assumption, many ecophilosophers have looked to the thinking and ideas in other cultures such as those of India. They have also studied the thoughts and customs of so-called primitive peoples--or 'native-peoples' such as the Native Americans--in order to rediscover what we have lost.

 "In scientific circles in recent years it has been said that our whole mode of scientific thought is facing a 'paradigm shift.' That is to say, a fundamental shift in the way scientists think. This has already borne fruit in several fields. We have witnessed numerous examples of so-called 'alternative movements' advocating holism and a new lifestyle."


"However, when there are many people involved, one must always distinguish between good and bad. Some proclaim that we are entering a new age. But everything new is not necessarily good, and not all the old should be thrown out. That is one of the reasons why I have given you this course in philosophy. Now you have the historical background, you can orient yourself in life."

"Thank you."

"I think you will find that much of what marches under the New Age banner is humbug. Even the so-called New Religion, New Occultism, and modern superstitions of all kinds have influenced the western world in recent decades. It has become an industry. Alternative offers on the philosophical market have mushroomed in the wake of the dwindling support for Christianity."

"What sort of offers?"

"The list is so long I wouldn't dare to begin. And anyway it's not easy to describe one's own age. But why don't we take a stroll through town? There's something I'd like you to see."

"I haven't got much time. I hope you haven't forgotten the garden party tomorrow?"

"Of course not. That's when something wonderful is going to happen. We just have to round off Hilde's philosophy course first. The major hasn't thought beyond that, you see. So he loses some of his mastery over us."

Once again he lifted the Coke bottle, which was now empty, and banged it down on the table.

They walked out into the street where people were hurrying by like energetic moles in a molehill. Sophie wondered what Alberto wanted to show her.

They walked past a big store that sold everything in communication technology, from televisions, VCRs, and satellite dishes to mobile phones, computers, and fax machines.

Alberto pointed to the window display and said:

"There you have the twentieth century, Sophie. In the Renaissance the world began to explode, so to speak. Beginning with the great voyages of discovery, Europeans started to travel all over the world. Today it's the opposite. We could call it an explosion in reverse."

"In what sense?"

"In the sense that the world is becoming drawn together into one great communications network. Not so long ago philosophers had to travel for days by horse and carriage in order to investigate the world around them and meet other philosophers. Today we can sit anywhere at all on this planet and access the whole of human experience on a computer screen."

"It's a fantastic thought. And a little scary."

"The question is whether history is coming to an end-- or whether on the contrary we are on the threshold of a completely new age. We are no longer simply citizens of a city--or of a particular country. We live in a planetary civilization."

"That's true."

"Technological developments, especially in the field of communications, have possibly been more dramatic in the last thirty to forty years than in the whole of history put together. And still we have probably only witnessed the beginning . . ."

"Was this what you wanted me to see?"

"No, it's on the other side of the church over there."

As they were turning to leave, a picture of some UN soldiers flashed onto a TV screen.

"Look!" said Sophie.

The camera zoomed in on one of the UN soldiers. He had a black beard almost identical to Alberto's. Suddenly he held up a piece of card on which was written: "Back soon, Hilde!" He waved and was gone.

"Charlatan!" exclaimed Alberto.

"Was that the major?"

"I'm not even going to answer that."

They walked across the park in front of the church and came out onto another main street. Alberto seemed slightly irritable. They stopped in front of LIBRIS, the biggest bookstore in town.

"Let's go in," said Alberto.

Inside the -store he pointed to the longest wall. It had three sections: NEW AGE, ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES, and MYSTICISM.

The books had intriguing titles such as Life after Death?, The Secrets of Spiritism, Tarot, The UFO Phenomenon, Healing, The Return of the Gods, You Have Been Here Before, and What Is Astrology? There were hundreds of books. Under the shelves even more books were stacked up.

"This is also the twentieth century, Sophie. This is the temple of our age."

"You don't believe in any of this stuff?"

"Much of it is humbug. But it sells as well as pornography. A lot of it is a kind of pornography. Young people can come here and purchase the ideas that fascinate them most. But the difference between real philosophy and these books is more or less the same as the difference between real love and pornography."

"Aren't you being rather crass?"

"Let's go and sit in the park."

They marched out of the store and found a vacant bench in front of the church. Pigeons were strutting around under the trees, the odd overeager sparrow hopping about amongst them.

"It's called ESP or parapsychology," said Alberto. "Or it's called telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinetics. It's called spiritism, astrology, and urology."

"But quite honestly, do you really think it's all hum-bug?"

"Obviously it would not be very appropriate for a real philosopher to say they are all equally bad. But I don't mind saying that all these subjects together possibly chart a fairly detailed map of a landscape that does not exist. And there are many 'figments of the imagination' here that Hume would have committed to the flames. Many of those books do not contain so much as one iota of genuine experience."

 "Why are there such incredible numbers of books on such subjects?"

"Publishing such books is a big commercial enterprise. It's what most people want."

"Why, do you think?"

"They obviously desire something mystical, something different to break the dreary monotony of everyday life. But it is like carrying coals to Newcastle."

"How do you mean?"

"Here we are, wandering around in a wonderful adventure. A work of creation is emerging in front of our very eyes. In broad daylight, Sophie! Isn't it marvelous!"

"I guess so."

"Why should we enter the fortune-teller's tent or the backyards of academe in search of something exciting or transcendental?"

"Are you saying that the people who write these books are just phonies and liars?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying. But here, too, we are talking about a Darwinian system."

"You'll have to explain that."

"Think of all the different things that can happen in a single day. You can even take a day in your own life. Think of all the things you see and experience."


"Now and then you experience a strange coincidence. You might go into a store and buy something for 28 crowns. Later on that day Joanna comes along and gives you the 28 crowns she owes you. You both decide to go to the movies--and you get seat number 28."

"Yes, that would be a mysterious coincidence."

"It would be a coincidence, anyway. The point is, people collect coincidences like these. They collect strange-- or inexplicable--experiences When such experiences-- taken from the lives of billions of people--are assembled into books, it begins to look like genuine data. And the amount of it increases all the time. But once again we are looking at a lottery in which only the winning numbers are visible."

"But there are clairvoyants and mediums, aren't there, who are constantly experiencing things like that?"

 "Indeed there are, and if we exclude the phonies, we find another explanation for these so-called mysterious experiences."

"And that is?"

"You remember we talked about Freud's theory of the unconscious . . ."

"Of course."

"Freud showed that we can often serve as 'mediums' for our own unconscious. We might suddenly find ourselves thinking or doing something without really knowing why. The reason is that we have a whole lot of experiences, thoughts, and memories inside us that we are not aware of."


"People sometimes talk or walk in their sleep. We could call this a sort of 'mental automatism.' Also under hypnosis, people can say and do things 'not of their own volition.' And remember the surrealists trying to produce so-called automatic writing. They were just trying to serve as mediums for their own unconscious."

"I remember."

"From time to time during this century there have been what are called 'spiritualist revivals,' the idea being that a medium could get into contact with a deceased person. Either by speaking in the voice of the deceased, or by using automatic writing, the medium would receive a message from someone who had lived five or fifty or many hundreds of years ago. This has been taken as evidence either that there is life after death or that we live many lives."

"Yes, I know."

"I'm not saying that all mediums have been fakes. Some have clearly been in good faith. They really have been mediums, but they have only been mediums for their own unconscious. There have been several cases of mediums being closely studied while in a trance, and revealing knowledge and abilities that neither they nor others understand how they can have acquired. In one case, a woman who had no knowledge of Hebrew passed on messages in that language. So she must have either lived before or been in contact with a deceased spirit."

"Which do you think?"

"It turned out that she had had a Jewish nanny when she was little."


"Does that disappoint you? It just shows what an incredible capacity some people have to store experience in their unconscious."

"I see what you mean."

"A lot of curious everyday happenings can be explained by Freud's theory of the unconscious. I might suddenly get a call from a friend I haven't heard from for many years just as I had begun to look for his telephone number "

"It gives me goose bumps."

"But the explanation could be that we both heard the same old song on the radio, a song we heard the last time we were together. The point is, we are not aware of the underlying connection."

"So it's either humbug, or the winning number effect, or else it's the unconscious. Right?"

"Well, in any case, it's healthier to approach such books with a decent portion of skepticism. Not least if one is a philosopher. There is an association in England for skeptics. Many years ago they offered a large reward to the first person who could provide even the slightest proof of something supernatural. It didn't need to be a great miracle, a tiny example of telepathy would do. So far, nobody has come forward "


"On the other hand, there is a lot we humans don't understand. Maybe we don't understand the laws of nature either. During the last century there were a lot of peo-ple who thought that phenomena such as magnetism and electricity were a kind of magic. I'll bet my own great-grandmother would have been wide-eyed with amaze-ment if I told her about TV or computers."

"So you don't believe in anything supernatural then."

"We've already talked about that. Even the term 'supernatural' is a curious one. No, I suppose I believe that there is only one nature. But that, on the other hand, is absolutely astonishing."

"But the sort of mysterious things in those books you just showed me?"

"All true philosophers should keep their eyes open. Even if we have never seen a white crow, we should never stop looking for it. And one day, even a skeptic like me could be obliged to accept a phenomenon I did not believe in before. If I did not keep this possibility open I would be dogmatic, and not a true philosopher."

Alberto and Sophie remained seated on the bench without saying anything. The pigeons craned their necks and cooed, now and then being startled by a bicycle or a sudden movement.

"I have to go home and prepare for the party," said Sophie at last.

"But before we part, I'll show you a white crow. It is nearer than we think, you see."

Alberto got up and led the way back into the bookstore. This time they walked past all the books on supernatural phenomena and stopped by a flimsy shelf at the very back of the store. Above the shelf hung a very small card. PHILOSOPHY, it read.

Alberto pointed down at a particular book, and Sophie gasped as she read the title: Sophie's World.

"Would you like me to buy it for you?"

"I don't know if I dare."

Shortly afterward, however, she was on her way home with the book in one hand and a little bag of things for the garden party in the other.