Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sophie’s World Revisited:

A book within a book that acts as a mirror to our own life.

Finally after so long, I have managed to properly reread the entire book again and once again many thanks to Shili for the book on my 20th Birthday.  And it is so appropriate to read it 10 years later down the road.

As part of an early mid life crisis (I am just like person that Kierkegaard suggests that at end of Ethical stage, gets tired of being meticulous and dutiful)  I came back to relook this book to find an answer on how we ought to live and nah, I wasn’t able to.  

However, as Jostein Gaardner stated as Jean- Paul Satre’s philosophy that there is no absolute answer but it is through asking such questions that we find our meaning, and man as a free creature has to find our own meaning.

Just like how in the middle of the book, Sophie and Alberto realized that they are just characters in a book:

The truth was as soon as Sophie and Alberto “knew” that they were characters of a book, they were in a way at the end of the road.

And as in Page 253, it applied to our own world:

People progressed steadily in the understanding of the natural law of the world.  From Copernicus and Galileo, we realized the earth is not in the centre of the universe, but is just one random planet floating in the middle of the universe.   Darwin brought God down from the sky.

Could history be just simply continue to eternity once the last jigsaw of Philosophy and science fall in place?

Meijun and I all look towards a practical guidebook that tells you of worthy reasons for one to devote one’s life to as well as perhaps practical rules to live a meaningful life.

It is actually an irony cause if there is really ONE ultimate cause that is worth for one to devote one’s life to, then wouldn’t one have lost one’s freedom? Cause now that one has no need to search and choose, one is then just a puppet in God’s hand.

It is actually depressing to learn that there are no answers to life’s ultimate questions, but if you just look at it from a different angle – it is actually very liberating – cause now YOU are ultimately responsible.

The Right Answer?

In fact, as stated in the book - A lot of philosophy has got a lot to do with the times that people were in. Descartes compared the human body to a machine got to do with the fact that people of that time were fascinated by clocks and machines that seemed to have the ability to function on their own.

The Right Answer changes as the human’s race progress with knowledge of science and how the world functions.

How then should lead one’s life?

As Rick Waren stated in his TED talk, it is using the skills and gifts that God has given you *:

 Why would God wire you to do something and then not have you to do it? Some people have the misguided idea that God only gets excited when you're doing, quote, "spiritual things," like going to church or helping the poor…
 The bottom line is, God gets pleasure watching you be you. Why? “ You're using the talent and ability that I gave you." ….
look at what's in your hand -- your identity, your influence, your income -- and say, "It's not about me. It's about making the world a better place.

As Leo Babauta stated in his Power of Less:

People find their greatest enjoyment not when they are passively mindless, but when they are absorbed in a mindful challenge.

At the end of day, I feel it is about not doing more evil to the world that we are dragged into and using our favourites skills to do good.  Do good so that we all can answer to our conscience, use our favourite skills in a mindful challenge so that we enter the state of flow.

Perhaps, stated overly strongly, but something along the line of:

Our life should be about finding the intersection of the world's greatest need and your greatest passion

About the book itself:

Little tricks that that Jostein Gaarder played:
  •      Have Sophie to be of the same name and the story to end 4 days after Sophie’s 15h Birthday – the same age and day that a real girl called Sophie who is poet, Novalis’ lover died.
  •       Page 294 – reminds readers that they may be characters inside a book. Book within a book within a book.
Repeatedly throughout the book, you can find’s Jostein Gaardner plugging of 2 things:
  •      The Environmental Cause
  •       The United Nations.
The key philosophical questions:
  •      How did the world come about
  •       Is there a meaning behind what happens
  •       How do we ought to live?
For adults:
  •       The world has become a habit,
  •       And why do people stop playing when they grow up?

Notes from the book:

Sects in Philosophy - 


  1. Few sects in Philosophy, which actually all came out during the Greek Philoshopy period:

  • “Man is the measure of all thing” Sophist Protagoras
    • Where a thing is right or wrong, good or bad must be considered in relation to a person’s need.
  • Reason is king:
    • We can only have opinions about the things that belong to the world of senses, tangible things. We can only have true knowledge of things that can be understood with our reason. – Plato
  • Cynics:
    • Happiness does not lie in external things like material luxury, political power or good health.
  • Epicureans:
    • “Death does not concern us because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” -  Epicurus.

Other quote worthy notes:

  1. German Poet Geothe: “ He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.
  2. Galileo: “ Measure what can be measured, and make measurements what cannot be measured”
  3. Existential Angst – is as a rule a stage on the way to a new consciousness.
  4. Either you are living in a planet in a wondrous universe in one of the hundred billion galaxies or else you are the electromagnetic pulses of a major’s mind.      The major can plan and hear everything we say and do.  We have no free will. Would you claim that people plan everything they dream? The question is not whether we exist but what we are and who are we.
  5. When we ask if the universe is finite or infinite. We are asking about a totality of which we are a tiny part. Hence we will never completely know the answer.
  6. All philosophy system before Hegel had one thing in common, that is to set up eternal criteria for what man can know about the world. Hegel didn’t believe that is possible, the human basis of cognition changed from one generation to another. There is no “ eternal truths”, no timeless reason. The only fixed point that philosophy can hold on to is reason itself.
  7. Kierkegaard:
  • Rather than to search for Truth with a Capital T, it is more important to find truths that are meaningful to the individual’s life.  Buddha’s story: A monk asked the Buddha for clearer answer to what is life and what is man. Buddha liken the monk to a man who has been shot by a poisoned arrow. The man would have no interest in what poison was the arrow dipped in and the direction of wind.  He would only be keen to get the arrow out and be treated
  • 3 stages to life
    • Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious Stage
    • At the Ethical stage, what is important is not that what you may think is precisely right or wrong. It is that you choose to have an opinion on what is right or wrong.
    • However though, even a dutiful person can get tired of always being dedicated and meticulous. Lots of people experience that fatigue reaction late in life – I just got it earlier!
8.What matters, our creative toil?  When at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?
9. Darwin:
  • Tiny gradual changes could result in dramatic alterations if given enough time.
10. Method as of all true philosophers: It is important to ask but there is no haste to provide the answers.
11. Every piece of art is an interplay between imagination and reason, between mind and reflection - You have to turn the sheep loose before herding them.
12. Jean-Paul Satre:
  •     Man is the only creature that is conscious of its own existence. We are like actors dragged onto the stage of life with no script. We have to decide ourselves how to live:
  •     Man is condemned to be free – condemned because he has not created himself but free nevertheless. And because once he is hurled into the world – he is responsible for everything he does.   Sounds just like Steven Covey’s first habit of pro- activeness.
  •     Existential questions can never be answered once and for all:
  •      A philosophical question by its definition is something that each generation, each individual has to ask over and over again.
    •      It sounds sad but it is through asking such questions that we know that we are alive.
    •      It is also through seeking for answers to the ultimate questions that we actually discovered clear and final answers to other questions.  Science, research and technology are all by products of our philosophical reflections. 



* On a side note, Rick Warren used triads in his talk:
·      It is not about looking good, feeling good and having the goods.
·      It is about how you use your Identity, Income, Influence

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