I started reading this book in the early 2000s because Amy, the Gulf Breeze librarian, suggested it. Life got in the way, and I had to return it without getting very far (it's over 500 pages long), but here's the thing. I kept thinking about the book. There was no shaking the story of a Norwegian girl who finds a note in her mailbox that asks, "Who are you?" and another with, "Where does the world come from?"
For over two decades, I thought about the girl with the questions, but I'd forgotten the title. Maybe the philosophical questions reminded me of the years spent as a student at Baylor University working part-time in the Philosophy Department. I wondered if I would ever find the book again. Then, while visiting my friend Lynn, I perused her beautiful bookcase wall (complete with a rolling ladder!) and happened upon Sophie's World. Immediately I knew I'd been reunited with an old friend. Lynn, ever awesome, gave me the book.
Diogenes (400 B.C. Athens), received a visit from Alexander the Great, who asked the philosopher if there was anything he wanted. Diogenes, a well-known Cynic, replied, "Yes, stand to one side. You're blocking the sun." How I love this!"The Cynics emphasized that true happiness is not found in external advantages such as material luxury, political power, or good health. True happiness lies in not being dependent on such random and fleeting things. And because happiness does not consist in benefits of this kind, it is within everyone's reach."
Epicurean philosophy (300 B.C. Athens) used to have more positive connotations than it does now: "The gods are not to be feared. Death is nothing to worry about. Good is easy to attain. The fearful is easy to endure." Sadly, this sane and liberating philosophy developed into living only for pleasure -- not Epicurus' intention at all. He proposed that excess of any kind is foolish, since it always results in pain.
Neoplatonism (200s Rome). "I am saying that there is something of the divine mystery in everything that exists. We can see it sparkle in a sunflower or a poppy. But we are closest to God in our own soul. Only there can we become one with the great mystery of life. In truth, at very rare moments we can experience that we ourselves are that divine mystery." Plotinus' doctrine is characterized by an experience of wholeness. Everything is one--for everything is God. Even the shadows deep down in Plato's cave have a faint glow of the One."
Plotinus at times had mystical experiences. "But a mystical experience like this does not always come of itself. Thy mystic may have to seek the path of 'purification and enlightenment' to his meeting with God. This path consists of the simple life and various meditation techniques. Then all at once the mystic achieves his goal, and can exclaim, 'I am God' or 'I am You.'"
I'll skip over the Dark Ages because as Alberto says, "The Dark Ages were seen then as one interminable thousand-year-long night which had settled over Europe between antiquity and the Renaissance."
Spinoza (1600s Amsterdam). "Spinoza said that it is our passions--such as ambition and lust--which prevent us from achieving true happiness and harmony, but that if we recognize that everything happens from necessity, we can achieve an intuitive understanding of nature as a whole. We can come to realize with crystal clarity that everything is related, even that everything is One. The goal is to comprehend everything that exists in an all-embracing perception. Only then will we achieve true happiness and contentment." Spinoza recommended viewing everything from the perspective of eternity."Everything is one, and this 'one' is a divine mystery that everyone shares."
Kant (1700s German East Prussia). "We can never have certain knowledge of things 'in themselves.' We can only know how things 'appear' for us." "We are--in a way--a tiny part of the ball that comes rolling across the floor. So we can't know where it came from."
Hegel (1700s, Germany). "When man alters nature, he himself is altered. Or, to put it slightly differently, when man works, he interacts with nature and transforms it. But in the process nature also interacts with man and transforms his consciousness."
"It is important for an artist be able to 'let go.' The surrealists tried to exploit this by putting themselves into a state where things just happened by themselves. They had a sheet of white paper in front of them and they began to write without thinking about what they wrote. They called it automatic writing."
Sartre (1900s France). "Man is condemned to be free. 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." "There are no eternal values or norms we can adhere to, which makes our choices even more significant."
"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."
Reading, writing, and editing: these processes help me examine my life. As I write about great books and edit what I've written, I grow in understanding. I hope you've learned a thing or two as well!