Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 18 : Descartes | Summary



Sophie's next lesson is on René Descartes (1596–1650), who is considered the father of modern philosophy as well as analytical geometry. He was concerned with certain knowledge and the relationship between body and mind. He proposed a simple statement with tremendous significance for philosophy: "I think, therefore I am." He used reason to discover that which is self-evident, and the more self-evident something is, "the more certain it is that it exists." He distinguishes between quantitative qualities—that which is scientifically measurable—and qualitative qualities—that which man perceives via the senses. Descartes thought of man as dualistic, both an automaton governed by mechanical, physiological processes and a mind "completely independent of extended reality."

Alberto and Sophie speak of artificial intelligence and begin to run a computer program called Laila. Albert takes over the computer and addresses Alberto directly. Alberto erases him, and for the first time Sophie notes the similarity between the names Alberto Knox, her mentor, and Albert Knag, Hilde's father.


Descartes asks, "How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?" He was unable to find any certain separation between the waking and dream states, and this discussion is of great importance to Sophie's situation. Up to this point, the connections between her world (the "fictional" world) and Hilde's world (the "real" world) have often caused Sophie to wonder if she is dreaming. In fact, if her whole existence is a fabrication, then these moments she perceives as dreams are actually when she is "awake."

Descartes' musings on dualism seem to offer a solution to the riddle of Sophie's existence. If she can take control of her mind, she can operate outside the extended reality created for her by Albert. She has not realized it at this point, but the seeds are there.

This chapter marks the first time that Albert speaks to Alberto and Sophie in "real time." He infiltrates Alberto's computer, and his stated intention is for his birthday wishes for Hilde "to spring up around" her wherever she goes. This confirms Sophie's suspicion in the previous chapter that Hilde can see everything she does, but Sophie still does not understand the mechanics of it. It is interesting to note that Sophie demands the computer program let her speak with Albert and then he appears. This once again raises the question of free will and control. Did Albert appear because Sophie demanded it? Or did Sophie demand his appearance because he "programmed" her to do it?

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