Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Posted: March 17, 2010 in Book Notes
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He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.  – Goethe

Who am I?

Where does the world come from?

Why are we here?

The Garden of Eden

  • At some point something must have come from nothing.
  • Only conjuring up an intense feeling of one day being dead could one appreciate how terribly good it was to be alive. It was like two sides of a coin that one kept turning over and over. And the bigger and clearer one side of the coin became, the bigger and clearer the other side became too.
  • You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die…it’s just as impossible to realize that you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.

The Top Hat

  • The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder.
  • When the basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everybody needs?…We need to figure out who we are and why we are here?
  • It is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.
  • Reading what other people have believed can help us formulate our own view of life.
  • Philosophy had its origin in man’s sense of wonder. Man thought it was so astonishing to be alive that philosophical questions arose of their own accord.
  • A lot of people experience he world with the same incredulity as when a magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat which has just been shown to them empty.
  • Unlike the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat, we feel we are part of something mysterious and we would like to know how it all works.
  • Long before the child learns to talk properly – and long before it learns to think philosophically – the world will have become a habit. It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course.
  • Although philosophical questions concern us all, we do not all become philosophers. For various reasons most people get so caught up in everyday affairs that their astonishment at the world gets pushed into the background. (They crawl deep into the rabbit’s fur, snuggle down comfortably, and stay there the rest of their lives.)
  • A philosopher never quite get used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers remains as thin-skinned as a child.
  • I will not join the ranks of the apathetic and the indifferent, I need to have an inquiring mind.
  • A white rabbit is pulled out of top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the tricks takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very rip of the rabbit’s fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay. They become so comfortable they never risk crawling back up the fragile hairs again. Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink…Philosophers try to climb up one of the fine hairs of the rabbit’s fur and stare straight into the eyes of the Great Magician.

The Myths

  • Myths tried to give people an explanation for something they could not understand.
  • People have always felt a need to explain the processes of nature. Perhaps they could not live without such explanations. And that they made up all those myths in the time before there was anything called science.

The Natural Philosophers

  • Nothings can come from nothing.
  • The aim of the early Greek philosophers was to find natural rather than supernatural, explanation for natural processes. They are sometimes called natural philosophers because they were mainly concerned with the natural world and its processes.
  • A rationalist is someone who believes that human reason is the primary source of our knowledge of the world. He may also believe that man has certain innate ideas that exist in the mind prior to all experiences.
  • Heraclitus pointed out that the world is characterized by opposites. Both good and bad have their inevitable place in the order of things. Without this constant interplay of opposites the world would cease to exist.
  • Modern science holds that all natural processes can be explained as the interaction between different elements and various natural forces.
  • Understanding will always require some effort. You probably wouldn’t admire a friend who was good at everything if it cost her no effort.


  • Democritus assumed that everything was built up of tiny invisible blocks, each of which was eternal and immutable. He called these smallest units atoms. (Thus Lego is the most ingenious toy in the world.)


  • Wisest is she who knows she does not know…True insights come from within.
  • In order for democracy to work, people had to be educated enough to take part in the democratic process.
  • Even if we cannot know the answers to all of nature’s riddles, we know that people have to learn to live together.
  • The very fact that Socrates was so enigmatic and ambiguous made it possible for widely differing schools of thought to claim him as their own.
  • The essential nature of Socrates’ art lay in the fact that he did not appear to want to instruct people. On the contrary he gave the impression of one desiring to learn from those he spoke with. So instead of lecturing like a traditional schoolmaster, he discussed.
  • Socrates saw his task as helping people to “give birth” (like a midwife) to the correct insight, since real understanding must come from within.
  • Both Jesus and Socrates felt they had a mission that would have been betrayed unless they kept faith to the bitter end. And by meeting their death so bravely they commanded an enormous following.
  • A “philo-sopher” really means “one who loves wisdom.
  • A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little. A philosopher is therefore someone who recognizes that there is a lot he does not understand, and is troubled by it.
  • Mankind is faced with a number of difficult questions that we have no satisfactory answer to. Humanity is divided. People are, generally speaking, either dead certain or totally indifferent. (Both type are crawling around deep down in the rabbit’s fur.)
  • Socrates thought that no one could possibly be happy if they acted against their better judgment.  And he who knows how to achieve happiness will do so. Therefore, he who knows what is right will do right.


  • Plato came to the conclusion that there must be a reality behind the “material world.”
  • Plato’s point is that we can never have true knowledge of anything that is in a constant state of change.
  • We can only have inexact conceptions of things we perceive with our senses. But we can have true knowledge of things we understand with our reasons.
  • What we can grasp with our reason is more real than what we grasp with our senses.
  • Reality is divided into two regions.
    • World of senses – everything flows and nothing is permanent. Nothing in the sensory world is, there are only things that come to be and pass away.
    • World of ideas – ideas (or forms) are eternal and immutable.
    • Plato calls this yearning eros – which means love. The soul experience a “longing to return to its true origin.” The body and the whole sensory world is experienced as imperfect and insignificant. The soul yearns to fly home on the wings of love to the world of ideas. It longs to be freed from the chains of the body.
    • Plato believed that all natural phenomena are merely shadows of the eternal forms or ideas. But most people are content with a life among shadows. They think shadows are all there are, never realizing even that they are, in fact, shadows. And thus they pay no heed to the immortality of their own soul.
    • In Plato’s Myth of the Cave is the philospher’s road from shadowy images to the true ideas behind all natural phenomena. The “cave dwellers” killed Socrates because he disturbed their conventional ideas and tried to light the way to true insight.
    • Reason aspires to wisdom, will aspires to courage, appetite must be curbed so that temperance be exercised.


  • A meticulous organizer who wanted to clarify our concepts.
  • Plato was a poet and mythologist; Aristotle’s writing were as dry and precise as an encyclopedia.
  • The highest degree of reality, in Plato’s theory. Was that which we think with our reason. It was equally apparent to Aristotle that the highest degree of reality is that which we perceive with our senses.
  • Aristotle pointed out that nothing exists in consciousness that has not first been experienced by the senses.
  • Aristotle believed that there is a purpose behind everything in nature.
  • Aristotle founded the science of logic. He demonstrated a number of laws governing conclusions or proofs that were valid.
  • Aristotle held that there are three forms of happiness.
    • Life of pleasure and enjoyment
    • Life as a free and responsible citizen
    • Life as a thinker and philosopher


  • A person’s philosophy of life depends upbringing and environment. Another factor was the kind of experience people chose to get themselves…By using their intelligence individuals can start to drag themselves up from the darkness. But a journey like that requires personal courage.
  • Conscience is people’s ability to respond to right and wrong.
  • Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker.
  • During Hellenism, the boundaries between religion and philosophy were gradually eliminated.
  • Four philosophical trends:
    • The Cynics
      • True happiness is not found in external advantages such as material luxury, political power, or good health. True happiness lies 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. Moreover, having once been attained, it can never be lost.
  • The Stoics
    • There exists a universal rightness, the so-called natural law. And because this natural law was based on timeless human and universal reason, it did not alter with time and place.
    • Man must learn to live accept his destiny. Nothing happens accidentally. Everything happens through necessity…
  • The Epicureans
    • Aristippus believed that the aim of life was to attain the highest possible sensory enjoyment.
    • Epicurus emphasized that the pleasurable results of an action must always be weighed against its possible side effects and that a pleasurable result in the short term must be weighed against the possibility of a greater, more lasting, or more intense pleasure in the long run.
    • Unlike animals, we are able to plan our lives. We have the ability to make a “pleasure calculation.”
    • “Death does not concern us,” Epicurus said quite simply, “because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”
    • Epicurus’ liberating philosophy which he called the four medicinal herbs: The gods are not to be feared. Death is nothing to worry about. Good is easy to attain. The fearful is easy to endure.
  • Neoplatonism
  • Mysticism
    • Every drop becomes the sea when it flows oceanward, just as at last the soul ascends and thus becomes the lord. – Angelus Silesius
    • Just as certain world religions say that people who do not believe in a personal God outside themselves are atheists, we say that a person who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the splendor of one’s own soul is what we call atheism. – Swami Vivekenanda

Two Cultures

  • The Indo-Europeans
    • Related languages often lead to related ideas.
    • The Indo-Europeans was influenced most of all by their believes in many god (polytheism).
    • Cyclic view of history
    • Both of the two great Oriental religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, are Indo-European in origin.
    • Not infrequently we find in Hinduism and Buddhism an emphasis on the fact that the deity is present in all things (pantheism) and that man can become one with God through religious insight. To achieve this requires the practice of deep self-communication or meditation. Therefore in the Orient, passivity and seclusion can be religious ideals. In Ancient Greece, Too, there were many people who believe in an ascetic, or religiously secluded, way of life for the salvation of the soul.
    • The Semites
      • All three Western religion – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – share a Semitic background.
      • One of the Old Testament words for “god’ has the same semantic root as the Muslim Allah.
      • Semites were united in their belief of one God (monotheism).
      • Linear view of history
      • The city of Jerusalem is a significant religious centre. The city comprises prominent Jewish Synagogues, Christian churches and Islamic mosques.
      • In contrast to the great religion of the Orient, the three Western religions emphasize that there is a distance between God and his creation. The purpose is not to be released from the cycle of rebirth, but to be redeemed from sin and blame. Moreover, religious life is characterized more by prayer, sermons, and the study of the scriptures than by self-communication and medition.
      • Jesus was an exceptional man. In an ingenious way he used the language of his time to give the old war cries a totally new and broader content. It’s not surprising that he ended on the Cross. His radical tidings of redemption were at odds with so many interests and power factors that he had to be removed.
      • The “Old Covenant” between God and Israel had been replace by the “New Covenant” which Jesus had established between God and mankind.

The Middle Ages

  • Going only part of the way is not the same as going the wrong way.
  • Are belief and knowledge compatible?
  • St. Augustine was a Manichaean. He inclined to Neoplatonism in his view of evil. He believed, like Plotinus, that evil is the “absence of God”. Evil has no independence existence, it is something that is not, for God’s creation is in fact only good.
  • Aquinas believed that there need be no conflict between what philosophy or reason reach us and what the Christian Revelation or faith teaches us. Christendom and philosophy often say the same thing. So we can frequently reason ourselves to the same truths that we can read in the Bible.
  • Aquinas believed that there are two paths to God. The path of faith and revelation is certainly the surest, because it is easy to lost one’s one by trusting to reason alone.
    • Furthermore, we are bound to fail if we attempt to attempt to prove the existence of God with eh aid of reason (see Kant). In the religion dimension where both reason and experience fall short, there occurs a vacuum that can be filled by faith.
    • In Greek, the female side of God (mother nature) is called Sophia. Sophia or Sophie means wisdom.

The Renaissance

  • We do not live in our own time alone; we carry our history within us.
  • Life is both sad and solemn. We are let into a wonderful world, we meet one another here, greet each other – and wander together for a brief moment. Then we lose each other and disappear as suddenly and unreasonably as we arrived.
  • The Renaissance man – a man of universal genius embracing all aspects of life, art and science.
  • Empirical method – bases one’s knowledge of things on one’s own experience (observation, experience, and experiment), and not on dusty parchments or figments of the imagination.
  • Galileo formulated it thus: A body remains in the state which it is in, at rest or in motion, as long as no external force compels it to change its state.
  • Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation – Every object attracts every other object with a force that increases in proportion to the size of the objects and decreases in proportion to the distance between the objects.

The Baroque

  • A Russian astronaut and a Russian brain surgeon were once discussing religion. The brain surgeon was a Christian but the astronaut was not. The astronaut said, “I’ve been out in space many times but I’ve never seen God or angels.” And the brain surgeon said, “And I’ve operated on many clever brains but I’ve never see a single thought.”


  • He wanted to clear all the rubble off the site.
  • Galileo wanted everything to be measured and everything immeasurable to be made measurable. Descartes believed that philosophy should go from the simple to the complex. Only then would it be possible to construct a new insight.
  • Descartes’ aim is to reach certainty about the nature of life, and he starts by maintaining that at first one should doubt everything.  His doubts went even deeper – we cannot even trust what our senses tell us, maybe they are deceiving us.
  • I think, therefore I am – one thing had to be true, and that was that Descartes doubted. When he doubted, he had to be thinking, and because he was thinking, it had to be certain that he was a thinking being.
  • Humans have the ability to rise above bodily needs and behave rationally. In this sense the mind is superior to the body.
  • As a rule not knowing is a step toward new knowledge.


  • Spinoza believed that God – or the laws of nature – is the inner cause of everything that happens. He is not an outer cause, since God speaks through the laws of nature and only through them. This means that everything in the material world happens through necessity. Spinoza had a determinist view of the material, or natural, world.
  • Outer circumstances can constrain us. Only when we are free to develop our innate abilities can we live as free beings.


  • The mind is as bare and empty as a blackboard before the teacher arrives in the classroom.
  • Locke emphasized that the only things we can perceive are simple sensations…Only after I have eaten an apple many times do I think: Now I am eating an ‘apple’. We have formed a complex ideal of an ‘apple’.
  • Everyone can agree on the primary qualities like size and weight because they lie within the objects themselves. But the secondary qualities like color and taste can vary from person to person and form animal to animal, depending on the nature of the individual’s sensation.
  • Division of powers – power of the state is divided between different institutions. There’s the legislative power, or elected representative. There’s the judicial power, or law courts, and then there’s the executive power, that’s the government.


  • Hume begins by establishing that man has two different types of perceptions:
    • Impression – the immediate sensation of external reality
    • Ideas – recollection of such impression
    • Hume’s analysis of the human mind and his rejection of the unalterable ego was put forward almost 2,500 years earlier by Buddha. Buddha saw life as an unbroken succession of mental physical processes which keep people in a continual state of change. The infant is not the same as the adult; I am not the same today as I was yesterday. There is nothing of which I can say ‘this is mine’ and nothing of which I can say ‘this is me’. There is thus no ‘I’ or unalterable ego.
    • An agnostic is someone who holds that the existence of God or a god can neither be proved nor disproved.
    • Hume only accepted what he had perceived through his sense. He held all other possibilities open.
    • Child has not yet become a slave of expectations of habit; he is thus more open-minded. A child comes utterly without preconceived opinions. The child perceives the world as it is, without putting more into things than he experience. The world is like it is , and it’s something we get to know.
    • Hume emphasize that expectation of one thing following another does not lie in the things themselves, but in our mind. And expectation is associated with habit.
    • Hume did not deny the existence of unbreakable “natural laws”, but he held that because we not in a position to experience the natural laws themselves, we can easily come to the wrong conclusions.
    • The fact that one thing follows after another does not necessarily mean there is a causal like. One of the main concerns of philosophy is to warn people against jumping to conclusions. It can in fact lead to many different forms of superstition.
    • If you decide to help someone in need, you do so because of your feelings, not your reason.
    • According to Hume, everybody has a feeling for other people’s welfare. So we all have a capacity for compassion. But it has nothing to do with reason.
    • We cannot use reason as a yardstick for how we ought to act. Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feelings for the welfare of others.


  • Berkeley said that the only things that exist are those we perceive. But we do not perceive ‘material’ or ‘matter’. We do not perceive things as tangible objects. To assume that we perceive has its own underlying ‘substance’ is jumping to conclusions. We have absolutely no experience on which to base such a claim.


  • True enlightenment is to man like sunlight to the soil.  – N.F.S. Grundtvig
  • I believe there is something of the divine mystery in everything that exists. We can see it sparkle in a sunflower or a poppy. We sense more of the unfathomable mystery in a butterfly that flutters from a twig – or in a goldfish swimming in a bowl. But we are closest to God in our own soul. Only there can we become one with the greatest mystery of life. In truth, at very rare moments we can experience that we ourselves are that divine mystery.  – Plotinus

The Enlightenment

  • “I am scared that nothing is real.” This is called existential angst, or dread, and is only a stage on the way to new consciousness.
  • Give me a firm point on which to stand and I will move the earth.  –Archimedes
  • Seven points about the French Enlightenment:
    • Opposition to authority
    • Rationalism
    • The enlightenment movement
    • Cultural optimism
    • The return to nature
    • Natural religion
    • Human rights
    • It is essential to remain skeptical of all inherited truths, the idea being that the individual must find his own answer to every question.
    • It was observed that the so-called primitive peoples were frequently both healthier and happier than Europeans, and this, it was said, was because they had not been ‘civilized’. For nature is good, and man is ‘by nature’ good; it is civilization which ruins him.
    • Deism – A belief that God created the world ages and ages ago, but has not revealed himself to the world since. Thus God is reduced to the ‘Supreme Being’ who only reveals himself to mankind through nature and natural laws, never in any ‘supernatural’ way.


  • There are two kinds of philosophers. One is a person who seeks his own answers to philosophical questions. The other is someone who is an expert on the history of philosophy but does not necessarily  construct his own philosophy.
  • Empiricists believed all knowledge of the world proceeded from the senses.
  • Kant agreed with the empiricists but he believed that there are also decisive factors in our reason that determines how we perceive the world around us. In other world, there are certain condition in the human mind that contributive to our conception of the world.
  • Time and space are first and foremost modes of perception and not attributes of the physical world.
  • The water adapts itself to the pitcher’s form. In the same way our perceptions adapt themselves to our ‘forms of intuition’.
  • Kant agreed with Hume that we cannot know with certainty what the world is like ‘in itself’. We can only know what the world is like ‘for me’ – or for everybody.
  • Kant’s greatest contribution to philosophy is the dividing line he draws between things in themselves and thing as they appear to us.
  • Before you go out in the morning, you cannot know what you will see or experience during the day. But you can know that what you see and experience will be perceived as happing in time and space. You can moreover be confident that the law of cause and effect will apply, simply because you carry it with you as part of your conscience.
  • Looking for cause of every event is inevitable for humans because the law of causality if part of our makeup.
  • Two elements that contribute to man’s knowledge of the world:
    • Material of knowledge – external conditions that we cannot know of before we have perceived them through the senses
    • Forms of knowledge – internal conditions in man himself
    • When we wonder where the world came from – and then discuss possible answers – reason is in a sense ‘on hold’. For it has no sensory material to process, no experience to make use of, because we have never experience the whole of the great reality that we are a tiny part of.
    • In such weighty questions as the nature of reality, Kant showed that there will always be two contrasting viewpoints that are equally likely or unlikely, depending on what our reason tell us.
    • To ‘postulate’ something is to assume something that cannot be proved. By a ‘practical postulate’, Kant meant something that had be assumed for the sake of ‘praxis’, or practice; that is to say, for man’s morality. ‘It is a moral necessity to assume the existence of God,’ he said.
    • If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn’t understand it.
    • Kant said that we cannot expect to understand what we are and even less can we expect to comprehend the universe.
    • Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a Universal Law of Nature.
    • When Kant describes the law of morals, he is describing human conscience. We cannot prove what our conscience tell us, but we know it, nevertheless.
    • When we conform to moral law, it is we who make the law we are conforming to.
    • Kant succeeded in showing the way out of the impasse that philosophy had reached in the struggle between rationalism and empiricism. On his gravestone, it is carved: ‘Two things fill my mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the reflections dwell on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’


  • The path of mystery leads inwards. Man bears the whole universe within himself and comes closet to the mystery of the world by stepping inside himself.
  • When we abandon ourselves to a work of art with no other intention than the aesthetic experience itself, we are brought closer to an experience of ‘das Ding an sich.’
  • The activity of the artist is like playing, and man is only free when he plays, because then he makes up his own rules.
  • Because the artist creates his own reality the way God created the world.
  • The yearning for something distant and unattainable was characteristics of the Romantics. Also they yearned for nature and nature’s mysteries.
    • Idleness is the ideal of genius, and indolence the virtue of the Romantics.
    • Tired of the eternal efforts to fight our way through raw material, we chose another way and sought to embrace the infinite. We went inside ourselves and created a new world.
    • It was characteristic of the Romantic view in general that nature was thought as an organism, or in other words, a unity which is constantly developing its innate potentialities.


  • The history of thought or of reason is like a river. The thoughts that are washed along with the current of past traditions, as well as the material condition prevailing at the time, help to determine how you think. You can therefore never claim that any particular thought is correct for ever and ever. But the thought can be correct from where you stand.
  • Hegel pointed out that as regards philosophical reflection, also, reason is dynamic; it is a process, in fact. And the ‘truth’ is this same process, since there are no criteria beyond the historical process itself that can determine what is the most true or the most reasonable.
  • You cannot detach any philosopher, or any thought at all, from that philosopher’s or that thought’s historical context.
  • Because reason is progressive, human knowledge is constantly expanding and progressing.
  • According to Hegel, history is the story of the ‘world spirit’ gradually coming to consciousness itself.
  • Dialectic process of history – A thought is usually proposed on the basis of other, previously proposed thought. Bus as soon as one thought is proposed, it will be contradicted by another, A tension arises between these two opposite ways of thinking, But the tension is resolved by the proposal of a third thought which accommodates the best of both points of view.
  • Three stages of knowledge: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
  • History will proves that much of what we think is obvious will not hold up in the light of history.
  • It is good to have energetic opponents – the more extreme they become, the more powerful the reaction they will have to face – more grist to the mill.
  • The tension of ‘being’ and ‘nothing’ becomes resolved in the concept of ‘becoming’. Because if something is in the process of become, it both is and is not.
  • Hegel’s ‘reason’ is thus dynamic logic. Since reality is characterized by opposites, a description of reality must therefore also be full of opposites.
  • Vinje once said: There are two kinds of truths. There are the superficial truth, the opposites of which are obviously wrong. But there are also the profound truths, whose opposites are equally right.
  • It is not the individual who forms the language, it is the language which forms the individual.
  • The world spirit first becomes conscious of itself in the individual (subjective spirit). It reaches a higher conscience in the family, civil society, and the state; through interaction between people (objective spirit). The world spirit reaches the highest form of self-realization in art, religion, and philosophy (absolute spirit).


  • Christianity was both so overwhelming and so irrational that it had to be an either/or…Kierkegaard saw how both the church and people in general had a noncommittal approach to religious questions.
  • An existential thinker is a thinker who draws his entire existence into his philosophical reflections.
  • If you content yourself with proving the existence of God – or at any rate bring him within the bounds of rationality, you suffer a loss of faiths, and with it, a loss of religious passion. Because what matters is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it is true for you. If Christianity had appealed to our reason, it would not be a question of faith.
  • Conformity – when everybody think and believes in the same things without having any deeper feeling about it.
  • Three stages of life:
    • Aesthetic stage – This person lives wholly in the world of senses, and is a slave to his own desires and moods. Everything that is boring is bad (only concern is whether something is fun or boring). This person can easily experience angst, or a sense of dread, and a feeling of emptiness.
    • Ethical stage – Characterized by seriousness and consistency in moral choices. What matters is that you choose to have an opinion at all on what is right or wrong.
    • Religious stage – They choose faith in preference to aesthetic pleasure and reason’s call of duty.


  • Marx observed that until now, ‘philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
  • Basis of society – material, economic, and social relations.
  • Superstructure – religion, morals, art, philosophy, and science.
  • Three levels in the bases of society:
    • Conditions of production – the natural conditions or resources that available to society.
    • Means of production – various kinds of equipment, tools, and machinery, as well as the raw materials to be found there.
    • Production relations – division of labor, or the distribution of work and ownership.
    • History is principally a matter of who own the means of production.
    • Since the ‘upper class’ do not voluntarily relinquish their power,  change can only come about through revolution.
    • When man alters nature, he himself is altered. Or, to put it slightly different, when man works, he interacts with nature and transform it. But in the process nature also interacts with man and transforms his consciousness.
    • Capitalist system is inherently self-destructive and it has a number of these self-destructive elements.
    • Everything that man touches becomes a mixture of good and evil.


  • Tiny gradual changes could result in dramatic alterations if they were given sufficient time.
  • Method of true philosophers – it is important to ask but there no haste to provide the answer.
  • Benjamin Franklin had made the point that if there were no limiting factors in nature, one single species of plant or animal would spread over the entire globe. But because there are so many species, they keep each other in balance.
  • Darwin further proposed that the struggle for survival is frequently hardest among species that resemble each other the most. They have to fight for the same food.
  • The ‘raw material’ behind the evolution of life on earth was the continual variation of individual within in the same species, plus the large number of progeny, which meant that only a fraction of them survived. The actual ‘mechanism’, or driving force, behind evolution was thus the natural selection in the struggle for survival. This selection ensured that the strongest, or the ‘fittest’, survived.
  • Darwin’s theory was the utterly random variations which had finally produced Man. And what was more, Darwin had turned Man into a product of something as unsentimental as the struggle for existence.
  • Adaptation is a natural law.
  • In a sense, modern medicine has put natural selection out of commission.


  • Freud held that there is a constant tension between man and his surroundings. In particular, a tension – or conflict between his drives  and needs and the demands of the society.
  • Our actions are not always guided by reason. Man is not really such a rational creature…Irrational impulses often determines what we think, what we dream, and what we do. Such irrational impulses can be an expression of basic drives and needs.
  • Pleasure principle or id – as a baby live out its physical and mental needs quite directly and unashamedly
  • Reality principle or ego – regulates pleasure
  • Superego – world’s moral expectations have become part of us
  • We may desire something very badly that the outside world will not accept. We may repress our desire.
  • Freud concluded that the conscious constitutes only a small part of the human mind. The conscious  is like the tip of the iceberg above sea level. Below the sea level – or below the threshold of the conscious – is the ‘subconscious’, or the unconscious.
  • We live under the constant pressure of repressed thoughts that are trying to fight their way up from the unconscious. That’s why we often say or do things without intending to. Unconscious reactions this prompt our feelings and actions.
  • Rationalize – We do not give the real reason for what we are doing either to ourselves or to other people because the real reason is unacceptable.
  • Project – When we project, we transfer the characteristics we are trying to repress in ourselves onto other people.
  • The harder you try to forget about something, the more you think about it unconsciously.
  • According to Freud, the royal road to the unconscious is our dreams. Our conscious tries to communicated with our conscious through dreams.
  • Freud determined that all dreams are wish fulfillments. A dream is a ‘disguised’ fulfillment of a repressed wish.’
  • Even when we sleep, censorship is at work on what we will permit ourselves. Although it is considerably weaker, it is strong enough to cause our dreams to distort the wishes we cannot acknowledge.
  • In a sense, Freud demonstrated that there is an artist in everyone. A dream is, after all, a little work of art, and there are new dreams every night…This means nothing less than that everybody has an innate need to give artistic expression to his or her existential situation…A person who says he doesn’t understand art doesn’t know himself very well.
  • Inspiration is when we have ‘lifted the lid’ of the unconscious.
  • It is important for an artist not to let reason and reflection control a more or less unconscious expression. Imagination can get strangled by reasoned deliberation.
  • Dancing centipede and jealous tortoise story. Which leg do you lift first?
  • Imagination maybe creates what is new, but the imagination does not make the selection. The imagination does not ‘compose’. A composition – and every work of art is one – is created in a wondrous interplay between imagination and reason, or between mind and reflection. For there will always be an element of chance in the creative process. You have to turn the sheep loose before you can start to herd them.

Our Own Time

  • Existentialism is a collective term for several philosophical current that take man’s existential situation as their point of departure.
  • Nietzsche said, “Be true to the world. Do not listen to those who offer you supernatural expectations.”
  • The fact I exist takes priority over what I am. ‘Existence takes priority over essence.’ 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.
  • We are like actors dragged onto the stage without having learned our line, with no script and no prompter to whisper stage directions to us. We must decide for ourselves how to live.
  • Sartre says that man feels alien in a world without mean…Man’s feeling of alienation in the world creates a sense of despair, boredom, nausea, and absurdity.
  • Sartre was describing the 20th century city dweller…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.
  • On the other hand our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves, to live authentically or truly.
  • Nihilist is a person who thinking 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.
  • We contribute our own meaning – or our own interests – when we perceive our surroundings.
  • If something is of no interest to me, I don’t see it…When you go to a café to meet someone and that person is not there…Isn’t it strange that the first thing you notice is something that was absent…Sartre uses just such a café visit to demonstrate the way we ‘annihilate’ whatever is irrelevant for us.
  • 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 the audience to disagree…By showing and exposing the absurd in ordinary everyday situation, the onlookers are forces to seek a truer and more essential life or themselves.
  • The comic effect in Charlie Chaplin’s 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 is certainly surprising to see what people put up with without protest. 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.
  • Everything new is not necessarily good, and not all the old should be thrown out. With a historical background, one can orient himself in life.
  • We are no longer simply citizens of a city – or of a particular country. We live in a planetary civilization.
  • People nowadays desire something mystical, something different to break the dreary monotony of everyday life.
  • We are not always aware of underlying connections and thus we give wrong explanations.

The Big Bang

  • We too are stardust.
  • The only way we can look out into space is to look back in time. We can never know what the universe is like now.
  • The universe is expanding.
  • Once upon a time, about 15 billion years ago, all substance in the universe was assembled in a relatively small area, The substance was so dense that gravity made it terrifically hot. Finally it got so hot and so tightly packed that it exploded. We call this explosion the Big Bang.
  • When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way back to ourselves.

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