"This is called an inclined plane," he said. "What do you think will happen if I let go the marble up here, where the plane is thickest?"
Sophie sighed resignedly.
"I bet you ten crowns it rolls down onto the table and ends on the floor."
Alberto let go of the marble and it behaved exactly as Sophie had said. It rolled onto the table, over the tabletop, hit the floor with a little thud and finally bumped into the wall.
"Impressive," said Sophie.
"Yes, wasn't it! This was the kind of experiment Galileo did, you see."
"Was he really that stupid?"
"Patience! He wanted to investigate things with all his senses, so we have only just begun. Tell me first why the marble rolled down the inclined plane."
"It began to roll because it was heavy."
"All right. And what is weight actually, child?"
"That's a silly question."
"It's not a silly question if you can't answer it. Why did the marble roll onto the floor?"
"Because of gravity."
"Exactly——or gravitation, as we also say. Weight has something to do with gravity. That was the force that set the marble in motion."
Alberto had already picked the marble up from the floor. He stood bowed over the inclined plane with the marble again.
"Now I shall try to roll the marble across the plane," he said. "Watch carefully how it moves."
Sophie watched as the marble gradually curved away and was drawn down the incline.
"What happened?" asked Alberto.
"It rolled sloping because the board is sloping."
"Now I'm going to brush the marble with ink …… then perhaps we can study exactly what you mean by sloping."
He dug out an ink brush and painted the whole marble black. Then he rolled it again. Now Sophie could see exactly where on the plane the marble had rolled because it had left a black line on the board.
"How would you describe the marble's path?"
"It's curved …… it looks like part of a circle."
Alberto looked up at her and raised his eyebrows.
"However, it is not quite a circle. This figure is called a parabola."
"That's fine with me."
"Ah, but why did the marble travel in precisel that way?"
Sophie thought deeply. Then she said, "Because the board was sloping, the marble was drawn toward the floor by the force of gravity."-"Yes, yes! This is nothing less than a sensation! Here I go, dragging a girl who's not yet fifteen up to my attic, and she realizes exactly the same thing Galileo did after one single experiment!"
He clapped his hands. For a moment Sophie was afraid he had gone mad. He continued: "You saw what happened when two forces worked simultaneously on the same object. Galileo discovered that the same thing applied, for instance, to a cannonball. It is propelled into the air, it continues its path over the earth, but will eventually be drawn toward the earth. So it will have described a trajectory corresponding to the marble's path across the inclined plane. And this was actually a new discovery at the time of Galileo. Aristotle thought that a projectile hurled obliquely into the air would first describe a gentle curve and then fall vertically to the earth. This was not so, but nobody could know Aristotle was wrong before it had been demonstrated."
"Does all this really matter?"
"Does it matter? You bet it matters! This has cosmic significance, my child. Of all the scientific discoveries in the history of mankind, this is positively the most important."
"I'm sure you are going to tell me why."
"Then along came the English physicist Isaac Newton, who lived from 1642 to 1727. He was the one who provided the final description of the solar system and the planetary orbits. Not only could he describe how the planets moved round the sun, he could also explain why they did so. He was able to do so partly by referring to what we call Galileo's dynamics."
"Are the planets marbles on an inclined plane then?"
"Something like that, yes. But wait a bit, Sophie."
"Do I have a choice?"
"Kepler had already pointed out that there had to be a force that caused the heavenly bodies to attract each other. There had to be, for example, a solar force which held the planets fast in their orbits. Such a force would moreover explain why the planets moved more slowly in their orbit the further away from the sun they traveled. Kepler also believed that the ebb and flow of the tides—— the rise and fall in sea level——must be the result of a lunar force."
"And that's true."
"Yes, it's true. But it was a theory Galileo rejected. He mocked Kepler, who he said had given his approval to the idea that the moon rules the water. That was because Galileo rejected the idea that the forces of gravitation could work over great distances, and also between the heavenly bodies."
"He was wrong there."
"Yes. On that particular point he was wrong. And that was funny, really, because he was very preoccupied with the earth's gravity and falling bodies. He had even indicated how increased force can control the movement of a body."
"But you were talking about Newton."
"Yes, along came Newton. He formulated what we call the Law of Universal Gravitation. This law states that 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."
"I think I understand. For example, there is greater attraction between two elephants than there is between two mice. And there is greater attraction between two elephants in the same zoo than there is between an Indian elephant in India and an African elephant in Africa."
"Then you have understood it. And now comes the central point. Newton proved that this attraction——or gravitation——is universal, which means it is operative everywhere, also in space between heavenly bodies. He is said to have gotten this idea while he was sitting under an apple tree. When he saw an apple fall from the tree he had to ask himself if the moon was drawn to earth with the same force, and if this was the reason why the moon continued to orbit the earth to all eternity."
"Smart. But not so smart really."
"Why not, Sophie?"
"Well, if the moon was drawn to the earth with the same force that causeshe apple to fall, one day the moon would come crashing to earth instead of going round and round it for ever."
"Which brings us to Newton's law on planetary orbits. In the case of how the earth attracts the moon, you are fifty percent right but fifty percent wrong. Why doesn't the moon fall to earth? Because it really is true that the earth's gravitational force attracting the moon is tremendous. Just think of the force required to lift sea level a meter or two at high tide."
"I don't think I understand."
"Remember Galileo's inclined plane. What happened when I rolled the marble across it?"
"Are there two different forces working on the moon?"
"Exactly. Once upon a time when the solar system began, the moon was hurled outward——outward from the earth, that is——with tremendous force. This force will remain in effect forever because it moves in a vacuum without resistance……"
"But it is also attracted to the earth because of earth's gravitational force, isn't it?"
"Exactly. Both forces are constant, and both work simultaneously. Therefore the moon will continue to orbit the earth."
"Is it really as simple as that?"
"As simple as that, and this very same simplicity was Newton's whole point. He demonstrated that a few natural laws apply to the whole universe. In calculating the planetary orbits he had merely applied two natural laws which Galileo had already proposed. One was the law of inertia, which Newton expressed thus: 'A body remains in its state of rest or rectilinear motion until it is compelled to change that state by a force impressed on it.' The other law had been demonstrated by Galileo on an inclined plane: When two forces work on a body simultaneously, the body will move on an elliptical path."
"And that's how Newton could explain why all the planets go round the sun."
"Yes. All the planets travel in elliptical orbits round the sun as the result of two unequal movements: first, the rectilinear movement they had when the solar system was formed, and second, the movement toward the sun due to gravitation."
"Very. Newton demonstrated that the same laws of moving bodies apply everywhere in the entire universe. He thus did away with the medieval belief that there is one set of laws for heaven and another here on earth. The heliocentric world view had found its final confirmation and its final explanation."
Alberto got up and put the inclined plane away again. He picked up the marble and placed it on the table between them.
Sophie thought it was amazing how much they had gotten out of a bit of slanting wood and a marble. As she looked at the green marble, which was still smudged with ink, she couldn't help thinking of the earth's globe. She said, "And people just had to accept that they were living on a random planet somewhere in space?"
"Yes——the new world view was in many ways a great burden. The situation was comparable to what happened later on when Darwin proved that mankind had developed from animals. In both cases mankind lost some of its special status in creation. And in both cases the Church put up a massive resistance."
"I can well understand that. Because where was God in all this new stuff? It was simpler when the earth was the center and God and the planets were upstairs."
"But that was not the greatest challenge. When Newton had proved that the same natural laws applied everywhere in the universe, one might think that he thereby undermined people's faith in God's omnipotence. But Newton's own faith was never shaken. He regarded the natural laws as proof of the existence of the great and almighty God. It's possible that man's picture of himself fared worse."
"How do you mean?"
"Since the Renaissance, people have had to get used to living their life on a random planet in the vast galaxy. I am not sure we have wholly accepted it even now. But there were those even in the Renaissance who said that every single one of us now had a more central position than before."
"I don't quite understand."
"Formerly, the earth was the center of the world. But since astronomers now sad that there was no absolute center to the universe, it came to be thought that there were just as many centers as there were people. Each person could be the center of a universe."
"Ah, I think I see."
"The Renaissance resulted in a new religiosity. As philosophy and science gradually broke away from theology, a new Christian piety developed. Then the Renaissance arrived with its new view of man. This had its effect on religious life. The individual's personal relationship to God was now more important than his relationship to the church as an organization."
"Like saying one's prayers at night, for instance?"
"Yes, that too. In the medieval Catholic Church, the church's liturgy in Latin and the church's ritual prayers had been the backbone of the religious service. Only priests and monks read the Bible because it only existed in Latin. But during the Renaissance, the Bible was translated from Hebrew and Greek into national languages. It was central to what we call the Reformation."
"Yes, Martin Luther was important, but he was not the only reformer. There were also ecclesiastical reformers who chose to remain within the Roman Catholic church. One of them was Erasmus of Rotterdam."
"Luther broke with the Catholic Church because he wouldn't buy indulgences, didn't he?"
"Yes, that was one of the reasons. But there was a more important reason. According to Luther, people did not need the intercession of the church or its priests in order to receive God's forgiveness. Neither was God's forgiveness dependent on the buying of 'indulgences' from the church. Trading in these so-called letters of indulgence was forbidden by the Catholic Church from the middle of the sixteenth century." "God was probably glad of that." "In general, Luther distanced himself from many of the religious customs and dogmas that had become rooted in ecclesiastical history during the Middle Ages. He wanted to return to early Christianity as it was in the New Testament. The Scripture alone,' he said. With this slogan Luther wished to return to the 'source' of Christianity, just as the Renaissance humanists had wanted to turn to the ancient sources of art and culture. Luther translated the Bible into German, thereby founding the German written language. He believed every man should be able to read the Bible and thus in a sense become his own priest."
"His own priest? Wasn't that taking it a bit far?" "What he meant was that priests had no preferential position in relation to God. The Lutheran congregations employed priests for practical reasons, such as conducting services and attending to the daily clerical tasks, but Luther did not believe that anyone received God's for-giveness and redemption from sin through church rituals. Man received 'free' redemption through faith alone, he said. This was a belief he arrived at by reading the Bible."
"So Luther was also a typical Renaissance man?" "Yes and no. A characteristic Renaissance feature was his emphasis on the individual and the individual's personal relationship to God. So he taught himself Greek at the age of thirty-five and began the laborious job of translating the Bible from the ancient Greek version into German. Allowing the language of the people to take precedence over Latin was also a characteristic Renaissance feature. But Luther was not a humanist like Ficino or Leonardo da Vinci. He was also opposed by humanists such as Erasmus of Rotterdam because they thought his view of man was far too negative; Luther had proclaimed that mankind was totally depraved after the Fall from Grace. Only through the grace of God could mankind be 'justified,' he believed. For the wages of sin is death."
"That sounds very gloomy."
Alberto Knox rose. He picked up the little green and black marble and put it in his top pocket.
"It's after four!" Sophie exclaimed in horror.
"And the next great epoch in the history of mankind is the Baroque. But we shall have to keep that for another day, my dear Hilde."
"What did you say?" Sophie shot up from the chair she had been sitting in. "You clled me Hilde!"
"That was a serious slip of the tongue."
"But a slip of the tongue is never wholly accidental."
"You may be right. You'll notice that Hilde's father has begun to put words in our mouths. I think he is exploiting the fact that we are getting weary and are not defending ourselves very well."
"You said once that you are not Hilde's father. Is that really true?"
"But am I Hilde?"
"I'm tired now, Sophie. You have to understand that. We have been sitting here for over two hours, and I have been doing most of the talking. Don't you have to go home to eat?"
Sophie felt almost as if he was trying to throw her out. As she went into the little hall, she thought intensely about why he had made that slip. Alberto came out after her.
Hermes was lying asleep under a small row of pegs on which hung several strange-looking garments that could have been theatrical costumes. Alberto nodded toward the dog and said, "He will come and fetch you."
"Thank you for my lesson," said Sophie.
She gave Alberto an impulsive hug. "You're the best and kindest philosophy teacher I've ever had," she said.
With that she opened the door to the staircase. As the door closed, Alberto said, "It won't be long before we meet again, Hilde."
Sophie was left with those words.
Another slip of the tongue, the villain! Sophie had a strong desire to turn around and hammer on the door but something held her back.
On reaching the street she remembered that she had no money on her. She would have to walk all the long way home. How annoying! Her mother would be both angry and worried if she didn't get back by six, that was for sure.
She had not gone more than a few yards when she suddenly noticed a coin on the sidewalk. It was ten crowns, exactly the price of a bus ticket.
Sophie found her way to the bus stop and waited for a bus to the Main Square. From there she could take a bus on the same ticket and ride almost to her door.
Not until she was standing at the Main Square waiting for the second bus did she begin to wonder why she had been lucky enough to find the coin just when she needed it.
Could Hilde's father have left it there? He was a master at leaving things in the most convenient places.
How could he, if he was in Lebanon?
And why had Alberto made that slip? Not once but twice!
Sophie shivered. She felt a chill run down her spine.
…such stuff as dreams are made on…
Sophie heard nothing more from Alberto for several days, but she glanced frequently into the garden hoping to catch sight of Hermes. She told her mother that the dog had found its own way home and that she had been invited in by its owner, a former physics teacher. He had told Sophie about the solar system and the new science that developed in the sixteenth century.
She told Joanna more. She told her all about her visit to Alberto, the postcard in the mailbox, and the ten-crown piece she had found on the way home. She kept the dream about Hilde and the gold crucifix to herself.
On Tuesday, May 29, Sophie was standing in the kitchen doing the dishes. Her mother had gone into the living room to watch the TV news. When the opening theme faded out she heard from the kitchen that a major in the Norwegian UN Battalion had been killed by a shell.
Sophie threw the dish towel on the table and rushed into the living room. She was just in time to catch a glimpse of the UN officer's face for a few seconds before they switched to the next item.
"Oh no!" she cried.
Her mother turned to her.
"Yes, war is a terrible thing!"
Sophie burst into tears.
"But Sophie, it's not that bad!"
"Did they say his name?"
"Yes, but I don't remember it. He was from Grimstad, I think."
"Isn't that the same as Lillesand?"
"No, you're being silly."
"But if you come from Grimstad, you might go to school in Lillesand."
She had stopped crying, but now it was her mother's turn to react. She got out of her chair and switched off the TV.
"What's going on, Sophie?"
"Yes, there is. You have a boyfriend, and I'm beginning to think he's much older tan you. Answer me now: Do you know a man in Lebanon?"
"No, not exactly……"
"Have you met the son of someone in Lebanon?"
"No, I haven't. I haven't even met his daughter."
"It's none of your business."
"I think it is."
"Maybe I should start asking some questions instead. Why is Dad never home? Is it because you haven't got the guts to get a divorce? Maybe you've got a boyfriend you don't want Dad and me to know about and so on and so on. I've got plenty of questions of my own."
"I think we need to talk."
"That may be. But right now I'm so worn out I'm going to bed. And I'm getting my period."
Sophie ran up to her room; she felt like crying.
As soon as she was through in the bathroom and had curled up under the covers, her mother came into the bedroom.
Sophie pretended to be asleep even though she knew her mother wouldn't believe it. She knew her mother knew that Sophie knew her mother wouldn't believe it either. Nevertheless her mother pretended to believe that Sophie was asleep. She sat on the edge of Sophie's bed and stroked her hair.
Sophie was thinking how complicated it was to live two lives at the same time. She began to look forward to the end of the philosophy course. Maybe it would be over by her birthday——or at least by Midsummer Eve, when Hilde's father would be home from Lebanon ……
"I want to have a birthday party," she said suddenly.
"That sounds great. Who will you invite?"
"Lots of people …… Can I?"
"Of course. We have a big garden. Hopefully the good weather will continue."
"Most of all I'd like to have it on Midsummer Eve."
"All right, that's what we'll do."
"It's a very important day," Sophie said, thinking not only of her birthday.
"It is, indeed."
"I feel I've grown up a lot lately."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"I don't know."
Sophie had been talking with her head almost buried in her pillow. Now her mother said, "Sophie——you must tell me why you seem so out of balance at the moment."
"Weren't you like this when you were fifteen?"
"Probably. But you know what I am talking about."
Sophie suddenly turned to face her mother. "The dog's name is Hermes," she said.
"It belongs to a man called Alberto."
"He lives down in the Old Town."
"You went all that way with the dog?"
"There's nothing dangerous about that."
"You said that the dog had often been here."
"Did I say that?"
She had to think now. She wanted to tell as much as possible, but she couldn't tell everything.
"You're hardly ever at home," she ventured.
"No, I'm much too busy."
"Alberto and Hermes have been here lots of times."
"What for? Were they in the house as well?"
"Can't you at least ask one question at a time? They haven't been in the house. But they often go for walks in the woods. Is that so mysterious?"
"No, not in the least."
"They walk past our gate like everyone else when they go for a walk. One day when I got home from school I talked to the dog. That's how I got to know Alberto."
"What about the white rabbit and all that stuff?"
"That was something Alberto said. He is a real philosopher, you see. He has told me about all the philosophers."
"Just like that, over the hedge?"
"He has also written letters to me, lots of times, actually. Sometimes he has sent them by mail and other times he has just dropped them in the mailbox on his way out for a walk."
"So that was the 'love letter' we talked about."
"Except that it wasn't a love letter."
"And he only wrote about philosophy?"
"Yes, can you imagine! And I've learned more from him than I have learned in eight years of school. For instance, have you ever heard of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600? Or of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation?"
"No, there's a lot I don't know."
"I bet you don't even know why the earth orbits the sun——and it's your own planet!"
"About how old is this man?"
"I have no idea——about fifty, probably."
"But what is his connection with Lebanon?"
This was a tough one. Sophie thought hard. She chose the most likely story.
"Alberto has a brother who's a major n the UN Battalion. And he's from Lillesand. Maybe he's the major who once lived in the major's cabin."
"Alberto's a funny kind of name, isn't it?"
"It sounds Italian."
"Well, nearly everything that's important comes either from Greece or from Italy."
"But he speaks Norwegian?"
"Oh yes, fluently."
"You know what, Sophie——I think you should inviteAlberto home one day. I have never met a real philosopher."
"Maybe we could invite him to your birthday party? It could be such fun to mix the generations. Then maybe I could come too. At least, I could help with the serving. Wouldn't that be a good idea?"
"If he will. At any rate, he's more interesting to talk to than the boys in my class. It's just that……"
"They'd probably flip and think Alberto was my new boyfriend."
"Then you just tell them he isn't."
"Well, we'll have to see."
"Yes, we shall. And Sophie——it is true that things haven't always been easy between Dad and me. But there was never anyone else ……"
"I have to sleep now. I've got such awful cramps."
"Do you want an aspirin?" /'Yes, please."
When her mother returned with the pill and a glass of water Sophie had fallen asleep.
May 31 was a Thursday. Sophie agonized through the afternoon classes at school. She was doing better in some subjects since she started on the philosophy course. Usually her grades were good in most subjects, but lately they were even better, except in math.
In the last class they got an essay handed back. Sophie had written on "Man and Technology." She had written reams on the Renaissance and the scientific breakthrough, the new view of nature and Francis Bacon, who had said that knowledge was power. She had been very careful to point out that the empirical method came before the technological discoveries. Then she had written about some of the things she could think of about technology that were not so good for society. She ended with a paragraph on the fact that everything people do can be used for good or evil. Good and evil are like a white and a black thread that make up a single strand.
Sometimes they are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to untangle them.
As the teacher gave out the exercise books he looked down at Sophie and winked.
She got an A and the comment: "Where do you get all this from?" As he stood there, she took out a pen and wrote with block letters in the margin of her exercise book: I'M STUDYING PHILOSOPHY.
As she was closing the exercise book again, something fell out of it. It was a postcard from Lebanon:
Dear Hilde, When you read this we shall already have spoken together by phone about the tragic death down here. Sometimes I ask myself if war could have been avoided if people had been a bit better at thinking. Perhaps the best remedy against violence would be a short course in philosophy. What about "the UN's little philosophy book"—— which all new citizens of the world could be given a copy of in their own language. I'll propose the idea to the UN General Secretary.
You said on the phone that you were getting better at looking after your things. I'm glad, because you're the untidiest creature I've ever met. Then you said the only thing you'd lost since we last spoke was ten crowns. I'll do what I can to help you find it. Although I am far away, I have a helping hand back home. (If I find the money I'll put it in with your birthday present.) Love, Dad, who feels as if he's already started the long trip home.
Sophie had just managed to finish reading the card when the last bell rang. Once again her thoughts were in turmoil.
Joanna was waiting in the playground. On the way home Sophie opened her schoolbag and showed Joanna the latest card.
"When is it postmarked?" asked Joanna.
"Probably June 15 ……"
"No, look …… 5/30/90, it says."
"That was yesterday …… the day after the death of the major in Lebanon."
"I doubt if a postcard from Lebanon can get to Norway in one day," said Joanna.
"Especially not considering the rather unusual address: Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, Fu-rulia JuniorHigh School……"
"Do you think it could have come by mail? And the teacher just popped it in your exercise book?"
"No idea. I don't know whether I dare ask either."
No more was said about the postcard.
"I'm going to have a garden party on Midsummer Eve," said Sophie.
Sophie shrugged her shoulders. "We don't have to invite the worst idiots."
"But you are going to invite Jeremy?"
"If you want. By the way, I might invite Alberto Knox."
"You must be crazy!"
That was as far as the conversation got before their ways parted at the supermarket.
The first thing Sophie did when she got home was to see if Hermes was in the garden. Sure enough, there he was, sniffing around the apple trees.
The dog stood motionless for a second. Sophie knew exactly what was going on in that second: the dog heard her call, recognized her voice, and decided to see if she was there. Then, discovering her, he began to run toward her. Finally all four legs came pattering like drumsticks.
That was actually quite a lot in the space of one second.
He dashed up to her, wagged his tail wildly, and jumped up to lick her face.
"Hermes, clever boy! Down, down. No, stop slobbering all over me. Heel, boy! That's it!"
Sophie let herself into the house. Sherekan came jumping out from the bushes. He was rather wary of the stranger. Sophie put his cat food out, poured birdseed in the budgerigars' cup, got out a salad leaf for the tortoise, and wrote a note to her mother.
She wrote that she was going to take Hermes home and would be back by seven.
They set off through the town. Sophie had remembered to take some money with her this time. She wondered whether she ought to take the bus with Hermes, but decided she had better wait and ask Alberto about it.
While she walked on and on behind Hermes she thought about what an animal really is.
What was the difference between a dog and a person? She recalled Aristotle's words. He said that people and animals are both natural living creatures with a lot of characteristics in common. But there was one distinct difference between people and animals, and that was hu-man reasoning.
How could he have been so sure?
Democritus, on the other hand, thought people and animals were really rather alike because both were made up of atoms. And he didn't think that either people or animals had immortal souls. According to him, souls were built up of atoms that are spread to the winds when people die. He was the one who thought a person's soul was inseparably bound to the brain.
But how could the soul be made of atoms? The soul wasn't anything you could touch like the rest of the body. It was something "spiritual."
They were already beyond Main Square and were approaching the Old Town. When they got to the sidewalk where Sophie had found the ten crowns, she looked automatically down at the asphalt. And there, on exactly the same spot where she had bent down and picked up the money, lay a postcard with the picture side up. The picture showed a garden with palms and orange trees.
Sophie bent down and picked up the card. Hermes started growling as if he didn't like Sophie touching it.
The card read:
Dear Hilde, Life consists of a long chain of coincidences. It is not altogether unlikely that the ten crowns you lost turned up right here. Maybe it was found on the square in Lillesand by an old lady who was waiting for the bus to Kristiansand. From Kris-tiansand she took the train to visit her grandchildren, and many, many hours later she lost the coin here on New Square. It is then perfectly possible that the very same coin was picked up later on that day by a girl who really needed it to get home by bus. You never can tell, Hilde, but if it is truly so, then one must certainly ask whether or not God's providence is behind everything. Love, Dad, who in spirit is sitting on the dock at home in Lillesand. P.S. I said I would help you find the ten crowns.
On the address side it said: "Hilde Moller Knag, c/o a casual passer-by……" The postmark was stamped 6/15/90.
Sophie ran up the stairs fter Hermes. As soon as Alberto opened the door, she said:
"Out of my way. Here comes the mailman."
She felt she had every reason to be annoyed. Alberto stood aside as she barged in. Hermes laid himself down under the coat pegs as before.
"Has the major presented another visiting card, my child?"
Sophie looked up at him and discovered that he was wearing a different costume. He had put on a long curled wig and a wide, baggy suit with a mass of lace. He wore a loud silk scarf at his throat, and on top of the suit he had thrown a red cape. He also wore white stockings and thin patent leather shoes with bows. The whole costume reminded Sophie of pictures she had seen of the court of Louis XIV.
"You clown!" she said and handed him the card.
"Hm …… and you really found ten crowns on the same spot where he planted the card?"
"He gets ruder all the time. But maybe it's just as well."
"It'll make it easier to unmask him. But this trick was both pompous and tasteless. It almost stinks of cheap perfume."
"It tries to be elegant but is really a sham. Can't you see how he has the effrontery to compare his own shabby surveillance of us with God's providence?"
He held up the card. Then he tore it to pieces. So as not to make his mood worse she refrained from mentioning the card that fell out of her exercise book at school.
"Let's go in and sit down. What time is it?"
"And today we are going to talk about the seventeenth century."
They went into the living room with the sloping walls and the skylight. Sophie noticed that Alberto had put different objects out in place of some of those she had seen last time.
On the coffee table was a small antique casket containing an assorted collection of lenses for eyeglasses. Beside it lay an open book. It looked really old.
"What is that?" Sophie asked.
"It is a first edition of the book of Descartes's philosophical essays published in 1637 in which his famous Discourse on Method originally appeared, and one of my most treasured possessions."
"And the casket?"
"It holds an exclusive collection of lenses——or optical glass. They were polished by the Dutch philosopher Spinoza sometime during the mid-1600s. They were extremely costly and are also among my most valued treasures."
"I would probably understand better how valuable these things are if I knew who Spinoza and Descartes were."
"Of course. But first let us try to familiarize ourselves with the period they lived in. Have a seat."
They sat in the same places as before, Sophie in the big armchair and Alberto Knox on the sofa. Between them was the coffee table with the book and the casket. Alberto removed his wig and laid it on the writing desk.
"We are going to talk about the seventeenth century——or what we generally refer to as the Baroque period."
"The Baroque period? What a strange name."
"The word 'baroque' comes from a word that was first used to describe a pearl of irregular shape. Irregularity was typical of Baroque art, which was much richer in highly contrastive forms than the plainer and more harmonious Renaissance art. The seventeenth century was on the whole characterized by tensions between irreconcilable contrasts. On the one hand there was the Renaissance's unremitting optimism——and on the other hand there were the many who sought the opposite extreme in a life of religious seclusion and self-denial. Both in art and in real life, we meet pompous and flamboyant forms of self-expression, while at the same time there arose a monastic movement, turning away from the world."
"Both proud palaces and remote monasteries, in other words."
"Yes, you could certainly say that. One of the Baroque period's favorite sayings was the Latin expression 'carpe diem'——'seize the day.' Another Latin expression that was widely quoted was 'memento mori,' which means 'Remember that you must die.' In art, a painting could depict an extremely luxurious lifestyle, with a little skull painted in one corner.
"In many senses, the Baroque period was characterized by vanity or affectation But at the same time a lot of people were concerned with the other side of the coin; they were concerned with the ephemeral nature of things. That is, the fact that all the beauty that surrounds us must one day perish."
"It's true. It is sad to realize that nothing lasts."
"You think exactly as many people did in the seventeenth century. The Baroque period was also an age of conflict in a political sense. Europe was ravaged by wars. The worst was the Thirty Years' War which raged over most of the continent from 1618 to 1648. In reality it was a series of wars which took a particular toll on Germany. Not least as a result of the Thirty Years' War,France gradually became the dominant power in Europe."
"What were the wars about?"
"To a great extent they were wars between Protestants and Catholics. But they were also about political power."
"More or less like in Lebanon."
"Apart from wars, the seventeenth century was a time of great class differences. I'm sure you have heard of the French aristocracy and the Court of Versailles. I don't know whether you have heard much about the poverty of the French people. But any display of magnificence presupposes a display of power. It has often been said that the political situation in the Baroque period was not unlike its art and architecture. Baroque buildings were typified by a lot of ornate nooks and crannies. In a somewhat similar fashion the political situation was typified by intrigue, plotting, and assassinations."
"Wasn't a Swedish king shot in a theater?"
"You're thinking of Gustav III, a good example of the sort of thing I mean. The assassination of Gustav III wasn't until 1792, but the circumstances were quite baroque. He was murdered while attending a huge masked ball."
"I thought he was at the theater."
"The great masked ball was held at the Opera. We could say that the Baroque period in Sweden came to an end with the murder of Gustav III. During his time there had been a rule of 'enlightened despotism,' similar to that in the reign of Louis XIV almost a hundred years earlier. Gustav III was also an extremely vain person who adored all French ceremony and courtesies. He also loved the theater……"
"…… and that was the death of him."
"Yes, but the theater of the Baroque period was more than an art form. It was the most commonly employed symbol of the time."
"A symbol of what?"
"Of life, Sophie. I don't know how many times during the seventeenth century it was said that 'Life is a theater.' It was very often, anyway. The Baroque period gave birth to modern theater——with all its forms of scenery and theatrical machinery. In the theater one built up an illusion on stage——to expose ultimately that the stage play was just an illusion. The theater thus became a reflection of human life in general. The theater could show that 'pride comes before a fall,' and present a merciless portrait of human frailty."
"Did Shakespeare live in the Baroque period?"
"He wrote his greatest plays around the year 1600, so he stands with one foot in the Renaissance and the other in the Baroque. Shakespeare's work is full of passages about life as a theater. Would you like to hear some of them?"
"In As You Like It, he says:
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.
"And in Macbeth, he says:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
"How very pessimistic."
"He was preoccupied with the brevity of life. You must have heard Shakespeare's most famous line?"
"To be or not to be——that is the question."
"Yes, spoken by Hamlet. One day we are walking around on the earth——and the next day we are dead and gone."
"Thanks, I got the message."
"When they were not comparing life to a stage, the Baroque poets were comparing life to a dream. Shakespeare says, for example: We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our littl life is rounded with a sleep……"
"That was very poetic."
"The Spanish dramatist Calderon de la Barca, who was bom in the year 1600, wrote a play called Life Is a Dream, in which he says: 'What is life? A madness. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story, and the greatest good is little enough, for all life is a dream ……' "
"He may be right. We read a play at school. It was called Jeppe on the Mount."
"By Ludvig Holberg, yes. He was a gigantic figure here in Scandinavia, marking the transition from the Baroque period to the Age of Enlightenment."
"Jeppe falls asleep in a ditch …… and wakes up in the Baron's bed. So he thinks he only dreamed that he was a poor farmhand. Then when he falls asleep again they carry him back to the ditch, and he wakes up again. This time he thinks he only dreamed he was lying in the Baron's bed."
"Holberg borrowed this theme from Calderon, and Calderon had borrowed it from the old Arabian tales, A Thousand and One Nights. Comparing life to a dream, though, is a theme we find even farther back in history, not least in India and China. The old Chinese sage Chuang-tzu, for example, said: Once I dreamed I was a butterfly, and now I no longer know whether I am Chuang-tzu, who dreamed I was a butterfly, or whether I am a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang-tzu."
"Well, it was impossible to prove either way."
"We had in Norway a genuine Baroque poet called Fetter Dass, who lived from 1647 to 1707. On the one hand he was concerned with describing life as it is here and now, and on the other hand he emphasized that only God is eternal and constant."
"God is God if every land was waste, God is God if every man were dead."
"But in the same hymn he writes about rural life in Northern Norway——and about lumpfish, cod, and coal-fish. This is a typical Baroque feature, describing in the same text the earthly and the here and now——and the celestial and the hereafter. It is all very reminiscent of Plato's distinction between the concrete world of the senses and the immutable world of ideas."
"What about their philosophy?"
"That too was characterized by powerful struggles between diametrically opposed modes of thought. As I have already mentioned, some philosophers believed that what exists is at bottom spiritual in nature. This standpoint is called idealism. The opposite viewpoint is called materialism. By this is meant a philosophy which holds that all real things derive from concrete material substances. Materialism also had many advocates in the seventeenth century. Perhaps the most influential was the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. He believed that all phenomena, including man and animals, consist exclusively of particles of matter. Even human consciousness——or the soul——derives from the movement of tiny particles in the brain."
"So he agreed with what Democritus said two thousand years before?"
"Both idealism and materialism are themes you will find all through the history of philosophy. But seldom have both views been so clearly present at the same time as in the Baroque. Materialism was constantly nourished by the new sciences. Newton showed that the same laws of motion applied to the whole universe, and that all changes in the natural world——both on earth and in space——were explained by the principles of universal gravitation and the motion of bodies.
"Everything was thus governed by the same unbreakable laws——or by the same mechanisms. It is therefore possible in principle to calculate every natural change with mathematical precision. And thus Newton completed what we call the mechanistic world view."
"Did he imagine the world as one big machine?"
"He did indeed. The word 'mechanic' comes from the Greek word 'mechane,' which means machine. It is remarkable that neither Hobbes nor Newton saw any contradiction between the mechanistic world picture and belief in God. But this was not the case for all eighteenth- and nineteenth-century materialists. The French physician and philosopher La Mettrie wrote a book in the eighteenth century called L 'homme machine, which means 'Man——he machine.' Just as the leg has muscles to walk with, so has the brain 'muscles' to think with. Later on, the French mathematician Laplace expressed an extreme mechanistic view with this idea: If an intelligence at a given time had known the position of all particles of matter, 'nothing would be unknown, and both future and past would lie open before their eyes.' The idea here was that everything that happens is predetermined. 'It's written in the stars' that something will happen. This view is called determinism." "So there was no such thing as free will."
"No, everything was a product of mechanical processes——also our thoughts and dreams. German materialists in the nineteenth century claimed that the relationship of thought to the brain was like the relationship of urine to the kidneys and gall to the liver." "But urine and gall are material. Thoughts aren't." "You've got hold of something central there. I can tell you a story about the same thing. 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 seen a single thought.' " "But that doesn't prove that thoughts don't exist."
"No, but it does underline the fact that thoughts are not things that can be operated on or broken down into ever smaller parts. It is not easy, for example, to surgically remove a delusion. It grows too deep, as it were, for surgery. An important seventeenth-century philosopher named Leibniz pointed out that the difference between the material and the spiritual is precisely that the material can be broken up into smaller and smaller bits, but the soul cannot even be divided into two."
"No, what kind of scalpel would you use for that?" Alberto simply shook his head. After a while he pointed down at the table between them and said:
"The two greatest philosophers in the seventeenth century were Descartes and Spinoza. They too struggled with questions like the relationship between 'soul' and 'body,' and we are now going to study them more closely."
"Go ahead. But I'm supposed to be home by seven."
Descartes…… he wanted to clear all the rubble off the site…
Alberto stood up, took off the red cloak, and laid it over a chair. Then he settled himself once again in the corner of the sofa.
"Rene Descartes was born in 1596 and lived in a number of different European countries at various periods of his life. Even as a young man he had a strong desire to achieve insight into the nature of man and the universe. But after studying philosophy he became increasingly convinced of his own ignorance."
"More or less like him, yes. Like Socrates, he was convinced that certain knowledge is only attainable through reason. We can never trust what the old books tell us. We cannot even trust what our senses tell us."
"Plato thought that too. He believed that only reason can give us certain knowledge."
"Exactly. There is a direct line of descent from Socrates and Plato via St. Augustine to Descartes. They were all typical rationalists, convinced that reason was the only path to knowledge. After comprehensive studies, Descartes came to the conclusion that the body of knowledge handed down from the Middle Ages was not necessarily reliable. You can compare him to Socrates, who did not trust the general views he encountered in the central square of Athens. So what does one do, Sophie? Can you tell me that?"
"You begin to work out your own philosophy."
"Right! Descartes decided to travel around Europe, the way Socrates spent his life talking to people in Athens. He relates that from then on he meant to confine himself to seeking the wisdom that was to be found, either within himself or in the 'great book of the world.' So he joined the army and went to war, which enabled him to spend periods of time in different parts of Central Europe. Later he lived for some years in Paris, but in 129 he went to Holland, where he remained for nearly twenty years working on his mathematical and philosophic writings.
"In 1649 he was invited to Sweden by Queen Christina. But his sojourn in what he called 'the land of bears, ice, and rocks' brought on an attack of pneumonia and he died in the winter of 1650."
"So he was only 54 when he died."
"Yes, but he was to have enormous influence on philosophy, even after his death. One can say without exaggeration that Descartes was the father of modern philosophy. Following the heady rediscovery of man and nature in the Renaissance, the need to assemble contemporary thought into one coherent philosophical system again presented itself. The first significant system-builder was Descartes, and he was followed by Spinoza and Leibniz, Locke and Berkeley, Hume and Kant."
"What do you mean by a philosophical system?"
"I mean a philosophy that is constructed from the ground up and that is concerned with finding explanations for all the central questions of philosophy. Antiquity had its great system-constructors in Plato and Aristotle. The Middle Ages had St. Thomas Aquinas, who tried to build a bridge between Aristotle's philosophy and Christian theology. Then came the Renais-sance, with a welter of old and new beliefs about nature and science, God and man. Not until the seventeenth century did philosophers make any attempt to assemble the new ideas into a clarified philosophical system, and the first to attempt it was Descartes. His work was the forerunner of what was to be philosophy's most important project in the coming generations. His main concern was with what we can know, or in other words, certain knowledge. The other great question that preoccupied him was the relationship between body and mind. Both these questions were the substance of philosophical argument for the next hundred and fifty years."
"He must have been ahead of his time."
"Ah, but the question belonged to the age. When it came to acquiring certain knowledge, many of his contemporaries voiced a total philosophic skepticism. They thought that man should accept that he knew nothing. But Descartes would not. Had he done so he would not have been a real philosopher. We can again draw a parallel with Socrates, who did not accept the skepticism of the Sophists. And it was in Descartes's lifetime that the new natural sciences were developing a method by which to provide certain and exact descriptions of natural processes.
"Descartes was obliged to ask himself if there was a similar certain and exact method of philosophic reflection."
"That I can understand."
"But that was only part of it. The new physics had also raised the question of the nature of matter, and thus what determines the physical processes of nature. More and more people argued in favor of a mechanistic view of nature. But the more mechanistic the physical world was seen to be, the more pressing became the question of the relationship between body and soul. Until the seventeenth century, the soul had commonly been considered as a sort of 'breath of life' that pervaded all living creatures. The original meaning of the words 'soul' and 'spirit' is, in fact, 'breath' and 'breathing.' This is the case for almost all European languages. To Aristotle, the soul was something that was present everywhere in the organism as its 'life principle'——and therefore could not be conceived as separate from the body. So he was able to speak of a plant soul or an animal soul. Philosophers did not introduce any radical division of soul and body until the seventeenth century. The reason was that the motions of all material objects——including the body, animal or human——were explained as involving mechanical processes. But man's soul could surely not be part of this body machinery, could it? What of the soul, then? An explanation was required not least of how something 'spiritual' could start a mechanical process."
"It's a strange thought, actually."
"I decide to lift my arm——and then, well, the arm lifts itself. Or I decide to run for a bus, and the net second my legs are moving. Or I'm thinking about something sad, and suddenly I'm crying. So there must be some mysterious connection between body and consciousness."
"That was exactly the problem that set Descartes's thoughts going. Like Plato, he was convinced that there was a sharp division between 'spirit' and 'matter.' But as to how the mind influences the body——or the soul the body——Plato could not provide an answer."
"Neither have I, so I am looking forward to hearing what Descartes's theory was."
"Let us follow his own line of reasoning."
Albert pointed to the book that lay on the table between them.
"In his Discourse on Method, Descartes raises the question of the method the philosopher must use to solve a philosophical problem. Science already had its new method……"
"So you said."
"Descartes maintains that we cannot accept anything as being true unless we can clearly and distinctly perceive it. To achieve this can require the breaking down of a compound problem into as many single factors as possible. Then we can take our point of departure in the simplest idea of all. You could say that every single thought must be weighed and measured, rather in the way 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. And finally it would be necessary to ensure by constant enumeration and control that nothing was left out. Then, a philosophical conclusion would be within reach."
"It sounds almost like a math test."
"Yes. Descartes was a mathematician; he is considered the father of analytical geometry, and he made important contributions to the science of algebra. Descartes wanted to use the 'mathematical method' even for philosophizing. He set out to prove philosophical truths in the way one proves a mathematical theorem. In other words, he wanted to use exactly the same instrument that we use when we work with figures, namely, reason, since only reason can give us certainty. It is far from certain that we can rely on our senses. We have already noted Descartes's affinity with Plato, who also observed that mathematics and numerical ratio give us more certainty than the evidence of our senses."
"But can one solve philosophical problems that way?"
"We had better go back to Descartes's own reasoning. His aim is to reach certainty about the nature of life, and he starts by maintaining that at first one should doubt everything. He didn't want to build on sand, you see."
"No, because if the foundations give way, the whole house collapses."
"As you so neatly put it, my child. Now, Descartes did not think it reasonable to doubt everything, but he thought it was possible in principle to doubt everything. For one thing, it is by no means certain that we advance our philosophical quest by reading Plato or Aristotle. It may increase our knowledge of history but not of the world. It was important for Descartes to rid himself of all handed down, or received, learning before beginning his own philosophical construction."
"He wanted to clear all the rubble off the site before starting to build his new house ……"
"Thank you. He wanted to use only fresh new materials in order to be sure that his new thought construction would hold. But Descartes's doubts went even deeper. We cannot even trust what our senses tell us, he said. Maybe they are deceiving us."
"When we dream, we feel we are experiencing reality. What separates our waking feelings from our dream feelings?
" 'When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream,' writes Descartes. And he goes on: 'How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?' "
"Jeppe thought he had only been dreaming when he had slept in the Baron's bed."
"And when he was lying in the Baron's bed, he thought his life as a poor peasant was only a dream. So in the same way, Descartes ends up doubting absolutely everything. any philosophers before him had reached the end of the road at that very point."
"So they didn't get very far."
"But Descartes tried to work forward from this zero point. He doubted everything, and that was the only thing he was certain of. But now something struck him: one thing had to be true, and that was that he 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. Or, as he himself expressed it: Cogito, ergo sum."
"I think, therefore I am."
"I'm not surprised he realized that."
"Fair enough. But notice the intuitive certainty with which he suddenly perceives himself as a thinking being. Perhaps you now recall what Plato said, that what we grasp with our reason is more real than what we grasp with our senses. That's the way it was for Descartes. He perceived not only that he was a thinking /, he realized at the same time that this thinking / was more real than the material world which we perceive with our senses. And he went on. He was by no means through with his philosophical quest."
"What came next?"
"Descartes now asked himself if there was anything more he could perceive with the same intuitive certainty.
He came to the conclusion that in his mind he had a clear and distinct idea of a perfect entity. This was an idea he had always had, and it was thus self-evident to Descartes that such an idea could not possibly have come from himself. The idea of a perfect entity cannot have originated from one who was himself imperfect, he claimed. Therefore the idea of a perfect entity must have originated from that perfect entity itself, or in other words, from God. That God exists was therefore just as self-evident for Descartes as that a thinking being must exist."
"Now he was jumping to a conclusion. He was more cautious to begin with."
"You're right. Many people have called that his weak spot. But you say 'conclusion.' Actually it was not a question of proof. Descartes only meant that we all possess the idea of a perfect entity, and that inherent in that idea is the fact that this perfect entity must exist. Because a perfect entity wouldn't be perfect if it didn't exist. Neither would we possess the idea of a perfect entity if there were no perfect entity. For we are imperfect, so the idea of perfection cannot come from us. According to Descartes, the idea of God is innate, it is stamped on us from birth 'like the artisan's mark stamped on his product.' "
"Yes, but just because I possess the idea of a crocophant doesn't mean that the crocophant exists."
"Descartes would have said that it is not inherent in the concept of a crocophant that it exists. On the other hand, it is inherent in the concept of a perfect entity that such an entity exists. According to Descartes, this is just as certain as it is inherent in the idea of a circle that all points of the circle are equidistant from the center. You cannot have a circle that does not conform to this law. Nor can you have a perfect entity that lacks its most important property, namely, existence."
"That's an odd way of thinking."
"It is a decidedly rationalistic way of thinking. Descartes believed like Socrates and Plato that there is a connection between reason and being. The more self-evident a thing is to one's reason, the more certain it is that it exists."
"So far he has gotten to the fact that he is a thinking person and that there exists a perfect entity."
"Yes, and with this as his point of departure, he proceeds. In the question of all the ideas we have about outer reality——for example, the sun and the moon——there is the possibility that they are fantasies. But outer reality also has certain characteristics that we can perceive with our reason. These are the mathematical properties, or, in other words, the kinds of things that are measurable, such as length, breadth, and depth. Such 'quantitative' properties are just as clear and distinct to my reason as the fact that I am a thinking being. 'Qualitative' properties such as color, smell, and taste, on the oter hand, are linked to our sense perception and as such do not describe outer reality."
"So nature is not a dream after all."
"No, and on that point Descartes once again draws upon our idea of the perfect entity. When our reason recognizes something clearly and distinctly——as is the case for the mathematical properties of outer reality——it must necessarily be so. Because a perfect God would not deceive us. Descartes claims 'God's guarantee' that whatever we perceive with our reason also corresponds to reality."
"Okay, so now he's found out he's a thinking being, God exists, and there is an outer reality."
"Ah, but the outer reality is essentially different from the reality of thought. Descartes now maintains that there are two different forms of reality——or two 'substances.' One substance is thought, or the 'mind,' the other is extension, or matter. The mind is purely conscious, it takes up no room in space and can therefore not be subdivided into smaller parts. Matter, however, is purely extension, it takes up room in space and can therefore always be subdivided into smaller and smaller parts—— but it has no consciousness. Descartes maintained that both substances originate from God, because only God himself exists independently of anything else. But al-though both thought and extension come from God, the two substances have no contact with each other. Thought is quite independent of matter, and conversely, the material processes are quite independent of thought."
"So he divided God's creation into two."
"Precisely. We say that Descartes is a dualist, which means that he effects a sharp division between the reality of thought and extended reality. For example, only man has a mind. Animals belong completely to extended reality. Their living and moving are accomplished me-chanically. Descartes considered an animal to be a kind of complicated automaton. As regards extended reality, he takes a thoroughly mechanistic view——exactly like the materialists."
"I doubt very much that Hermes is a machine or an automaton. Descartes couldn't have liked animals very much. And what about us? Are we automatons as well?"
"We are and we aren't. Descartes came to the conclusion that man is a dual creature that both thinks and takes up room in space. Man has thus both a mind and an extended body. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas had already said something similar, namely, that man had a body like the animals and a soul like the angels. According to Descartes, the human body is a perfect machine. But man also has a mind which can operate quite independently of the body. The bodily processes do not have the same freedom, they obey their own laws. But what we think with our reason does not happen in the body——it happens in the mind, which is completely independent of extended reality. I should add, by the way, that Descartes did not reject the possibility that animals could think. But if they have that faculty, the same dualism between thought and extension must also apply to them."
"We have talked about this before. If I decide to run after a bus, the whole 'automaton' goes into action. And if I don't catch the bus, I start to cry."
"Even Descartes could not deny that there is a constant interaction between mind and body. As long as the mind is in the body, he believed, it is linked to the brain through a special brain organ which he called the pineal gland, where a constant interaction takes place between 'spirit' and 'matter.' Therefore the mind can constantly be affected by feelings and passions that are related to bodily needs. But the mind can also detach itself from such 'base' impulses and operate independently of the body. The aim is to get reason to assume command. Because even if I have the worst pain in my stomach, the sum of the angles in a triangle will still be 180 de-grees. Thus humans have the capacity to rise above bodily needs and behave rationally. In this sense the mind is superior to the body. Our legs can age and become weak, the back can become bowed and our teeth can fall out——but two and two will go on bein four as long as there is reason left in us. Reason doesn't become bowed and weak. It is the body that ages. For Descartes, the mind is essentially thought. Baser passions and feelings such as desire and hate are more closely linked to our bodily functions——and therefore to extended reality."
"I can't get over the fact that Descartes compared the human body to a machine or an automaton."
"The comparison was based on the fact that people in his time were deeply fascinated by machines and the workings of clocks, which appeared to have the ability to function of their own accord. The word 'automaton' means precisely that——something that moves of its own accord. It was obviously only an illusion that they moved of their own accord. An astronomical clock, for instance, is both constructed and wound up by human hands. Descartes made a point of the fact that ingenious inventions of that kind were actually assembled very simply from a relatively small number of parts compared with the vast number of bones, muscles, nerves, veins, and arteries that the human and the animal body consists of. Why should God not be able to make an animal or a human body based on mechanical laws?"
"Nowadays there is a lot of talk about 'artificial intelligence.' "
"Yes, that is the automaton of our time. We have created machines that can sometimes deceive us into believing that they are intelligent. Machines like these would have terrified Descartes out of his wits. He might have begun to doubt whether human reason really was as free and independent as he had supposed. And there are philosophers who believe that man's spiritual life is no more free than the bodily processes. The human soul is naturally infinitely more complex than any data program, but some people think that in principle we are just as unfree as these data programs. But look, Sophie——I'll show you something."
Alberto pointed to a large writing table at the other end of the room. On it stood a small computer. He went over to it. Sophie followed him.
Alberto switched the computer on and soon the screen showed C: at the top. He wrote "Laila," explaining that this was an advanced conversation program.
A text soon appeared at the top of the screen:
"Hi, my name is Laila. Are you sitting comfortably?"
Sophie entered three letters:
"Yes," she wrote although she had not yet sat down. Alberto brought up a chair for her.
"What is your name?" appeared on the screen.
"Sophie Amundsen," wrote Sophie, and the computer answered:
"3 Clover Close. Nice to meet you, Sophie. Are you looking forward to your fifteenth birthday?"
Sophie was startled. Alberto laid a hand on her shoulder and said: "I have only given her your name, your address, and your date of birth. It's like when you are going to be introduced to a new friend. It's nice to know a little about them beforehand."
"Not bad," wrote Sophie.
"Oh dear, I hope you are not feeling bad, Sophie. You must try to talk in whole sentences."
"Thank you, I'm perfectly well. Can I ask you something?"
"I am glad you are well. Go ahead and ask me something."
"How old are you?" Sophie wrote.
"I was constructed in Atlanta on August 8, 1988, but I was translated into Norwegian at the Norwegian Polytechnic on March 28, 1990."
"I said you must talk in whole sentences."
"I only said gosh!"
"I do not understand slang. I have a vocabulary of over 100,000 words, but the nearest I can find to gosh is gospel."
"That means the story of Jesus."
"Are you a Christian, Sophie?"
"I don't know."
"As a rule not knowing is a step toward new knowledge."
"Socrates would most likely have said the same. Or Descartes, for that matter."
"Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived from 470 to 399 B.C. If you wish to know more, press F7. Descartes was a French philosopher who lived from 1596 to 1650. If you wish to know more, press F7."
"Thank you, that will be quite enough. Can I ask you something else?"
"I am glad that this was enough. Go ahead and ask!"
Alberto laughed quietly. Sophie wrote:
"Who is Hilde Moller Knag?"
"Hilde Moller Knagives in Lillesand and is exactly the same age as Sophie Amundsen."
"How do you know?"
"I don't know how. I found her on the hard disc."
Sophie felt a hand on her shoulder.
"I have fed the data program with the little information we have about Hilde," said Alberto.
"What else do you know about Hilde?" wrote Sophie.
"Hilde's father is a UN Observer in Lebanon. He has the rank of major and continually sends postcards to his daughter."
"I want you to find him!"
"I can't do that. He is not on any of my files and I am not coupled to any other data base."
"I said find him!!!!!!!!"
"Are you angry, Sophie? So many exclamation marks are a sign of violent feelings."
"I want to talk to Hilde's father!"
"You have difficulty controlling yourself. If you wish to talk about your childhood, press F9."
Alberto laid his hand on Sophie's shoulder again.
"She's right. This is not a crystal ball. Laila is only a data program."
"Shut up!" wrote Sophie.
"As you wish, Sophie. Our acquaintance lasted only 13 minutes and 52 seconds. I shall remember everything we have said. I shall now end the program."
The letter C: once again showed up on the screen.
"Now we can sit down again," said Alberto.
But Sophie had already pressed some other keys.
"Knag," she wrote.
Immediately the following message appeared on the screen:
"Here I am."
Now it was Alberto who jumped.
"Who are you?" wrote Sophie.
"Major Albert Knag at your service. I came straight from Lebanon. What is your command?"
"This beats everything!" breathed Alberto. "The rat has sneaked onto the hard disc."
He motioned for Sophie to move and sat down in front of the keyboard.
"How did you manage to get into my PC?" he wrote.
"A mere bagatelle, dear colleague. I am exactly where I choose to be."
"You loathsome data virus!"
"Now, now! At the moment I am here as a birthday virus. May I send a special greeting?"
"No thanks, we've had enough of them."
"But I'll be quick: all in your honor, dear Hilde. Once again, a very happy fifteenth birthday. Please excuse the circumstances, but I wanted my birthday greetings to spring up around you everywhere you go. Love from Dad, who is longing to give you a great big hug."
Before Alberto could write again, the sign C: had once again appeared on the screen.
Alberto wrote "dir knag*.*," which called up the following information on the screen:
* * *
Alberto wrote "erase knag*.*" and switched off the computer.
"There——now I have erased him," he said. "But it's impossible to say where he'll turn up next time."
He went on sitting there, staring at the screen. Then he added:
"The worst of it all was the name. Albert Knag ……"
For the first time Sophie was struck by the similarity between the two names. Albert Knag and Alberto Knox. But Alberto was so incensed that she dared not say a word. They went over and sat by the coffee table again.
…God is not a puppeteer…
They sat silently for a long time. Then Sophie spoke, trying to get Alberto's mind off what had happened.
"Descartes must have been an odd kind of person. Did he become famous?"
Alberto breathed deeply for a couple of seconds before answering: "He had a great deal of significance. Perhaps most of all for another great philosopher, Ba-ruch Spinoza, who lived from 1632 to 1677."
"Are you going to tell me about him?"
"That was my intention. And we're not going to be stopped by military provocations."
"I'm all ears."
"Spinoza belonged to the Jewish community of Amsterdam, but he was excommunicated for heresy. Few philosophers in more recent times have been so blasphemed and so persecuted for their ideas as this man. It happened because he criticized the established religion. He believed that Christianity and Judaism were only kept alive by rigid dogma and outer ritual. He was the first to apply what we call a historico-critical interpretation of the Bible."
"He denied that the Bible was inspired by God down to the last letter. When we read the Bible, he said, we must continually bear in mind the period it was writen in. A 'critical' reading, such as the one he proposed, revealed a number of inconsistencies in the texts. But beneath the surface of the Scriptures in the New Testament is Jesus, who could well be called God's mouthpiece. The teachings of Jesus therefore represented a liberation from the orthodoxy of Judaism. Jesus preached a 'religion of reason' which valued love higher than all else. Spinoza interpreted this as meaning both love of God and love of humanity. Nevertheless, Christianity had also become set in its own rigid dogmas and outer rituals."
"I don't suppose these ideas were easy to swallow, either for the church or the synagogue."
"When things got really tough, Spinoza was even deserted by his own family. They tried to disinherit him on the grounds of his heresy. Paradoxically enough, few have spoken out more powerfully in the cause of free speech and religious tolerance than Spinoza. The opposition he was met with on all sides led him to pursue a quiet and secluded life devoted entirely to philosophy. He earned a meager living by polishing lenses, some of which have come into my possession."
"There is almost something symbolic in the fact that he lived by polishing lenses. A philosopher must help people to see life in a new perspective. One of the pillars of Spinoza's philosophy was indeed to see things from the perspective of eternity."
"The perspective of eternity?"
"Yes, Sophie. Do you think you can imagine your own life in a cosmic context? You'll have to try and imagine yourself and your life here and now ……"
"Hm …… that's not so easy."
"Remind yourself that you are only living a minuscule part of all nature's life. You are part of an enormous whole."
"I think I see what you mean ……"
"Can you manage to feel it as well? Can you perceive all of nature at one time——the whole universe, in fact—— at a single glance?"
"I doubt it. Maybe I need some lenses."
"I don't mean only the infinity of space. I mean the eternity of time as well. Once upon a time, thirty thousand years ago there lived a little boy in the Rhine valley. He was a tiny part of nature, a tiny ripple on an endless sea. You too, Sophie, you too are living a tiny part of nature's life. There is no difference between you and that boy."
"Except that I'm alive now."
"Yes, but that is precisely what I wanted you to try and imagine. Who will you be in thirty thousand years?"
"Was that the heresy?"
"Not entirely …… Spinoza didn't only say that everything is nature. He identified nature with God. He said God is all, and all is in God."
"So he was a pantheist."
"That's true. To Spinoza, God did not create the world in order to stand outside it. No, God is the world. Sometimes Spinoza expresses it differently. He maintains that the world is in God. In this, he is quoting St. Paul's speech to the Athenians on the Areopagos hill: 'In him we live and move and have our being.' But let us pursue Spinoza's own reasoning. His most important book was his Ethics Geometrically Demonstrated."
"It may sound a bit strange to us. In philosophy, ethics means the study of moral conduct for living a good life. This is also what we mean when we speak of the ethics of Socrates or Aristotle, for example. It is only in our own time that ethics has more or less become reduced to a set of rules for living without treading on other people's toes."
"Because thinking of yourself is supposed to be egoism?"
"Something like that, yes. When Spinoza uses the word ethics, he means both the art of living and moral conduct."
"But even so …… the art of living demonstrated geometrically?"
"The geometrical method refers to the terminology he used for his formulations. You may recall how Descartes wished to use mathematical method for philosophical reflection. By this he meant a form of philosophic reflection that was constructed from strictly logical conclusions. Spinoza was part of the same rationalistic tradition. He wanted his ethics to show that human life is subject to the universal laws of nature. Wemust therefore free ourselves from our feelings and our passions. Only then will we find contentment and be happy, he believed."
"Surely we are not ruled exclusively by the laws of nature?"
"Well, Spinoza is not an easy philosopher to grasp. Let's take him bit by bit. You remember that Descartes believed that reality consisted of two completely separate substances, namely thought and extension."
"How could I have forgotten it?"
"The word 'substance' can be interpreted as 'that which something consists of,' or that which something basically is or can be reduced to. Descartes operated then with two of these substances. Everything was either thought or extension.
"However, Spinoza rejected this split. He believed that there was only one substance. Everything that exists can be reduced to one single reality which he simply called Substance. At times he calls it God or nature. Thus Spinoza does not have the dualistic view of reality that Descartes had. We say he is a monist. That is, he reduces nature and the condition of all things to one single substance."
"They could hardly have disagreed more."
"Ah, but the difference between Descartes and Spinoza is not as deep-seated as many have often claimed. Descartes also pointed out that only God exists independently. It's only when Spinoza identifies God with nature——or God and creation——that he distances himself a good way from both Descartes and from the Jewish and Christian doctrines."
"So then nature is God, and that's that."
"But when Spinoza uses the word 'nature,' he doesn't only mean extended nature. By Substance, God, or nature, he means everything that exists, including all things spiritual."
"You mean both thought and extension."
"You said it! According to Spinoza, we humans recognize two of God's qualities or manifestations. Spinoza called these qualities God's attributes, and these two attributes are identical with Descartes's 'thought' and 'extension.' God——or nature——manifests itself either as thought or as extension. It may well be that God has infinitely more attributes than 'thought' and 'extension,' but these are the only two that are known to man."
"Fair enough, but what a complicated way of saying it."
"Yes, one almost needs a hammer and chisel to get through Spinoza's language. The reward is that in the end you dig out a thought as crystal clear as a diamond."
"I can hardly wait!"
"Everything in nature, then, is either thought or extension. The various phenomena we come across in everyday life, such as a flower or a poem by Wordsworth, are different modes of the attribute of thought or extension. A 'mode' is the particular manner which Substance, God, or nature assumes. A flower is a mode of the attribute of extension, and a poem about the same flower is a mode of the attribute of thought. But both are basically the expression of Substance, God, or nature."
"You could have fooled me!"
"But it's not as complicated as he makes it sound. Beneath his stringent formulation lies a wonderful realization that is actually so simple that everyday language cannot accommodate it."
"I think I prefer everyday language, if it's all the same to you."
"Right. Then I'd better begin with you yourself. When you get a pain in your stomach, what is it that has a pain?"
"Like you just said. It's me."
"Fair enough. And when you later recollect that you once had a pain in your stomach, what is it that thinks?"
"That's me, too."
"So you are a single person that has a stomachache one minute and is in a thoughtful mood the next. Spinoza maintained that all material things and things that happen around us are an expression of God or nature. So it follows that all thoughts that we think are also God's or nature's thoughts. For everything is One. There is only one God, one nature, or one Substance."
"But listen, when I think something, I'm the one who's doing the thinking. When I move, I'm doing the moving. Why do you have to mix God into it?"
"I like your involvement. But who are you? You are Sophie Amundsen, but you are also the expression of something infinitel bigger. You can, if you wish, say that you are thinking or that you are moving, but could you not also say that it is nature that is thinking your thoughts, or that it is nature that is moving through you? It's really just a question of which lenses you choose to look through."
"Are you saying I cannot decide for myself?"
"Yes and no. You may have the right to move your thumb any way you choose. But your thumb can only move according to its nature. It cannot jump off your hand and dance about the room. In the same way you also have your place in the structure of existence, my dear. You are Sophie, but you are also a finger of God's body."
"So God decides everything I do?"
"Or nature, or the laws of nature. 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."
"I'm not sure I can see the difference."
"God is not a puppeteer who pulls all the strings, controlling everything that happens. A real puppet master controls the puppets from outside and is therefore the 'outer cause' of the puppet's movements. But that is not the way God controls the world. God controls the world through natural laws. So God——or nature——is the 'inner cause' of everything that happens. This means that everything in the material world happens through necessity. Spinoza had a determinist view of the material, or natural, world."
"I think you said something like that before."
"You're probably thinking of the Stoics. They also claimed that everything happens out of necessity. That was why it was important to meet every situation with 'stoicism.' Man should not get carried away by his feelings. Briefly, that was also Spinoza's ethics."
"I see what you mean, but I still don't like the idea that I don't decide for myself."
"Okay, let's go back in time to the Stone Age boy who lived thirty thousand years ago. When he grew up, he cast spears after wild animals, loved a woman who became the mother of his children, and quite certainly worshipped the tribal gods. Do you really think he decided all that for himself?"
"I don't know."
"Or think of a lion in Africa. Do you think it makes up its mind to be a beast of prey? Is that why it attacks a limping antelope? Could it instead have made up its mind to be a vegetarian?"
"No, a lion obeys its nature."
"You mean, the laws of nature. So do you, Sophie, because you are also part of nature. You could of course protest, with the support of Descartes, that a lion is an animal and not a free human being with free mental faculties. But think of a newborn baby that screams and yells. If it doesn't get milk it sucks its thumb. Does that baby have a free will?"
"I guess not."
"When does the child get its free will, then? At the age of two, she runs around and points at everything in sight. At the age of three she nags her mother, and at the age of four she suddenly gets afraid of the dark. Where's the freedom, Sophie?"
"I don't know."
"When she is fifteen, she sits in front of a mirror experimenting with makeup. Is this the moment when she makes her own personal decisions and does what she likes?"
"I see what you're getting at."
"She is Sophie Amundsen, certainly. But she also lives according to the laws of nature. The point is that she doesn't realize it because there are so many complex reasons for everything she does."
"I don't think I want to hear any more."
"But you must just answer a last question. Two equally old trees are growing in a large garden. One of the trees grows in a sunny spot and has plenty of good soil and water. The other tree grows in poor soil in a dark spot. Which of the trees do you think is bigger? And which of them bears more fruit?"
"Obviously the tree with the best conditions for growing."
"According to Spinoza, this tree is free. It has its full freedom to develop its inherent abilities. But if it is an apple tree it will not have the ability to bear pears or plums. The same applies to us humans. We can be hindered in our developmentand our personal growth by political conditions, for instance. Outer circumstances can constrain us. Only when we are free to develop our innate abilities can we live as free beings. But we are just as much determined by inner potential and outer opportunities as the Stone Age boy on the Rhine, the lion in Africa, or the apple tree in the garden."
"Okay, I give in, almost."
"Spinoza emphasizes that there is only one being which is totally and utterly 'its own cause' and can act with complete freedom. Only God or nature is the expression of such a free and 'nonaccidental' process. Man can strive for freedom in order to live without outer con-straint, but he will never achieve 'free will.' We do not control everything that happens in our body——which is a mode of the attribute of extension. Neither do we 'choose' our thinking. Man therefore does not have a 'free soul'; it is more or less imprisoned in a mechanical body."
"That is rather hard to understand."
"Spinoza said that it was 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. This was what Spinoza called seeing everything 'sub specie aeternitatis.' "
"Which means what?"
"To see everything from the perspective of eternity. Wasn't that where we started?"
"It'll have to be where we end, too. I must get going."
Alberto got up and fetched a large fruit dish from the book shelves. He set it on the coffee table.
"Won't you at least have a piece of fruit before you go?"
Sophie helped herself to a banana. Alberto took a green apple.
She broke off the top of the banana and began to peel it.
"There's something written here," she said suddenly.
"Here——inside the banana peel. It looks as if it was written with an ink brush."
Sophie leaned over and showed Alberto the banana. He read aloud:
Here I am again, Hilde. I'm everywhere. Happy birthday!
"Very funny," said Sophie.
"He gets more crafty all the time."
"But it's impossible …… isn't it? Do you know if they grow bananas in Lebanon?"
Alberto shook his head.
"I'm certainly not going to eat that."
"Leave it then. Someone who writes birthday greetings to his daughter on the inside of an unpeeled banana must be mentally disturbed. But he must also be quite ingenious."
"So shall we establish here and now that Hilde has an ingenious father? In other words, he's not so stupid."
"That's what I've been telling you. And it could just as well be him that made you call me Hilde last time I came here. Maybe he's the one putting all the words in our mouths."
"Nothing can be ruled out. But we should doubt everything."
"For all we know, our entire life could be a dream."
"But let's not jump to conclusions. There could be a simpler explanation."
"Well whatever, I have to hurry home. My mom is waiting for me."
Alberto saw her to the door. As she left, he said:
"We'll meet again, dear Hilde."
Then the door closed behind her.
… as hare and empty as a blackboard before the teacher arrives…
Sophie arrived home at eight-thirty. That was one and a half hours after the agreement——which was not really an agreement. She had simply skipped dinner and left a message for her mother that she would be back not later than seven.
"This has got to stop, Sophie. I had to call information and ask if they had any record of anyone named Alberto in the Old Town. They laughed at me."
"I couldn't get away. I think we're just about to make a breakthrough in a huge mystery."
"Did you invite him to your party?"
"Oh no, I forgot."
"Well, now I insist on meeting him. Tomorrow at the latest. It's not natural for a young girl to be meeting an older man like this."
"Youve got no reason to be scared of Alberto. It may be worse with Hilde's father."
"The daughter of the man in Lebanon. He's really bad. He may be controlling the whole world."
"If you don't immediately introduce me to your Alberto, I won't allow you to see him again. I won't feel easy about him until I at least know what he looks like."
Sophie had a brilliant idea and dashed up to her room.
"What's the matter with you now?" her mother called after her.
In a flash Sophie was back again.
"In a minute you'll see what he looks like. And then I hope you'll let me be."
She waved the video cassette and went over to the VCR.
"Did he give you a video?"
Pictures of the Acropolis soon appeared on the screen. Her mother sat dumbfounded as Alberto came forward and began to speak directly to Sophie.
Sophie now noticed something she had forgotten about. The Acropolis was crowded with tourists milling about in their respective groups. A small placard was being held up from the middle of one group. On it was written HILDE …… Alberto continued his wandering on the Acropolis. After a while he went down through the entrance and climbed to the Areopagos hill where Paul had addressed the Athenians. Then he went on to talk to Sophie from the square.
Her mother sat commenting on the video in short utterances:
"Incredible…… is that Alberto? He mentioned the rabbit again…… But, yes, he's really talking to you, Sophie. I didn't know Paul went to Athens ……"
The video was coming to the part where ancient Athens suddenly rises from the ruins. At the last minute Sophie managed to stop the tape. Now that she had shown her mother Alberto, there was no need to introduce her to Plato as well.
There was silence in the room.
"What do you think of him? He's quite good-looking, isn't he?" teased Sophie.
"What a strange man he must be, having himself filmed in Athens just so he could send it to a girl he hardly knows. When was he in Athens?"
"I haven't a clue."
"But there's something else ……"
"He looks very much like the major who lived in that little hut in the woods."
"Well maybe it is him, Mom."
"But nobody has seen him for over fifteen years."
"He probably moved around a lot…… to Athens, maybe."
Her mother shook her head. "When I saw him sometime in the seventies, he wasn't a day younger than this Alberto I just saw. He had a foreign-sounding name……"
"Could be, Sophie. Could be his name was Knox."
"Or was it Knag?"
"I can't for the life of me remember …… Which Knox or Knag are you talking about?"
"One is Alberto, the other is Hilde's father."
"It's all making me dizzy."
"Is there any food in the house?"
"You can warm up the meatballs."
Exactly two weeks went by without Sophie hearing a word from Alberto. She got another birthday card for Hilde, but although the actual day was approaching, she did not receive a single birthday card herself.
One afternoon she went to the Old Town and knocked on Alberto's door. He was out, but there was a short note attached to his door. It said:
Happy birthday, Hilde! Now the great turning point is at hand. The moment of truth, little one. Every time I think about it, I can't stop laughing. It has naturally something to do with Berkeley, so hold on to your hat.
Sophie tore the note off the door and stuffed it into Alberto's mailbox as she went out.
Damn! Surely he'd not gone back to Athens? How could he leave her with so many questions unanswered?
When she got home from school on June 14, Hermes was romping about in the garden. Sophie ran toward him and he came prancing happily toward her. She put her arms around him as if he were the one who could solve all the riddles.
Again she left a note for her mother, but this time she put Alberto's address on it.
As they made their way across town Sophie thought about tomorrow. Not about her own birthday so much—— that was not going to be celebrated until Midsummer Eve anyway. But tomorrow was Hilde's birthday too. Sophie was convinced something quite extraordinary would happen. At leastthere would be an end to all those birthday cards from Lebanon.
When they had crossed Main Square and were making for the Old Town, they passed by a park with a playground. Hermes stopped by a bench as if he wanted Sophie to sit down.
She did, and while she patted the dog's head she looked into his eyes. Suddenly the dog started to shudder violently. He's going to bark now, thought Sophie.
Then his jaws began to vibrate, but Hermes neither growled nor barked. He opened his mouth and said:
"Happy birthday, Hilde!"
Sophie was speechless. Did the dog just talk to her? Impossible, she must have imagined it because she was thinking of Hilde. But deep down she was nevertheless convinced that Hermes had spoken, and in a deep resonant bass voice.
The next second everything was as before. Hermes gave a couple of demonstrative barks——as if to cover up the fact that he had just spoken with a human voice—— and trotted on ahead toward Alberto's place. As they were going inside Sophie looked up at the sky. It had been fine weather all day but now heavy clouds were beginning to gather in the distance.
Alberto opened the door and Sophie said at once:
"No civilities, please. You are a great idiot, and you know it."
"What's the matter now?"
"The major taught Hermes to talk!"
"Ah, so it has come to that."
"And what did he say?"
"I'll give you three guesses."
"I imagine he said something along the lines of Happy Birthday!"
Alberto let Sophie in. He was dressed in yet another costume. It wasn't all that different from last time, but today there were hardly any braidings, bows, or lace.
"But that's not all," Sophie said.
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you find the note in the mailbox?"
"Oh, that. I threw it away at once."
"I don't care if he laughs every time he thinks of Berkeley. But what is so funny about that particular philosopher?"
"We'll have to wait and see."
"But today is the day you're going to talk about him, isn't it?"
"Yes, today is the day."
Alberto made himself comfortable on the sofa. Then he said:
"Last time we sat here I told you about Descartes and Spinoza. We agreed that they had one important thing in common, namely, that they were both rationalists."
"And a rationalist is someone who believes strongly in the importance of reason."
"That's right, a rationalist believes in reason as the primary source of knowledge, and he may also believe that man has certain innate ideas that exist in the mind prior to all experience. And the clearer such ideas may be, the more certain it is that they correspond to reality. You recall how Descartes had a clear and distinct idea of a 'perfect entity,' on the basis of which he concluded that God exists."
"I am not especially forgetful."
"Rationalist thinking of this kind was typical for philosophy of the seventeenth century. It was also firmly rooted in the Middle Ages, and we remember it from Plato and Socrates too. But in the eighteenth century it was the object of an ever increasing in-depth criticism. A number of philosophers held that we have absolutely nothing in the mind that we have not experienced through the senses. A view such as this is called empiricism."