I just started rereading a book that I’ve had for a number of years and have already read quite a few times. My parents gave it to me for my birthday one year, but I don’t remember how old I was. It was a pretty long time ago; the main character turns fifteen in the middle of the book, and I know I was younger than her the first time I read it. Right now, I don’t really have a lot of time for reading, so it’s probably going to take me the rest of the semester to finish the book. (That’s not how I like to read. Back when I was a young child and had practically as much time as I wanted to read, I sometimes would read novels that were a couple hundred pages long all in one sitting. Ah, the good old days!)

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, was published in Norway in 1991 and was apparently a major bestseller there. The English version was first published in 1994. The book is about a Norwegian girl named Sophie Amundsen who starts getting random anonymous letters about the history of philosophy. A significant portion of the book consists of these letters and the subsequent conversations between Sophie and her philosophy teacher once he is no longer anonymous. The book is very cleverly written; it’s a fictional novel with an interesting plot, but it’s also so factual that it could practically be used as a textbook.

SPOILER ALERT: Throughout the course of the book, Sophie and her no-longer-anonymous philosophy teacher Alberto learn that they are merely characters in a story being written by a man named Albert Knag as a birthday gift for his daughter Hilde Moller-Knag, who is exactly the same age as Sophie. This, of course, wreaks havoc with their perceptions and opinions about identity and reality. Meanwhile, Hilde herself becomes a main character in the novel, and in one passage that I especially like, the author breaks the fourth wall by having Sophie and Alberto discuss the possibility that even Hilde and her father are merely characters in another story. And this forces the reader (aka me) to wonder whether or not they (aka I) are/am only a character in yet another story.

This isn’t my planet; this is is Saturn. But I don’t have a good picture of my planet, so this will have to do.

This happens to be a fun thing to wonder. It seems to be somewhat related to some of the strange beliefs that I had when I was little. For example, when I was angry at my family, I would tell myself that I was probably actually from a different planet and had been brought to Earth as an infant and placed into a randomly selected Earthling family who would spend my entire childhood conducting some sort of interstellar sociological experiment on me by being mean to me and seeing how long it would take me to discover that I wasn’t one of them. This was, of course, the most logical way to explain any incident in which I felt I was being unfairly treated.  Alternatively, sometimes I thought that I was the normal one and it was everyone else in my family who was an alien. Either way, every detail of my life was clearly part of a sinister conspiracy.

When I wasn’t angry and was in a more rational mindset (depending upon how you define a rational mindset), I played with the idea that I had a visible thought bubble constantly floating above my head and everyone else could therefore read all my thoughts. This thought bubble obviously couldn’t be seen in mirrors or photographs, or else I would have been able to see it myself, and I never did. Furthermore, it was obvious that the entire world was in a conspiracy to keep this knowledge from me. Probably, my family hoped that this secrecy would allow me to live a normal life. My parents must have had to monitor every situation in which I might meet someone new so that they could explain to them that they were not to mention my abnormal thought bubble. I eventually discarded this entire theory on the grounds that it was scientifically impossible for me to have a visible thought bubble over my head because, for something to be visible, it must have light bouncing off of it, and in that case, there would be no way of explaining why the thought bubble doesn’t show up in the mirror. Still, to this day, I avoid thinking thoughts that I wouldn’t want people around me to read. This is very useful when it keeps me from getting distracted in classes.

When I wasn’t busy making up crazy conspiracy theories, I pondered the fact that I have never been able to conclusively prove that I exist at all. You can tell that this has been an ongoing issue in my life ‘cause I wrote about it here.  If I, like Sophie Amundsen, am only a character in a book, then that would be a reasonable explanation for how I can simultaneously be conscious and unreal. If this is all true, many things make a lot of sense now. I think I need to find the author and have a little talk about what’s going to happen in the editing process.

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