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The Enlightenent
...from the way needles are made to the way cannons are founded

Hilde had just begun the chapter on the Renaissance when she heard her mother come in the front door. She looked at the clock. It was four in the afternoon.

Her mother ran upstairs and opened Hilde's door.

"Didn't you go to the church?"

"Yes, I did."

"But... what did you wear?"

"What I'm wearing now."

"Your nightgown?"

"It's an old stone church from the Middle Ages."


She let the ring binder fall into her lap and looked up at her mother.

"I forgot the time, Mom. I'm sorry, but I'm reading something terribly exciting."

Her mother could not help smiling.

"It's a magic book," added Hilde.

"Okay. Happy birthday once again, Hilde!"

"Hey, I don't know if I can take that phrase any more."

"But I haven't... I'm just going to rest for a while, then I'll start fixing a great dinner. I managed to get hold of some strawberries."

"Okay, I'll go on reading."

Her mother left and Hilde read on.

Sophie is following Hermes through the town. In Alberto's hall she finds another card from Lebanon. This, too, is dated June 15.

Hilde was just beginning to understand the system of the dates. The cards dated before June 15 are copies of cards Hilde had already received from her dad. But those with today's date are reaching her for the first time via the ring binder.

Dear Hilde, Now Sophie is coming to the philosopher's house. She will soon be fifteen, but you were fifteen yesterday. Or is it today, Hilde? If it is today, it must be late, then. But our watches do not always agree . . .

Hilde read how Alberto told Sophie about the Renaissance and the new science, the seventeenth-century rationalists and British empiricism.

She jumped at every new card and birthday greeting that her father had stuck into the story. He got them to fall out of an exercise book, turn up inside a banana skin, and hide inside a computer program. Without the slightest effort, he could get Alberto to make a slip of the tongue and call Sophie Hilde. On top of everything else, he got Hermes to say "Happy birthday, Hilde!"

Hilde agreed with Alberto that he was going a bit too far, comparing himself with God and Providence. But whom was she actually agreeing with? Wasn't it her father who put those reproachful--or self-reproachful--words in Alberto's mouth? She decided that the comparison with God was not so crazy after all. Her father really was like an almighty God for Sophie's world.

When Alberto got to Berkeley, Hilde was at least as enthralled as Sophie had been. What would happen now? There had been all kinds of hints that something special was going to happen as soon as they got to that philosopher--who had denied the existence of a material world outside human consciousness.

The chapter begins with Alberto and Sophie standing at the window, seeing the little plane with the long Happy Birthday streamer waving behind it. At the same time dark clouds begin to gather over the town.

"So 'to be or not to be' is not the whole question. The question is also who we are. Are we really human beings of flesh and blood? Does our world consist of real things--or are we encircled by the mind?"

Not so surprising that Sophie starts biting her nails. Nail-biting had never been one of Hilde's bad habits but she didn't feel particularly pleased with herself right now. Then finally it was all out in the open: "For us-- for you and me--this 'will or spirit' that is the 'cause of everything in everything' could be Hilde's father."

"Are you saying he's been a kind of God for us?" "To   be   perfectly  candid, yes.He  should   be ashamed of himself!" "What about Hilde herself?" "She is an angel, Sophie." "An angel?" "Hilde is the one this 'spirit' turns to."

With that, Sophie tears herself away from Alberto and runs out into the storm. Could it be the same storm that raged over Bjerkely last night--a few hours after Sophie ran through the town?

As she ran, one thought kept going round and round in her mind: "Tomorrow is my birthday*. Isn't it extra bitter to realize that life is only a dream on the day before your fifteenth birthday? It's like dreaming you won a million and then just as you're getting the money you wake up."

Sophie ran across the squelching playing field. Minutes later she saw someone come running toward her. It was her mother. The sky was pierced again and again by angry darts of lightning.

When they reached each other Sophie's mother put her arm around her.

"What's happening to us, little one?"

"I don't know," Sophie sobbed. "It's like a bad dream."

Hilde felt the tears start. "To be or not to be--that is the question." She threw the ring binder to the end of the bed and stood up. She walked back and forth across the floor. At last she stopped in front of the brass mirror, where she remained until her mother came to say dinner was ready. When Hilde heard the knock on the door, she had no idea how long she had been standing there.

But she was sure, she was perfectly sure, that her reflection had winked with both eyes.

She tried to be the grateful birthday girl all through dinner. But her thoughts were with Sophie and Alberto all the time.

How would things go for them now that they knew it was Hilda's father who decided everything? Although "knew" was perhaps an exaggeration. It was nonsense to think they knew anything at all. Wasn't it only her father who let them know things?

Still, the problem was the same however you looked at it. As soon as Sophie and Alberto "knew" how everything hung together, they were in a way at the end of the road.

She almost choked on a mouthful of food as she suddenly realized that the same problem possibly applied to her own world too. People had progressed steadily in their understanding of natural laws. Could history simply continue to all eternity once the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle of philosophy and science had fallen into place? Wasn't there a connection between the development of ideas and science on the one hand, and the greenhouse effect and deforestation on the other? Maybe it was not so crazy to call man's thirst for knowledge a fall from grace?

The question was so huge and so terrifying that Hilde tried to forget it again. She would probably understand much more as she read further in her father's birthday book.

"Happy birthday to you ...," sang her mother when they were done with their ice cream and Italian strawberries. "Now we'll do whatever you choose."

"I know it sounds a bit crazy, but all I want to do is read my present from Dad."

"Well, as long as he doesn't make you completely delirious."

"No way."

"We could share a pizza while we watch that mystery on TV."

"Yes, if you like."

Hilde suddenly thought of the way Sophie spoke to her mother. Dad had hopefully not written any of Hilde's mother into the character of the other mother? Just to make sure, she decided not to mention the white rabbit being pulled out of the top hat. Not today, at least.

"By the way," she said as she was leaving the table.


"I can't find my gold crucifix anywhere."

Her mother looked at her with an enigmatic expression.

"I found it down by the dock weeks ago. You must have dropped it, you untidy scamp."

"Did you mention it to Dad?"

"Let me think ... yes, I believe I may have."

"Where is it then?"

Her mother got up and went to get her own jewelry case. Hilde heard a little cry of surprise from the bedroom. She came quickly back into the living room.

"Right now I can't seem to find it."

"I thought as much."

She gave her mother a hug and ran upstairs to her room. At last--now she could read on about Sophie and Alberto. She sat up on the bed as before with the heavy ring binder resting against her knees and began the next chapter.

Sophie woke up the next morning when her mother came into the room carrying a tray loaded with birthday presents. She had stuck a flag in an empty soda bottle.

"Happy birthday, Sophie!"

Sophie rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She tried to remember what had happened the night before. But it was all like jumbled pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. One of the pieces was Alberto, another was Hilde and the major. A third was Berkeley, a fourth Bjerkely. The blackest piece of all was the violent storm. She had practically been in shock. Her mother had rubbed her dry with a towel and simply put her to bed with a cup of hot milk and honey. She had fallen asleep immediately.

"I think I'm still alive," she said weakly.

"Of course you're alive! And today you are fifteen years old."

"Are you quite sure?"

"Quite sure. Shouldn't a mother know when her only child was born? June 15, 1975 ... and half-past one, Sophie. It was the happiest moment of my life."

"Are you sure it isn't all only a dream?"

"It must be a good dream to wake up to rolls and soda and birthday presents."

She put the tray of presents on a chair and disappeared out of the room for a second. When she came back she was carrying another tray with rolls and soda. She put it on the end of the bed.

It was the signal for the traditional birthday morning ritual, with the unpacking of presents and her mother's sentimental flights back to her first contractions fifteen years ago. Her mother's present was a tennis racket. Sophie had never played tennis, but there were some open-air courts a few minutes from Clover Close. Her father had sent her a mini-TV and FM radio. The screen was no bigger than an ordinary photograph. There were also presents from old aunts and friends of the family.

Presently her mother said, "Do you think I should stay home from work today?"

"No, why should you?"

"You were very upset yesterday. If it goes on, I think we should make an appointment to see a psychiatrist."

"That won't be necessary."

"Was it the storm--or was it Alberto?"

"What about you? You said: What's happening to us, little one?"

"I was thinking of you running around town to meet some mysterious person ... Maybe it's my fault." "It's not anybody's 'fault' that I'm taking a course in philosophy in my leisure time. Just go to work. School doesn't start till ten, and we're only getting our grades and sitting around."

"Do you know what you're going to get?" "More than I got last semester at any rate."

Not long after her mother had gone the telephone rang.

"Sophie Amundsen."

"This is Alberto."


"The major didn't spare any ammunition last night."

"What do you mean."

"The thunderstorm, Sophie."

"I don't know what to think."

"That is the finest virtue a genuine philosopher can have. I am proud of how much you have learned in such a short time."

"I am scared that nothing is real."

"That's called existential angst, or dread, and is as a rule only a stage on the way to new consciousness."

"I think I need a break from the course."

"Are there that many frogs in the garden at the moment?"

Sophie started to laugh. Alberto continued: "I think it would be better to persevere. Happy birthday, by the way. We must complete the course by Midsummer Eve. It's our last chance."

"Our last chance for what?"

"Are you sitting comfortably? We're going to have to spend some time on this, you understand."

"I'm sitting down."

"You remember Descartes?"

"I think, therefore I am?"

"With regard to our own methodical doubt, we are right now starting from scratch. We don't even know whether we think. It may turn out that we are thoughts, and that is quite different from thinking. We have good reason to believe that we have merely been invented by Hilde's father as a kind of birthday diversion for the major's daughter from Lillesand. Do you see?"

"Yes . . ."

"But therein also lies a built-in contradiction. If we are fictive, we have no right to 'believe' anything at all. In which case this whole telephone conversation is purely imaginary."

"And we haven't the tiniest bit of free will because it's the major who plans everything we say and do. So we can just as well hang up now."

"No, now you're oversimplifying things."

"Explain it, then."

"Would you claim that people plan everything they dream? It may be that Hilde's father knows everything we do. It may be just as difficult to escape his omniscience as it is to run away from your own shadow. However-- and this is where I have begun to devise a plan--it is not certain that the major has already decided on everything that is to happen. He may not decide before the very last minute--that is to say, in the moment of creation. Precisely at such moments we may possibly have an initiative of our own which guides what we say and do. Such an initiative would naturally constitute extremely weak impulses compared to the major's heavy artillery. We are very likely defenseless against intrusive external forces such as talking dogs, messages in bananas, and thunderstorms booked in advance. But we cannot rule out our stubbornness, however weak it may be."

"How could that be possible?"

"The major naturally knows everything about our little world, but that doesn't mean he is all powerful. At any rate we must try to live as if he is not."

"I think I see where you're going with this."

"The trick would be if we could manage to do something all on our own--something the major would not be able to discover."

"How can we do that if we don't even exist?"

"Who said we don't exist? The question is not whether we are, but what we are and who we are. Even if it turns out that we are merely impulses in the major's dual personality, that need not take our little bit of existence away from us."

 "Or our free will?"

"I'm working on it, Sophie."

"But Hilde's father must be fully aware that you are working on it."

"Decidedly so. But he doesn't know what the actual plan is. I am attempting to find an Archimedian point."

"An Archimedian point?"

"Archimedes was a Greek scientist who said 'Give me a firm point on which to stand and I will move the earth.' That's the kind of point we must find to move ourselves out of the major's inner universe."

"That would be quite a feat."

"But we won't manage to slip away before we have finished the philosophy course. While that lasts he has much too firm a grip on us. He has clearly decided that I am to guide you through the centuries right up to our own time. But we only have a few days left before he boards a plane somewhere down in the Middle East. If we haven't succeeded in detaching ourselves from his gluey imagination before he arrives at Bjerkely, we are done for."

"You're frightening me!"

"First of all I shall give you the most important facts about the French Enlightenment. Then we shall take the main outline of Kant's philosophy so that we can get to Romanticism. Hegel will also be a significant part of the picture for us. And in talking about him we will unavoidably touch on Kierkegaard's indignant clash with Hegelian philosophy. We shall briefly talk about Marx, Darwin, and Freud. And if we can manage a few closing comments on Sartre and Existentialism, our plan can be put into operation."

"That's an awful lot for one week."

"That's why we must begin at once. Can you come over right away?"

"I have to go to school. We are having a class get-together and then we get our grades."

"drop it. If we are only fictive, it's pure imagination that candy and soda have any taste."

"But my grades ..."

"Sophie, either you are living in a wondrous universe on a tiny planet in one of many hundred billion galaxies-- or else you are the result of a few electromagnetic impulses in the major's mind. And you are talking about grades! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

"I'm sorry."

"But you'd better go to school before we meet. It might have a bad influence on Hilde if you cut your last school-day. She probably goes to school even on her birthday. She is an angel, you know."

"So I'll come straight from school."

"We can meet at the major's cabin."

"The major's cabin?"

... Click!

Hilde let the ring binder slide into her lap. Her father had given her conscience a dig there--she did cut her last day at school. How sneaky of him!

She ............
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