Hilde sits next to her father. It’s very late, and the stars are bright in the sky. Albert begins by reminding Hilde how odd it is that they live on a tiny planet in the midst of a huge universe. Earth could be the only planet with life, or there could be lots of other planets that have life. There are hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, many of which have planets orbiting them.
Albert has taught Sophie that there’s no firm distinction between philosophy and science. Science, one might say, generates the ideas that philosophy then reinterprets (Newton’s universal, scientific laws inspired Kant, for example). Now, philosophy is faced with a new challenge: how to interpret man’s place in a vast, seemingly infinite universe?
Albert reminds Hilde that light takes a finite amount of time to travel across space. This means that the light that emanated from the Earth long ago is only now reaching faraway planets. From the perspective of Pluto, Hilde is still a little girl; from the perspective of another star, the Earth is still populated by dinosaurs.
This is another reminder that time is relative—our idea of the present moment isn’t identical to another planet’s version of the present, just as time passed differently for Sophie and for Hilde.
Most astronomers agree that the universe began with the Big Bang. In the beginning of time, all the matter in the universe was extremely dense and hot. Beginning with the Big Bang, the matter in the universe is now moving apart; in this way, the entire universe is expanding. But this process might not continue forever. After a certain point, gravity might pull the matter in the universe back together into a tiny, hot ball. If this happens, then it’s possible that there will be another Big Bang. If so, then science will confirm the ancient Indian belief in the cyclical nature of the world. Sophie finds this possibility mysterious and exciting. As she talks to her father, she feels a sting on her forehead. Albert jokes that Socrates is “trying to sting you into life.”
In a strange way, the current trends in science seem to support mankind’s earliest ideas of the world: for example, the idea thatthe world occurs in an endless repetitive cycle. So maybe it’s not fair to say that philosophy and religion have “progressed” from incorrect ideas tomore correct ones—maybe philosophers got it right (or at least asked the right unanswerable questions) from the start, and have been reinterpreting the same ideas ever since.
We cut back to Sophie and Alberto. They’re sitting in their car, still listening to Albert talk about the Big Bang. Alberto points out that the roles have reversed; now, he and Sophie are listening to Hilde and Albert, instead of the other way around. Sophie finds a wrench in the car. She gets out of the car, runs back toward Albert and Hilde, and hits Hilde on the head with the wrench. Hilde winces in pain, and Albert jokes about Socrates stinging her.
This scene shows that Alberto and Sophie can still interact with the “real world”—but we can’t tell if this is the result of Albert or Hilde imagining an alternate universe in which Sophie continues to exist, or if this is just Gaarder reimagining the rules of physics and being playfully meta-fictional again.
Albert and Hilde talk about the ending of Sophie’s World, in which Alberto and Sophie run away from the garden party. Albert explains that the story had to end this way, but Hilde disagrees—she suggests that Sophie and Alberto might still be present in their world. As Alberto listens to Hilde saying this to Albert, he tells Sophie, “You have unusual talents, Sophie.”
Notably, Sophie is less willing than Alberto to give up entirely. She has a strong sense of perseverance and faith, something we’ve already seen in her support for Plato, Spinoza, and the Romantics. Alberto is less hopeful and ambitious, but he respects Sophie for trying to interact with Albert and Hilde.
We cut back to Hilde and Albert. Albert points up at the stars and tells Hilde that once, long ago, all matter was exactly the same—hot and concentrated in the center of the universe. Now, there are many different kinds of matter, strewn all over the universe. Hilde sees what her father is getting at—they’re made of the same basic “stuff” as the stars.
This information parallels the Darwinian paradigm shift—the idea that all life forms are connected since they come from the same DNA molecules. Modern science has generalized this concept to say that allmatter comes from the same places.
We cut back to Sophie and Alberto. Sophie tells Alberto that she wants to “try the rowboat” resting in the bay near Bjerkley. Alberto and Sophie try to move the boat, but they find that they can’t. Sophie insists that she and Alberto keep trying—“A true philosopher must never give up.”
We cut back to Hilde and Albert. Albertremembers the night before her left for Lebanon—this was the night he first decided to write Hilde a philosophy book. As they talk, Hilde notices that their rowboat has come loose of its moorings. She wonders if Sophie and Alberto might have caused this. Albert laughs at this idea, but Hilde insists that it’s Sophie’s doing. Albert says, “One of us will have to swim out to it,’ and Hilde replies, “We’ll both go, Dad.”
Sophie appears to have succeeded in moving the rowboat, even though Alberto insists that such a thing is logically impossible. (This could also just be a coincidence—we’re not told.) In the end, Gaarder doesn’t bother to explain what is and isn’t real in his book—he leaves this up to us. What is clear, however, is that Hilde seems to have reunited with her father: because she’s been studying philosophy, she’s “come of age,” to the point where she and her father are equals. Sophie, for her part, has experienced her own coming of age by studying philosophy. In this way, she’s learned to be strong, hopeful, and a little bit mystical. Whether or not Hilde and Sophie are real, the lessons they’ve learned about life and philosophy have plenty of truth in them.