Last week, I read a book called "Sophie's World" about a young woman who receives philosophy lessons in the mail from a secret source. Toward the end of the book, Sophie (the young woman) realizes that she is a character in a book, and her philosophy teacher proposes that her author might be a character in a book as well. Sophie's reality begins to change in preposterous ways, inviting characters from other books, sea monsters, etc., and we are introduced to a second girl who is reading about her, as we are reading about that girl. I "realized" with building panic that I, too, could be a character in a book, and felt sapped of free will. The fear evolved into a fear that nothing around me really existed, including (with intense regret) the minds and hearts of friends and family-- that it could all change or disappear against the "laws" of physics at any moment. How do we know that just because an experiment works once, it won't suddenly stop working? How do we know, for example, that a clock won't turn into an ice cream cone, just because it never has before? I decided that what I feared must be change or death, but that if change came I would deal with it then, and that if death came, that would be the end and I wouldn't have to worry about it... then I began to fear not just death, but the possibility of eternal damnation, independent of moral choices we make in life. I now find myself anxiously investing nothing but fragile, faltering faith in things I used to take for granted as fact, like gravity, my memory, and human consciousness, and cannot seem to banish the fear that everything will turn on me. I have written papers about "reality" and existentialism before, and have somehow never been bothered by these thoughts, because I've told myself that we make our own meaning, that meaning can derive from the examination of meaninglessness and the human will to create meaning from it... but I've never doubted the existence of other people or the predictability of the world around me. Is there a way of logically or philosophically thinking myself out of this hole so that I can give my heart a break? Thank you so much in advance for even considering this very weighty block of text. I hope that most minds are sounder than mine and won't be equally upset.
Samantha (19, college student)