“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” are not books that are only for children. You cannot grow out of them. Quite the contrary: when you are getting older Lewis Carroll’s stories are becoming “curiouser and curiouser” as Alice would have said. No matter whether you are a grown-up mathematician or a little kid, Carroll prepared for you various puzzles to untangle. What I am now going to discover in Wonderland are three philosophical riddles:
Who is dreaming whom?
Have you ever wonder that maybe the life you are leading now is not real but just a mere dream or illusion as in the movies like “Matrix” or “Inception”? Can we provide some solid arguments that we are able to clearly decide on what is real and what is unreal? Alice felt similar confusion when Tweedledee confidently stated that she is only a sort of thing in the Red King’s dream and if the king awoke, Alice would disappear like a blown candle fire. Alice answered him crying that if she had not been real she would not have been able to shed tears. But how could she know that her tears were real?
After Descartes, a French philosopher, let’s answer for Alice that as long as she is conscious she can be sure that she somehow exists but it still may be just in someone else’s dream. As Alice could not find some rational solution, she decided to neglect the problem and resolve more urgent matters as finding a way through the woods. However, it must have been bothering her as even after awakening she was still asking questions who it was that dreamt it all? Alice or the Red King? For sure Wonderland along with Alice were conceived by Lewis Carroll that was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s penname. But who did dream Dodgson? Who did dream someone who dreamt Dodgson? And so on to infinity… Apparently shedding tears would not help solving this problem and maybe just as in case of Alice we can only just go on with our lives.
Still in Wonderland happened so many out-of-the-way things that…
„.. Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were impossible”.
Alice arrived in Wonderland with a baggage of expectations about the world’s mechanism. Changing size after drinking from mysterious bottle or the talking animals are not among things that regularly (or at all) take place in the reality known by us and Alice. All the weirdness discovered in Wonderland shatters our convictions that the way in which our world is functioning is necessary. Is only what we experienced in the real world possible? Or maybe what is possible depends only on what is conceivable and anything that we can imagine may happen or might have happened? What are the limits of possibility? Can logical contradictions be possible for instance a thing that is at the same time round and square? Alice argued with the Red Queen that valleys cannot be hills as that would be a pure nonsense. But maybe as the Queen answered comparing to other nonsenses that one is sensible as a dictionary and our beliefs about what is possible and impossible are only relative.
This is not the end of our philosophical troubles – not only the world itself but also its dwellers were full of wonders. Apparently they spoke English but did they…?
‘Glory’ is a nice knockdown argument (from: Humpty Dumpty’s dictionary)
In Wonderland Alice is constantly suffering from miscommunication. Most of the creatures she met appeared to be the masters in taking everything that was said literally or just missing the context of the sentence. For example the King asked the Mad Hatter to take off his hat, the Hatter answered simply that it was not his so what was the King’s conclusion? Stolen. Another example: usually when someone asks us “How old did you say you were?” we think that it just a bit elaborate way of getting to know our age and the answer “Seven” (as in the case of Alice) would be correct. But not with Humpty Dumpty who says only what he means: so you are wrong if “you never said a word like it”. To make the matter worse not only the dwellers of Wonderland often misunderstood what was said but also some of them dared to change the meanings of words. Our Humpty Dumpty boasted to Alice that he was the master of words as he was able to make words mean different things. Alice’s problem with communication on the one hand makes us realize that meanings are only conventional and prone to changes. On the other hand this shows us how useful and practical in our everyday conversations is not only to grasp what is literally said but also the context of the sentence and what it implies.
Of course there are many more philosophical riddles waiting for Alice and us – the readers – in Lewis Carroll’s world. That’s only a tip of an iceberg of what you can find delving deeper and deeper into the world of Wonderland.