Noumenal Realm Trilogy

Sharon M. Kaye, John Carroll University


In the novels, the fictional New Smithsonian Foundation—based in the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C.—sends middle school students on a series of virtual reality adventures in which they meet and learn about the work and thinking of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz, Rousseau, Hume, and Kant. It is exciting and engaging philosophy absorbed through a story in which characters encounter the problems and arguments rather than by reading dry exposition.

The Divided Line, the first book in the Noumenal Realm trilogy, opens with Roslyn, a middle school student, finding a disconcerting letter indicating that she has volunteered for a mission, that her memory might have been altered, and that even her reality is suspect. She is one of five students chosen to take part in a virtual reality simulation. In the simulation, they hear Socrates expounding about the Divided Line and Aristotle’s objections to it. In a second simulation, the students are sent to the court of Queen Christina of Sweden with the task of discovering who killed Descartes. This cannot be accomplished without an understanding of Descartes’s ideas and who might have been opposed to them.

In The Inverted Spectrum, the second book, the students are sent via virtual reality into the seventeenth century to find out why John Locke disappeared. In this simulation, the students meet some of the most important empiricists, including Newton and Boyle, as well as critics like Leibnitz and the Cambridge neo-Platonists. They explore Locke’s thought experiment of the inverted spectrum and consider its relevance to the other senses and to moral judgment. They also learn about Locke’s concept of consciousness and its importance to the concept of democracy.

In The Categorical Imperative, the final novel in this trilogy, the students find themselves in the eighteenth-century world of French salons and the intellectual excitement of the Enlightenment. They meet Diderot, Rousseau, Hume, and Kant, and they work through the philosophical ideas of each—and of Bishop Berkeley—until they reach Kant’s categorical imperative.