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For the musical term, see: World Riddle theme.
Ernst Haeckel wrote about the World Riddle in 1895

The term "world riddle" or "world-riddle" has been associated, for over 100 years, with Friedrich Nietzsche (who mentioned "World Riddle" in his 1885 book Also sprach Zarathustra: Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and with the biologist-philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who as a professor of zoology at the University of Jena,[1] wrote the book Die Welträthsel in 1895–1899, in modern spelling Die Welträtsel, (German "The World-riddles"), with the English version published under the title The Riddle of the Universe, 1901.[1]

The term "world riddle" concerns the nature of the universe and the meaning of life.

The question and answer of the World Riddle has also been examined as an inspiration or allegorical meaning within some musical compositions, such as the unresolved harmonic progression at the end of "Also sprach Zarathustra" (1896) by composer Richard Strauss, made famous in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. [2] [3]


View of Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche referred to the "World Riddle" in his Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) written during 1883–1885; however, his direct influence was limited to a few years, by his failing health. Although Nietzsche had become a professor at age twenty-five, he left due to illness at age thirty-four with a pension in 1879, became an independent philosopher for ten years, and then spent his final eleven years bedridden in the care of first his mother (until her death) and then his sister.

View of Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel viewed the World Riddle as a dual-question of the form, "What is the nature of the physical universe and what is the nature of human thinking?" which he explained would have a single answer since humans and the universe were contained within one system, a mono-system, as Haeckel wrote in 1895: [4] [5]

[From Monism as Connecting Religion and Science by Ernst Haeckel (translated):]
"The following lecture on Monism is an informal address delivered extemporaneously on October 9, 1892, at Altenburg, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the "Naturforschende Gesellschaft des Osterlandes." ... The "exacting" Berlin physiologist shut this knowledge out from his mind, and, with a short-sightedness almost inconceivable, placed this special neurological question alongside of the one great "world-riddle," the fundamental question of substance, the general question of the connection between matter and energy. As I long ago pointed out, these two great questions are not two separate "world-riddles." The neurological problem of consciousness is only a special case of the all-comprehending cosmological problem, the question of substance. "If we understood the nature of matter and energy, we should also understand how the substance underlying them can under certain conditions feel, desire, and think." Consciousness, like feeling and willing, among the higher animals is a mechanical work of the ganglion-cells, and as such must be carried back to chemical and physical events in the plasma of these. -Ernst Haeckel, 1895 [5]

Haeckel had written that human behavior and feeling could be explained, within the laws of the physical universe, as "mechanical work of the ganglion-cells" as stated.

View of William James

The philosopher William James in his book Pragmatism (1907) wrote about the world-riddle, as follows:

[From Pragmatism (Lecture VII) by William James:]
"All the great single-word answers to the world's riddle, such as God, the One, Reason, Law, Spirit, Matter, Nature, Polarity, the Dialectic Process, the Idea, the Self, the Oversoul, draw the admiration that men have lavished on them from this oracular role. By amateurs in philosophy and professionals alike, the universe is represented as a queer sort of petrified sphinx whose appeal to man consists in a monotonous challenge to his divining powers. THE Truth: what a perfect idol of the rationalistic mind!"
--William James, Pragmatism, 1907.[6]

William James has questioned the attitude of thinking that a single answer applies to everything or everyone. In the passage, the capitalized "THE" signifies the viewpoint meaning "the one and only" absolute truth.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Biography of Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, 1834–1919" (article), Missouri Association for Creation, Inc., based on 1911 Britannica, webpage: Gennet-Haeckel: life, career & beliefs.
  2. ^ "Colorado Symphony Orchestra - Richard Strauss (1864–1949): Also Sprach Zarathustra" (program notes), Charley Samson, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, 2004, webpage: CSO-AlsoSprach.
  3. ^ "Classic Records Catalog / LSC-1806: Liner Notes" (description), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, R. D. Darrell, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), 1960, webpage: CSO-AlsoSprach.
  4. ^ "KELVIN SMITH LIBRARY" (about Haeckel book on Monism), Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 2004, webpage: CaseEdu-HaeMon00: notes Monism book as dated 1895.
  5. ^ a b "7mono10 txt" (description of Ernst Haeckel's book Monism as Connecting Religion and Science), Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, webpage: GutenbergOrg-7mono10: book "translated from German by J. Gilchrist, M.A., B.Sc., PH.D."].
  6. ^ "The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pragmatism, by William James" (text), Project Gutenberg, 2002, webpage: Gutenberg-Pragmatism.




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