Monday, February 26, 2007


"Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum." - Rene Descartes

"I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am."

It's interesting to me, that most people know the latter part of the quote. "I think, therefore I am." Yet very few know the first part, the part about doubting. Doubt, after all, seems like such a negative thing. It doesn't look good on all those motivational posters, or quote-a-day calendars. To me, however, it's the most essential part of the entire sentence. Descartes began to doubt, and therefore began to question his own existence. Without doubt, the Cogito would never have crystallised in his mind.

In doubting the existence of a deceiving god, Descartes came to the conclusion that he existed. Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. First, he had to convince himself that everything did not exist, the trees, the sky, an entire world of noise and light - then, he could believe in himself.

"Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find just one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable." - Descartes

Archimedes did not shift the earth physically, yet it could be said that he did scientifically. His works have inspired countless mathematicians, scientists and engineers. He has gained a measure of immortality that is granted to very few, in having his name passed down as a man of advanced intellect and knowledge.

Yet for a moment Descartes convinced himself that Archimedes had never walked the earth. For a while, Descartes was alone, perhaps without even a body to sense the world around him. A being a pure thought, pure intellect, stripped of all the shibboleths and fears that society had imprinted upon him. For a while, Descartes was free.

I wonder: when he returned, how was he changed? Did he understand then how little he had to fear of the world, and how much he could accomplish? I think he did, or at least, I think he began to understand the possibilities his life had to offer.

There is little to fear in the world, except the inability to think. When we surrender our freedom of thought to anyone, or to any institution, we surrender ourselves, and we become shadows. Mere possibilities, instead of true human beings. When we do not allow ourselves to doubt, and question the world, we fail to search for meaning in our existence. Without that search, we fail the test of life.

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