Essay on Vertigo: René Descartes

Submitted By aulie
Words: 2569
Pages: 11

To Think

Cogito ergo sum: In literal terms, this Latin phrase translates to English as “I think, therefore I am”. But what is the underlying meaning behind ergo sum? Who is the I and who decides whether one thinks or not? Is it possible to not think? These are a few of the many questions that have arisen from Descartes’ complex statement. Descartes spent years questioning himself and everything around him to come to the conclusion that he exists. As a result he found that he could only be sure of his own existence. Chomsky, another rationalist thinker, believed that ideas are imbedded in the human mind from birth and are used subconsciously. If man is in fact unaware of the information which guide his actions, he does not know all that he is capable of. He may use some of the knowledge, but not the rest, causing it to go to waste. The knowledge that one holds shapes who an individual is. So, if one is unaware of all the information that he holds, he does not truly know himself. In order for one to know his true identity, he must devote a large amount of time for doubting, as Descartes exemplified. One of the most important lessons to be learned from Descartes is to question everything. There should never be a moment in which one is not observing beneath the surface level. The human brain is made up of separate gears spinning in all different directions, each representing a single thought. Every experience or thought that a human encounters, whether pleasant or not, is important because it becomes part of one’s identity; each experience belongs to the person who undergoes it. If one deserts a thought after it occurs, that gear belonging to the thought stops moving. If this process continues to occur, a human loses more and more of himself each day. In order to best portray one’s true self, constant recollection and questioning of one’s experiences must occur. Were it not for Descartes, the necessity to question would not be as apparent. On November 10th, 1619 after a memorable dream, Descartes thought to question all of his former opinions. It is important to note that he did not dismiss all of his gained knowledge. Instead, he used his past experiences as a foundation in order to build a new lifestyle. This process of rebuilding something as big as life can invite discouragement and anger; however, Descartes forged ahead and fully devoted himself to finding a suitable path to follow. While his process required extensive work and time, he found that only working individually could he arrive at a new foundation for knowledge. This thought is exemplified on page 35 of Discourse on Methods, “There is often less perfection in works composed of several separate pieces and made by different masters, than at those in which only one person has worked.” Working alone meant that Descartes could create a finished product with each part directly connected to himself. In this way, Descartes would find the best path suited to his wants and needs. Feelings are internal. They are hidden behind a mass of cells and skin. It is impossible to detect what a man is thinking; his needs, his desires and his interpretations are hidden. The only way to see something in its truest state is to experience it first-hand. When listening to other people’s interpretations, it is necessary to use extreme caution because “Those who set about giving precepts must esteem themselves more skillful than those to whom they advance them” (Descartes, 7). In other words, there is an innate problem with depending on received wisdom; one must learn for oneself. Because Descartes was aware of the advantages accrued from working solo, he refused to give up until he arrived at the best solution. While working alone, Descartes used “foundationalist epistemology”, a theory in which knowledge can be broken down into simpler, smaller pieces until one arrives at a simple, self-justifying statement. Using this tactic,…