Number 10 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" - Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes was a French Philosopher who lived during the 16th and 17th centuries. He is widely regarded as one of the most important philosophers of all time. He was also a talented mathematician, historian and scientist.

He is credited with one of the most widely used philosophical phrases "cogito ergo sum'. Translated it means "I think, therefore I am". This week we unpack the process that led Descartes to come up with this well known phrase. 

There are many concepts discussed in the two videos and audiobook that make up this weeks resources. Your response this week could interpret this concept in your own unique way, create some links to movies and television, expand on Rene Descartes philosophical work, or pick a particular concept (like the dream tank, problem hole,  or ant killing!) and theme your writing around it.




6 comments:

DesiKiwi said...

yeh tbh i'm pretty sure I exist...

Emily Hollis said...


There's something almost comforting about existential crises which I myself encounter on a daily basis, the very thought being attacked, pondered, grappled in the mind of another yet the vastly varying conclusions produced from both minds can both be correct. It's startling; I do not want to say I think I am the only being that has the power to think, to fathom and perceive, the skills that most of us hold dear to preserve what small insights we have on our enormous, erroneous and rather corrupted world, but the truth is I do. I always have thought this and even now it so frequently crosses my mind. How often do other people, for example, think what I think, see what I see? Yet how can you tell me?? Our own minds have connections and thoughts so tangled, so complex there is literally no possible way to come to describe even the emotions of a single event by placing words and letters in the form of a primitive sentence. Yes I love words. No, I do not think they have the same sort of emotional capacity that ideas do. Ideas, in themselves, are composed and distributed among the minds of so many, but how many of us truly, truly grasp them? Ideas have created our world. But what is our world?

If I think a thought, 'I think therefore I am' presents the question how many other people in this world think as I do? For thinking in itself is a relative, comparative art like everything else in our world; greatness, diversity, the ideas that are born from the ashes of another, the circumstances of our minuscule worlds collating for an idea to rise to the surface to contaminate our social fabric. Because if one thought crosses my mind, does it, in exactly the same way, cross the mind of another? We cannot explain it, ever, the fashion in which a floating, vivid or soft, direct or wavering thought enters our minds, filtered and examined at a pace computers would beg to have through our experiences and beliefs and family and other thoughts which connect and develop threads upon, like an extension to the web of a spider where the spider sits and watches their world envelop them - our minds, our perception - travels into us. It is utterly, completely impossible. Unfathomable. Incomprehensible, but is it not fundamental?

I remember one lone thought cross my mind years ago, that I pushed into my 'irrelevant junk' cortex as soon as it entered, that involved my existence compared to the existence of others. Are you all simply here to make me feel accepted, normal? But the thought has never quite left me. And in my mind, if I can't judge my own existence and these wild thoughts have crossed the mind of other, then I can finally say I'm free. Not free from this existential crisis but free to say even if I never find my purpose on this earth, I can at least enjoy what I think enjoyment is. Though everything is relative, I can hopefully say I understand the meaning of joy, in a humane sense. To me, knowledge about my world makes me happy, even if it means nothing, because as the quote goes, 'I think therefore I am', my own ability to think makes me exist to something or someone. I keep this idea close. Even when I have my daily perplexed nonsense crying mess in a dark corner time, I try to remember what it means to be who I am. Thinking makes me me.

Natasha Sscott said...

If I'm going to be completely honest, it's not thought that tells me that I am real and that I am alive - it is emotions of pain and loss and anger that convinces me that I am not sleeping, am not dreaming, am completely solid and alive.
When I am dreaming, sometimes those dreams are so unnerringly vivid and real, so much so, in fact, that when I wake up I am temporarily convinced that they are actual events that happened just recently in my life.
But, when I cast my mind back to that dream, check it again and again to assure myself that it is not real, I realise that is it not real because I did not feel gtief or pain.
I've had some very disturbing dreamms before, where t1he worldwas destroyed or swamped by floods, where my natural instinct is to panic and flail about - yet, even if I'm being brutally murdered by a shark, I don't feel fear or anger or panic in the slightest.
But when I am in the real world, I deal with anger and stress and pain on a daily basis, where death and pain and agony is an accepted part of life. When I am dreaming, I am not hurt, I cannot experience fear or terror or anything of the sort.
And if we are under mind control from some kind of evil genius, why would we be? What would they want from us, what do they seek to gain for watching the world being destroyed and murdered by us bumans? What do they have to seek from the fear and terror that life is? Why would they give us these emotions, inplant them into our brains? I think that humans are not mind-controlled, because we have the choice to control our emotions and our feelings - I think we ourselves invented fear and pain, that we fuel our own existensial crisis thoughts and go round and round in pointless circles. I think we think about this theory, that we are possibly being controlled by an evil genius, because we can no longer face ourselves and who we are and what we have done to the world around me; we cannot face the fact that we have unlocked Pandora's box, and forced pain and misery upon ourselves - we do not want to think that pain is now a permanent part of life, that it might be something that can be wiped away as easily as someone suggesting to us that 2 plus 2 is 17.
To sum it up - I exist, and I am myself, because I feel pain and fear, and cannot simply wipe it away like this powetful emotion is just a simple suggestion placed inside my head.

Lilly Zhang said...

“I think, therefore I am.” I like this, because it suggests that my capacity to think means I have a physical existence, and even if people forget about it, I’ll have left an imprint upon the earth which nothing can erase, and that becomes my legacy that I leave to the world. It may not be a financial system or anything, but if someone can remember I existed, then that would be enough. Existence is such a fragile thing, and yet so strong. Personally, I hate the concept of thinking this all isn’t real. Reality is so hard to swallow sometimes, and there are things and feelings that make me want to punch a wall, but that’s the essence of this humanity I now have a claim to.

So how do I determine this existence? Within the film “Insurgence,” which is based off the book, Tris finds herself escaping her captors supposedly with her boyfriend/mentor, until she isn’t. It’s like an illusion, but she has control over it, and a sentence that should have never been said becomes the thing that helps her shatter the false reality, something we don’t initially pick up on due to no clear changes to the cinematography beforehand. The false realities are quite a common thing within its predecessor, “Divergent,” as the false realities are used on a common basis to allow the government a way to sorting their citizens, where there’s a rare few who can control it. I haven’t had one of those moments, so I don’t think it works that way (still, if it’s a dream, then of course it wouldn’t work.)

It sounds a little like the brain-vat question. If you could, would you allow yourself to make and then be put into your perfect life, where you never guess it’s a manipulated world? Others may want it, but I don’t think I would. A definition of perfection changes with our life experiences, and what I would input into mine could be (and probably is) different to what I’d want in ten years, and is different to what I wanted ten years ago. A manipulated perfection offers the user an opportunity to erase all the bad from their life, and in doing so, eliminates what I’d regard as one of the better things of humanity. We live on rollercoasters, lives having high-points, low-points, and some have times when everything goes in a tailspin. Worlds can be turned upside down, and we can fall so fast, but we all end up in the same place when we get off this ride. It’s a ride we all take, and we choose. This humanity, with all the inconsistencies. You can’t go up without getting down. You can’t have perfection without humanity’s imperfections.

Now, this manipulated reality. Is it that the environment becomes and stays as perfection, as do all the people you encounter? Do factors change if external people believe it has to change course? I’m thinking “The Truman Show” kind of things, where Truman has his entire life manipulated so that they can get the realism. A little away from the brain-vat, but at the same time, there’s the control where each situation is supposed to follow a certain way to make Truman react in certain ways. Of course, there’s the “problems” like Truman falling in love with someone who they hadn’t intended for him to love, or that people know him without meeting him. He’s awake, though, so I guess that’s where they lose control.

Lilly Zhang said...

Either way, I’m thinking, and this is enough reason for me to believe I exist. As they’d say in French: “Je pense, donc je suis.” In a dream, I don’t have the physical capacity to decide exactly what I’ll do, and cement an existence. No matter how much I want to say I do, I don’t. No matter what happened in that dream, I didn’t decide it. Reality is the decision, whereas dreams are commands. As stated earlier, I don’t want this life to be the latter. I don’t want to wake to a different world, with different rules, people, and different existences. I love the experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, and things I’ve learned and felt. There’s all these outliers to that statement, but being able to have jokes about things like the weather, pizza and melons makes it all worth it (cue Tash facepalming.) Dreams are centered on us, but we’re centered on the world - thanks Gravity! The amount of times I’ve contemplated the existence of math and why three and four have to add to seven. What if they wanted to add to two? Or twelve? Who decided that they could only be one thing, and that this noise you make to sound out these letters is associated with an amount? Who even decided these symbols will now make up my favourite subject, when there’s so many others? We could talk about butterfly effects in real life, where we consider all the circumstances that had to occur for us to all be here. I could ramble about how I’ve met amazing, awesome and inspirational people, who I would readily say have changed my life for the better. I could say that the terms IMIZ, Mash and many more have a unique meaning. Another year of my life has nearly passed, and through it, I’ve learned even more, like that World Penguin Day is April 25th, and so and so. If I wake from what I thought was reality, and these don’t exist in that unimaginable place, then I don’t know how I’d feel. Maybe this is my vat, and someone will wake me one day. Can’t really test it, unfortunately, because I can’t return to a dream after it’s over. Still, dreams are commands, and I am the one thing in life I can control. The decision is in my hands. It’s my shot. Maybe I don’t have a foreordained purpose, but everyone around me can offer me one.

In summary (to stop the rambling) I think that my thinking means I am, I exist. Humanity, with all its flaws, like tendencies to go fight everything and everyone, has the beauty of thought, and with that, the knowledge that we all have a shot that we don’t have to throw away.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

April 25th - The Annual Day We Honour The ANZAC Penguins

“I think, therefore I am”. I say no to this version for I prefer the longer version; “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”. Or as Rene Descartes so eloquently put it “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum”. We know the key word in this extended phrase is doubt. We all search for truth, some of us seek it in religion, some science, some mathematics, others art. However, the acquisition of knowledge comes solely through doubt. All learning stems from doubt. The words, why, what, how, when, and who arise in moments we are unsure and seek more information. What Descartes did was take this to levels never before investigated. He doubted his senses, which led to doubting his existence. His conclusion, as simple as it is profound blows us all away. He was the first person (in recorded history) to doubt life as we know it. By stating “cogito ergo, sum” for one last time he was closing a chapter on his own doubts.

Descartes teaches us that we need not worry about existence, life, and death, as the mere fact we doubt/question them, provides meaning in our life. To me it is a personal weight off my shoulders, that he has thought this idea years before we have. I don’t wish to exalt and extol him, however I do take personal comfort in knowing someone else had this thought (and over 400 years ago), and therefore I can rest easy that I don't have to suffer similar existential crises’ years later. Oceans rise and empires fall, yet every human who has ever walked on this planet (or others?) has most likely had these thoughts at times. If you haven't yet had an existential crises, just you wait. As a child I often used to feel helpless pondering existence and death etc, but what I have discovered is that all of this pondering has been done by someone else before. Questioning existence and life feels like such a personal crises point in life, but I have discovered that this fundamental idea (like many others) can be explained (perhaps not resolved) with a quick google search or by delving into a book. The truth is that thinkers such as Descartes have in the past put pen to paper and through this he can help generations later cope with all the fun things life throws at us. I would like to think this was Descartes intended legacy. Amongst other philosophers, I would like to thank Descartes for his contribution to society's accumulated knowledge.

What a fantastic world we live in where a little bit of reading can simmer a tempering existential crises. The previous sentence alone probably explains why reading books is a non-stop hobby of mine. It helps me to sooth my doubts and rise up over those tiresome thoughts that can bring me down. Keep reading peeps, any knowledge you pick up is likely to be cataloged in the back of your mind and will re-emerge when you least expect it. A piece of obscure knowledge such as “cogito, ergo sum” may help you overcome a future challenge, at least that is how I see learning and personal development. To sum it all up. take a break from this reading to look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now, with easy access to books and knowledge - but don’t trust those eyes too much ;)