Cogito, ergo sum.  I think, therefore I am.

We’ve all heard this repeated somewhere or other.

René Descartes made this statement in Discourse on the Method, published in 1637.  He was concerned with the observation that he had held many beliefs which were later proven untrue, and how we could ever be certain of any belief.  In a thought exercise, he considered the possibility that everything he observed about the world around him, and all the conclusions his reason drew based on these observations, could be an illusion created by an evil demon.  How can we believe anything at all if everything is an illusion?  The answer – there must be a René Descartes that objectively exists if the demon is to have anything upon which to practice its demony illusions.  The act of doubting everything that my thoughts and senses tells me proves that SOMETHING exists to do the doubting.

(Side note: Descartes later changed the wording to “I am, I exist” in Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1641.)

It’s a well taken point.  How can we, within the limits of our senses and ability to reason, ever find objective truth?  Does there even exist such a thing as objective truth?  What is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?  How can we find objective truth when our ability to question is limited by our human brains and possibly evil demons?

(Descartes then goes on to be bonkers and claim that because “I am, I exist,” possesses a clarity and simplicity, basically that because it is so obvious, that his belief in a truthful God is so clear and simple that it must also be true.  And because a truthful God would not let us be routinely deceived, other beliefs that pass the clarity and simplicity test must be true.  WHAT ABOUT THE DEMON DESCARTES.)

All that being said, here’s why I want people to pay a little less attention to “I think, therefore I am.”

One of the most frightening things, for many people, is the idea of losing our ability to reason.  We often perceive our identity, the foundation of who we are, as something constructed from our thoughts.  The erosion by illness or injury or the simple passage of time of what we think of as our rational minds becomes the loss of who we are.

In the end, even if we are lucky to remain in possession of our faculties (a made up construct but that’s another blog post) until the very end of our life, our thoughts dissolve on our deathbed.  It is so much more terrifying to face this inevitability if we believe that thinking (in a way we feel some agency over) is what makes us exist.

What would it feel like to meet this fear with the thought that we exist beyond our rationality?  I could just as easily argue that I love therefore I am; even if everything that I perceive is an illusion created by an external force, there must be a me to experience the feeling of love.  I grieve, therefore I am.  I feel joy, therefore I am.  I am confused, therefore I am. 

What if who we are is immutable in its fluidity? What if who we are has nothing to do with any particular moment in time? What if we just… are. 

If the belief that thinking is what proves you exist is harming you, there’s no reason you have to keep it.  Chalk it up to evil demons and choose to believe something else.