I was going to recall today in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini established a theocracy in Iran then I thought to remind you that it is now exactly one year ago that Whitney Houston drowned in a bath at a Beverly Hills hotel. However today I want to share with you the life and work of one of the most gifted thinkers our culture has ever produced.
I first encountered the work of René Descartes unknowingly at school when I had to do endless Cartesian plane exercises. You recall those X and Y planes? Essentially Descartes developed a system to convert algebra into geometry. Now that was contribution enough I would have thought.
It was however at university that I began to grapple with his philosophy. A profound dualist, Descartes developed what became known as the Cartesian method. It is a deeply sceptical method of thinking that allows one to get to the heart or essence of a thing. Indeed he is justly considered the father of modern philosophy. In his most famous book, “A discourse on Method”, Descartes wanted to find out what truly is. So he began to imagine everything out of existence. He found that he could imagine everything away, except for the fact that he was imagining. This led him to pen his immortal words: “Cogito ergo Sum”. I think therefore I am. From this thought experiment, Descartes developed from there a position in which the mind is separate from the body. Still today almost all philosophical thought positions itself along Monist or dualist lines thanks to Descartes. That is also why most scientists who peddle ideas about computers” thinking” and urge us to believe that our thoughts are simply synapses and physical events in the brain can be shown to be talking poppycock.
I like to flatter myself and think (ahem) that we have a lot in common. Like me, René had spent time in the army as an artillery gunner. Like me he moved around a lot, over 38 towns in his 53 years.
At one point Christina, Queen of Sweden invited him to teach her philosophy. Descartes loved to sleep-in late but Christina was a very butch and very sporty lass. She insisted on getting her lessons at the ungodly hour of 05h00 each day. Needless to say René caught a chill one bitterly cold morning whilst hurrying to teach her, took to bed and died 10 days later on this day in 1650.
– Douglas Racionzer