Ever wake up and question if you’re living in a simulated reality where your senses constantly fail you and nasty demons hijack your thoughts?
Oh, you haven’t?
Yeah, me neither. I don’t think anyone has, or would ever doubt the existence of their own lives. After all, isn’t that a given?
To Descartes, it wasn’t.
For those of you who don’t spend your time reading classical literature in your basement to pass the time, Descartes was that one guy who said:
“I think, therefore I am.”
But knowing that one quote doesn’t do his philosophy justice. It’s too superficial, and let’s be honest, no one knows what it even means.
So to get a better understanding of things, let’s start with how Descartes saw the world — or at least how he thought we should be thinking.
As we go along, we’ll be looking at the practical utility of Descartes’ worldview, highlighting thought experiments, and exploring the depths of metaphysics. When I was a kid, I thought that was the physics of meat.
Jeez, I can already tell this is gonna be ineresting. Buckle up.
Things Aren’t What They Seem.
If I had to describe how Descartes wanted us to live our lives, it would be to constantly try removing the “dirt” from our lenses. To commit to purifying ourselves of psychological biases, assumptions, and societal dogma so we could find truth.
TLDR: He wants you to be paranoid about everything:
Alright, this already doesn’t sound like a very fun way to live life, but hear me out for a bit. If you dissect Descartes’ argument, you’ll realize that he’s refers something that’s at the core of what makes us human.
I’ve gotta give it to Descartes here. He nailed the fact that you can’t see anything for what it really is if you’re drunk. By drunk, I mean being figuratively intoxicated with something that stops you from having a clear, unbiased perception of the world.
Change on the outside isn’t possible without change on the inside, and that’s been proven time and time again.
For starters, it applies to every historical revolution we’ve ever experienced — from technological advancements to cultural shifts to civil rights movements, and everything in between.
None of the above would’ve been possible if it weren’t for a few people who chose to sober themselves up to reality. Difference starts by questioning what others don’t think twice about. It comes down to thinking differently:
Insane people don’t question their sanity. It’s the people that constantly question their sanity that are truly in their senses.
To find truth, you’ll have to look for it in the places where you’ll least want to find them. You’ll have to question what you and people around you never thought to question. That’s not easy:
It’s scary to separate yourself from others by thinking differently. That’s why almost no one tries to. But it’s even more twisted to understand that almost everyone around you is intoxicated, and choose to stay intoxicated yourself.
Let’s set up a little thought experiment.
Imagine we started society from scratch — but everything was uniform. A society where no one thought differently, and no one wanted to. As a result, no one did anything differently and nothing changed. Ever. What would happen?
Spoiler alert: we’d all be dead.
Sounds pretty extreme, but what else would you expect? Considering we don’t end up fighting each other to extinction or burning everyone at the stake for suspicion of being a vampire or witch, how would we get anywhere?
Where would we be if Edison thought: “Who needs electricity for light when candles work just fine?” How would we have any medical, financial, agricultural, or societal growth if everyone thought that way?
Before you fix something, you need to acknowledge that it’s broken. You don’t just directly acknowledge something either. It start with a doubt. But if something’s keeping you from doubting in the first place, it’s going to be hard to make any progress.
Enough said — it makes sense to question what’s around us. But it’s time for a reality check.
Cool. So What?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking the same thing.
It’s no secret Descartes wasn’t perfect. On that note, nobody is. And as long as we have room for error, we’ve got to keep questioning and analyzing things for ourselves — even if it means questioning the person that told us to question everything. So with that in mind, here’s a pragmatic hot-take on finding truth by questioning everything:
Is It Practical?
Alright, questioning everything made sense for a professional philosopher like Descartes. After all, it was his job. But what about the rest of us?
Sure, with the arguments we’ve laid out so far, it should seem logical enough to question things like your career path and your life goals:
But, should you question the existence of your parents, the intention behind the text message someone just sent you, or that faulty knob on your closet door? That’s a different story. You’d get weird looks, but not much closer to self-realization.
It sounds self-evident, but it calls for a little tune-up to Descartes’ spiel of questioning everything. Instead, question what matters to you — especially if you think it’s obvious.
Will The Result Help You?
With everything you inspect, there’s always some unique truth for you to discover. But is the truth going to set you free?
Practically speaking, it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong — seeing things with an unbiased lens has its benefits. Truth’s one of them, but it looks like Descartes over-exaggerated its importance. Let me explain.
If the point of life is being fulfilled with what you’ve done, then what’s the truth going to do for you? In that case, it’s just a piece of information floating in the back of your head.
Could you imagine someone on their deathbed regretting that the should’ve gained more information? Of course not! Information’s meaningless — at least when you try applying it to living the best life.
Truth might be a way to fulfillment, but there’s a much simpler way to get there. You just have to learn to be happy with yourself.
Don’t Listen To Me.
But what does this all mean? I don’t know. What does truth mean to you? Where does this all fit into your value system? Heck, are they even your values? Figure it out. That’s what life’s for.
If you don’t agree with a single thing I’ve said here, at least consider this. If you’re not thinking and doubting for yourself, someone’s going to do it for you. Now that you know about the people around you, do you want to be part of the intoxicated collective? Can you trust anyone? It’s for you to decide.
Everything depends on how you see things. Pay attention not to what you see, but what does the seeing. Hopefully, you can see things a bit more clearly now.
Thanks for reading,