Thought of the Week: An Open Letter to Descartes

Dear Monsieur Descartes,

I wish to bring to your attention a matter of accountability regarding your well-known writings on philosophy and rationalism. It is my belief that you are responsible for a great deal of emotional distress and suffering, and I am seeking reparations for both myself and my fellow sufferers in the form of an acknowledgement of the negative influence of your treatises, and a public apology. For the moment I am willing to forego monetary compensation for the therapy and medication we have collectively paid for, as I am aware three-hundred and fifty years’ compound interest might be beyond your financial means.

Allow to explain. I in no way wish to dismiss your excellent contributions to the fields of philosophy and mathematics. Your system of plotting equations on a graph, though it troubled me greatly in high school, has undoubtedly revolutionized geometry and mathematics as we know it today. Equally, I appreciate the effort you displayed in separating man from god, and your debate on free will is second to none.

However, in your pursuit of truth and certainty, you devised a particular phrase that, despite its simplicity, has had quite a devastating impact on the sanity of myself and many others. I speak, naturally, of this simple sentence:

I think, therefore I am.

You see, whether you intended it or not, this has led to the rise of the philosophy of existentialism, and the potential denial of the reality of anything that is not directly tied to the self. If my existence is proven by my ability to think about it, what of the existence of everything and everyone around me? According to you, their existence is also proven by my ability to think about them; however, the necessary implication of this is that anything I think of is therefore also real.

This leads to what I consider to be the existential dilemma: if an object’s reality is determined solely by the fact that I am thinking of it, how can I then be certain of the reality of anything at all? There is a modern legend that describes this quandary very succinctly. A popular story in our times describes a world in which humans are plugged into machines from birth. These machines provide all the sensory input necessary, directly to the brain, to convince a person (in this case a very wooden Keanu Reeves) that they are, in fact, experiencing reality.

The essence of the problem you have created for us is that we cannot be certain of the existence of anything other than ourselves – by which I mean the collection of our thoughts and minds. According to your philosophy, I cannot even be certain of my flesh and blood, or even if I am actually writing this letter or just imagining the whole thing.

You have failed to follow through with your philosophy, and for this I hold you accountable. In questioning the nature of existence itself, you have failed to provide us with an answer to that question, and show absolute proof that everyone else does, in fact, exist. I hope you understand that such matters are generally beyond the reasoning of most folk (including myself), and so I bow to your superior intellect in providing for us the answer to the dilemma you have left us with for so long.

In conclusion, I request that you submit an acknowledgement of your failure to provide a suitable answer to this problem, and an apology for the loss of sanity you have caused me and many others (if they exist). I have spent a large amount of time and money (if money is real) on therapy and medication (I’m not sure my therapist was real), directly as a result of my inability to resolve your issues. If I do not receive a response from you within fourteen days, I will be forced to seek legal representation (lawyers most certainly exist) and pursue damages as compensation.

I will await your reply (if you exist), and hope we can arrive at a mutual understanding.

Most sincerely,

Satis (if I exist)