Posts Tagged ‘Rene Descartes’

‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ For Dummies

October 2, 2014

I was at my gym yesterday and saw something hilarious.

Now, understand, I was laughing in sympathy with this poor woman [nearly] as much as I was laughing at her.

A beautiful Porsche convertible parks right in front of the gym and an attractive woman gets out.  She did not appear to be the result of a ninth generation of inbreeding by any means.  I assumed she was coming into the gym (after all, she parked right in front of the front door to it).  But instead, she starts walking around the building.

Not yet wanting to do my next set of grunting while repeatedly lifting a heavy object for no particular reason, I’m watching her walk around the gym.  ‘Where in the world is she going?’ I thought.  There isn’t much for a fair distance down the road.  There does happen to be a liquor store nearby; maybe she’s planning on getting soused before her workout?  We’ve all got our “unique” (that’s another name for “weird”) routines, after all.

Well, that wasn’t what it was.  Instead, she was just trying to find the door.  She’d somehow not seen the double glass doors that were nearly directly in front of where she’d parked and had instead walked over to the fire escape exit on the opposite side of the front of the building.  She pulls on the door several times and discovers that it is locked on the outside.  And then amazingly continues walking on further in the wrong direction around the side of the building.

At this, one of my friends runs over and taps on the glass.  He points to where the door is.  She sees him.  She appears to understand.  She turns around and starts heading in the correct direction toward the door. But she still doesn’t quite get it right.  Because there’s another set of doors between the main entrance and the fire escape that has never once been opened the entire time I’ve been a member of the gym.  That’s where I always park my motorcycle, in fact.

So the woman is now standing in front of these doors – which she’d walked past the first time – trying to figure out how to get around or climb over my motorcycle.  My cruiser bike is eight-and-a-half feet long; it completely blocks the doors that remain shut whether I’m parked there or not.

Greg to the rescue again.  He again runs over and taps on the glass.  At this point the woman simply has no clue what to do.  So he actually proceeds to run over to the doors and opens one of the them for her.  Which I believe I mentioned was nearly directly in front of where she’d parked her Porsche.

You might ask where I was when this poor woman was in distress and Greg was valiantly trying to guide her into the gym.  Why, I was laughing like a hyena, of course.  And I’m a chronic sufferer of the debilitating handicap of not being able to laugh hysterically and do anything else at the same time.

The attractive woman who had driven up in the beautiful Porsche and did not look at all like the ninth generation of inbreeding finally made it through the door with the most sheepish look in the world on her face.  And I’m just smiling innocently and sweetly at her with – it is my hope – only the barest hint of “Must… not … burst into laughter…” look on my face.

She still wasn’t through wandering the wrong direction, I couldn’t help but notice.  After making arrangements to do her workout at the front desk, she zigged when she should have zagged and wandered into the free weight pit on one side instead of the lockers and cardio area to the other side.

Ah, the tenuous grip we have on our dignity.  So difficult to erect, so easy to dismantle.

Okay, I might sound a bit cruel here.  But I’d just had a conversation with one of the pastors at my church that ought to explain why I viewed this woman’s travails as so hilarious.

This particular assistant pastor has his hand in a cast.  Why is his hand in a cast?  According to his explanation, “Because I’m stupid, that’s why.”

He had managed to get overly excited and slammed his hand down on a table that he’d forgotten was there.  And the final score was table one, hand zero.

Trying to cheer him up, I recast the story of the woman caught in adultery for him.  In this version, it was about the woman caught in the act of being stupid.  And the mob was just about to stone her for stupidity when Jesus showed up and said, “Let the one among you who has never been a bonehead cast the first stone.”  And of course, everyone in the mob, having themselves been a bonehead, all put their stones down and absent-mindedly wandered off wondering what in the world they’d been doing just before they’d picked up those rocks.

Rene Descartes came up with the expression that led to the explosion of Western philosophy: “Cogito, ergo sum.”  Or, “I think, therefore I exist.”

There’s just one problem with this formula, however: namely, few if any of us humans really do ever actually think very dang much.  And if we have to think in order to exist, well, you can understand why our species is in so much trouble.

There’s a story about Descartes.   After writing down his most famous thought, he went to a tavern and celebrated by having a few tankards of ale.  When the barkeep asked him if he’d like another, he said, “I think not.”  And then he dematerialized.  It’s probably not true, but it seemed worth telling.

Anyway, how many of us humans actually THINK?  For 99.999% of the human race, if somebody recited Descartes’ formula and claimed, “I think, therefore I am,” a spouse or family member would deny the first premise – “You don’t either think!” – and blow their whole argument for existing away.

Yes to existing, a big fat NO to thinking.

So it occurred to me that we humans need to re-write the “I think, therefore I am” formula to match our actual experience.  So here is my version:

I can’t say I actually think, but I do stupid stuff all the time for which I constantly suffer the consequences.  Therefore I exist.”

Okay.  It admittedly lacks the punch and pizzaz of Descartes’ version, but it does have the virtue of being considerably closer to actual reality.

For the record, I write certain information on my hanging wall calendar.  Well, I forgot to turn over my calendar from September and wrote events on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s slot on the calendar.  Which is to say I basically entered appointments for September 31st and September 32nd.  Fortunately, I ran out of empty spaces for September or I likely would have just kept going to September 33rd and beyond.  I mean, you’ve got your Mayans who were able to develop and maintain incredibly sophisticated and accurate calendars even back in the stone ages, and then you’ve got people like me…

Well, at least I didn’t break my hand this time.  Although I did once cut off part of my right index finger in one of my more brilliant attempts to refute Descartes’ formulation: no, I don’t think, but I’ve got to exist in order to cut off my danged finger, don’t I?  So nyah nyah nyah, Rene Descartes!  Whose the dummy now?

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