René Descartes, a French philosopher, once coined the timeless phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” Cogito ergo sum. He sought a foolproof answer to one of humankind’s greatest questions: Am I even alive?
After all, who’s to say that we’re not simply some figment of a greater being’s imagination; who’s to say that we exist at all? Nothing we observe in the waking world can be relied upon. Our own human senses can betray us, lead us to feel things that don’t exist, see things that don’t exist.
In one simple sentence, Descartes found a way to wipe away all doubts of human existence—a single truth.
He found that he had to be real, in some way, shape or form, because he was the one doubting his reality. Put another way, he had to be something, because something had obviously asked whether or not he truly was. Existing in the body or world that he perceived was another question.
There is no way to confirm that our entire world isn’t just one elaborate piece of fiction. Some giant conspiracy theory where all of our lives are just pawns on a figurative chess board. Not if we always rely on what we observe. Our senses are only dependable if we stubbornly choose to believe that they won’t lie. Seeing might be believing, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
For example, I am typing this on a keyboard. I can see that it is grey, feel that it is smooth, hear that the keys click, smell the dust and plastic, and I could taste it if I wanted to (which I don’t). Any other person could probably tell you the same things.
But how do we know that our senses are telling the truth? In some other paradoxical world, does a keyboard even exist? Would it sound the same? Would it sound at all?
We don’t know.
This is something that scares all of those included in our young, vulnerable species in some primal, instinctive way. Human beings seek reliability, and if we cannot prove that what we see or hear is true, then what is?
Thought is. Human thought. We cannot be sure of anything we discern with our five senses, but we can be sure that our thoughts exist. Our ideas give us substance, something we can truly believe because we know that they are something. Thoughts tether us to our reality, proving to us that one tiny thing in this universe can exist untainted. And though we can’t show beyond doubt that our world exists as we see it, we also can’t claim that it doesn’t.
We can rest assured in the definite idea of ourselves because our thoughts prove that there is an “ourself”. If our thoughts can exist, we can. After all, we generate them. We carve our way in a world that we stubbornly choose to believe in, safe in our ability to trust that it is not for nothing. While our world may be some greater being’s capricious whim, we can have faith that our thoughts are wholly our own.
Isn’t it amazing how every thought we have, everything we observe, all of it comes from a lump of gray matter? Our dreams, our hopes, our futures, our decisions, are lives—all of it is sparked from thoughts.
Technically, we are just machines made out of muscle, bones and blood. Yet we humans have found a way to confirm our existence, and make a beautiful impact with our lives, however fleeting. It makes me wonder: Do we give life to thoughts, or do thoughts give life to us?