Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cartesian Musings

René Descartes (1596-1650) is famous for his one-liner, “I think therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum.

Volumes have been written on the Cartesian formula. The distinguished theologian William Temple, one time Archbishop of Canterbury (1942), the author of Nature,Man and God, and a scholar/philosopher in his own right, disputed Descartes’s idea as putting the cart before the horse.

“I exist” according to Cartesian thought is an absolute and irrefutable truth. (No wonder Jesus didn’t answer his accuser Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’) Existence lies beyond doubt because in order to doubt you have to think you’re doubting and to think that, you must exist. Oddly, Descartes thought God beyond doubt as well as his own existence.

Now, shall I go on? No, I shall have mercy—also admit I can’t do justice to Descartes, Temple, Jesus and some days even myself.

Having just seen the movie Doubt, however, I have no doubt that one can have doubt without a single thought to it.

I think a lot. My totem, or spirit animal, is an owl. All owls think a lot. Unlike Descartes I don’t favor thought over sensation or feelings. I tried to run my life from the neck up for years and couldn’t think myself in or out of my wounded body. I needed my feelings to help me come alive. And I needed biblical theology to remind me that I am therefore I think. (But I hope too that I began as a loving thought in my parents’ minds and bodies before I became an I am.)

The biblical Moses, on his way to confront Pharaoh and persuade him to let the people of Israel go free, asked, “Whom shall I say sent me?” The answer slides like honey off the tip of the divine tongue, “Just tell ‘em I Am sent you.”

I’m in an exercise group. We are all there for cardiac or pulmonary conditions, and we all are supposed to be exercising to stay healthy. While we stroll, puff or jog on treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and more, some of us have enough breath to talk, to philosophize even.

The hero of exercised thought is a small intelligent loquacious man named Bud. He has more knowledge at the tip of his tongue than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s our resident scholar. To Decartes Bud says with a twinkle in his eye, “I think I think, therefore I think I am.” That’s just before he launches into an exposé on the latest political fracas in city hall.

I’m always tempted to see if I can get the last word with Bud. Once I did, or at least I thought I did, because I left while Bud was still thinking up a comeback. We laughed. We laugh, therefore we are.

When I pray I kneel before an invisible Lover. I am, think, feel, and keep silent all at once. I pray therefore I am.

What say you out there in blogger land? Do you think? Are you am?