What is doubtful should even be considered as false… but this doubt shouldn’t be carried over into everyday life.

blue skull

While this doubt continues, it should be kept in check

II. What is doubtful should even be considered as false.

It will be useful to go even further than that: when we doubt something we should think of it as outright false, because this will bring more thoroughly into the open truths that are certainly true and easy to know.

III. But this doubt shouldn’t be carried over into everyday life.

While this doubt continues, it should be kept in check and used only in thinking about the truth. In ordinary practical affairs we often have to act on the basis of what is merely probable, not having time to hold off until we could free ourselves from our doubts. Sometimes we may, for practical reasons, even have to choose between two alternatives without finding either of them to be more probable than the other.

by René Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650)
from The Principles of Philosophy
image – lodefink

Descartes asks, “To doubt, or not to doubt?”

Not long after Descartes’s birth, Shakespeare wrote “To be, or not to be,” the opening lines of one of Hamlet’s soliloquies. Here, Descartes is weighing doubt: doubt, or not to doubt. Descartes was not as mixed up or self-involved as he may seem to us now. He was working through how we might go about a scientific method, the scientific method for deriving scientific or mathematical probabilities or truths.

If we don’t know for sure, based on hard facts, we may need to admit that we don’t know at all… no matter how passionate and heartfelt our beliefs – our desires. I think we’d be better off if political mudslingers and other rabble-rousers sequestered themselves away to ponder Descartes, though that was not the goal he had in mind. Descartes helped us create the dispassionate examination that is essential to scientific investigation. His “philosophies” helped us along a path of distinguishing between certainty of belief and scientific truth.

Descartes would be cool to have around in a few years, when computers advance to the point of heating up real debate about what constitutes self awareness or thought – what constitutes life and if an artificial intelligence can be deemed to have “life.” The approach of Descartes divided human response into logical awareness and the emotional or preferential. What methods would he use to divide machine logic from human… and what similarities would he see? What would he have to say about human emotional awareness, versus what an artificial intelligence may be able to do?

Living, here and now

I like that Descartes followed up doubt with not-doubt. A certain amount of introspection is good for us. Take that self-questioning too far and we miss the rest of life. There is more to life than analytical examination.

Or, as I like to say, “Seize the carp, y’all!”

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