Sentio, ergo sum

Years ago I met a woman in a novelty gift shop. It was a strange day. At the time I was very philosophical and I was preoccupied with the number 8. We got into a discussion as I was purchasing some merchandise and she was sitting in a chair near the till chatting with the owner of the business. Somehow during the conversation I managed to tell her “I’m an 8,” which was my “great insight” of the day, and I mean that quite sarcastically. She understood my meaning and replied that she was an 8 too because she was 80 (or perhaps she was 88 – I honestly can’t recall). We continued talking happily about this and that for a few minutes, enjoying each other’s company and discussing the nature of existence. At some point she passed on to me René Descartes‘ famous axiom, “cogito, ergo sum,” explained that it is in Latin, and that the English translation is “I think, therefore I am.” She further explained that the reverse is also true, “sum, ergo cogito,” and told me the English translation is, “I am, therefore I think.”

Frans Hals - Portret van René Descartes

Credit: Frans Hals – Portret van René Descartes

I have found others who have had this insight as well; but I do not know if she had it first or who to attribute it to. I tend to think that others have stumbled onto this related axiom as well, but in my heart she will always get the credit. Since then it has become a mantra of mine when thoroughly engaged in and confused by philosophical thought experiments with friends to say cogito, ergo sum and then sum, ergo cogito. It always makes me smile because if I can prove nothing else with philosophy I can prove that I exist.

Since then I have read a bit of Descartes and noticed in his justification of this statement that he says he feels he thinks. I have been thinking about how to use my right brain more actively and intuitively for many years. I have attempted to do so in various and varied ways. I will not bother you with recounting any of the methods I have tried or pondered as they are not the primary focus of this composition. Instead I will leave you with the insight that I reckon I have stumbled onto or perhaps into (though someone may have beaten me to it). I have attempted to translate this thought concisely into Latin to honor Descartes. I would welcome anyone who has a greater understanding of Latin to correct me on my translation if it is not accurate.

Sentio, ergo sum – I feel, therefore I am.

Of course, I posit that the reverse is true as well.

Sum, ergo cogito – I am, therefore I feel.

It is typical of Western thought and our modern world to disregard feeling and assert the primacy of thought. I am asserting that feeling precedes thought; and it appears to me that Descartes alludes to this in his work without even realizing it. I have decided to use this as my mantra from now on. I think and feel that it is more correct, or at least as correct as the original thought. It may be just a right-brained reflection of the original though. Perhaps it will allow me to get into the right hemisphere of my brain a bit more efficiently. Even if it doesn’t, I like it better.

Better yet, maybe I should be saying “I feel and think, therefore I am.” I think it feels more whole this way. Thoughts and feelings are certainly at least as important as each other; and to be clear I am speaking of emotional feelings, not tactile feelings etc. Do you feel me? Do you think me? Do you see what I mean?

I welcome your thoughts and feelings on the subject.

Thoughts on exceptional people

I have spent my life trying to find exceptional people. There are fewer than I would like, and many have not made it this far. Exceptional people have throughout history been persecuted by average people because they are ahead of their time, hence they often oppose the status quo, and by extension are mysterious. Mysterious people are unpredictable to the average person. Unpredictability leads to fear of the unknown, which leads to persecution.

For their ideas extraordinary people have often lost their lives, been isolated, demonized, discredited, and criminalized. I will point out some poignant examples of historical and popular figures I feel fit this description: Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Alex Jones, Jesse Ventura, Bradley Manning, Jullian Assange, the Dahli Llama, Ai Weiwei, Martin Luther King, Nicola Tesla, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Galileo of Galilee, Copernicus, Socrates (assuming he is not fictional), and Jesus of Nazareth (assuming he is not fictional).  This is but a tiny list that consists largely of “Westerners” and is severely lacking in women (this is why we need “women’s history”) that I have come up with basically off of the top of my head.

There are also entire cultures that have been persecuted. The Jewish (culture of) people have been persecuted throughout the Jewish Diaspora and continuing on into modern times. There is a disproportionate amount of exceptional Jews because of their societal values (not to mention their cliquish tendencies) and it has gotten them into a lot of trouble. The Gypsies have historically had the same problem, as have the people of Tibet, and the Native Americans (who were also persecuted for their land).  You may disagree with the specific people and/or cultures I have given as examples, but I trust you get my point nonetheless.

Fear is dangerous. We should do our best to not fear each other unnecessarily. Bear in mind that just because a person or a group of people seem mysterious or unpredictable that it doesn’t mean they are bad people. Remember that we are all here to do good, at least in our own minds, unless we are actual sociopaths (which is hard to prove). Remember that we should always err on the side of liberty. We would do well to base our reactions to others on the actions of others, not on their words or ideas. Remember that we should not try to cause each other pain as a result of our fear of the potential actions of others.

A wise man once told me that anger is an emotion that is secondary to pain. As Buddha said, “life is suffering” (the corollary is also true – life is joy). Therefore, we all suffer pain. When we suffer pain we are prone to lash out and cause others pain. This is where we have the opportunity to stop the cycle of pain we cause each other. This does not make us dangerous people. It makes us human. Don’t let society tell you that you are anything less.

Society will judge you based on what it thinks you may do if it deems you an unpredictable person. Mysteries and unpredictability are scary to societies too. The fears of society often lead to us giving up our liberties. Let’s remember the words of Benjamin Franklin (often attributed to Thomas Jefferson): “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We would do better to live in societies based on mutual love and respect for each other rather than societies based on fear of each other. We would do well to resist rigidity and give those with thoughts different from ours a chance. We will surely suffer for it if we don’t. Be courageous enough to suffer and not pass the pain on to anyone else; that is what an exceptional person does. Have the courage to be exceptional.

If you can, forgive the “preachy tone” of my post.

With love and respect,

“Impartial Juror”