By Michelle Tian
Yup, we’re five days into the semester and I’m already questioning my existence. I knew it would happen, but I expected the anxiety to kick in halfway through the second week. This is just too early. God knows what I’ll be like in May.
I’m absolutely convinced that everything is fake and the only aspect of life I can confirm is my own existence.
I’m sorry, I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out.
We’re reading “Meditations On First Philosophy” by René Descartes in my History of Ancient Philosophy class right now, and man, this guy really knows how to persuade people. He’s wordy, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll most definitely get lost. But once you’re absorbed in his work, you really start to notice how what he says makes sense… while everything else is questionable.
Let’s be pessimistic for a while and dive right in.
Look at the computer screen in front of you. You’re fairly certain it exists, right? You can touch it, hear it, see it, therefore it has to exist. But that’s not necessarily true. You may be able to use your senses and conclude that there is a computer in front of you, but you have no way of knowing for sure whether or not your senses are deceiving you. Are you simply imagining that you’re touching a screen? Is it just a dream? Are your sensory perceptions even sensing the right things?
If you are able to question your senses, then everything around you can be questioned too — that wind you hear, the phone lying right beside you, the elastic tied in your hair. You feel it, you see it and you hear it, but you don’t know it. You don’t know it’s there the same way you don’t know if your senses are even sensing the right things. Maybe it’s all in your head.
While my professor was talking, I zoned out and thought to myself, “Maybe even my family and my friends don’t exist. I mean, maybe I’m the only one left in this world and my brain just conjured up those random people to cope with the loneliness?”
I can’t prove their existence. But, I can prove mine.
I’m able to sit here and think about these topics. I’m able to realize everything could possibly be fake, that I could possibly be nonexistent. I’m able to sense, imagine, hypothesize, and if I’m able to do that, then I’m pretty sure I exist. These thoughts need to be somewhere, right? I think, therefore I am — I have to exist to be able to think, but maybe that’s all I am. A thinking thing.
Because like I said earlier, I can’t prove I have a physical body even though it may seem like it. I can’t prove that the matcha latte I’m currently drinking is even real. It could very well just be my mind playing tricks on me.
Descartes also dives into detail on how God may be a supreme evil being who is controlling everything and deceiving me. I’ll leave that argument out because 1) it’s a Friday night, and my (possibly nonexistent) eyelids are about to shut at any minute and 2) it’s just plain offensive.
I hope your brain isn’t exploding too much, and the type of awakening you’re having right now is much prettier than mine was. Nevertheless, I needed to share these thoughts or else I know I’d definitely explode.
Anyway, go into this new week and question absolutely anything and everything. And don’t forget to tell me how that goes because I’ll just be sitting here, in my bed, confused to no end.