Everyday Descartes and applying philosophy to first year

“I think therefore I am” is a saying by the philosopher Descartes in which he portrays himself as a ‘thinking substance’, not a physical thing, and thus ties his existence to his mental self rather than his physical self.

In another saying, Descartes expresses that whilst we dream we assume that what we see is real, yet when we wake we realise that our visions were false. His point is that the only thing we can be sure of is our thoughts – all that is around us physically can and should be questioned.

When I apply Descartes’ reasoning to contemporary life, I am led to think about how we perceive both each other and ourselves. We are constantly looking at one another and comparing what we see, but Descartes uses his theory to prove that he exists as a purely thinking being, and so, by his logic, how we physically are is of less importance.

If what we look like is not who we truly are, merely an extension of ourselves, we can so easily have the wrong impression of others. To fully understand one another and better connect as a society, we must concentrate on listening and speaking to people. Essentially, what Descartes and I are trying to convey is the old cliché that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Credit: https://www.biography.com/people/ren-descartes-37613

We parallel books in other ways, too. Much like a book, we are always beginning and ending chapters in our lives – university, high school, trips, jobs etc. Furthermore, one chapter can be completely different from the next, as people change from year to year.

As a first year student, you might feel nervous about starting the ‘university stage’ of your life. I remember that when I was in first year I worried about how others might see me, but in retrospect I recognise that was ridiculous because we should not concern ourselves with how others see us but how we see ourselves. Remember that you are the only one who knows your own thoughts and who you are. The same applies to those around us – they can be much more than they appear.

We see so many people during our lives but only really get to know a select few. Do not make this mistake. Do not let what is in front of you limit you or your relationships. Everyone is their own book, who knows what the chapters waiting to be written will hold?

Edited by Mariana Avelino

Photo credit: https://wun.ac.uk/article/fellowship-opportunities-at-university-of-leeds