Thursday, May 01, 2008

Descartes rocks

I'm feeling a bit better (my cold), thank God. Spent the morning sleeping in, then the day outside in the sunshine reading René Descartes' Discourse on the Method aka "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences".

About a year ago, I bought this whole series "Harvard Classics" for like $0.50/volume from a local library book sale, and there are so many of them that I've been wanting to read - and that I want my kids to read. So I started reading this one, partly as research for the book I'm writing, and I'm blown away. I was thinking that all kids in our nation's public education system should be required to read this. And the rest of the material too! In just this one volume it also includes Voltaire, Rousseau and Hobbes.

Descartes is the guy who famously said, "I think, therefore I am." The previous link goes to the full text. The Wikipedia entry is interesting; it says that it's "is one of the most influential works in the history of modern science" and "gives a solid platform from which all modern natural sciences could evolve."

My favorite quotes, so far:

"I had always a most earnest desire to know how to distinguish the true from the false, in order that I might be able clearly to discriminate the right path in life, and proceed in it with confidence."


"My second maxim was to be as constant and as resolute in my actions as I could, and to follow the most doubtful opinions, once I had settled on them for myself, with no less constancy than if they had been very sure, imitating in this matter travelers who, finding themselves lost in some forest, should not wander around, shifting direction this way and that; even less should they stop in one place; they should move on always as straight as they can in the same direction and not change it for inadequate reasons, even though at the beginning it was perhaps only chance which led to their choice of direction. For in this way, if they do not come out exactly where they want to, they will at least end up arriving somewhere where they will probably be better off than in the middle of a forest."

I like this because I can be SO indecisive sometimes, and often second-guess the decisions I do make! It was really good to read. So it's good advice I'll try to follow.

So then he of course goes on in Part IV to prove the existence of God through Reason and not only that to prove that we/he exists. :) He thinks, therefore he is. I just love it. Honestly I want to read this to my kids. This is something we all should have had, or kids now need in school. Understanding the history of modern thought is so important, and just the brilliance of these philosophers blows me away. I love that most of them are Christians, and they are absolutely convinced and resolute on the importance of Reason and Logic and Science. It just makes me depressed to think about how sad our state of science education and general knowledge about science is that people actually believe that Intelligent Design is anything but the religion-masquerading-as-science that it is. And BAD religion, not good religion (and yes I do believe there is a difference). And not only that, fake science. Not just bad science, not even "science" - which if people understood the history and nature of science, they would understand! It's very, very frustrating, since just a little bit of research into the Truth - the history of science, the nature of science, the millions of studies that have been conducted on evolution and evolutionary biology will reveal such clear Truths about the nature of science and whether Evolution has evidence (duh! yes!)... yet all these things are simply discarded nonchalantly by those who are told that they are not "true" or are somehow antithetical to Christianity. Such garbage!

I also had to laugh at how looooong some of Descartes' sentences are. I mean, check this out:

My third maxim was to endeavour always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the order of the world, and in general, accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done our best in respect of things external to us, all wherein we fail of success is to be held, as regards us, absolutely impossible: and this single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent me from desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me contented; for since our will naturally seeks those objects alone which the understanding represents as in some way possible of attainment, it is plain, that if we consider all external goods as equally beyond our power, we shall no more regret the absence of such goods as seem due to our birth, when deprived of them without any fault of ours, than our not possessing the kingdoms of China or Mexico; and thus making, so to speak, a virtue of necessity, we shall no more desire health in disease, or freedom in imprisonment, than we now do bodies incorruptible as diamonds, or the wings of birds to fly with.

Despite lots of semi-colons and colons that is ONE LONG SENTENCE!! I ought to post the rest as it also is a brilliant passage, but I'll let you go read on your own...

As a writer we are told to keep sentences short. Who made this rule? I'm also reading Tale of Two Cities to Sam at night and Dickens also has some insanely long sentences! Why do we think we need to shorten? Are we dumbing down society by requiring everything now be written in super short easy to grasp sentences, and so when it comes to long sentences our feeble brains can't wrap their neurons around the meaning anymore? Sam's teacher said Dickens' was too complex for him (even though Sam has skipped a grade and is still at the top of his class...) Sam himself will SAY he doesn't get it, but he gets a lot more than he thinks, and as I read, I go through it and talk to him about what the passage means if it's something complex. And how the heck do we expect kids to learn better reading comprehension skills if we don't give them stuff that is slightly above their current level?! Back in the day, they all read this stuff. They learned to WRITE by writing out by hand these books that were far beyond their comprehension initially. All for now. More to come, but for now, good night!

1 comment:

Melanie said...

I agree totally. It depresses me to think about the hurdles I'm going to have to face with my kids (when we have them). It seems as though we have gotten so far away from what Christianity was originally intended to be. I took a course in college, Critical Theory, where we read Descartes (among several others), and it definitely shaped the way I view the world around me. Glad you're feeling better also.