What are the things that you really know for certain? How can you justify these “knowledge” that you deem as true? If you ask me that, I’ll be honest and tell you that I really have no idea how to do that. No clue. Nil. And yet, I am regarded as a highly educated person, about to become a graduate of one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Weird, no?
There are many things that I have always believed in without any bit of doubt but never really questioning why I believe it. The first thing that comes to mind are the math and science lessons that were taught to me during my preschool and elementary education years. As a child, I never wondered why there are 365 days in a year, or why the sky is blue, or why there is thunder and lightning or why there is daytime and nighttime. I do not even wonder nor care about simple questions like why I am called Mark Anthony or where I came from. As a matter of fact, I did not even question where I came from until my high school years. These queries may seem trivial but the truth is that they are very essential considering that the answer to these queries define the most basic knowledge of human beings. This, coupled with the fact that even most adult people do not even know the answer to some of the questions just makes these questions really worth asking and answered to.
To be honest, I was a part of the majority of human beings that thought these queries are trivial and that I have never really pondered these queries because they seem very irrelevant when compared to what I am studying, which is engineering. But now that I am a student of philosophy, I realized the importance and essence of these questions and these questions made me recognize that there are so many fundamental knowledge that we may have thought that we already know but the fact is that we don’t.
And then I came across the Meditation on First Philosophy by renowned philosopher Rene Descartes through the reading assignment in the philosophy class that I was taking and that reading really further widened my perspective towards life as a whole. The reading made me question the things that I believe in and why I believed those beliefs in the first place. Self-reflection should definitely be made.
During the self-reflection on the things that I believed to be true, I found out that most of the beliefs that I believed in were taught to me by my parents and teachers and that I never had any say in this. I just blindly accepted the concepts and beliefs without questioning any of it. Beliefs like the Earth is the only planet that contains life or that there are other planets besides Earth are all just taught to us and it is expected of us to process these concepts without really giving solid proof that they are indeed true. This, according to Descartes, should not be the way of learning the truth because there are many doubts that can be raised using this process. What if the teacher is wrong? The teacher is not perfect and can sometimes commit mistakes. I remember one instance during my elementary years that the teacher wrote 1 multiplied by 1 is equal to 2. This is just an honest mistake and it does not mean that all the lessons that were taught to us by that particular teacher is not correct. But this isolated incident could cause doubt among skeptics and so in philosophy, the lessons learned through the use of learning from the teachers, parents and other persons with authority cannot be accepted as the truth. Also, add in the fact that there are some (a few) teachers that does not really know what they are talking about or does not know how to articulate their thought process (no offense to the teachers) just justifies that this method is not suitable in learning the truth of the world. Truth should never cast any doubt or it just is not truth at all.
Now that learning from other people is crossed out as a source of truth, there is only one left to be considered, which is our five senses, namely sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. We can say that sun exudes light because we see it. We can say that rocks are hard because we can feel it. We can say that perfumes are fragrant because we can smell it. We can say that sugar is sweet because we can taste it. And we can also say that fire crackers produce loud noise because we can hear it. We experience it firsthand and that makes us justify that we know those things. But the senses can be fooled. A great example would be that there are optical illusions that can distort our sense of sight. This means that our five senses is susceptible to doubt. If the eyes can be fooled by optical illusions, who can say and prove that your surroundings right now is not an optical illusion? Like we said earlier, truth should never cast any doubt and because the judgement of our five senses can be doubted, it cannot be considered as a source of truth.
You may say that you are certain that you are alive. Yes, that may seem plausible because you need not to use the five senses in order to prove it. You also do not need other people to tell you that you are alive. So that surely means that you are alive, right? Then what if I told you that you are really dreaming the whole time you think that you are “alive” and that your body is really stuck somewhere in Neverland? There is nothing that can disprove me and tell me otherwise. The state that you are feeling right now is also the state that you usually feel when you are dreaming. Thus, you can never prove that you are dreaming or not. You might really be dreaming the whole time that you are reading this writing and you won’t even know it. So are you still certain that you are alive, and not just dreaming about being alive?
Due to all the logical cases pointed out by Descartes in his writings, I am at an impasse. All the things that I had regarded as truth is flushed down the drain. Frankly, I think that the only thing I learned in the class is that I know nothing. In short, I learned that I never really learned. Ironic, isn’t it?
Well, at least I can say that I exist. Why? Because this writing would not be possible without me existing. Without me, you would not be able to read anything right now. I may be dreaming, but still, I should be existing to be able to dream. I am an entity. This, I am certain of. Like Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”
Cogito ergo sum.
– Rene Descartes
No truer words.