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Cogito ergo sum?

For most of my life, I’ve agreed with Descartes — I think, therefore I am.

But what about Emerson and his theory about what constitutes a “great soul”? Such a soul, Emerson concluded, is one that has the strength to live truly, madly, deeply, not someone who merely possesses the strength to think. (Okay, I admit, I added the truly, madly, deeply thing in myself — but really, is there any other way to “live”?)

But there’s the rub that Hamlet talked about, right? That rub that makes such calamity of life?

Because if one does not think well, one will not have the strength to live at all — only to exist. To skate from one episode of action to another, willy nilly, for all intents and purposes.

Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Emerson, Descartes — aren’t they all chasing the same answer to the same question: Is an individual measured by what he thinks, by what he says, or by what he does?

Obviously, some people say what they think, mean what they say, and act as they both think and say. But Thoreau challenged us to look deeper with his distinction between passive action and action with integrity. Thoreau asserts throughout his writing that we must act on principle, with our entire being. But in order to act on principle, we must sound the depths of our heart and mind, and in order to sound those depths we must engage in self-contemplation — now we’re back to cogito ergo sum, aren’t we? Because really, it doesn’t matter how confident we are in our person or in our action — if we cannot truly understand the motivation behind what we do and what we say, what good is the action itself?

This is the quandary, isn’t it? If we really don’t know our own selves well enough to know why we act as we act, then does the action have any real meaning to it at all?

I’m an egghead of the first degree, I know. And I’m the first to admit it. I should start my own addiction self-help group — we could call it Overthinkers Anonymous. I’ve relied heavily on the mind and its processes of information gathering, analysis, and logical conclusions … and of course, in business and in many of the pragmatic areas of my life — that reliance has been rewarding.

But I’m beginning to understand — just a glimmer of understanding, really, what Emerson might have meant when he wrote that, without action, “thought can never ripen into truth.”

For now, I’m turning to Goethe, whom I’ve never really studied. But he has me intrigued with this following bit of his writing:200px-goethe_stieler_1828

To think is easy.
To act is difficult.
To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Hmmmmm … let me give that some thought.

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Posted on September 28th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
7 Responses to Cogito ergo sum?
  1. Ah – ha!
    Dear MC –
    you’ve gotten yourself wrapped up in the Cartesian duality web.

    It is the root of all overthinking :>

    Only a quandary for those who choose to let it be one.

    Made for several centuries of soporific philosophical cogitation.

    Nevertheless a fun and humorous read to begin my day.

    cheers!

    Doug

    “I resist anything better than my own diversity” – W. W.

    Reply
  2. DK– ouch! it’s only 8:37 am and I’m already considered an intellectual lightweight! 😉 seriously — thanks for reading, for challenging the weight of any of the considerations i made; and for commenting! MC

    Reply
  3. The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle.

    When I was a child, my kindergarten teacher said I was “thinking too much.” As it turns out, it’s true. I was!

    Reply
  4. Oh, I just recently bought that book — looking forward to diving in. I know, I think I’m definitely overthinking … It’s more important to live! Thanks for reading the blog and suggesting Tolle to me,

    Reply
  5. “I think… I think I’ll have another beer”. John W. Perkins

    Reply
  6. “Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.” [Bertrand Russell]

    “Thinking is what a great many people think they are doing when they are simply rearranging their prejudices.” [William James]

    Reply
  7. D-man — I LOVE the Bertrand Russell quote … and I hope I’m not guilty of the James …

    Thanks for reading and sharing these interesting quotes…..

    Reply

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