This I Believe

Elisha - Oneida, Illinois
Entered on May 8, 2007

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” but what I believe in is a reversal of the terms: “I am, therefore I think.” I believe that my very existence requires me to think, to use my brain and all my rational capability to process the world around me, and leave no stone unturned. There is no situation, no set of facts, which I believe I do not have to think about. From the grandiose themes of the meaning of life or the existence of god, down to the ideas we’re confronted with everyday – from our friends, from our teachers, from the television, from random passer-by on the street – I think on them, I challenge their premises, I evaluate and I judge. I cannot sit idly by while ideas are espoused and thoughts expressed without at the very least thinking about the argument in my head. I cannot let the flood of reality pass over me and not pause to ponder it; I cannot accept an idea, a belief, an opinion, without judging it first by my own standards of truth. To do so is to be ignorant, to debase oneself, to forget entirely the honor of one’s existence: “I am, therefore I think.”

It is hard to choose a specific example from my life to serve as the perfect illustration, because every action I have taken, every opinion I have formed, is guided by this principle. When I read – whether it be a flyer on the quad or an article in National Geographic – I don’t just accept it as is; I think about what it says, assess its premises, judge whether or not it makes logical sense. When I listen to others – whether to a decorated professor in a lecture hall or to a friend in a casual conversation – I analyze what is said, what it means, and whether I can accept it as valid. Obviously, those things that are more profound – an article in a reputable science magazine or a professor’s lecture – are going to require more of my time and cognitive capacity than a flyer or a friendly chat. But, regardless of the gravity of the issue, I consider it only right to think about it. It doesn’t ever take more than ten minutes of my time at most, and that’s a small price I’m more than willing to pay for the knowledge that I have not demeaned my mind, and therefore myself; that I have held myself to the highest standard, the glory of my existence as a human being: “I am, therefore I think.”