One practical part of Descartes really caught me. Part of his thought experiment allowed him to conclude that by assuming all his beliefs were not just questionable, but false, he “set aside old pathways to make way for the new.”
He’s talking about how, when we have an old belief that we have believed really hard, and then find reason to disbelieve that old belief, we still /act/ as if we had that belief. Even contrary to our desires, we find ourselves acting on that old belief. This has been a huge thing for me as I go through therapy and actively try to change my habits – it requires noticing the old belief before it takes over, pausing to let it pass, and acting reasonably.
Cartesian Theatre is pretty stupid, in one regard. So maybe it’s better as Cartesian Therapy?
First philosophy means that Descartes was trying to ditch all his assumptions and find the a priori, in my opinion. In doing so, he started the field of philosophy of mind/neuroscience, by opening up a place to talk about consciousness and how it relates to the body.
Here’s something to try: the next time you notice a habit you have that annoys you, pay attention to the situation it happens in, and the next time you find yourself confronted with that situation, remember to actively disbelieve that that choice would not annoy you.
The same works with habits that you suspect will kill you/make your life miserable, but which actually result in fulfilling and good things. I always thought sun and running would kill me, because of stuff my mom said, but I’ve been trying them lately, which requires active confrontation of my fears of the sun and physical activity and my link between those activities and anxiety.
Added note: my favorite author, Terry Pratchett, is dying. But if you note the last few paragraphs, he is also a badass stoic:
“The novelist – knighted for his services to literature – has been a fierce campaigner for Alzheimer’s research since his diagnosis. He donated £500,000 of his own money for research, and is a patron of the Alzheimer’s Research UK. Pratchett has also spoken out in favour of a euthanasia tribunal.
“If you did not know there was anything wrong with me, you would not know there is anything wrong with me. The disease moves slowly, but you know it’s there,” he said in his Richard Dimbleby lecture in 2010.
The lecture saw Pratchett go on to admit his vow that “rather than let Alzheimer’s take me, I would take it. I would live my life as ever to the full and die, before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand to wash down whatever modern version of the ‘Brompton cocktail’ some helpful medic could supply. And with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death.””