By Rene “Buzz” Descartes,
I have been asked to say a few words about how I thought up my most famous line “I think, therefore I am.” I get more questions on that than any of my other thinking lines–including my favorite “I think I’ll take a nap.”
So. One day in Holland I found myself broke and hungry. My friends were all in Italy, sucking up to a pious putz named Galileo, whose tee shirts said “Father of Science.”
In those days if you weren’t the Father of something or other, you were nobody—although there was a guy who made a nice living as the Father of Nobody. Anyway, Galileo liked to joke that the world revolved around the sun. I knew I could think up better stuff than that.
I’d always wanted to be known as the man who invented thinking. But apparently some wizard in the Fifth century grabbed it first. Seriously, if that’s when thinking was invented, would anyone have thought that the thousand-year Dark Ages to follow was a good idea? I think not.
So, I was out on the road holding up a sign: “Will think for food.” A stranger stopped. He said “I’ll give you a ham and Swiss on rye if you think of an easy way for me to make a million ducats.”
I replied “Make it pumpernickel and you’re on.”
He came back with a sandwich and a dill pickle, which I seldom eat. Whenever I bite into a dill I get chills down my back and I go all wiggly and silly and jump up and down squealing “Holy Snot!”
I unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. Delicious.
“Well?” he said. “How do I make an easy million?”
Around a mouthful of ham and cheese I said “I think…”
“You think what?”
“I think.” I took another bite. “Therefore…”
“Therefore what?” Such an impatient sandwich man.
“Therefore I…” Suddenly a piece of food lodged in my throat. I began choking to death.
“What’s happening?” he said.
I pointed to my mouth and I gagged. I started losing consciousness. I began to panic. I was going to die. But I was so young and I had so much left to do in my life. I had overdue library books. My shirts were ready at the cleaners. I’d just put a new stack of corn cobs in the outhouse.
“What are you saying?” the stranger hollered. “So far all I’ve heard is ‘I think, therefore I…’ Therefore you what?”
A large woman attempted to get past us on the roadside. I realized she was my only hope. I reached out to grab her arm, but accidentally I ended up with a handful of end. She punched me hard in the stomach.
And out flew a hunk of sandwich.
She recoiled in horror. “What is that thing?”
“Ham,” I wheezed, gulping for air.
“Ham?” shouted the stranger. “I think, therefore I ham?” He repeated it a few times, staring at me the way a turtle stares at just about everything. “I don’t get it.”
Just then a newspaper reporter happened by doing a Man in the Street interview. He was asking people what they liked to do when not hunting or gathering. (News hadn’t yet been invented.) I told him everything that had transpired. In the next morning’s paper the headline read
“PHILOSOPHER THINKS UP REALLY GOOD ONE.”
But the sub-hed said: ‘ I think, therefore I am.’
Holy misquote. I mean, the ham line at least makes sense–if you change the second “I” to “the” and simply presume the speaker is telling a judge whether he wants 50 lashes or a ham dinner.
To this day I still have no idea what “I think, therefore I am” means. To me, it’s obviously unfinished, begging the question: “You am what?”
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved