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Doubt, Descartes, and Evil Geniuses
In the fifteenth century, the French philosopher René Descartes formulated his most famous dictum, cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), while meditating by the fire. Some of my own best thinking occurs in a similar setting, only instead of a flickering fire, I stare at a flickering television screen. The times when my mind is most engaged and my need to know at its most pronounced, I am usually watching Lost. A show like Lost, I will argue, that is popular with both a mass audience as well as a cult audience, with a more pronounced interest, can be considered an ongoing group meditation, the insights gleaned from which will be of particular relevance to that audience.
In his meditation, Descartes sets out—solely by thinking while gazing upon the fire, mind you (the work in question is called Meditations on First Philosophy)—to prove that everything he already believes to be true, really is true (the basic beliefs most people take for granted, such as that he himself exists, that the world around him exists, and that God exists). Moreover, he hopes to prove that it is impossible for these basic beliefs to be false, and to thereby establish an unshakable ground upon which to base all future science and philosophy (and upon which, it could be argued, the modern world—or at least a certain modern sensibility—has been built). The method by which Descartes hopes to accomplish this task is by exercising extreme skepticism; essentially, he doubts everything it is …
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