“I think, therefore I am.” This famous sentence comes from Rene Descartes the seventeenth-French philosopher. Descartes, a skeptic doubting all, looking for the basic rudiments of reality, discovered a core of reality in the awareness of his own being. By the act of thinking, he realizes that he exists, that he simply is.
I agree with Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” But for me, the statement simply means that thinking identifies my existence. Thought is a creative expression of my being. I am a thinker.
What does it mean to think?
According to modern science, to think involves the observer (called in philosophy, the subject) separating him/herself from the object of inquiry. This form of thinking is called objective thinking, which is distinct from an older way of thought, practiced for millennia, called subjective thinking, which is when the subject (the observer) identifies with, empathizes with, the object of inquiry. Subjective thinking is akin to American Indian epistemology, in which the object and subject are merged in inquiry—the other and the self are united. Thought is therefore inextricably linked with, cannot be detached from, the self.
I agree: to think involves more than just the mind. One must feel, intuit, as well. Science is not just objective, but subjective as well.
My heroes have always been thinkers, whether they be great thinking generals like Alexander of Macedon, great thinking explorers like John Smith, great religious thinkers like Aurelius Augustine, or great humanist thinkers like Michel de Montaigne. I have learned from past thinkers that a thinker contemplates, above all, God and Self.
I think, which is what the liberal arts teach us to do. Liberal arts are the foundation of western education going back two thousand years; they focus on questioning and seeking answers—in science and mathematics, history, literature, arts and humanities, politics, and so on. All of these academic subjects teach the ability to observe, analyze, intuit, feel, reflect, ruminate–that is, to think. The liberal arts train the mind to think.
Thinking, questioning and seeking answers, opens the mind to so many possibilities for action (other than what I do), so many answers (other than my answers), so many beliefs (other than my beliefs).
This is what my life, in short, has been—to think. Usually I put my energies in this regard to work in preparing class materials, including lectures, and in writing on a variety of topics. I have written poems, short stories, novels, and many, many histories. Only the histories have been published. These include books on ancient science, the history of American science, American poverty, American Indian studies, and biographies of thinkers, scientists, and explorers. My latest, soon to be published, is on Captain John Smith.