I am, therefore I think

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

“I am, therefore I think”I believe René Descartes may have gotten it backwards when he said, in Latin, “Cogito, ergo sum.” When translated this famous saying means “I think, therefore I am.”

I contend he should have said, “I am, therefore I think.”

Now, before the Philosophy police come for me allow me to make one thing clear…. I’m not attempting to enter into a philosophical debate here.

And while we could easily enter into a morale discussion about when life begins, or how we know we actually exist (Descartes contended that because we think, we are)… I won’t.

An Amazing Gift

No, instead of all this, I want to keep it real simple. You see, I contend each of us have been given an amazing gift. In fact, we’ve been given many gifts such as life itself. But the gift I’m talking about is the gift of thought and contemplation.

It’s this gift that can, so to speak, make or break us. It’s this gift that enables men and women to do astonishing things like brain surgery, invent the cell phone, and fly people to the moon.

And it’s precisely because of this gift of thought that companies such as Toyota have re-written the rules related to running a business.

The Real Secret

Contrary to what many assume, it’s not the tools of lean or six sigma that make companies like Toyota great. And, while it’s very important, respecting people isn’t the key driver either.

No, in my humble opinion, it comes down to one thing and one thing only. Those who master the ability to think and solve problems will ultimately win the game, set, and match.

My Maker Made Me to Think

So, yes, I think Descartes got it backward. I believe God is the first cause of life which means He’s ultimately responsible for me sitting here this evening typing this sentence. I also believe this same God gave me the ability, and I contend the responsibility, to think.

Stated another way, “I am, therefore I think.”

Do you agree?

  1. Rob

    September 11, 2008 - 5:55 am

    The main issue with Descartes is that it assumes that “all thoughts have thinkers”. Descartes never attempts to establish this in his work. He was in effect presenting the conclusion “I am” from a inference like:

    all thoughts have thinkers, there are thoughts now, so the thinker of the thoughts must exist.

    So all Descartes should have said was, there are thoughts now, but if he had said that, it would have been difficult for him to conclude I exist unless he assumed that all thoughts have a thinker. He’s saying, you can only be assured of your own existence even if you doubt all else. Descartes was only able to bridge the gap between a thinking human and knowledge gained in the world by first proving the existence of God and it is unclear whether anything of his argument remains of the proof of God is rejected.

    Isn’t philosophy great!?

  2. Jeremy Garner

    September 11, 2008 - 8:41 am

    I do believe that all resources that are given to us by God should be engaged and invested not squandered. Our minds are a great resource. When we are responsible and give our best contribution everyone is improved, however as one of my favorite speakers says it “Where the mind goes the man follows”. Our minds are a powerful thing, not only does the mind percieve reality but can create a reality. Focus is a powerful mental tool, regardless of how shallow or deep the thinker. When we focus together, our ideas become a laser beam that can cut through any problem. I do enjoy philosophical discussion!

  3. John Reiling

    September 11, 2008 - 1:33 pm

    Nice thought, but I think it’s what you think aobut that is important, not just that you think. That is why something like Six Sigma is important. It gets us to think aobut things in certain ways, and also coordinates our thing among ourselves. The same goes for the assertion that people come first; it gets us “thinking” more about people.

  4. Steve

    September 12, 2008 - 1:41 am

    A long, long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away..!), an old Production Manager of mine told me something that struck home, way before I entered the dizzy realms of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma.
    He said that when you employ a factory hand (we now call ours Assembly Specialists), you not only get a pair of hands – you get a brain too.
    This kicked off what I now know as a Kaizen program, with all my staff being involved in the discussions regarding problems and brainstorming the solution(s).
    To realise the fact that the “worker ants” understand the tasks and the problems they have to deal with on a day-to day basis is to respect that they have the potential to drive the solutions. This what sets the Toyota’s of this world apart from the rest.
    Giving them the tools to use enhances this after it has been recognised.

  5. Chris

    September 15, 2008 - 9:41 pm

    In the context of TPS/6 Sigma it should read:
    I am, therefore I can think.
    I can think, therefore I can change.
    I can change, therefore I can improve.

    Obviously, perfection is the goal of improvement, thus the root of perfection begins with thinking.

    In the context of our Creator, I think He said is best when He said:
    I AM

    Since He is perfect, everything after that is immaterial.
    He also created us in His image, so that one day we also could be perfected.
    I believe His two greatest gifts to us are 1)free will or the ability to think, which results in our ability to realize we are not perfect, but should be and 2)a transformational process to become perfect (By the mysterious and wonderful gift of salvation made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ.)

    Would it be so strange to say that the greatest gifts of the economic world are the 1)free market, which results in the realization that you must improve relentlessly to survive and 2)lean, which provides a transformational process to pursue improvement relentlessly?

    Maybe that’s a stretch (and maybe the first time lean has been analogized to our Lord and Savior).

    I guess we will have to THINK this one a little longer.

  6. Ron Pereira

    September 16, 2008 - 10:21 am

    Chris, thank you for your powerful comment! I actually love your analogies. And thanks to everyone else for your excellent thoughts and comments.

  7. Joseph C. Samuel

    February 23, 2010 - 10:42 pm

    That was a beauty! And a totally new thought.

  8. Mark S. Keegan

    June 8, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    Before I saw this post, I had long thought (pun intended) of the importance of thinking, how it relates to continuous improvement in our lives and work, how it relates to God’s plan and how few people actually think as much as they could. Most importantly now, when the United States does not have enough manufacturing capability to survive and pay off its “debt”, we need to fix things. I helped Merrill Lynch Credit Corporation win the Baldridge National Quality Award in 1997, began my career at General Motors in Organizational Development (unheard of at that time – early 1970s) and now see the urgent need our country has. How do we manufacture as a nation again?

  9. John

    July 22, 2013 - 12:51 pm

    Having often been told that I think too much, I was actually simply toying around with the reality that I experience and the enjoyment of the ability to THINK when I decided to look for references to a crude attempt at turning “Cogito ergo sum” (I think ergo I am) to I am therefore I think (“Sum ergo cogito?). In my search I found this site. Too bad I am so late in doing so. I REALLY enjoyed the topic and most of the comments.

    As for the religious thoughts on thinking, here is my take (If we do not dismiss the book of Genesis story of creation).

    -God is all powerful so he could have made man with BOTH free will AND a sinless
    behavior WITHOUT the oft cited ROBOTIC compliance.
    -God is all knowing so He knew what the outcome of Adam and Eve’s reaction to the
    first commandment (“Be fruitful and multiply”) and the second commandment (Thou shall
    not eat that [fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil]”
    -God is all loving so He was prepared for the fall of Adam and Eve by the plan to send
    Jesus to save us from our sins.
    -God ensured that Adam and Eve would disobey His commandment by placing sly tongued
    serpent/Satan in the garden to start them THINKING about the commandment and what a
    violation of it could produce. If it were NOT for their sin we would commit so many
    sins and attrocities and never KNOW or think and understand their immorality. That knowledge which then comes from THINKING about the choices we make/or sins we commit, enables us to receive a form of God’s grace which Catholics have called BLACK GRACE. I like that title for Guilt because it again requires a recognition of good and evil and causes us to see ourselves as unworthy of God’s love and therefor appreciation our salvation through the sacrifice which Jesus made for us.

    I would be interested in your take on this idea.
    garden with Adam and Eve

  10. Danny

    November 14, 2014 - 7:01 pm

    Hey, love this discussion. Was exactly what I THINK I was looking for, after searching ‘I am, therefore I think’.

    I was just thinking about the power of thoughts themselves and completely agree that they are our tools, in which to improve ourselves and the world around us. Enabling us to conquer any obstacle, ranging from telling our heart to transport blood around the body from birth, to creating a system that gives you a world of information at your fingertips.

    However, what began my thought process was that not all thoughts benefit us. They can also be a curse, and our own undoing in some cases. For example, a single, simple thought can make a person believe they are ‘unhappy, unattractive, worthless, useless or stupid.’ We all do it, whether it is questioning our looks to asking whether we are smart enough to be in the same room as others. Everyone has at some point asked the question ‘am I good enough?’ And by even asking that question, you have answered it.

    We all have the same amazing gift to think! The very gift that has allowed us as a species to reach our point of existence now. The fact that we think, and persue or thoughts is the sole reason we are here today. I’ve seen people with no physical strength, little medical chance of beating a disease, or grieving at the loss of a loved one. Yet a tiny little spark within themselves said ‘This can be conquered.’ This thought, this human drive an instinct is why we are beating things like cancer, over coming things like depression and moving forward as a race.

    I apologise, I started this response with a single point to state, and I kind of went off on one. But that is the very beauty of our thoughts. They don’t stop even when they dont need to carry on.

    Thank you for reading my response, let me know what you think.

  11. CtlAltDel

    April 7, 2015 - 6:38 pm

    I have degrees in philosophy and psychology and long felt Descarte’s maxim was arse about. But it in the context of what he was getting at it makes sense – I can know I exist because I can think. All thoughts must have a thinker. True. But interestingly as a Buddhist I am training myself to find moments where I don’t think. So do I exist when I am not thinking? In fact Buddhism would have it that you do not exist and an independent sentient being at all. When you think you bring your ego into existence – so Descarte’s maxim holds true though it is a delusion. Your true nature is non-existence.

  12. Beth

    June 6, 2020 - 11:03 pm

    What about universal consciousness?

    I think, therefore I am….. what?

  13. Sam Osborne

    May 12, 2022 - 3:24 pm

    This side of being brain dead a functioning brain is the locus of one thinking that they exist. When a brains is dead and no longer thinking it or the rest of the body exists there is no such thinking from that dead brain—although brains that are not yet dead may think that one that has one may think that bodies with dead brains still exist beyond being dead. But, so far no bodies with dead brains have provided and convincing evidence that they are still alive. In short, an alive brain can think about being dead and say so, but a dead brain has not had anything to say about anything.

  14. justunderreality

    May 30, 2022 - 9:53 pm

    While I agree, I don’t know if this is what you want to be arguing (if you want to come from a religious standpoint).

    The paradox Descartes found himself in was asking “if god is a mad scientist and I’m a brain in a vat, how can I know he is not feeding me false senses?” His conclusion was that “A mad scientist would not let me think that. Therefore, if I have the freedom of thought, then I can trust my senses”. This simplified down to the well known “I think therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum).

    If Descartes said it your way (I am, therefore I think) then he would be claiming that reality is of his making and he is trapped in a delusion. Even more a mad scientist may be deluding him into thinking a mad scientist is “good”.

    Now I actually agree with the alternate version (or as I put it quia cogito, sum – Because I am, I think) since it creates a inclusive world in which every existing thing is conscious and we are all trying to understand reality through a synthesis of our own perceptions. But I doubt we have the same values in that respect.

    Either way, thanks for the post. It was well written.

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