Cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am”, is the famous line created by Rene Descartes in his book Meditation (1941).
He started to work on the book on 1639, which aggressively doubting every human knowledge available at that time. He realized that it is necessary to demolish everything and start again from the foundations if he wanted to establish anything at all, a knowledge which is stable and likely to last. This kind of skepticism or method of doubt is so unique that is called Cartesean Doubt.
In his writing, he was convinced that all of the current knowledge might be contaminated at the source. Even though it may not be, but we cannot guarantee that it isn’t. It all can be doubted. During the findings of knowledge, our senses might be lying to us (doubting knowledge from senses), we might be dreaming (Dream Argument) or something is fooling us (invisible demon issue).
And during his rigorous doubting of everything, he suddenly realized that one thing that he can never doubt. The fact that he is doubting or thinking. And thinking cannot happen just in mid-air. His consciousness or his mind is causing this thinking. Therefore, he cannot doubt his existence which causes this thinking/doubting. Thus, cogito ergo sum is accomplished. Or more accurately: there are thoughts, so there must be a mind.
To put it in context with the 18 century design issue, with the fall of once great and powerful Roman Catholic Church, people started to have confidence toward themselves and see knowledge as the centre of their lives. They no longer rely on someone or something to exist. Thus, the artworks that was created during that time focused on thinking or vision or something that might be possible (even it is not possible during that time). This can be seen in the drawings of grand structure from Piranesi and Boulle. By these drawings, they wanted to reveal what the true capability of a person is.
However, to put it in context with the current design issue, from my humble opinion, the approach of finding cogito ergo sum could be interpreted as an approach of designing. To create a solid design, the designer has to start from the back of his/her mind and approach the problem/issue there. The designer has to make a proper research on the issue that he/she wanted to address and create something certain or good.
One of the factors that may affect his thinking was the death of his only daughter at the age of 5 on 1640. His daughter, Francine died of scarlet fever when he was writing Meditations on 1639-1641.
Do take note that the popular approach of knowledge during his time are mainly Scholasticism, which says that any truth reached by reasons must therefore automatically be reconcilable with Christian doctrines; and faith would precedence over reasons, if there is any contradictions. It is mainly influenced by Roman Catholic Church.
“Knowledge” at that time was still influenced by many nonfactual factors (myths, imaginations, religious dogma etc).
Cogito ergo sum has created an agenda which till this day still cannot be solved by philosophers.
Cogito ergo sum mark the start of modern philosophy and created a branch of philosophy called Philosophy of Mind.
Descartes is also famous as a mathematician. He is the person who created the Cartesean coordinates (x,y,z).
From cogito, functionlism was created. This thinking can be seen as the basis of the movie The Matrix.
Homunculus, a person imagined by Descartes as the soul in every each of us (in dualism issue), become the name of a type of characters in an anime called Full Metal Alchemist.
After Descartes, knowledge become more systematic and the thinking that we called “systematic”. He also created the need of secular science or metaphysic.
Introducing Descartes, A Graphic Guide
By Dave Robinson & Chris Garratt