René Descartes, as the street sign says, was a philosopher, mathematician and physicist. He is remembered for many reasons not least among them for saying: ‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito, ergo sum). Known as The Father of Modern Philosophy, his writings are still in vogue. He is also famous for stating that the mind is separate from the body. He identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness separated from the physical brain. This is known now as Cartesian Dualism. Humans have a mind (non-physical) and body/brain (physical). The mind and body are separate. It was Descartes who made the connection between geometry and algebra to solve geometrical problems with algebraic equations.
Descartes was born in La Haye an hour away from Amboise. The town was renamed Descartes in his honour. René’s mother died when he was a year old so he was brought up by his grandparents in Châtellerault, not far from Poitiers, in the house where his father was born. Built in 1500, the house is now a museum dedicated to him.
Descartes needed peace and quiet to study. Paris was far too buzzy so he moved to Amsterdam where there were fewer distractions. He never married, but did have a daughter, Francine. Her mother was the servant of a bookshop owner in whose house Descartes lived. When she married Descartes gave her a large dowry. He planned to take Francine to France to be educated but she died of scarlet fever at the age of five. He told a friend that her death was the greatest sorrow of his life. Not embarrassed to be seen in tears, he said it is not unmanly to cry.
Hearing of the fate of Galileo, who was arrested for saying the earth moved around the sun, Descartes, who proved the truth of the theory, was so nervous of a similar fate, he considered burning all his papers.
Queen Christina of Sweden hounded him to teach her but although he was quite happy to correspond, he didn’t want to go and kept making excuses. He said that ‘thoughts as well as water’ would freeze in Sweden and, since winters there are harsh, he might not survive. He even feared being shipwrecked. In the end, he went. It did not turn out well. When they met, they experienced a mutual dislike. Worse, he had to teach her in a cold, draughty rooms. His fears of not surviving a Swedish winter came true. He didn’t last six months. On 1 February he contracted pneumonia, died on 11 February 1650 and was buried in Stockholm.
Sixteen years later his remains were taken to Paris. Over the years Descartes' bones were stolen, sold, revered as relics, studied by scientists and used in séances. His fingers were removed and made into jewellery. His skull is in Le Musée de l'Homme in Paris.
Post by Pamela