Saturday, April 18, 2009

02009 New Year's Resolution #18: Cogito Ergo Possum, But Accept That I Probably Won't

A longtime friend (who also recently said something that made me think that "longtime friend" is sometimes more politic than "old friend") recently reminded me of an idea that has been amusing me (in a low simmer sort of way) for the last couple of years: Cogito ergo possum.

I'm sure my dear readers are all familiar with Descartes' famous assertion: Cogito ergo sum. (I think; therefore I am.) Likewise, I'm sure that most of you are familiar with Watty Piper's The Little Engine Who Could, who famously asserted, "I think I can."

By mixing the two together, I came up with the following hybrid: Cogito ergo possum. [Note: I'm not fluent in Latin and I am not a qualified translator. But I managed to cobble this together, and I don't think it's ineptly worded.] The resulting phrase translates to: "I think; therefore I can."

Searching the internet, I quickly learned that I was not the first to devise the phrase. In fact, it has been cleverly and humorously translated as "I think; therefore I play dead." (Which I think is genius!) Turns out that Cogito ergo possum is also apparently the motto of Walt Kelly's Pogo.

(I haven't yet taken the time to seek evidence of this in the volumes of Pogo strips that are on the bookcase next to our front door. But I intend to. If I can find said evidence, I'll probably post a scan of the appropriate frame. Walt Kelly was a genius and it seems to me that if I can play some small part in spreading his gospel, that would be a noble act.)

Anyway, Cogito ergo possum is sort of a reasonable credo for my interior mental life. It suggests a kind of belief in the power of thought: If one can think it, then doing it becomes a mere matter of will overcoming sloth. If you accept this idea and embrace it, there comes a certain confidence in your capacity for achieving something important. That's a nice idea. Frankly, it's sort of intoxicating in its ego-boosting capacity.

The problem with me is that while I possess this knowledge and am confident in my own thought processes, I am extremely bad about actually translating the thought into action. That is, my sloth generally overcomes my will.

So I have lots of bright ideas kicking around in my head. But rarely do I make any real effort at turning them into anything tangible. My habit has long been to jealously guard my bright ideas and to keep them secret. This is a bad habit! But until very recently I had not really recognised what a bad habit it is.

This has something to do with intellectual property rights, which I am a big fan of. I like the idea that inventors should be able to profit from their inventions. I believe that theft of intellectual property is every bit as wrong as theft of physical property. However, I must admit that I am unlikely to ever get around to dealing with most of my bright ideas. If I won't see them to fruition, and if I also keep them all as secrets, not only do I not benefit from them but neither does anyone else. That's where the bad habit comes in.

If, for example, I am not ever going to perform the world's first meaningful time travel experiment (and surely I am not), is there some good reason why I shouldn't at least toss the experiment's design out there in case it might inspire someone else to actually perform the experiment? Of course not! There's really no benefit to myself or to anyone else or to society at large if I keep the experiment's design a secret. But if I set it free, there's some slight chance that someone less slothful than myself might take up the baton and run with it. Where's the harm in that?

So, having achieved this new wisdom, I hereby make my eighteenth New Year's Resolution of 02009:

I resolve to not be so senselessly protective of my bright ideas.

I will be less apt to keep them from public scrutiny, finally acknowledging that there is more value in the potential of inspiring others than there is in the smugness of knowing that I possess some special idea that could result in something really cool if only I would get around to acting on it.

I suppose this resolution is at least as much about honestly assessing my own sloth as it is about honestly assessing the brilliance of my best thoughts. Anyway, as with Cogito ergo possum, it generally turns out that my brightest ideas are not uniquely mine. Usually, someone else has already had the same thoughts (or similar enough to qualify). In such cases especially, there is a very compelling reason to add a reinforcing voice to the chorus rather than to keep it under my hat.

1 comment:

  1. just an fyi: I changed one of FB friends list title from "old friends" to "long time friends"....