www.whyville.net Sep 2, 1999 Weekly Issue

Rene Descartes

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"I Think, Therefore I Am": Rene Descartes

      Welcome to the first in a series of brief articles describing the lives of those scientists and artists whose names you will find on the street signs of Myville. This week's article is about Rene Descartes, French mathematician and philosopher.

by Lois Lee
Times Staff

      Rene Descartes (1596-1650), greatest mathematician of his time, led the way for mathematics to be applied to science. Until the early 17th Century, the two fields were considered to be almost entirely separate, the discoveries of the one not affecting those of the other.

      Although he is perhaps best known for declaring, "I think, therefore I am," this statement is really only a part of an entirely new philosophy of reasoning developed by Descartes. His ideas became the foundation of what would eventually become the modern scientific method. His systematic skepticism, or "methodical doubt," as he called it, enabled him to reject all that was uncertain or doubtful in the world of learning, and emphasized the reasonableness of a theory rather than its history or popularity.

      Descartes' most direct effect on people in the 20th century can be seen in algebra and geometry classrooms across the globe: the Descartes plane, otherwise known as the x-y coordinate system, is a fundamental part of learning some of the most basic of mathematical concepts because of the system's relative simplicity.

Descartes Street, running just adjacent to City Hall


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