‘I wrote Meditations, rather than Disputations, as philosophers normally do, or Theorems and Problems, in the manner of geometers, so that by this fact alone I might make clear that I have no business except with those who are prepared to make the effort to meditate along with me and to consider the subject attentively.’ Descartes, Second Replies, p. 101


I am pleased to say that I have never done any formal meditating, but some of my students have advised me of its efficacy and pleasurableness. Others tell me that they have tried it, and rapidly bored of it, but could see the merits of it in an abstract rather than a practical sense. None has persuaded me to try it, through disputation or theorem or otherwise.

Similarly, none has persuaded me to take up running. Students have told me variously that it eliminates stress, irrigates the brain, promotes health and wellbeing (whatever that is) and so on. They have said nothing about their knees or their cardiac arrests, but that’s by-the-by.

On the other hand, no one has seriously tried to persuade me to declutter my life, although where psychic health is concerned it is the coming thing. Any number of books will now tell you how to say goodbye to your various effects. We are living, we are told, in a post-materialist world. Things do not make us happy. They weigh us down. They clutter our heads.

I am fairly well-persuaded that Descartes did not go jogging, nor did he meditate in the way that we understand it. He may have sought to clear his head of unnecessary objects, but only so he could build better founded structures of necessary objects. Whether he kept his room tidy and wished his socks goodbye when they got beyond darning is unknown, but since Descartes was not in fact a lunatic it seems unlikely.

Yet I suppose these are the things I am constantly pleading with my students to do. Reflect on what you do, stop and think, practice and repeat, get organised. And if they do not always respond in the ways I would like, then it is no more than a tacit acknowledgement that our approach to life is often untidy, inefficient, hasty. And all the more satisfying and probably no less oddly productive for it.