Automata and an Irrational Descartes?

When Rene Descartes eventually came down to the conclusion that he should doubt everything, and only build upon after questioning every assumption, he proposed a method to be rational. His ideas would rather permeate not only philosophy but also the sciences; to separate humans into mind vs. body certainly owes much to Descartes.

It then becomes quite surprising to find that when Descartes experienced the death of his five-year-old Francine daughter in 1640, the story is that he, being well versed in creating mechanical toys, constructed a mechanical doll that looked very much like the dead girl, carried this early robot everywhere, and treated it very much as if his machine were alive.

The Swiss Institute, the art gallery in New York City explores this contradiction between rationality and emotion through Nov. 3. To add to the story, Descartes sailed to Sweden in 1649. Myth tells us that the automaton was found by the crew in a trunk, and thrown overboard by a superstitious crew. Perhaps aggrieved by the loss, the philosopher and mathematician died a few months later.

The Gallery Installation:

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