Skip to main content

How do you know you exist? - James Zucker


21,221 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

How do you know you’re real? Is existence all just a big dream? Has some mad scientist duped us into simply believing that we exist? James Zucker investigates all of these questions (and more) in this mind-boggling tribute to René Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

René Descartes believed that most of what he acquired and learned came from the senses, but his senses had deceived him in the past. Can you give an example of when your senses have deceived you? Is there an experience that has made you doubt what you have seen or heard? Could this give you reason to doubt EVERYTHING you have learned from your senses? Check out this video for some background on this idea or watch the TED-Ed Lesson How Optical Illusions Trick Your Brain for one example of how and why your mind can be tricked into seeing something differently than it is. Would René Descartes agree with the statement that “things are not always what they seem?" Do you?

Descartes believed that if you doubt your own existence, you must exist to doubt it! In other words, “I think therefore I am.” Check out this video to get more insight into this idea! Some people believe that this statement proves that the one’s mind exists but not one’s physical body. What do you think?

René Descartes was an extremely talented man. A video link is provided here that describes his life and philosophy. He was not only a philosopher but a mathematician as well. Three links are provided below that will give you more insight into the life of this man:

Some famous quotes from Descartes are written below. These may give you an idea of how he thought and what he believed:

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

“Let whoever can do so deceive me, he will never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I continue to think I am something."

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator James Zucker
  • Director John R. Dilworth
  • Artist Kyra Kupetsky, Maria Ulacia
  • Sound Designer William Hohauser
  • Script Editor Addison Anderson
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

More from The Big Questions