RENE DESCARTESTHE WORLDorTREATISE ON LIGHT
Translated by Michael S. Mahoney
CHAPTER ONE On the Difference Between Our Sensations and theThings That Produce Them
In proposing to treat here of light, the first thing I want to make clear toyou is that there can be a difference between our sensation
of light (i.e.the idea that is formed in our imagination through the intermediary of our eyes) and what is in the objects that produces that sensation in us (i.e. whatis in the flame or in the sun that is called by the name of "light"). For, eventhough everyone is commonly persuaded that the ideas that are the objectsof our thought are wholly like the objects from which theyproceed,nevertheless I can see no reasoning that assures us that this is the case. Onthe contrary, I note many experiences that should cause us to doubt it.You well know that words bear no resemblance to the things they signify,and yet they do not cease for that reason to cause us to conceive of thosethings, indeed often without our paying attention to the sound of the wordsor to their syllables. Thus it can happen that, after having heard adiscourse, the sense of which we have very well understood, we might not be able to say in what language it was uttered.
Now, if words, whichsignify nothing except by human convention, suffice to cause us toconceive of things to which they bear no resemblance, why could notnature also have established a certain sign that would cause us to have thesensation of light, even though that sign in itself bore no similarity to thatsensation? Is it not thus that she has established laughter and tears, tocause us to read joy and sorrow on the faces of men?