Whiskey, Wellness, and Wisdom

with Matthew Bachman

You may be asking yourself what the Evil Demon Hypothesis is. You must first understand Rene Descartes and the nature of our reality before we can delve into opening up that jar. Let’s take a look and see why a simple thought experiment is so influential to survive through the ages.

Who the Fuck was Rene Descartes?

The French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, Rene Descartes was a fascinating and influential figure. He was a Catholic who was a genius in the Enlightenment Period. Rene Descartes created analytic geometry which combined geometry and algebra – a subject that quite frankly terrifies me to the core.

Descartes started his education in La Fleche at the age of 16. His teachers highly valued him, and stressed the importance of studying in order to attain knowledge. He was an accomplished individual who was keen to learn law and medicine. Descartes eventually moved to Paris where he met Marin Mersenne. Mersenne was both intellectually and personally supportive. He was eventually drafted into the army. He spent seven months in prison. He soon discovered that military knowledge was of little use compared to his scholarship.

His death came at a young age. In 1650, he was helping Queen Christina of Sweden set up an academy in science. Descartes was asked by the Queen to create a metaphysics that was based on St. Augustine’s teachings. Descartes was then ordered to get up early every day to deliver daily lectures. He was eventually struck with a severe chill. He died on February 11, 1650.

What is Reality?

You know you’re getting into philosophical territory when the tiresome “what is real?” question is posed. And let’s be honest, you don’t have to be a philosopher to ask that question. Hell, I probably ask myself that 5 times a night as I slowly drift off – nothing says a good night’s rest like pondering your very existence.

I don’t find it to be a particularly profound question to ask, because what happens is that no matter what ludicrous road you take to answer this question, you’ll always find the ability to re-affirm your belief that that’s what’s really going on. I mean I’m writing and researching this at work and I’m sure with just the tiniest fraction of my brain power, I could convince you that my Dauchshund has been controlling our reality all along.

I mean, just look at her. You know she’s up to something.

Reality, as we know it, is made of time and space, which we perceive as reality. This universe contains planets and moons, galaxies, and dark matter and energy. It occupies space. Space has three dimensions: width, length, time. This is reality.

We know that this is real because this is everything we’ve ever known and there is no contrary evidence to give us reasonable suspicions that that this is not reality.

Now, that’s not to say reality isn’t subjective to a certain extent. We each perceive reality through our own unique lens and that’s where the line between what is real what isn’t can become blurred.

Thus, we have properly segued into discussing Descartes Demon.

The Evil Demon Hypothesis

The evil demon hypothesis’s is a radical thought experiment that prostates that humans could be under the control of an evil genius, who is a powerful and malicious spirit. He suggests the possibilty of this powerful and evil entity manipulating our reality and convincing our senses of experiencing things that we really aren’t. He used the evil Demon to illustrate that logic couldn’t necessarily answer all the questions about our reality. After all, if what we perceive to be real is just an illusion, then logic itself would also be an illusion

This is the most extreme level of methodological doubt. The hypothesis operates throughout Meditations I and II, and is only relaxed in Meditation VI, which comes after Descartes’ proof of God in Meditations III and V. This weak version of the evil demon hypothesis still lingers in the author’s doubts about the external world, even after he’s been convinced of God’s existence.

The evil demon hypothesis argues that all beliefs can be questioned. This means that the sensory experience we have may just be a dream. So, merely because sensory experience is not knowledge does not mean that we can trust our judgement. Descartes introduced the notion of evil demonic to make this point. This evil demon serves as a way to question all beliefs.

Descartes Demon has been used as the basis for many novels and films, the most famous of which being The Matrix films and the better of which being Dark City. In The Matrix, machines in those take the place of the demon and in Dark City, it’s the Strangers fulfilling the role of the demon , but the concept in it’s most basic sense remains the same: reality is not what it seems.

It honestly does amaze me that hundreds of years later and Descartes Demon lives on in pop culture. Now that’s what I call influence.


Descartes Demon, though a fun thought experiment, has no true basis in science and is an open ended answer to a rather simplistic question. Perhaps the Descartes was more right than he realized when he said his simplest, yet most profound statement of all, “I think, therefore I am.”

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