Weighing René Descartes’ Influence in a World Without Him

Arturo Serrano discusses ethics, political theory, and why he kills off Descartes in his novel

Tucker Lieberman
8 min readJan 31, 2023

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Arturo Serrano
Arturo Serrano

Arturo Serrano’s first novel in English imagines that the Mayflower was lost at sea in 1620, the English Separatists were disheartened, and the United States were never born. In this alternate history, rival empires split up the world, and those caught in the middle fight to bring an end to all empires. The novel is called To Climates Unknown. I asked the author why he chose to put a young René Descartes as a character in his novel. We’re married, so I might well have kept his answer private, but I thought you might like to hear his answer.

— Tucker Lieberman

Part 2 of your novel is called “Setback.” This is a chapter imagining René Descartes as a young man in the early 17th century: as a curious, precocious 14-year-old student, a 23-year-old plagued by existential dread and confusion, and finally as a 25-year-old who comes face-to-face with an enemy. What inspired you to imagine Descartes as a character in To Climates Unknown?

[Arturo Serrano responds:] When I was first researching events in the 17th century to get an idea of what world I would be jumping into, I focused on a particular week in September 1620 that…

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/