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Descartes posted 19 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Descartes said "I think therefor I am".

The question is though, what is philosophy's stance on this these days? Having never really read all that much philosophy, it would be interesting if someone who has could explain how modern day philosophers feel about this.

Would be also nice to see what the other forum members think of the saying. view post


Descartes posted 19 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Sovin Nai, Site Administrator

I think it all comes down to definitions again. By 'am' he means 'to be,' correct? If so, I both agree and disagree. If something can think then it definitely 'is.' But just because something can't think does not, to my mind, make it not 'being' in existence. view post


Descartes posted 23 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Peter, Auditor

I think it might be useful to think about the context of Descartes' Cogito. The Cogito appears in at least two of his works (maybe more, I'm not sure), his "Discourse" (actual name is quite a bit longer) and his "Meditations on First Philosophy".

In Meditations, which is his main work, he is seeking to introduce certainty in his beliefs. So first he analyses all his previous beliefs (such as there being an external world, that he can know mathematical truths etc.) and finds that actually he can be certain of none of these things. The first thing he hits upon is the Cogito (although in Meditations he never actually says "I think therefore I am"). There is no way for this statement to be false when uttered. It is not a necessary truth, but a contingent one, and we can only be certain of our own existence (at least initially) when thinking about the Cogito.

The point I want to make is that Sovin Nai is right in identifying that the Cogito doesn't prove the existence of non-thinking things (indeed initially it can't even prove that there are other thinking things, because thought is entirely a subjective experience and so I can't know other people are thinking things and not just automotons). However, when Descartes utters the Cogito he cannot actually be certain of anything existing outside himself as a thinking thing (perhaps not even a bodily one), that comes later.

Sorry, I had intended this to be a short message, but what I will say is that in modern philosophy, it seems to me that most people accept the Cogito to some extent. It is generally agreed however that Descartes fails later on in his work, most people concentrating on his proofs of God as the weakest links (indeed many would claim non-existent links). view post


Descartes posted 23 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Well i had heard that quote spoken often, but did not know about the rest of it. So thanks for filling me in on that.

One point though is that you said "There is no way for this statement to be false when uttered." - but is this really true? Would not a more truer statement be "I think, therefore i think i am"?

You also said that Descartes analysed his previous views looking for certainty, yet found none. So you would think he would do the same for the saying that he is known so well for, yet it does not seem like he did. For instance, after saying "I think, therefore I am", you would have thought that the next thing to come to him would be: "Then what am I when I am not thinking?".

It is hard to say (since who knows that went on in his head at the time), but it does appear that he got so caught up in his search for certainty that, when he finally thought he had found it, he refused to tear it apart to see if it was true. view post


Descartes posted 23 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

There's not many out-and-out Cartesians around any more, I'm afraid, though there are many Descartes scholars.

The epigraph to TDTCB is Nietzsche's famous overturning of Descartes' cogito: 'IT thinks, therefore I am.' Sartre also has his own spin: "I think, therefore I WAS." I always used to joke that Derrida, if he were to have his own cogito, would say "IT thinks, therefore I WAS."

Back when I tried Zyban to quit smoking I had what could be charitably described as a 'psychotic episode.' Zyban is simply another name for Welbutrin, an anti-depressant that has improved the lives of millions, but seems to drive a small handful bonkers. Quite the experience. 'IT' was thinking alright - the thoughts just seemed to come from nowhere (the 'darkness'). But what freaked me out more was the subsequent realization that the only difference between those thoughts and the thoughts I normally have was that I simply wasn't accustomed to them, and that if I had held onto them long enough, I likely would've have started identifying them as my own. Which led to the question: 'Just WHO (or what) is doing the thinking anyway?'

Kellhus, probably. view post


Descartes posted 23 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Yep thats the thing. In a way there really is no such thing as a thinker - only thinking itself. If you just quiet your mind and watch, you can easily see this for yourself.

Of course, then you have the problem of trying to work out just what it is that is watching (which isn't you either). But then asking yourself "just who/what am I" is perhaps the hardest (and greatest) question anyone could ever ask. view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Sovin Nai, Site Administrator

Did you ever manage to quit smoking?

With regards to what Scott said, theoretically your whole existence is just one layer after another over nothing, like a jawbreaker. You can keep digging deeper, but after you have uncovered everything, you have nothing left. We could be arguing ourselves out of existence. view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Your right, and if you could argue yourself out of existence (though i don't think argue is the right word here), then perhaps this thing called self is not as real as you would first think.

The important thing to notice though is this nothingness that the layers cover. Just what it is? It's certainly not empty, as even if you were to reach a point where there was nothing left of what was originally considered you, there still would be something that sees; something that responds when your name is called; something that acts. So again, what is it? There is certainly no easy answer to such a question. view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

I did manage to quit smoking, but it had precious little to do with Zyban.

The issues regarding selfhood become very abstract and very perplexing very fast - it really is like clutching at smoke.

The strange thing is that if it all does come down to brains and evolution, then this is the very thing we might expect. 'Self-consciousness,' whatever it is, seems to be a relatively recent evolutionary innovation. Given that our brains have had millions of years to develop circuits capable of tracking our external environments, we would expect our brains' ability to track itself would be far more rudimentary in comparison - that they would be 'blind' to themselves in important respects. From a naturalist standpoint, what we call 'self' might simply be the result of a brain that cannot see itself AS a brain - as just one more 'it' in the world. In other words, we might expect the brain to think of itself as standing outside the world in someway - as it must, it seems, if things like free will and morality are to make sense. view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Well self-conciousness to me seems like nothing more than thought. Very subtle thought, but thought none the less. Same for self - just thought that misunderstands its origins. Of course that is a simplistic view of it and there is more to it than that, such as the conditions that made such a thing arise e.g. self references that make things easier in language. But you could perhaps write pages on that and still have a lot left to say.

I'm a little unsure at what you meant in your last couple of sentences though. Would you mind elaborating a little?

p.s. Also tried to quite smoking a few times over the years and know just how hard it is. So congrats on that. Despite a few months here and there where i have managed it, I haven't had all that much luck myself in that regard. view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Being a hyperchondriac helps - for the smoking, that is. I'll be rooting for you Replay!

As for the 'blind brain hypothesis' (which I hope to publish soon), the idea is roughly this: thanks to millions of years of evolution, the brain has powerful resources when it comes to processing changes in its external environment, but when it comes to processing internal changes within itself, it has a far shorter evolutionary track record, and thus, one might assume, far fewer resources. So even though our brain is simply one more physical object in our environment, we might expect it to have difficulty recognizing itself as such. In fact, we might expect it to have a very strange and blinkered self-understanding, so much so that when we study it as any other natural object, it seems impossible that it can be the same thing.

Take our sense of 'free will' as an example. Our brain is very good at tracking causal processes in its immediate environment, but it possesses only limited resources for tracking the causal processes within itself. Given this, one might expect a striking difference in the way the brain perceives external events (as possessing a causal history) as opposed to internal events (as arising ex nihilo). One might expect, in other words, that the brain would be unable to fully integrate itself in the causal structure of its environment, to think itself 'free.' view post


Descartes posted 27 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Ok, that makes a bit more sense. And id agree with you that it does seem a lot harder for the brain to track internal changes than external. I know from experience just how much work it is pay attention to what is happening inside - mainly because we are just not used to doing it (though there are other reasons). It takes a hell of a lot of conditioning before such a thing becomes natural.

Would like to read what you have written on it sometime, especially the bit about evolution which seems to make sense.

Still a little unsure what you are trying to say about free will though, especially in your previous post about standing outside the world. Also, what did you mean about a brain trying to think itself free? view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Loof, Peralogue

But what is the point of tracking internal changes? Maybe one of the reasons the ability isnt very developed is simply that it has very little use. view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Sovin Nai, Site Administrator

Or that tracking internal changes, and therefore justification, damages the brain's resourcefulness in dealing competetively with external changes. view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

Loof and Jack: I agree - insofar as the 'self-tracking' capability exists, it had to be selected for on the basis of some kind of competitive advantage. I've always wondered whether it has something to do with language and sexual selection. Whatever the case, it must have something to do with the social structure of early hominids... Imagine the reproductive edge of a 'Kellhus-robustus'...

Replay: The idea is that since the brain can't process its own causal processes, they don't exist for it, so that where it assumes that events in its external environment are caused, it assumes internal events are not. It literally can't fit itself in the picture of events it sees around it.

I actually have a line on getting the article published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies - I'm presently rewriting it with a much smarter, much better read, buddy of mine. view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

The point of tracking internal changes? To understand of course. When you pay attention to what goes on inside, it is amazing at just what you can learn. Plus just by the simple fact of being more aware of what is happening internally, you actually negate a lot of what is happening internally, which clears the mind and leaves you more open. So really you could say that by tracking internal changes, you in a way give yourself the ability to see more clearly external changes.

The idea is that since the brain can't process its own causal processes, they don't exist for it, so that where it assumes that events in its external environment are caused, it assumes internal events are not. It literally can't fit itself in the picture of events it sees around it.


Yes that is good point, and would explain why man often thinks himself apart from the world. He's making a huge mistake to do so, but it is easy to see how man can come to such conclusions.

As for tracking the internal causal process, well, I don't really agree that it is not possible. If what you are talking about is trying to track it with thought, as we often do with external changes, then id agree with that. Thought cannot really see itself, nor track itself. Awareness, on the other hand, can. Of course the internal process is often not as clear as the external, which makes it difficult to see, but i would say that it certainly is possible. view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

The idea is that it tracks it (because of the lack of resources) in a 'low resolution' format, as when we say, "I got pissed off!" to explain an action. view post


Descartes posted 28 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Replay, Auditor

Yeah, we certainly do that. Not sure if its due to lack of resources though. I would say that they are certainly there if you want to use them, though perhaps you do need someone to point such resources out (I don't know about anyone else, but i didn't even used to even think about such things, let along know they were possible).

I guess there is also the problem of it being so much hard work. I mean, who wants to spend hours struggling to just sitting there, watching what goes on internally, when they could be off finding stimulation elsewhere with very little effort? And what with todays technology such as TV and the Internet, being fed stimulation becomes such a constant thing that taking a break from it is like trying to take a break from any other addicition. view post


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