I think... I?

First of all: Greetings. This will be my first post. I’m really glad I ran across this site. (and particularly the forum) Summer heat always turns my brain to mush- or maybe it’s just the fact that I go four months without thinking. Wichever it is, poking around these topics has sharpened me up a bit. Anyways, onto the more interesting stuff…

I just noticed somebody’s sig was Descartes’ most famous quotation, “I think, therefore I am”. I’m sure I don’t have to remind anybody that this was the only certainty at which Descartes could arrive using his method of doubt. Anyways, it got me thinking. insert bad pun here :sunglasses:

Up until this year I took this as a sort of bastion of certainty in a world where everything else was subject to speculation. My intellectual history teacher, however, put a rather hasty end to this assurance. He put fourth the following arguement against Descartes’ theory.

Thinking implies some type of existence to the being that’s doing the thinking. (not a pretty sentence, but it’ll have to do) My teacher took no issue with that, admitting that the reasoning was sound. The problem, he explained, was that Descartes assumed the existence of an individual thinking entity. For example, Zen Buddhism teaches that there exists no individuals and, rather, that all nature is one. In such a situation there is no ‘I’ and therefore Descartes’ famous statement cannot hold true.

My first inclination was to ask, “so what?”. What difference does it make what a few people believe- surely they can have their own opinions without scutling the whole concept, right? My teacher’s response to this was to bring up Descrates’ intended universality of the proof. If an alternate explanation exists, or an assumption is exposed, Descartes’ own method of doubt requires that the ‘truth’ be invalid.

I’ve pondered a bit about this and have come up with a couple of ideas of my own. I was curious, though, to see what others might have to throw in. Any thoughts? Help me out- I’d sure like to know that I exist, again.

You might find the following topic interesting as it covers a bit of what you’re looking to find out.

Two Mistakes and Scepticism

Also, the ‘I’ in “I think therefore I am”, is our consciousness. Without my own consciousness I can’t experience anything. A rock doesn’t think, but I do, I can feel pain and see birds, all because I have consciousness.

This is just a belief, I’ve never experienced a universal consciousness, only my own limited ‘I’. I know I can think separately to others. Have you ever walked down a corridor and as you approached somebody, ended up getting in their away, and when you move to the left to get by them they move in the same direction blocking your path again. This is normally done a couple times before somebody stops and says I’m going to the left and then you pass. Or when you play guessing games like ‘I spy’, it wouldn’t be much fun if you shared the same consciousness and knew the answer, with the separate ‘I’ we have to guess the correct answer.

I think your teacher is right, although the point has been made before by, for instance, Bertrand Russell who said that all Descartes is entitled to is, “There is thought going on” because the assumption of a thinker or an “I” goes beyond what he is certain of. After all, he is not supposed to be making any assumptions and be starting from scratch, assumptionessly (if there is such a word). The contemporary philosopher, Bruce Aune’, makes the point that there might be a “world soul” as the Hindus believe there is. (Very like the point your teacher made). And, David Hume, one of the greatest of all philosophers critisized the notion that there is a “self.” He said all he could detect when he thought of himself was “a bundle of perceptions” but nothing that unified them that could be called a “self.” as Descartes assumed there was. A very influential book “The Concept of Mind” by Gilbert Ryle, talks of Descartes’ notion as “The Myth of the Ghost in the Machine.” So, your teacher has a lot of company. And now, so do you.

oh heh, It was my signature :slight_smile:

Anyway, I have to agree with Pax Vitae in many points.
And I also believe in the individual and in ‘I’.
I think that everyone has to think anyway and to think for yourself is one of the keywords to my future (as for me)!
That is what acutally separates us from rocks (like Pax Vitae said), because we can see, feel, hear etc…
That’s why I would contradict your teacher.

After some “experiments” I came to the conclusion that consciousness is based on a “whole” essence (if we can call it that :stuck_out_tongue:).

For instance, our conscience, is made up of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Nature itself is made up of people, animals, vegetation and so on.

The Zen belief of a “whole” might be the correct answer and I think even rocks “think”… maybe in a different way then us. Maybe they do too prey to not be smashed by a waterfall… or the wind to roll them voer… and so on… or maybe I’ve gone too far with this.

Anyway, your teacher may not be 100% right. Everything has a sort of “reason”, different for every entitiy.

The problem is we have a too narrow understanding of what “I” means. at least that’s what I think :slight_smile:

Perhaps “I” should be taken in a larger sense. As you mentionioned zen Buddhism says we are all one, then “I” could be used to describe every living thing that makes up the universe as we are all one.

I deeply doubt that Descartes was a buddhist. But his ‘I’ has an ambivalent meaning, anyway. It includes the human qualities, if good or bad.
And I think that it’s only according to human beings!

… so a cat… couldn’t think ? :slight_smile:

I’m not saying Descartes thought of cats in particular… but maybe we misunderstood him… or we should take his conclusions and expand them.

In mathematics most theories are based on old theories that were expanded.
I think the same should go for psychology\philosophy with everything.

An example: experimenting on animals, doesn’t mean the experiment can only occur at animals (Pavlov’s programming experiment).

I don’t suppose Descartes was thinking about animals, as he wrote this. Of course everyone sees this from his/her own point of view, I can’t deny this. But still, the intellegence of animals is tiny compared to the human ones. They don’t have the ability to think rationally.

Xplicit, I am curious as to why you said that animals can’t think rationally. Rationality is what enables us to do things like program computers and drive cars. Animals drive themselves around so to speak and can avoid trouble most of the time. Rational thinking is thinking that goes on purely upstairs. If you have a different theory on this all, I would love to hear it.

I think it turns into the discussion like in the “intellegence” thread about the parrot that saw itself in the mirror and hit the mirror hurting its head, several times. (or a bug flying into the fan)…
If you say that animals “drive” themselves, I think they mainly follow their instincts to survive. With much effort you can teach animals (f.e. circus). I don’t presist that I am right.

Animals may not be smart (parrots, flies) but they are intelligent. A parrot will certainly avoid a cat… while a cat will lurk in the shadows waiting for a prey…

Ratinality and intelligence are 2 different things that exist in animals, insects and humans…

But we have a wider udnerstanding of the surrounding… and this is because it is built on rules… we know of gravity for example… we know of “glass” that we can see through it, but can’t cross through it… while an animal doesn’t…

We have much more undersandings and if we could teach the animals elements of physics or mathematics they would understand too (more or less :smiley:).

But again, depends on perspectives.
I’ve learned that everything is based on more than what meets the eye.

True. But animals lack intellegence. Well, probably some of them have it, but not in “excess”! But their actions are based more on their feelings and instincts and on their expiriences.
How many birds were eaten by cats?
By observing my own cat hunting birds, I always think how ridiculous the situation is. If someone only told the bird that the cat is dangerous. While the bird is coming closer to the cat, it stays calm and doesn’t move and as soon as the bird reached the closest distance, the cat grabs and eats it!
I think in this case some animals have the instinct to survive. They need food and they get it. Say, they are able to learn, but it’s not really about intellegence nor about thinking!

Well it is known that acts are due to ones thinking… so what you say would contradict this, as you cannot act without thinking first.

All animals are intellingent (or at least I consider them lol… maybe they folld me :smiley: ) but they react differently based on their experiences…

Plus, the strategy to remain motionless until the prey isin range is known to us because we observe it… unfortunately birds cannot tell other birds of this as they don’t make it alive out of the cat’s claws :slight_smile:

Insticts and experience makes them intelligent… although they don’t quite know it… like you said, they still act based on instincts.

I am with you nomad, I think animals are intelligent. As a matter of fact I think they are often more intelligent then humans because they are not so exposed to folly. Oh well!!!

my first post…yay

the one thing i find problematic in Descartes’ meditations is that the whole thing is based off of god’s existence. so if you have no concept of god, then you can’t continue…that almost give way to thinking that the existence of god must be innate within people

Thanks theoryofexist :slight_smile:

BTW, MpyreWoody, I think that is called “faith” :slight_smile:

I have ceased to believe in faith and hope and belief and dreams. More in more it seems to me to be an opiate of the masses like religion or drugs. There is only reality. Marx once said that “dreams never come true”. That hit me really hard, ever since I stopped dreaming, I woke up to a brutal, neverending reality nightmare. I do however think god exists, his face just changes constantly and he is always in need of reassessment.