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I think, therefore, I am.

  1. Yes

    25 vote(s)
  2. No

    8 vote(s)
  1. Mar 20, 2003 #1
    This philosophy of Descarte has been brought up numerous times, in the old PFs. I'm just starting it up again.

    Descarte gave an illustration that went (somewhat) as follows:

    And Evil Demon sought to convince a man that everything he (the man) had ever believed, was false. The Demon had such power that it almost succeeded. The only thing that the Demon could not prove to the man was that the man himself did not exist. It could not do this because you cannot convince someone that doesn't exist, of anything. From this came the saying, "I think, therefore, I am".

    What is your opinion?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2003 #2
    I drink, therefore, I am.

    You know my opinion on this one Mentat... so far its holding at 33.3 percent of the vote!

    I don't think thinking has anything to do with proving that I exist. Thinking does not involve the exterior world... only the interior. If we were to rely on our interior thoughts as proof of existence... then we would believe that the "Demon" who approached the man exists as well. We would believe pretty well anything our brain could come up with and as has been pointed out in other threads... the mind can be wrong, a lot of the time

    That's why I enjoy the idea of changing, slightly, the wording of good ol' Des Cartes statement to read as follows:

    I drink, therefore I am.

    Now, right off you think I'm talking about drinking alchohol when I say this... and even I get that drift... hmmm...

    But... realistically... I am talking about "drinking" of experience.

    I see the use of our senses and our logic as a kind of drinking... a way to meld with the experiences exterior to our mind and the experiences inside our mind.

    This to me becomes a pathway to understanding that I exist... using the interaction of the exterior and the interior experiences to come to the conclusion that... yes... I exist, not only in my head... but out there... in this universe.

    That's my opinion, for the moment.

    EDIT: let me put it this way.
    If I didn't drink (water for example) I would not exist.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2003
  4. Mar 20, 2003 #3

    Les Sleeth

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    Gold Member

    I like Carl's answer so much I hate to post after him but . . .

    After reading Descartes you can see his point is how one knows one exists, and his conclusion is that he can know "so long as it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind."

    Yet, my experience has been that the more still my mind is, the more I become aware of my existence, which seems just the opposite of Descartes' statement.

    But after thinking about it, I've concluded that he might have meant thinking rationally (i.e., reason, not just a wandering mind) takes place in front of another part of consciousness that witnesses that thinking. So when one reasons, one is made more aware of the inner witness and consequently of one's existence.

    Nevertheless, attentive stillness of the mind can also accentuate the inner witness, as does deeply feeling (attentively). So I believe it is more the attentiveness to one's being that makes one most aware of existence rather than thinking.

    However, second to that I'd chose to drink.

    (BTW Mentat, how did you get your "Radio Wave" status? Are we doing that here or is that your addition to your handle?)
  5. Mar 20, 2003 #4
    I think therefore I am ... I think?

    Even though the idea of "thinking" (being caught up in one's thoughts) is subjective, which is to say he may not "know" he exists, doesn't change the fact that he exists. Even an inanimate object such as a tree, which doesn't "think," still exists ...
  6. Mar 20, 2003 #5
    I like "I think therefore I know"

    -Stolen from Nagel in his characterization of Davidson.
  7. Mar 20, 2003 #6
    I'm not thinking at the moment I'm aware. I just see ...
  8. Mar 20, 2003 #7
    Descartes was evidently an optimist, and a pretty self-assured one at that in light of this argument. Note that this is literally true from historical accounts of the man as well as from an analysis of this argument. However, he was also a rather sarcastic argumentative cuss as well. Perhaps that is where the ego thing of

    "I think, therefore I am" comes from.

    An Optimist is someone who believes this is the best of all possible worlds, and a pessimist is someone who's afraid they are right. In light of his extremes in attitude, for all I know he had a bit of both in him when he made this argument and was being sarcastic yet again. Certainly his sarcasm was more characteristic of his writing. Who can say? :0)
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2003
  9. Mar 20, 2003 #8
    I agree with Sensei and QuantumCarl. They've basically said what I was going to say.
  10. Mar 21, 2003 #9
    Please, don't get caught up in the phrase. It is but the conclusion of an important argument.

    I have to ask you people (especially people like carl), do you think that you can convince someone of something, if that person doesn't exist? If not, then you cannot convince me that I don't exist, because I have to exist for you to convince me of anything.

    Here is the point of Descarte's reasoning (and his axiom):

    I can think about not existing, thus, I exist

    In shortened form: I think, therefore I am.
  11. Mar 21, 2003 #10
    I like your argument, Mentat. But how about inanimate objects? It doesn't apply to inanimate objects.
  12. Mar 22, 2003 #11
    Mentat. I can switch sides in a second if you like. That's what philosphy is all about!

    I can say... yes, I do agree, the statement holds true in one frame of mind and one way of seeing.

    The mind is our only qualifying factor when it comes to the existence of anything and everything.

    I can say the "sun" exists because I feel its warmth and I notice when its not there. The only way I can feel its warmth is by way fo receptors in my skin sending signals to my brain which then interprets the temperature change as being warmer. This information becomes a thought about how warm the sun is... or how the sun has just been hidden by the horizon.

    Therefore, it is only by way of thinking that I can verify the existence of the sun... or of myself... or of you.

    Therefore, again... Des Cartes was on to something... in a myopic way. His view was myopic in that it considers the mind to be the total authority when it comes to existence. And I strongly disagree with that.

    I say this: "when a tree falls in the forest... if no one hears it... there is still the physical existence of a sound. Qualified, quantified or not.

    Mind you... it is always the pioneers of any science that end up making mistakes or miscalulations about a new frontier. These were the people willing to make mistakes in the name of truth. They were often willing to stake their lives on such claims as those made by Des Cartes.

    (2039 characters)
  13. Mar 22, 2003 #12
    I think therefore I am.

    It must be read in its context. And the Meditatins suggest that what Descartes is talking about is not the thinking process, but the intuition of the "I", which is what one cannot doubt about. Therefore, one can conclude that he exists. Remember that the way we use the verb "to think" is different from the use Descartes made of it.
  14. Mar 22, 2003 #13
    Well, I don't want you to play Devil's Advocate in this particular occasion. I would prefer an argument for your side.

    I think you may have come closer to the point of Descartes' Philosophy, and then missed it again. I mean no offense by this, I just think that the phrase "I think, therefore I am" detracts from the actual philosophy, and confused many of those who responded/voted. That's why I tried to break it down, in my last post. You see, Descartes was not saying that the qualifying factor for being alive was thinking, he was saying that the fact that he could think about not existing proved that he existed.
  15. Mar 22, 2003 #14
    And it doesn't have to, because you wouldn't try to convince an inanimate object that it didn't exist. Descartes' point was not that the qualifying factor for existing is thinking; his point was that the fact that he could think proved to him that he existed - and that the Evil Demon's attempt to convince him that he didn't exist (and thus cause him to contemplate non-existence) proves that he does exist.
  16. Mar 22, 2003 #15
    Or the physical evidence of the tree laying on the ground when you happen to stumble upon it when hiking in the woods.

    Don't mind me. This is related to an argument I had a long time ago, when someone tried explaining to me that it actually didn't happen.
  17. Mar 22, 2003 #16
    Don't forget the personal context, not just the abstract. Descartes was using this abstract argument to fight the Church in an effort to promote experimental science and reason. Thus, from both the personal and the abstract it is more clearly a tautological assertion and affirmation of ego and reason.
  18. Mar 22, 2003 #17
    When coming to the personal context, things get a bit...uncertain. Descartes had an insane relation with the church, expecially with the jesuits. So while elaborating a scientific method on Galilei's line, at the same time he always searched the jesuits approval as his intellectual counterpart, as it is clear from the premises of his books.
    I don't think his "cogito" was a tautological assertion, no more than it is tautological the identity of Esperus with Phosphorus. It is always Venus, but there was a time when it was regarded as two different celestial bodies, one of the morning, the other one of the evening.
    If you're looking for a foundation, the I is a very good one. (What Descartes began to deduce from this foundation, is a totally different story). After hundreds of years of kantian "copernican revolution" and successive idealism, it looks like a banality, but it is not.
  19. Mar 22, 2003 #18
    A mad man's mind is always hard to distinguish from that of a genuis, hence the name.

    Ohhhhh, sounds good. I admire good poetry. If it doesn't touch the ego, it speaks to the soul. Tell me the plot, I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about.

    Sounds good. It sounds very pantheistic to me and denies the mystical if you want. Hence it speaks to the heart of the matter without actually necessarilly touching the situation. What remains unadressed is the inexplicable and, of course, ineffable.
  20. Mar 22, 2003 #19
    i don't agree with descartes because i don't consider the thinking process a voluntary and premeditated one. if you think of an action like waving your arm around then you can definately say 'i wave my arm around' as there is a hierarchy involved in this decision, your brain can decide, plan and eventually carry out this task, thinking is however different, there is no higher brain that controls your doing (ie thinking) brain, therefore you don't think, thinking just happens.

    when i realised this (although it might be wrong, counter-arguments are very welcome) it really annoyed me as i was trapped by this seemingly foreign thinking process, the ideas just happen and even though i feel they are 'mine' i didn't chose for them to happen as i chose to wave my arm around. the problem is you can't 'think' your way out of this conundrum as the thinking process is the very thing you can't control.

  21. Mar 23, 2003 #20
    I voted yes, because while it is possible that none of what we percive or think really exsist (ie. we are a part of someone elses dream, ect.) it is so highly improbable that it is reasonable to asume that it is impossible.

    If something is doing an action, then it must exsist. Laws of physics. Thinking is an action. However this also applies to drinking, kicking, sleeping, ect.) The problem lies in what people asume comes after the word "am" in that statement. People apply the idea "thinking being" after it. The statement is made as just proof that one exsist. Either we are alive or not, this statement does not inquire this. It simply asks if you exsist. Which if you think or do any action, you do.
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