“I Think, Therefore I Am”
Of the three early metaphysical ideas, the philosophy of René Descartes’ dualism seemed to be the most logical. In his search for the truths that pertain to the ultimate nature of existing things, he decided to employ a method of doubting everything that could possibly be doubted and if anything was left it would be absolutely certain; then Descartes claimed he would consider what it was about that certainty that placed it beyond a doubt to establish a criterion of truth and knowledge to measure other proclaimed truths to see if they too are beyond a doubt. He used the dream conjecture and the evil demon conjecture in his doubting methodology to arrive at one indubitable truth: “I think, therefore I am”; to doubt one’s own existence is to think and exist.
Once I stopped and tried to doubt my own existence like the text instructed, I was able to become completely aware of the feeling of certainty Descartes discovered. In the last couple of months, there have been things that at first I question and suddenly I am compelled to say or write these things with certainty; for instance, when my mother told my wife and me that she thought her boyfriend had a certain condition and gave us the name that she researched on WebMD, I provided a logical assumption about the characteristics of the condition that turned out to be precise. Afterwards, my wife and mother asked me how I knew that just by hearing only the name to which I could only respond “I do not know.” I later deduced that I may have used information I learned in the past to reason correctly, but at that instant I was not consciously aware of how I knew the information from just hearing the name of the condition, rather it was a strong feeling of certainty which made me confident to provide a proper explanation without really knowing; this is the clarity and distinct criterion that Descartes used to judge other propositions against to determine if they possessed an identical certainty.
Descartes believed that the mind and material body interact but are separate in existence; since he believed a substance requires nothing other than itself to exist, it follows that mind and matter are totally independent of each other. His philosophy included the concept of parallelism which claimed that the mind does not really cause the body to move; the act of willing my hand to move does not cause my hand to move, rather the act of willing and the movement, which may be caused by God, coincide.
This is probably Descartes’ most controversial idea, but let’s think about when magicians appear to will people to disappear and the movements that coincide with this illusion are supposedly the magicians; we find it intriguing to consider the possibilities of how the magician pulled it off or if it may actually be real. Even though we know it was likely staged, there is a tiny doubt that it may be real simply because we do not know how it works, plausible deniability. It is funny how we are entertained and intrigued by not knowing how something works as long as not knowing does not personally affect our view of life. If it was switched around and there was a tiny doubt that it was staged but likely real, we might become freaked out because willing people to disappear and levitate are not everyday occurrences. It is the tiny doubt it is real that sparks intrigue and interest that make us look past the staged movements which entertain us. Descartes’ idea that our mind does not cause our body to move and that they just happen to coincide through God, is similar to how the magician’s mind does not cause the real movement that makes a person disappear or levitate except we easily entertain this idea due to its lack of personal influence on our beliefs about life.
Ben Weaver wrote: So do you feel that there are certain things we experience in life that cause us to sometimes question our existence? Do you feel as I do that if we begin to question our existence we begin to doubt who we are?
My response: To an extent; as you have read in our texts, Descartes was a great philosopher that developed his influential philosophy by doubting everything; to doubt is simply to question. Most, if not all, people experience some form of an identity crisis that brings them to question who they are; considering that we are not the same person we were yesterday and nothing is the same as yesterday, this continuous change makes it difficult for people to immediately see the many changes endured throughout a single day. As humans, we are not 100% conscious of all the psychosocial and environmental factors that influence who we are, therefore it is impossible to know who we are at all times if we are not aware of the many things that influence our change.
Does any one really know who he or she is at this very moment?
Even those who are considered to know who they are, such as the president, probably still have doubts sometimes.