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Cogito ergo sum

Discussion in 'The Philosopher' started by speed, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. speed

    speed Member

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    Descartes' "I think therefore I am," statement fascinates me. As does Cartesian dualism. I dont know of a more contentious, debated, or philosophized about idea. Are many recent philosophers right in totally disregarding and criticizing Descartes? And just what is consciousness? What is our mind? If I think a thought, is this thought not entirely extraneous to my body, and generally wholly individual to me?


    I'm especially interested in whether we all really have consciousness, can have knowledge etc; or whether it is nothing more than chemical reactions, and whether knowledge is possible for each person, or whether it is entirely socially constructed.
     
  2. Blowtus

    Blowtus Member

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    Why can we not both have consciousness and knowledge, at the same time as agreeing that those are merely generalisations we apply to a particular range of interactions within our universe as we perceive it? Is it really necessary for the words we use to have some 'universal' validity outside of that we choose to give them?

    I perceive myself to think, therefore (no matter what event I actually define 'think' to be) I believe myself to fit within the category of 'that which exists' because I define 'that which exists' as the only possible cause of events. Whether or not this is occurring in some external 'not I' state seems irrelevant and unknowable - the terms I use are those relating to my own existence.
     
  3. Seditious

    Seditious GodSlayer

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    I'm in favor of "I think, therefore thinking matter".

    sumn I've found difficult to get my head around lol

    I think a false dilemma of this. allow me to parallel your question---does solidity exist or is it nothing more than an arrangement and distance of atoms? We're talking about the same thing---explaining how it exists doesn't somehow negate its existence, no one will say 'well water is nothing but atoms, and there are no wet atoms, therefore water isn't wet'.

    "It's like the liquidity of the water, I can't wash myself in the water, or take a bath in it, or drink it if it's not liquid, so the liquidity is not epiphenomenal, though of course the liquidity is completely explained by the behavior of the molecules in the same way that the consciousness of my brain plays a causal role in my life---I couldn't be giving this lecture if I wasn't conscious---even though the consciousness is itself completely explained by the behavior of the neurons and the synapses and is a feature of the system." - John Searle.
     
  4. Έρεβος

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    Thoughts could appear in response to stimuli, rather than being willed into existence by an "I." It thinks, not I.
     
  5. ThePhilosopher

    ThePhilosopher Metal??

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    I would say that Cartesian substance dualism is generally inadmissible unless one is a Christian or a New Age spiritualist of some sort (and if I remember correctly, one of the few modern philosophers to provide a spirited defense of substance dualism is Alvin Plantinga, a Christian theorist who also supports intelligent design). The idea that the mind (or soul) and the physical brain/body are two fundamentally different substances is certainly reconcilable with these belief systems but not with much else. Property dualism is generally more accepted in 20th/21st century philosophy because instead of stating that there is a physical distinction between the mental and the physical, it states that while only physical objects exist, these can contain both mental and physical properties. This refutes straight-up materialism by stating that the mental properties are not irreducibly physical. In other words, a pain sensation or the experience of seeing red cannot be explained merely by looking at the physical reactions occurring in the brain.

    As far as consciousness goes, you can say that there's a distinction between the "easy" and "hard" problems of consciousness. The former is what we regard as things that can be objectively observed (i.e. how taking anti-depressants alters your brain chemistry and thus alters your overall behavior). These are relatively easy to explain because there exists a readily observable functional role, a clear cause and effect. The latter is something a bit more abstract (some would even call it nonsensical) because it asks why and how qualitative phenomenal experiences come to be. To use a classic example, I can wonder what it is like to be a bat all I want, but so long as I am a human, all this will amount to is speculation. A physicalist would simply argue that the hard problem is holistically solved by the easy problems (as John Searle says in his view of biological naturalism). A property dualist would solve it by saying that this "what is it like" aspect is irreducible.

    I recommend reading The Conscious Mind and other works by David Chalmers for the best defenses of dualism. The main alternatives are a variety of physicalist/materialist views, including type/token identity theory, various forms of functionalist theory, eliminative materialism, and the aforementioned biological naturalism.

    I would generally say that modern philosophy is correct in its criticism of Descartes. At best his work created the framework for some good mental exercises in skepticism (Evil Demon, Brains in Vats, and so forth) which nonetheless are of little practical use. Admittedly he managed to synthesize his philosophy with Christian theology quite well, but saying that his original arguments are strong would require, at least by my calculation, a pretty large leap of faith. It is not possible to objectively observe the mind and so saying that it is composed of a fundamentally different substance than physical bodies appears foolhardy and as previously stated, seems to be rooted to at least some degree in religious tradition. Ultimately the question of consciousness appears to be one of insurmountable difficulty. I could say to you that our mental events are just emergent properties of physical processes in our brains, but if they are merely emergent, then they cannot have any causal role in our lives. This seems highly counterintuitive if you think about it. The questions about how consciousness comes to be are among my favorites in philosophy but they appear among the most difficult.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/
    This is a pretty in-depth article on the subject, and if you scroll to the bottom there are many related topics.
     
  6. Justin S.

    Justin S. Member

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    What? No mention of our good friend Kant? ;)

    Concerning the opening post, I am not aware of many "recent philosophers" who "totally disregard" Descartes. Rather, much was learned from Kant's bridging of the better elements of so-called rationalism and empiricism.

    Since Kant, there has been a great deal of development on these issues...Descartes is certainly not a hot topic. :)

    About the "nature of the mind" and so forth, more recent works have quite a bit of say on the matter, notably (among many others) philosophy of mind and phenomenology.
     
  7. Norsemaiden

    Norsemaiden barbarian

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    Seditious' answer was spot on.

    Isn't it the case that Descartes believed animals could not feel pain because they didn't have consciousness and so there were many cruel experiments carried out on animals with no concern for their suffering?
    Did he not also believe that we have a homunculus (little man) inside our heads driving us? (Or wask it homunculi, plural).
    There used to be a cartoon strip in Whoopee comic based on this, with a team of men inside the character's head looking out of his eyes and pulling various levers.

    I regularly seem to pick up thoughts by some sort of telepathy - or else transmit them.
    Yesterday I told someone I was going to produce something on the theme of romantic love and tradition and he immediately said "snap!" as that was a theme he had just thought of writing about too. Maybe our consciousness thought can exist outside of our heads and just be picked up by others.
     
  8. Silver Incubus

    Silver Incubus Dead Hands Justin

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    Our brains do emit electromagnetic waves that could explain telepathy like occurrences. IF you have ever read about sleep psychology then you may know about the differences in brainwave activity during sleep periods. So like an antenna your thoughts may just radiate outwards. And if this is the case then that certainly would explain why negative people will bring you down when you are around them. I'm pretty sure, like any kind of wave structure, that negative thoughts are low frequency and positive thoughts are higher frequency.

    As for consciousness, it is limited to 7+/-2 things at a time, is inductive logic and is our focus of attention. Where as the the unconscious is pretty much limitless to the amount of things it remembers and does at a time, however, it uses only deductive logic.
     
  9. death metal black metal

    death metal black metal New Metal Member

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    A computer program set to be self-referential with infinite complexity will begin to think it has free will. I prefer to think we're the results of our material design and circumstance, with the former being far more important.

    You can't make a genius out of two dumb parents.
     
  10. Seditious

    Seditious GodSlayer

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    you think they inherited stupidity?---that these hick type people never could have been raised by intelligent people and gotten a good education and turned out any smarter?

    culturally I'm sure they do inherit their stupidity, but not genetically. If you took their child at birth and raised them well, unless they have some sort of retardation, they shouldn't be 'determined to be dumb' like their long lost parents no matter what society does to help them develop psychologically. That honestly sounds ridiculous to me.
     
  11. death metal black metal

    death metal black metal New Metal Member

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    Please post proof that intelligence is not inherited. Otherwise, the predominance of the evidence is on my side: intelligence is inherited.

    Otherwise, you could send a dog to Harvard and get a genius rocket scientist.
     
  12. Blowtus

    Blowtus Member

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    Simply saying that the evidence is on your side, isn't really a conclusive argument :lol: You were the one who tried to make the point in the first place...
     
  13. OldScratch

    OldScratch Member

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    Perhaps it is better to say that intellectual capacity rather than intelligence itself is, at least to a large degree, heritable.
     
  14. Seditious

    Seditious GodSlayer

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    [​IMG]
     
  15. TheCatharsisEffect

    TheCatharsisEffect New Metal Member

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    I reply to this post because I find it intriguing, yet I find it lacking...

    Do you think humans have infinite complexity?

    Do you think most humans believe in free will?

    Why do you think that our material design is "far more important" than circumstance?

    You haven't really said anything here.

    What do you feel about evolution? How about morals?

    It seems to me that humans are as complex as everything else in the universe. We are made up of the same matter as everything else.

    Now most people will refute the equality of human beings to inanimate objects and non-sentient beings because of our abilities to think abstractly... among other abilities that are brought about by our absract reasoning and so-called consciousness. How do you believe we acheived these abilities. Did we get the way we are via evolution and natural selection... or were we created within the context of some supreme being?

    If we are the product of evolution... it would appear that nature (or your "circumstance") plays more of a role in the shaping of who and (mainly) "what" we are than the material itself... unless, of course, you observe that they are not mutually exclusive. In this case, the who (or "what") is all-inclusive of our enviornment and our "material."

    I think a more intriguing question on the matter, though, is: "What's so special about being human beings?"

    I have thought about this often... if you look to our closest realitives, the Bonobos, one can easily see that being human may not mean that we are "special" after all. Humans are prone to fight, don't generally cooperate the way other animals do, and are very demanding of their environment. Now, there are a lot of thoughts here... but, my main question is this: "How does having conciousness equal being superior?"

    The one thing I would add to this is my own quote... I play devils advocate to the argument that humans are NOT special.

    "Humans MUST be special... because we know that the life of this Earth is finite. We are the only species on this planet that has the ability to get OFF of this planet... there HAS to be something special about that."-me
     
  16. speed

    speed Member

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    My knowledge of Kant is sadly limited to other philosophers interpretations (and it seems, only really hardcore philosophers take the time to trudge through Kant). And I'm sure I'm wrong, and few discuss Descartes. I suppose what I meant to say is that Descartes set the foundation for later philosophy to follow.
     
  17. Norsemaiden

    Norsemaiden barbarian

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    Nature programs creatures, in their wild (undomesticated/civilised) state, to consider their own kind to be superior or all that matters.
    In an objective sense bacteria are the most successful living creatures - because they are the supreme survivors and reproducers.
    A species that is too stupid to even prevent its own extinction, even when it has the advantage of consciousness, is not objectively superior to bacteria.
     
  18. Seditious

    Seditious GodSlayer

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    it's entirely dependent on your criteria though

    not everyone considers 'survival' to be a mark of superiority, that would suppose survival is better than anything else one might be better at.

    Sure 'that which can outlive all other things' did a better job at doing what it's whole imperative was... but I don't give two fucks about my 'species' or 'class' (mammal) or even that I'm 'living matter' rather than 'non-living matter', so I'm not going to think there is any relevance to the statement 'ebola is far superior to Curt Cobain' no matter how factually true it is, the whole scale of evolutionary superiority is one of no value to me.

    we're factually superior in faculty, and part of our whole experience of living not merely for reproduction is a lack of focus on that underlying biological imperative, which may make humans inferior to cockroaches... but I doubt you're sitting there going "hmph, I sure wish I had been a cockroach rather than a pathetic homo sapian"

    suppose though you have the criteria 'that which does more than just perpetuate the species is superior to that which doesn't'---instantly you've made us superior to all the pathetic 'excellent breeders' out there. Sure, put us in their game and they may beat us at it, but perhaps we're on another level, and it's worth looking at more than one criterion for 'superiority' especially given that it's not even the one for which we would consider our life more or less successful/superior/worthwhile/etc.
     
  19. Seditious

    Seditious GodSlayer

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    the moon managed to get off this planet
    the atmosphere managed to escape Mars
    if a 'species' joins other matter which has moved from one place to another, why is it special?
    Before humans had the ability to get off this planet were they less special despite being no different but in their technology?
    Humans actually, as a species, cannot live anywhere yet discovered, there are problems with sperm mobility and bone density, and undoubtedly 'deep space depression' would afflict many off-worlders, which would make any sort of 'leaving the planet for good' a suicide mission... does this mean we're actually not special? If we surpass these scientific hurdles, has our species magically taken on some quality of unique value?
    There are micro-organisms which literally live within rock. Rock could be blown out into space (like the moon was) which would thus make those micro-organisms instantly 'special'---more special than we are... do they care, do we care, who's calling them special, what's changed?
    Is being able to leave the planet significant for some reason? Once we've done that, what's special about it? (some people think the universe is so shit that once you're able to leave your own planet you have nothing better to do than buttrape lifeforms on other planets... how fuckin special)
    What if thousands of other lifeforms develop the ability to leave their planet, and we're just one negligible species among those, we're all on the same level of 'special', sort of like how fish are more special than coral because they're able to leave the ground the coral is rooted to (the more amphibious you are the more special you are right?---the more land, the more space, the more planets you can live on the more special you must be...) then do we have something to do to be special in some other way? are other species more special than us because they can do more than just 'move really far', which makes our level of 'specialness' as trivial as that of the animal which is so special that it can see or think?
     
  20. Justin S.

    Justin S. Member

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