004a-Hello Mr. Descartes

Repeatedly, I've said we need to start from first principles and mentioned the importance of starting with philosophy because the problems of consciousness are so varied, and making a machine conscious touches on so many areas that are under-girded by philosophical ideas.  To that end, we are going to start with Rene Descartes.  

Descartes was an ambitious philosopher.  He wanted to provide a basis for knowledge that rested on irrefutable starting points or truths.   He wanted to go back to fundamental principles from which to discover a reliable basis for knowledge.  Because of this, he doubted everything.  His process of doubting and his pursuit of truth is laid out in his series of meditations. You can find them online, or you can read the synopsis from wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditations_on_First_Philosophy

Descartes systematically doubts all that he believes.   He rejects any idea or belief which he cannot show to be true based upon irrefutable premises.   He breaks down various ideas and experiences into smaller problems to be analyzed and tested.  He tests these ideas and experiences to determine if they can form a basis for truth, and from the remnants of these exercises he constructs starting points or first principles in the pursuit of further truth.

For instance, Descartes attacks with doubts, and inconsistencies, the reliability of the senses.  In one example, he shows how a stick inserted into water appears to bend, when in fact it is not bent.   From this and other cases, he deduces there are ideas about things themselves which contradict our sensory experience of those things.  From these exercises in the meditations he demonstrates the unreliability of our senses.  He argues there is a truth about the universe that can be hidden from our senses.  Such as the permanence of objects and the straight quality of sticks whether they are in water or out of water.

Descartes goes on to argue that we could be living a dream or that all of life could be the machinations of a malicious demon who is determined to deceive us.  This demon may manipulate our experiences to be predictable or unpredictable by whim.   This demon may even be manipulating our thought processes.  

Even if this is so, Descartes argues, we have thoughts.  Even if thoughts are erroneous or false or fantasies, we and Descartes  have thoughts. Thoughts exists.  And if thoughts exist, then Descartes himself must exist for he is doing the thinking.  I think; therefore, I am. 

Cogito Ergo Sum is the famous phrase attributed to him.    

This is a famous starting point for much of Western Philosophy after Aristotle.  But Descartes' conclusion, even though I may be oversimplifying it, is wrong. 

Another philosopher, Fredrich Nietzche makes a criticism of "cogito ego sum" in his posthumous collection of writing, The Will to Power and also in Beyond Good and Evil.  In the Will to Power, Nietzsche criticizes Descartes' "Cogito Ergo Sum" as being a logico-linquistic fallacy. 

Nietzche argues that Descartes does not show that he exists at all.  Rather that "Cogito" implies an "I" in the latin without demonstrating that "I" is real and not a fictional by-product of Descartes use of language.  Descartes could not escape from the implications of his thoughts as expressed in Latin (or French).  That is the logico-linquistic part.  Descartes use of language implies a thinker doing the thinking.  "I" is not a conclusion drawn out of the malicious demon argument but rather it is conclusion forced on Descartes by his use of language. 

Nietzsche rephrased Descartes conclusion: "There is thinking; therefore, there is something that thinks."  Nietszche's critique is sound.  The fact there is thinking does not entail that there is a "thinker".   Nietzsche realized that words like "Cogito" (I think or in english "Thinking"), and many other expressions in language, produce certain outcomes of reasoning.  Descartes goal of fundamental truths, achieved through rigorous doubt, was not met because Descartes was trapped in the language and structure of his own cogitation.  Descartes does not challenge his WAY of thinking or his form of reasoning, with the same rigor applied to his senses.*  [* This is not just a problem for Descartes.  It is a perennial problem, especially in modern philosophy that is deeply biased towards language oriented thinking.]

Is it possible to escape this language problem?  And more importantly, what would constitute a more robust first principle from the method of doubt?  Let's look at the "Cogito" problem in a different way.  

Why is a thinker entailed in thinking?  Why not merely entail the thought?  "There is thinking; therefore, there is something thought".  This proposition seems redundant.  But it could account for the idea of a thinker.  "There is thinking.  One of the thoughts is that of 'a thinker'.

Is there a precedent for this reversal?  Would we say "there is seeing; therefore, there is a seer?"  Or would we say "There is seeing; therefore, there is something that sees?"   No, we would say: there is seeing; therefore, there is something seen.   Would we say: "There is feeling; therefore, there is a feeler?"  or would we say: "There is feeling; therefore, there is something felt?"  

We naturally refer to an object of experience when it involves sensation.  Why not refer to the object of experience for thinking instead of the thought which supposes a source of thinking?  What is the reason to force some actions/experiences/verbs towards an ego/subject  and others towards an object of content like an action, thing, or experience? * [*Note: One reason is that a thinker is a synthetic conclusion and not an analytic conclusion of cogito. The thinker assumes a fact not evidenced in Descartes argument of doubt.]  

We say: "I felt",  or "I saw", or "I thought".   Those are our experiences.  Whenever we speak about our experiences, the associations we make between our experiences and our self occur after the fact of experience.  We do not see without having seen something first, and only then do we recognize that we are seeing that thing. 

We think.  Does this thought experience precede the association of the thought experience to the self or does the experience of self precede the thought experience?  We know that thought experiences precede the association of an experience to another person.  Thus, it might seem that a thought experience precedes the association of that experience to the self.  But a thought experience does not precede the experience of the self.  The experience of the self, and the contents of a thought seem to occur concurrently.  

This experience of self as thinker, while itself perhaps not a thought in the moment, is an experience with content.  It is Descartes objectified consideration of thought that leads to his positing a thinker for his thought experiences.  In fact, Descartes' object of thought was thought itself.  When we refer to our ability to see.  "I can see."  "I can feel."  "I can think."  we are explicitly referring to the subject which sees, thinks, or feels.  Why?  Because one of the primary things seen, thought about, and felt is what we call the self.  To claim I feel, requires first something felt.  But then how do we know that "I felt something"?  Because, "I can feel myself."

Consider these associations of language thoughts:  
(Descartes was a smart fellow) - is a thought.
I think (Descartes was a smart fellow) - is an association of a thought to myself. 
He thinks (Descartes was a smart fellow) - is a thought associated to another person.

Nietzche spies how Descartes malicious demon tricked him.  Nietzche shows we cannot rely upon our own thoughts anymore than we can rely on our senses, insofar as our thoughts are based in language.  Structure of language create distortions of thought.  Perhaps, Descartes knew this and felt he had to make the logical leap and assume that he must exist to think.  Perhaps, he had reasoned that if he cannot show he exists, then what is the point of doubt.  Or perhaps the assumption of a thinker as dictated by language was completely unconscious to Descartes.

Regardless, what we are left with when we drop the cogito, the thinker?  We are left with thoughts alone.   

The experience of self, and the thought of being a self, do not PRODUCE thoughts or thinking experiences.  Rather, the experiences and thoughts of self are thoughts and experiences of their own.  They are simply one kind of experience.  Descartes "cogito" implicitly grafts the thought or idea of self onto the fact of thinking and experiencing.  The content of the experience of self  is grafted to the fact of experience.  This argument implies that some kinds of contents of experience are superior to other experiences or contents.  That is, that the experience of self is somehow more fundamental than any particular experience.   

Are some thoughts, or ideas, or experiences somehow more reliable than senses?  Or are some experiences superior to other experiences?  If we apply a method of doubt, such as Descartes did, what do we face when examining our various and often contradictory experiences?  Descartes makes no proof for superiority of his experience of self over his other experiences, such as his sensations or beliefs.

Thoughts are experiences.  Just as sensations, perceptions, and actions are experiences.  When a person argues that one type of experience is superior to another, the argument is at best contextual.  Because all the different experiences a person has or creates or conceives rely upon experience itself.  Underlying all arguments for a 'superior' experience, is the base of experience itself.  Every argument of valuing one kind of experience over other kinds rests on the fact that experiences happen.   

Descartes argued for a superiority of reason.  But his reason was undone by his own use of language and the structuring of experience it entailed.  As Belief is not a sufficient basis for truth. 

Linguistic or language or logical modes of thinking are kinds experiences.  Logical and language propositions are the result of language and reasoning experiences. The beliefs derived from these kinds of experiences are no more true than sticks being bent in water.   Logical or language propositions are not a priori true absent the language or logical structure of experience.   How could they be?  Logical or language propositions require the pre-existence of logical and language learning and experiences to exist.  

All there is, are experiences.  And the beliefs and conclusions we derive and hold about our experiences are suspect, such as the belief in self (a cogito) in the same way conclusions from our senses are suspect.   Sensations and thoughts and knowledge are not only derivative of experience, they are themselves experiences. Thinking, knowing, sensing is experiencing.  Thoughts, knowledge, and sensation are the contents of those experiences.    

Descartes wondered, how could there be a God, independent of his belief in Him?  What he did not wonder was how could the world be sensible if sensibility itself was just another type of experience.  Sensibility, reliability, consistency, these are all experiences that we have.    

A rigorous method of doubt does not allow for the content of one experience to somehow be more important or valuable than the content of another experience unless we can show the important content is in fact superior.  But we cannot show how a thinker is more fundamental or reliable than treating the thinker as an object of thought rather than the originator of thought.  

The stick bent in water shows an inconsistency between two experiences.  Inconsistent experiences are experiences.  Descartes method of doubt, rigorously applied, has no basis to value the consistent over the inconsistent.   

Consistency in Descartes meditation is assumed to be a pre-existing value of experience.  But as we all know, consistency is a by-product or a conclusion drawn from experiences.  Because the first experience we have cannot be consistent, it is unique.  It takes many experiences to experience consistency.  Therefore consistency is a by-product of repeating experience.

We start, with experience and experience has contents.   We call these experiences by different names, thoughts, feelings, sensations, ideas, actions, memories, etc.  We can doubt the meaning of the contents of the experiences.  And by that we mean that we doubt whether an experience is "true" or not.  But the fact of an experience, the fact an experience has content, even when the experience is an illusion or a fantasy, that cannot be doubted.  Doubt itself is an experience.  



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