Cogito ergo sum. Scholars would recognize this issue of high debates even today, almost five hundred years after the words were uttered; though in the present most people in the world wouldn’t understand what it refers to. In 1641, René Descartes published his “Meditations on First Philosophy,” in which his first meditation dismisses everything that he perceives as reality and posits that he is nothing more than a disembodied brain being manipulated by some outside source. In his second meditation, he questions if he is real. And the fact that he is able to ponder his reality leads him to the conclusion that “I think therefore I am”: Cogito ergo sum.
His first meditation came to an end with the realization that there was no way to justify his sensual observations. He proceeds to say that in that case he will regard himself “as not having hands, eyes, flesh, blood, and senses- but as having the false belief” that he has all those things. However, in his second meditation, he questions his knowledge of everything beyond his sensory perception. He begins to argue with himself about if he actually exists. Does he have a body? But his first meditation dictates that he has no body. But if he has no body or vessel, does that mean he doesn’t exist? He concludes that he must exist because someone is constantly deceiving him. And if he is constantly being deceived, then there must be something that exists which is being deceived.
I find that Descartes’ theories and meditations provide a fallacy of information for the student. If one were to watch the movie Abres Los Ojos, a psychiatrist who helps the protagonist to find out the truth about his own reality. In the end, the movie-watcher finds out that the entire movie was a dream. Yet, the psychiatrist tries to tell the protagonist it is not just a simple dream for several reasons, the first being that he exists and is being deceived. Here we have an instance that perfectly demonstrates that erroneous belief of Descartes’, Cogito ergo sum. If this psychiatrist is only figment of the protagonist’s imagination, then is the psychiatrist not being deceived? But if he is only the figment of an imagination, then how can he exist? There are no answers to these questions in Descartes’ second meditation.
To further support my inclination, studying the Hindu dogma would lead us to believe that we are all manifestations of Brahma in a dream as he sleeps; as soon as Brahma is to wake up, we would all stop to exist. If we are to still believe Descartes’ theory, then we must discuss the question: What does it mean to have a real existence? To draw on my first example, does the psychiatrist exist? The psychiatrist was a manifestation of some part of the protagonist and existed in his dream, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the psychiatrist has a real existence. The psychiatrist must contemplate Descartes’ belief if he fights so hard for his own existence.
In the movie Spider, a man rediscovers his past after spending the last 30-40 years in a mental institution. He relives his past when he is sent to a halfway house in his hometown. We are able to see his spiral into madness as his memories are perverted by himself. He decides that his father has killed his mother and replaced her with a local bar whore. He ends up figuring out that the woman he envisioned (and killed) was in actuality his mother with a mental masque that he projected onto her. In this situation, we must ask Descartes, who exists? The mother or the bar whore? To the protagonist, the bar whore exists and his mother is killed. However, to the protagonist’s father the woman his son sees as a bar whore is the same woman that he has been married to for almost fifteen years. But to the mind of the boy, it is no longer his mother.
Furthermore, in another movie, eXistenZ, an entire universe is created for a game by plugging yourself into an organic computer. All the characters and people unique to that organic computer are now in question; do these characters exist? Are these characters real? To the gamer (the one plugged in), these people exist for the moment and only as long as they can be interacted with. This brings into question another philosophical debate of old: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to here, does it make a sound?
How do we know that things beyond our vision exist? Does everything that we can’t perceive with out senses still exist? We breathe air but we can’t see it, or taste it, much less hear or smell it. Thus we come back to Descartes’ first meditation: we don’t truly know what exists and we have no way of justifying our sensory perceptions.
Through my own experiences, I posit that I exist because thought I don’t have total control over my surroundings, I can still cause ripples that will change my environment for myself or those who will come there at a later (indeterminate) time. Now to expand this theory, I believe that anything that can cause ripples in an environment exists. Consequently, most anything that we can perceive (and even more that we can’t) exist. Furthermore, just because a thing doesn’t think (for example: rocks, terra, tomatoes, ants) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t.
My belief also goes for the lack of an existence. For instance, if all the oxygen were to suddenly and instantaneously transport to a different place then a huge vacuum would form in the previous location of all the oxygen. The sudden appearance of oxygen would crowd up the new location and may even force out something else that also exists because that movement also causes a ripple. The initial location of the oxygen would find someway of filling up that space and anything else that exists would be most likely pulled into that area and causing yet more ripples.
This system not only provides for existence, it provides a way to check if something exists; simply check if it causes an effect that provides a temporary or continuous change on the environment, and even if it doesn’t provide a change that can be readily registered by your senses that doesn’t necessarily mean that a thing doesn’t exist (see oxygen example in preceding paragraph). The only things that are not included in this definition is brain density; no matter how dense it is, the brain will produce the same thought processes and consequently not exist.
Descartes is ultimately wrong in his conclusion that thought and contemplation of existence proves existence. In that case, what is existence? Existence occurs when a ripple is formed to change an environment, and therefore close to everything has existence of some kind, if only primary ripple effects are observed.
Courtney from Study Moose
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