I think therefore I am…yeah, right! Go ahead and pull the other one!
For the life of me (please, excuse the expression), I cannot understand why people consider ‘I think therefore I am’ to be somehow ‘profound’, or ‘remarkable’, or – frankly – anything other than ludicrous and demonstrably unsupportable.
Since so many really smart people think it a ‘valid’ statement, I must be missing some salient point – not understanding something ‘deep’. Please, let me walk through my reasoning: perhaps someone will post an insightful comment which points out my error and just lead me to ‘reason’.
To begin with, there appear to me to be two interpretations of the meaning of this phrase. So, let us consider the literal one first:
I think therefore I am.
First, what is ‘I’? If one cannot define ‘I’, then how can it be determined what ‘I’ may, or may not, be doing?
‘Ah, but there ‘must’ be some ‘self-aware entity’ to be doing the thinking!’ says conventional thought. And I ask ‘Why?‘
What if our brain is akin to some sort of a weird ‘antenna’, which is picking up some background EM radiation….which then generates the biochemical reactions in the brain…which then generate other EM radiation we call ‘thinking’? How do we know this is not so? After all, the differences in the biological makeup of different brains might cause them to generate differing ‘thoughts’ in response to the same outside stimulus. What we consider ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ and ‘reacting’ might just be weird co-incidences, natural phenomena interacting in a random way….why should we assume anything different?
So, I have managed to convince myself that ‘thinking’ may not be a deliberate expression in and of itself, it might be a weird natural resonance of some kind….so there may not be any ‘independent I’… that self-awareness really may be an illusion, a ‘trick of light and shadows’.
What about ‘I am’ – generally understood to express one’s ‘existence’. What a nebulous concept! Some people say we are an indestructible energy, which animates our physical shell. Other people say we are our physical shell, which then generates an energy which animates it. Either way, without ‘thinking about it’, we cannot even ‘conceive of’ our physical shell, regardless of any ‘animation’!
So, we don’t really know even what ‘am’ is…without doing the ‘thinking’. In other words, the ‘thinking’ defines the ‘existing’ – they are both different ways of expressing one and the same concept.
So why stick a ‘therefore’ between them? It should be an equal sign… Saying one ‘implies’ the other is flawed logic…a circular argument at best.
So what about the ‘pragmatic’ interpretation? What if ‘I think therefore I am’ is a statement designed to prove the futility of what I had just attempted to do with the literal interpretation above? And then take it one step further, by saying ‘stop your navel-gazing and react to what you might, perhaps, be perceiving as life’?
Well, that is rather silly.
If we were to follow this chain of thought, we would find it impossible to define the ‘I’ in any meaningful way. A rock does not ‘think’, yet we react to one which appears to be hurled at us as if it truly existed. Even without thought. (I mean, the rock’s…)
But, some might say, it does not really exist in any way other than in your thoughts! It is your perception of the rock, the thought generated by your perception of it, which makes the rock ‘real’ enough to impact you (i.e. defines its existence). But, of course, that would not work for the original premise: it is not the rock’s ‘thoughts’ which make it ‘exist’, it is the ‘observer’s thought’ which ‘perceives’ the rock that makes it ‘exist’. ‘The rock only exists in your mind/thought.’ In other words, in order to prove its existence, the rock needs a reference point outside of itself.
This is congruent with mathematical logic: any self-consistent system, to be ‘proven’ real, requires a reference point outside of ‘itself’. Similarly, (and since we are going through the ‘pragmatic’ interpretation of the phrase) the ‘thinker’ would require a reference point outside of the ‘thinker’ in order to be proven to ‘be’. Yet, the statement hinges on the assertion that since we are only aware of our own ‘thoughts’, the ‘thinker’ cannot actually have a reference point outside of itself – without violating its own rules. (In other words, thinking defines the ‘thinkee’, not the thinker.)
I’m not sure if I am being clear, so let me go back to the ‘rock’: it is the act of being perceived by something separate from itself (like the observer’s mind) which ‘proves’ the rock’s existence. Similarly, the ‘thinker’ needs to be perceived by something separate from the ‘thinker’ to prove the ‘thinker’s’ existence….and ‘thinking’ is a property of the ‘thinker’, it is not separate from the ‘thinker’….which makes this a circular argument at best.
I think this is were I am supposed to say QED…..except that I am hoping I have committed some glaring error or oversight, and that someone will point it out to me. Soon!