I am therefore I think….I think

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!

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54 Responses to “I am therefore I think….I think”

  1. Sextus Empiricus Says:

    Hmm.. Well, it seems what you’re going after here is the meaning of the concepts. I’m not so sure though that what you say actually carries.

    To begin with, ‘I’ does not contain any sort of concrete notion of what the self means. In language, ‘I’ is an indexical that references the speaker… whatever that may be.

    So one way of viewing the cogito is that very act of making a statement validates the existence of a speaker. If we grant that the statement can be made, then a statement giver exists. Again, no particular notion of self is endorsed here.

    I think what may be misleading is the assumption that, because it uses ‘therefore’ that the cogito is an inference. This is why it seems open to accusations of ‘circularity’ or ‘bootstrapping.’ It may be a different beast though entirely. This is a topic that is, I think, still hotly debated in Descartes scholarship. (but I’m not a Descartes scholar)

    As to why people think it is a big deal, it does appear fairly intuitive, and it does seem to be one of the few things we can have any grasp on purely from internal retrospection.

    But yeah, this is all off the top of my head, so don’t hold me to it.

  2. VanCam Says:

    It’s my understanding that “I think, therefore I am” was changed to “I am, therefore I exist”, or something along those lines, because the orginator of the phrase shared your feelings on the matter.

    Great blog by the way, I look forward to reading more.

  3. xanthippa Says:

    Thank you, both, for your comments.

    Sextus, I am not a philosophy student, I am simply saying things as I see them. However, Descartes was primarily a mathematician…and used language as such.

    The term ‘therefore’ – or, in Latin, ‘ergo’ – in Mathematics not only unequivocally means ‘induction’: it defines ‘induction’.

    And it is my central assertion that no, this assertion is not something we can ‘grasp’ – that to think that we could would be a significant error in logic.

    It is my assertion that ‘cogito’ can only be concieved of IF it is perceived by someone other than the ‘cogitor’ (please, excuse how I am butchering the language). The ‘cogitor’ cannot assert anything regartding that state – it could just be an illusion created by freak natural forces. Without an observer outside the ‘cogitor’, there is no ‘cogito’ (with the implied ‘I’ in any sense).

    VanCam, I think I have a favorite version of this statement, which most people who know me would likely be willing to agree to:

    “I annoy, therefore I am….”

  4. VanCam Says:

    I mean this in the kindest possible way… I agree.

  5. Doganna Says:

    Statements “I am therefore I think” and via versa…..are not correct.
    You might accidentally get into coma and not think at all for a prolong time, but unless you die you still are..
    You might sit several hours and meditate, have your mind free of thinking, but you still are…
    There might be polititions and not think at all – hey, yes, they still are…
    ( just joking now)…
    To me “the thinking” is a stage of *I am* and a statement “I am therefore I think” should be corrected to:
    “I am therefore I can be (or might be) thinking”.

    “I think therefore I am” – I agree with VanCam that it is a stage of self-awareness.

  6. vitality Says:

    Treid 3 x, will it work now

    TEST only

  7. vitality Says:

    “I think, therefore I am” This is a deep philosophical statement, yet, one I agree with.
    Thinking, of who we are, is the most important thing to do in our lifes, as an unexamined life, is a tragidy.
    The imprints, introjected energies, values, we all receive, growing up, from our parents, teachers, church, school, environment, and so on, are not truly your own values, and to life by someone else’s vanues, can make us,, without thinking, fragmented personalities, who, have not found their true self, thus, ARE not.
    As Doganna said, Self Awareness!! Facing one’s shadow side, which will, if unexamined, drive us in to deeds and actions, we would not have, had we been aware of them..
    The powers of introjected energies is enormous, few are aware of this, projections, up on us, or used by us up on others, all are obstacles in really being our selves,
    Thus, “I think, therefore I am” means a lot more, than just thinking about what color socks to wear.

  8. Xanthippa Says:

    Granted.

    However, that is not the point of this post…the point is that regardless of what socks we wear, our self-awareness is an assumption. ‘I think therefore I am’ is not the objective proof of our own existence which it has often been accepted as.

  9. vitality Says:

    As I wrote to begin with, it is a difficult subject , not easy to agree upon. However, I am still under that true belief, that only when we THINK, deeply, do we find, WHo, and That we truly are.
    Otherwise we are fragments of other peoples opinion.

    Ah yes, a philosopher!!! (smile)

  10. xanthippa Says:

    I agree…to a point!

    How do we know we know the ‘who’ is ‘I’?

    What is the evidence that the ‘who’ we find is not, as you say, a fiction? Or only a part of a greater, unknown ‘who’ – which we don’t know?

    That is my point – we may never know if the ‘who’ we find is real, and if it indeed corresponds to ‘I’.

  11. vitality Says:

    I understand your point, however, having spend years, finding the I, the self, with an awful lot of hard work , that few are willing to undertake, however, there is a great difference, in realizing, that this choice, this view, this value, is truly MINE, and not that from introjected energies, values of parents, teacher, church, and so on, which most of the time, if now always, left me feeling bad, uneasy, and wondering, WHy I had made this choice. And the consequences, of those choices, were never beneficial for me, and here i also speak of my spiritual being!!!
    For one, they all lacked true LOVE for mankind, i don’t mean LIKING, but, love, as it is meant to be practiced, and lived.
    As I said in the begining, this is a difficult philosophical subject, not easy to “PROOF”, as many things, one can not proof, like loving someone, only our behavior towards the loved one, can be a “proof”, if you wish.
    You will find the true I, and when you do, which i hope, you will KNOW the difference!!!

    I wish you well.

  12. Xanthippa Says:

    I would whoeheartedly agree with you, should we be considering the corrolarry: I am therefore I think!

    However, important to the ‘self’ all the considerations you raised are, and however they may subjectively define the ‘self’ – all one needs for practical considerations and ‘being true to one’s self’: something very precious which I do not wish to denigrade or devalue, as it cost me a great deal to come to terms with my ‘self’ – it is not an ‘objective marker’.

    This is less to put down the subjective experience, than it is a comment on the futility of attempting to justify an ‘objective’ value of ‘self’: it is meaningless without the attributes which you so eloquently listed.

  13. vitality Says:

    Sorry, have to think FIRST, to find “I AM.”

    Without this deep thinking, and finding ones true self, one is fragmented.

    I am, therefore i think, would make the “THINKING” unnecessary. IMPOSSIBLE, we are up to the point, that we start thinking, still products of others values, understandable, we were kids, and unable to figure this all out, at a young age. No one was born an adult, nor wise, that is why we are here, to do just that, become wise!! And, loving!!!

  14. kiscica Says:

    I agree with Vitality in the Jungian sense, that the divine Self can only be found by the life-long work of individuation.

  15. vitality Says:

    Thought about your suggestion “I am, therefor i think” Well, think about it, there are people, for example, who are in a coma, do they really THINK?? How about the people, born, with severe brain damage??Can the really think, on a deep philosophical level???
    Yet, they are human beings, bodies, that function on some level, and are innnocent, of not being able to THINK, as you and i do.Still they exist!
    So, this thought belongs in your Chamber-Pot, (Love the title you chose)
    About being “I AM” think about, when you were a little fellow, and all the things you were told that you COULD not do. Ok, some made sense, like cleaning up, after playing, but, think about SHAME. In summer, at 30 degrees, you might have run around in the nude, in the garden, GREAT , why NOT???
    Yet, you were made to feel ashamed of your nudity, and think, the whole world has adapted that shame, “introjected value” and even when it is not cold, and we NEED to dress to protectourself from tne weather, we do the same, dress ourself, WHY??It is not cold. We don’t need clothes??Paradise LOST!!!! An introjected value!!
    And so are many of our as “normal” accepted values, write them all down, and see, how many make sense.
    When you, a potential artist, played with mud, to built a sculpture, you might have been told, “Oh, get rid of that dirt, and never play with it again, are you crazy?”
    Where you indeed crazy??Did you stop playing, and trying to sculpt with great mud?
    Yet, it was hurting your soul, you were creative, and that is the closest we get to “I AM”, being creative.
    How many of us are??? All busy making money, and…unhappy.
    Now, this are just a few, maybe silly examples, but, am trying to make you see, that those introjected values, are still at work, in your soul, and those values DO NOT represent YOU, but your Mother’s (for example) values .
    Are there good values too, received as children? Certainly, like accepting responsibility, when you had done wrong, and to correct the wrong doing, great, if you got that value.
    How about, when the phone rang, you answered it, and, the one calling, wanted to speak to your Dad. He said, “Tell them I am not home”, but dad, you might have said, “You are home” “Oh , for god’s sake, just tell him I am not home”
    value??? Being dishonest is ok!!! Maybe not always, but,. certainly sometimes. NO to tell an untruth, is NEVER ok. Still, you might do it, we all do, so we say, but, that is not so, there are people, who will always speak the truth, as they know it.

    Hope i made the point,” I am, therefore I think” to be invalid.

  16. Xanthippa Says:

    I think that we are talking about two different issues.

    What you are asserting is true, in a subjective existence. I have no issue with that.

    That does not address the issue of ‘objective proof’ of one’s existence, in the sense of a self-aware individual. The fact remains that ‘thinking’ is an internal, subjective process – it does not and cannot have an objective relationship to reality: at best, it is an electrochemical process applied to the stimulae of electrical signals carried along neurons as triggered by our subjective senses.

    And while it may be self-validating, this self-validation must be recognized to be within the subjective boundaries that our subjective perceptions limit us to.

    I’m not sure if I am doing a good job of explaining the difference between the two separate issues we are talking about….

  17. xanthippa Says:

    To kiscica:

    As I have agreed, in the ‘divine self’ imagery, Vitality’s point is valid and I agree. But while it is a beautiful perception of reality, it cannot claim to BE reality.

    However, since you bring up the ‘Jungian sense’….

    When the Jungian tachings are taken to theit logical conclusion, it becomes apparent that all this ‘self-definition’ is happening within the confines of our conscious and subconscious levels of awareness. It is also clear from Jung’s teachings that these levels of awareness are introspective, and should not be misconstrued into a objective representation of reality.

    As such, my original post could, perhaps, be understood in Jungian terms as affirming that tough we may be ‘self-aware’, and though we may seek to define that ‘self’, we can never know WHAT the full composition of the ‘self’ consists of….we may suspect, we may strive for it, but we CANNOT ever KNOW. That is because we cannot ever get an ‘independent verification’ of our ‘self’ – that is, inependent of our awareness. And, according to my understanding of the body of Jung’s work, is the beauty in the ‘striving’.

  18. vitality Says:

    Great, Agree with you, on what you stated. My definition of, I AM, is a devine one. I am NOT religious at all, and my conviction, has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of religious teaching, as a matter of fact, it , religious teaching,is an obstacle in the great growth, possible for all of us, and , thus, something, (the teachings) to think about.
    It is, the only thing, that will make PEACE for all possible, and will end all wars, poverty, suffering, by so many at this moment well known, to be a big part of their lifes.
    My deep belief is, that we are born, with all these wonderful characteristics in our being, however, they get replaced, introjected, if you please, by bad values, thus, we HAVE to think, to BECOME, to BE . I knew, and warned you, in my early writings, that this is a very difficult subject, to write about, or for all to understand, but, you as a Philosopher, a THINKER, as that is part of what Philosophy is all about, will find your own answers, and, I hope share them with me, I do enjoy our conversations very much, and appreciate, you, sharing your views with me!!
    Kindest regards!!

  19. xanthippa Says:

    To Vitality (re the long comment on non-validity of ‘I think therefore I am’)

    Sorry, I got a bit behind on the comments, but – being a slow thinker – it seems easier to reply to individual comments one at a time.

    First: all my posts are IN the chamberpot: I take ‘food for thought’, digest it, and here is the result…

    Ok, to the point: ‘I am therefore I think’ is not a statement on the same issue as ‘I think therefore I am’

    ‘I think therefore I am’ is an attempt to use an ‘activity’ (thinking) to imply the existence of the ‘actor’ (thinker). What I hoped to establish is that this implication is not an objective one: that the very statement of the ‘activity of thinking’ is taking many presumptions, none of which are verifiabe objectively. HOW does the ‘thinker’ KNOW that she is ‘thinking’? It is at best an assumption, a subjective impression.

    Then, the very act of the ‘thinking’ does NOT imply exitence of a ‘thinker’ as such. (I think I went into detail in the post about this.)

    The statement ‘I am therefore I think’ takes the debate out of the ‘existential’ realm where I was heading, and squarely brings it into the ‘since I AM here, it is my duty to think through my actions, examine my morals and behave according to what I conclude are the best possible rues of conduct.’ Or, in other words, it takes the discussion out of the ‘reality of existence’ bit, and brings it squarely to the practical ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

    Am I explaining clearly just WHY these are two completely different debates?

    • Emma Says:

      I love how entangled this debate has become 😀 I hope you don’t mind if I add a few thoughts to the mix?

      An important question was yours about how the thinker can know he/she is thinking, given that there is no independent awareness to say so. [I think!?] I would probably say that there is no need for another view – any independent awareness would be skewed by their senses through which they saw you, in the same way as all your perceptions can be skewed by your senses. This is the reason why only what you directly ‘feel/think’ within your consciousness is any evidence of your existence at all, as it is the only communication you receive not (potentially) affected by your senses. So in that way it’s impossible to find an ‘objective’ viewpoint as the term ceases to have any meaning when everything we perceive can be distorted by our senses. Er.

      Am i making any sense at all?!
      Also I love your blog, I think it’s inspiring, and so so interesting for a relatively ‘neurotypical’ [debatable, I suppose..] person 😀

      Xanthippa says:

      Thank you!

      And, yes, I do agree with you.

      My main point is that, when you really really consider the ‘baseline’, we have to be very careful about what we term ‘objective’.

      Which does not mean that the term is irrelevant: just that we must avoid the pitfall of considering ourselves ‘absolutely’ right!

      That way, fanaticism lies – not reality.

  20. vitality Says:

    My vey first guideline, in this quest, was to determine, WHAt really is LOVE???

    It is not LIKING, nor lust, so, what than??

    Love, always, always, has the well being of, and oneself, and the other in mind, all choices are made, based on THAT.
    Big assignment!!!!

  21. xanthippa Says:

    I accept your challenge, Vitality!

    There are a few posts ‘prepared to go’, but I will, in the next week or two, write up my musings on ‘love’ and the different meanings we, humans, attribute to it.

    Thanky you,

    Xan

  22. vitality Says:

    Xan, it was great, to debate with you, and did not disagree on all you said, I just wanted you, to understand HOW I see, the I in I AM. It is devine, loving, honest, fair, and so forth.
    I want to give you a last example, and, than look forward to your next post.
    My friend, a lovely older gentleman, who is an art teacher as well, as am I too.
    He has some problems, which shine through, when you get to know him well.
    He had finished a class, and all his students wanted to participate in the exhibition of their work. Which, all had to be framed, in order, to be shown.
    He voluntered to do the framing for them. But later,complained about how much work it had been, and how ungrateful some students had been. Some, even went to different classes, and diid not stay loyal to him, and take his class again, and so forth. “After all I have done for them” And here, he is an example of the fragmentation in this otherwise very nice chap.
    He offfers to do things for people, so he will be liked, and appreciated, if this does not follow his action, he gets very angry. He is not aware, that what he does, is self serving.

    Had he had , a great I AM, and loved his students, he would have used the last class, to teach them, how to frame their own work, this way he would have been paid, reason why he is teaching to begin with, they would have learned a skill, needed for any painter, to frame your work, and have told them, “Pay attention, because, if it is not done proper, it can not participate in the Show” Hold them responsible!
    He would than have not expected loyalty, and “liking”, and the students would not have to feel obligated to him , as it was part of the paid for class.
    But, his deep need to be liked, and appreciated, is rooted in his childhood, were he lacked all that, and he tried to please his parents, and he is still doing that, and wants the reward.

    So, is he loving?? No, he does it all in a way, for himself. I am compassionate for him, but, with deep thinking, and asking himself, were this pain comes from, and why he resents, them for trying yet another teacher, he does not wish to do, out of fear for the pain, it will cause him.
    So, he stayes at this fragmented level, partially still a child.
    So, is he a good Artist, Oh yes, he can say I AM a good artist. A good teacher? Here we come to the fragmentation, part of his parents values, that he was NOT a worthy fellow, still drives him into things, he does not really want to do. wanting to be ‘paid’ for his volunteer work, by loyalty and friendship, for ever.
    Did he keep in mind, and, his own needs, when he offered this? NO, he was too busy already, so he said later. And what about the needs of his students, to learn HOW TO frame their work, NO.
    Give me bread, i shall eat today, teach me how to bake, i shall eat every day.That is truly loving. In that sense, my sweet friend, is not complete, if i may use that term. Not in the true sense, of I AM.

    Xan, I am aware, that I am reaching high, with my philosophy, and thank you, for trying to understand it!! Hope to hear from you again!!

    Please keep om musing and thinking!!!!The rewards are tremendously wonderful!!!

  23. vitality Says:

    Xan, thought you were a fellow, my mistake!. Is not, Xanthippe, the difficult wife of Socrates???? Interesting name certainly!!
    It was a great post, awaiting your next one!!!

  24. xanthippa Says:

    Vitality,

    yes.

    Follow the blogroll to my 1st post…it explains my reasoning. I suspect it might make you smile!

    Xan

  25. vitality Says:

    Just read your blog, and introduction to this debate, it certainly made me smile, a lot!!!
    You do have a great sense of humor, which is someting, needed in this world!!! Or, maybe, in any other world as well.
    Love the rocks “point of view”. Which proves to be real, when it hits our head!!! Did you start any other blog, or was this the one you mentioned in your last replay?? It is truly very funny!!
    Vitality.

  26. Xanthippa Says:

    hi Vitality!

    I am pretty new to this blogging thing…usually, I have 2-3 posts a week. The ‘Welcome to Xanthippa’s Chamberpot’ is my intro post, then I thought I might as well start at the ‘deep end’ and wade in…so #2 is this one. #3 is a musing on what it is that makes fascism ‘fascism’. #4 is a quick quote, with a question…no other comment was needed, I thought.

    Then, recent current events took me on a bit of a detour…what I had planned got delayed while I rant on about tolerance….part one is posted, and just sort of explains where I’ll be coming from. Part 2, which I plan to post this weekend, will look at WHAT we ought to tolerate (and what not). Part 3, likely to go up Monday or Tuesday will look at the different WAYS we tolerate, and why some are constructive while others are downright destructive and rip apart our social fabric.

    I am still learning how to organize the blog itself. For now, only the tags and categories have the shortcuts to the posts…but I plan to improve this (from the home page). Or, if you have little blue titles with arrows o the top, it’ll let you scroll throught the posts in sequence.

    I plan to read up on it, soon, and fix the page up a bit! It’s just this ‘life’ thing keeps interfering! :0)

    Xan

  27. vitality Says:

    Hello Xan,
    Nice to hear from you, great, that you are trying to put all this together!!!
    I just found a lovely “saying”, wanted to share it with you.

    “The Truth is what has to Become, otherwise, you will never Exist”

    Again, it touches upon the topic we debated about. It is not a topic, for those who can’t, or, won’t see beyond their nose. Growing, maturing, Takes courage!!!
    Hope we stay in touch!!

    Vitality

  28. Why ‘secular laws’ must rank above ‘religious laws’ in every society « Xanthippa's Chamberpot Says:

    […] of a better-defined term, call ‘life’.  I would be loath to have pretensions to any absolutes, even if I became convinced ‘absolutes’ could be […]

  29. marie Says:

    Hmm, So I haven’t read all the comments, but I think my take on both versions is that “I am therefore I think” implies that we can only think if we exist and that if we exist, we have to think, or we don’t really exist. The person in a coma doesn’t think and doesn’t really exist, if we grant that the only way we have of existing is through our minds.

    Xan says:

    Well, actually…

    …we cannot speak as to the person in the comma – we do not know that he does or does not exist, except as a construct in our minds…just like everything else…

    The point of this – whether it came through in the post or not – is where we ‘must’ place our ‘impirical knowledge’ mark – not whether a person in a comma ‘exists’ but rather whether a person we see is an ‘independent’ creature of ‘I’ or a sensory construct therof.

    At some point, we must become at least somewhat pragmatic. Yet, we must not permit that pragmaticism to affect our core reasoning – even if our actual lives need to be based on this pragmaticism-experiential basis…

    In other words: we must recognize the limitations of our experiece, but, as life is an experience-based-quantity, we must differentiate between the theoretical and ‘experiential’, giving each the worth they deserve in every specific instance.

  30. Terry Says:

    While I am impressed with your insights into the matters you write about, on this matter I think you missed it. And I think you missed it because you (apparently) did not understand the reasoning that led to the statement. DesCartes was using the method of doubting, of which I am adherent. He doubted everything that could be doubted, reasoning that whatever could not be doubted must be true. And whatever follows logically from what is true must also be true.
    He realized that everytime he doubted, there was an “I” doubting; he could not doubt his own existence. Your calling into question the definition of “I” is inconsistent with your use of it; you use it the same way he does. But you are in good company. Bertrand Russell, in disputing DesCartes, reasoned similarly to you. But he did agree with DesCartes when he expounded on it, that the sentence was a compound proposition; that when I assert that I do anything, I am presuppositionally asserting that I exist. To do, one must first be. Consider “The present king of France is bald.” The statement is false, as well as its negation “The present king of France is not bald.” (Nor does he wear a wig.) There is no present king of France. It is a compound assertion that he both exists and that he has some attribute. He cannot have any attribute unless he first exists.
    “Cogito ergo sum” is a slightly more complex assertion. And it is perhaps an unfortunate choice of demonstrations for its truth, as any such “I x therefore I am” construction would do it as well. “Cogito” twice asserts “I am.” From the logical proposition ‘A and B’ we can conclude ‘A.’ “I think” asserts “There exists something corresponding to ‘I’ and that thing thinks.” From this he correctly concludes his own existence. This is the beginning of his certainty, the beginning of his philosophy, not the end. The end.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Terry,

      thank you for the well-thought out statement. It has got my brain afflutter – and I am a slow thinker, so I may not express this isn a well-thought out, elegant manner, but, here it goes…

      This was the very first blogpost I have ever written. The reason I think this is is because the reason for starting blogging (a vague unhappiness with the state of information ‘out there’ in the mainstream media) is similar to the uneasiness that I have always felt with the statement ‘I am therefore I think’.

      And I have ‘known’ there was something ‘not right’ with that statement, even when I was a kid (the earliest I remember pondering this is when I was in kindergarten). Despite this, I have not read any philosoophers and do not know the proper terminology. It’s not that I was not interested – I was – but because I think that the books and ‘philosophy courses’ are doing it wrong!

      In our society, when one studies ‘philosophy’, one is not learning how to independently derive various philosophical positions: one is first taught that these positions exist and their history and roots…which, in my never-humble-opinion, prevents the person from really and honestly deriving them from first priinciples. It’s like teaching the end of a suspense novel and then going on about it and only then letting the person read it. ‘Knowing’ the ending robs one of the ability to deduce it…

      For this reason, I am monumentally and willfully ignorant of what historical philosophical arguments had been made. Thus, I necessarily make basic errors – and I am the first to acknowledge this.
      However, having read your comment has solidified in my mind what it is that has so bothered me with ‘Cogito ergo sum’…

      As you say, ‘Cogito’ asserts ‘I am’ twice.

      THAT is the error!

      It makes the assertion twice, then uses one incidence of the assertion to support the other! (Perhaps that is why, even without being consciously aware of it, I had titled the post as I had.)

      That makes it a serious logical flaw – thus rendering the statement meaningless and debunking it for the load of dingo’s kidneys that it is!

      • Terry Says:

        Again, this was just the first thing of which he could be certain using his method of doubting. He could doubt that anything he was sensing was real. It could be a dream, a mirage, a demon’s trick, etc. but he realized that every time he doubted, there was an “I” doubting, when he observed, there was an “I”:observing, when thinking…, etc. He could continue doubting everything else, but he could not doubt his own existence. And it was not understood until he said it that truth of the assertion “I think” ontologically entails “I am.” For any simple proposition A, either A or not A is the case; one must be true and the other false. The 2 contradictory propositions “The present king of France is bald.” and “The present King of France is not bald.” are both false because neither is a simple; they both assert in the subject the existence of a present king of France.
        The formal logic that captures this was not developed until the mid 20th century. So your assertion of his commission of the fallacy ‘petitio principii’ does not hold. Until then logic remained pretty much as it was at the time of Aristotle. This was a dramatic advancement for the 17th century. And he went on to develop from this a philosophy that spawned among many other sciences, the modern logic with which you accuse him. He is not without reason called the father of modern science.

      • Terry Says:

        P.S. “Cogito ergo sum” is simply an explicit statement of what was until then unconsciously implicit in the statement “Cogito.”

  31. CodeSlinger Says:

    Xanthippa:

    Either my thoughts are an illusion, or they are not.

    In the latter case, I actually have thoughts, meaning, I think.

    In the former case, I only think that I have thoughts.

    Therefore, I think in either case.

    But thinking is an action, therefore an actor must exist, and I am that actor.

    Or, to put it more succinctly:

    I think therefore I am.

    The converse is not the case, because it is perfectly possible for a thing to exist without thinking at all.

    Therefore the correct implication is unidirectional and not bidirectional.

    Xan says:
    This one is easy: ‘thinking’ may not be an action, simply an illusion, true. Yet, you do not know if you are experiencing the illusion or are simply a component of the illusion.

    Therefore, there is no implication of any action on your part in the case of you being a component of the illusion – hence, you cannot deduce that you think.

    • xanthippa Says:

      I forgot to address your assertion that it is perfectly possible for a thing to exist without thinking at all… What?

      I thought this is addressed in my original argument with the ‘rock’ analogy: it is not the ‘rock’s thinking’ but the observer’s thinking which forms the outside reference point necessary for a ‘proof’.

      Also, my edited-in objection should have pointed out that in neither one of your scenarios is there any outside refernce point – hence no proof.

  32. CodeSlinger Says:

    Xanthippa:

    The act of experiencing the illusion of thinking is no less an action than the act of thinking.

    There can be no action without an actor. Therefore, the actor exists in either case, whether the thinking is illusory or not.

    This follows immediately. No external reference is required.

    And whether or not the rock was proven to exist is irrelevant. The point is that it need not think in order to exist.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Well, not exactly.

      Your position suggests that you use the word ‘exists’ differently than I do – which is where I suspect the crux of our disagreement lies.

      What I am trying to demonstrate is the ‘proof of existence’ – not the possibility of existence. There is a big difference betwee the two.

      In a rigorous ‘proof of a system’, you need a reference point outside the system. Some theologians, of course, have attempted to assert that God is the reference point outside of ‘the natural’ which proves ‘the natural”s ‘existence’.

      Similarly, in order to rigorously proove a mathematical system, you require a reference point outside of it. (If I recall correctly, this is rather basic (grade 11 – for me) Mathematics.)

      Therefore, since you cannot possibly provide a rigorous reference point outside your mental processes, you cannot rigorously proove ‘yourself’. This does not preclude the possibility that you exist – simply that there is no external proof of that existence.

      To rephrase this…

      Admit it: you KNOW ‘nothing’!!!

  33. CodeSlinger Says:

    Xanthippa:

    Yes, we are using the word, exist, in different ways. And we are also using the word, proof, in different ways.

    That which exists is not void, and that which is void does not exist.

    The void is absence. In its passive form, it is emptiness; in its active form, it is negation.

    Existence emerges from the void by negation.

    The absence of absence is presence. That is, existence.

    I’ve said this in several different ways, because we are dealing with concepts so elemental that every word we try to use says too much. By saying it in different ways, I hope to make the consistent connotations reinforce each other and the inconsistent ones neutralize each other. If I have succeeded, then this makes the underlying meaning clearer. Otherwise, we could remain stuck at this point, nitpicking forever.

    A proof exists entirely within an axiomatic system. Mathematics, as such, is the study of all and only those conclusions which can be derived from a given set of axioms by the rules of logic. Different sets of axioms result in different mathematical systems, and what is provably true in one may be provably false in another.

    So, when you speak of proving a mathematical system, I assume that you mean validating it by presenting evidence that it is consistent with reality, meaning, that which exists outside the mathematical system in question.

    This process of presenting supporting evidence may be convincing, but it can never be an absolute proof, just as I can present you with evidence to support the assertion that I exist, but I can never prove it to you absolutely.

    Thus, when Descartes says, “cogito ergo sum,” he is not trying to prove his existence to you. That would be futile. He is proving it to himself.

    In short, I know that I exist. I’m not so sure about you…

    • xanthippa Says:

      We are still talking at cross purposes: what you propose, however nice, does not satisfy ‘proof’ as I concieve of the concept.
      I refer you to Derek’s comment below: I think he sums it up perfectly!

  34. derek Says:

    i’ve realized that descartes commonly quoted phrase “i think therefore i am” is logically flawed as soon as i heard it. i’m glad i have someone who agrees with me on this one.

    Essentially descartes’ proof here is:
    X is true. Y is true. Therefore, X is true.

    It’s the same thing as to say unicorns are pink, therefore unicorns surely exist. How could something be pink if it doesn’t exist. It’s tautological. It’s the equivalent of saying apples are red and they are delicious, therefore apples are surely red.

    You can replace the word think with ANYTHING.

    I love therefore I exist. I dream therefore I exist. I desire therefore I exist. There’s no difference of what you say.

    Also, Descartes ontological argument proving the existence of God. Had he stopped writing after Medidation I, he would have been maybe one of the greatest philosopher of all time.

    Philosophy is a part of linguistics. We use words, as our only means, to try to prove our ideas to other people. There is so many limitations to language. We may exist, but we are unable to use words to prove it.

  35. CodeSlinger Says:

    Derek, Xanthippa:

    The general form is this: If X acts then X exists. X acts. Therefore X exists.

    We abbreviate this as follows: X acts therefore X exists.

    Now, thinking is an action. Further, there is only one X of which I can be absolutely certain that it thinks, and that is me. Finally, there is only one thing I can be absolutely certain I do, and that is thinking.

    Therefore the only substitution I can make with absolute certainty is the following: I think therefore I am.

    I can make this substitution, but you can’t.

    That I think is self-evident to me, but unprovable to you. And vice versa.

    Therefore, that I exist is self-evident to me, but unprovable to you. And vice versa.

    And yes, one could replace ‘think’ with ‘love’, ‘dream’, ‘desire’, or any other self-evident aspect of cognition. The word ‘think’ should be understood to subsume them all.

    Thus Descartes might have said, one’s own existence is self-evident by virtue of the direct experience of one’s own cognition.

    But it is so much more elegant to say, I think therefore I am.

    On the other hand, I agree with you about the ontological argument for the existence of God. However, while Saint Anselm may have taken it seriously, I doubt that Descartes did. Rather, I think it was probably one of those silly postures, which academics had to adopt in those days to avoid the wrath of the church.

    Of course I can’t be sure of that. After all, Newton took his alchemical studies very seriously…

    • xanthippa Says:

      All you have demonstrated is that you THINK that you think – NOT that you KNOW that you think, NOR that you can prove it to anyone, including yourself.

      Face it: the only thing we ‘know’ is that we ‘know’ nothing!

  36. CodeSlinger Says:

    Xanthippa:

    Knowing that I think, and thinking that I think, both serve equally well to render my existence self-evident to me. And that which is self-evident requires no proof.

    But now I repeat myself.

    Xanthippa says:

    CodeSlinger,

    Many people consider ‘God’ to be ‘self-evident’.

    Many people consider the existence of ‘ghosts’ to be ‘self-evident’ (and not just as scientific phenomena as-yet not explained, like reactions to infrasound, and so on).

    My husband claims it is self-evident that I am the most beautiful and least argmentative woman to have ever been born – or will be born, EVER!

    That, however, never did constitute ‘proof’.

    ‘Self-evident’ is not a proof – it is an assertion.

    There is a vast difference between the two!

    And, while I agree that the ‘pragmatic implication’ of ‘I think therefore I am’ is that it is likely in one’s best interest to behave as if one did, indeed, exist, it is essential that in order to establish the ‘threshold’ to what is and is not ‘provable’, we do not confuse ‘assertions’ with ‘proof’.

  37. CodeSlinger Says:

    Xanthippa:

    People who claim that the existence of God is self-evident are wrong. What is self-evident – to them – is the religious experience that convinced them that God exists. And what it should prove – to them – is that they exist. It only becomes an (unprovable) assertion when they tell somebody else about it.

    People who claim that the existence of ghosts is self-evident are also wrong.

    Your husband, of course, is quite right.

    Xanthippa says:

    You are, of course, right! (Especially when it come to my husband!)

    Methinks our positions are converging, as regards to “I think therefore I am”.

    You accept that what may be ‘self-evident’ to you is not ‘proof’ to others.

    This is all that I had sought to demonstrate: that whole ‘external’ ‘proof’ is not possible to be accomplished, only a self-contained impression is – which cannot, in turn, be communicated in the format of a rigorous ‘proof’ to anyone ‘external’ of one’s ‘self’.

    • Terry Says:

      Exactly so. DesCartes needed to be certain for himself and himself alone. This method worked for him. If it works for you, use it. If not, find or create another.

      Xanthippa says:

      This is exactly the point!

      Except that, while you agree with CodeSlinger, I fall squarely on the other side of this interpretation: you may think that you are thinking, but you don’t know it.

      And, even if you were thinking, you cannot prove it.

      ‘Cogito’ is an unsupportable assertion: it is not ‘proof’, nor is it particularly convincing because all it does is defer the question to ‘what is ‘thinking’ and why do you think you are doing it’?

      The assertion that you are indeed partaking of ‘an action’ is akin to your example of the King of France…it may seem ‘logical’ but it is flawed in its basic presumptions, specifically, that you can presume that you are thinking!

      In other words, I perfectly understand your argument and reject it in the most vehement terms. I don’t know if I have made the reasons why I reject it clear – though, I have tried hard… Let me know!

      • Terry Says:

        Why do I think I am thinking? Because I think. I define thinking as the process (whatever that may be) by which I experience whatever it is that I experience. All complex things reduce to simples ultimately. When one gets to the point where a thing can only be defined in terms of itself, its negation, or by ostentation, one has reached irreducible simplicity.
        Or is the question “Why do I think that there is an ‘I’ thinking? Mind-boggling, for in the question you assert the existence of the very “I” whose existence you seek to negate. In response to this question, Bertrand Russell suggested that “I” may be just the convergence of space and time at this place in the universe and that the “I” is therefore a fleeting concept. But there seems to be an unavoidable continuity in the “I” that wakes up every day and seems to be the same person he was yesterday. And so “I” must act as if “I” am, as Mr. Russell did in continuing to write after asserting that his own apparent existence may be illusory. Or is that part of the illusion that is me? Who or what is this illusion, and who or what is experiencing it? I keep coming back to the inescaple conclusion that I think, and therefore there is an I thinking.

        Xanthippa says:

        You came close with the question of ‘Why do I think there is an ‘I’ thinking? I was stuck at that stage for a few years when I was thinking this through.

        However, where I arrived was: ‘Why presume there is such a concept/thing/action as ‘thinking’?

        What is the evidence for ‘thinking’ – outside of imperfect (and thus unreliable) senses?

        Using the process of ‘thinking’ to reason out ‘thinking’ is circular at best and not ‘rigorous’ under any sort of an objective test. It would be akin to saying ‘A: therefore A’!

  38. Terry Says:

    A ergo A is not illogical, it is tautological. A tautology only becomes circular when it used to assert its conclusion as new knowledge when it is implicit or explicit in the premises. A ergo A is the irreducible upon which all logic is built. It is one of the 3 laws of thought, which really are just different manifestations of the same law.
    1. If A is true, then it (A) is true. A > A = -(A^-A)
    2. No A can be both true and false. A > -(-A) = A > A = -(A ^ -A)
    3. Any A is either true or false. A or -A = -(A^-A)

    Xanthippa says:

    Yes, exactly!

    So far, we agree – 100%.

    IF A is true, then (A) is true.

    Except that, I do not agree that the ‘If’ or the ‘true’ of the ‘If A is true’ has been satisfied.

    In other words, when it comes to A=’Cogito’, the ‘IF’ has not – in my never-humble-opinion – been satisfied, nor has the ‘true’ been even defined, much less satisfied: thus, necessarily, we are in a state of ignorance as to ‘IF’ A actually IS ‘true’ (whatever ‘true’ is).

    Therefore, we cannot continue on to deduce that ‘then (A) is true’.

    • Terry Says:

      W.V.O. Quine said, “He who rejects reason excuses himself from the discussion.” Reason is where we begin. and so we reason about reason.

      Xanthippa says:

      Absolutely!

      Yet, I maintain that it is my position, not yours, which is consistent with ‘reason’…

    • Terry Says:

      It doesn’t matter whether A is true or not for the schema A > A to be true. A tautology is true under every interpretation of its non-logical parts, no matter what A means or what “true’ means. It is true by virtue of its form alone apart from any meaning. But I think we do know what is intended by ‘true.’ There is an objective reality out there. Even if you assert there is not, which I suspect you will, and if there is in fact not an objective reality, then that is the objective reality we must seek.
      We can go on to define terms and try to speak meaningfully about them, but only within the context of mutually shared values of the words and forms we use. And form is fundamental.

      Xanthippa says:

      I think we are converging..

      As for objective reality, I am not asserting that it does or does not exist: merely that I cannot use linguistics to construct a rigorous proof that it does.

      To my way of thinking, that is a huge difference.

      I think there is an objective reality ‘out there’, but I recognize my limitation to prove it.

      By rejecting ‘cogito ero sum’, I am recognizing my limitations – which I think essential to disciplined thought.

      In effect, I arrive at Socrates’: ‘I know that I know nothing’.

      • Terry Says:

        The vast majority of our cognition is passive in nature. Seeing is passive, looking is active. Hearing is passive, listening is active. In becoming ‘active’ our attention is focused (note the passive construction) on a narrow range of incoming sensory data, while shutting out (probably passively in most cases) other passively received stimuli. In another blog on this site, I (nearly) quoted Shakespeare in saying “Methinks he doth protest too much…” Methinks is a dative case verb, passive in nature. Literally “(there) is a thinking in me” or perhaps better, “the thought occurs to me…” I do not assert that a proof for my existence lies anywhere in those linguistic facts. Quite the contrary: they seem to support your view. I don’t know what the “I” is. Is it merely the convergence of stimuli at this time and place in the universe? If so, doesn’t the “I” exist at this time and place? Do we have to know the nature of the “I” in order to know it exists? Do I have to understand how a motor works in order to drive a car?

        Xanthippa says:

        Fascinating…

        We do not have to understand how a motor works in order to drive a car, true. But, we do need to understand what we mean by ‘a motor’ in order to identify one when we encounter it or demonstrate that it is what powers the car.

        Similarly, we can do what we perceive as ‘functioning’ without ever considering an ‘I’. Yet, we do need to understand what we mean by ‘I’ in order to identify one when we encounter it or demonstrate its effects…or, indeed, objectively prove that it is ‘doing’ something.

        P.S. (unrelated topic)
        My hubby greatly appreciated the groaner from your ‘Aspie humour’ comment. I’m not sure if you saw it, but I put in links to two groaners I had posted much earlier – and since you brought up Shakespeare, I am pouncing on this pretext to re-link them here:
        http://blog.xanthippas.com/2008/10/08/island-of-merzy-part-1/
        http://blog.xanthippas.com/2008/10/11/island-of-merzy-part-2/

  39. 4pancakes Says:

    I have to admit this is so interesting I want to say my view of the matter.

    I have a completely different problem with “I think therefore I am.”

    I am fully aware of the types of meanings people associate from it and how they get to that conclusion but it doesn’t change the fact that the sentence itself seems flawed in what it is trying to say.
    Existence or “am” can’t be defined merely by thinking and especially “I” or the object itself thinking or plants, and objects couldn’t be proven to exist.
    Even if we use the more divine definition which translates to somewhere around ultimate awareness, self-consciousness, enlightenment or consciousness in general (and the separate definitions given show that it’s a pretty shaky and subjective concept in and of itself,) thinking itself does not necessarily grant that either. An animal thinks but may not be considered any of those things.
    The example of a baby is almost completely self-serving in its views and so can’t be said to have love for all or other values that would fit the more divine “I am” and yet it thinks. Even for it to be true you have to change the core definition of think when it’s not that subjective.
    The fact that it can be a process towards the divine “I am” means it is possible for people to NOT follow it and still think meaning there’s no real correlation. The opposite doesn’t really apply either for much of the same reasons.
    Personally in both definitions interaction creates existence. A rock can’t consider itself to exist but through the senses of others it can be proven that it does through thinking on some level.
    In the divine sense a person can only be self-sacrificing if they are aware there is more than the self to begin with. They can only have love for others if their love for themselves is disproven in some way. The process of the divine “I am” can only start when there are others and other things to contradict our previous views which thought restructures.
    Even with thinking a person alone cannot be aware of their place in relation to others. Personally I think it makes much more sense in both concepts that interacting and being interacted with what’s around you, even air, defines both forms of existence. It defines the latter by allowing a person to face contradictions to conclusions and beliefs and refine them to reach a state of awareness of both what’s around them and the self.

    In other words, “I interact therefore I am.”

    Xanthippa says:

    Very thought provoking…

    I like it!


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