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Descartes, Einstein and The Self

July 28, 2013

The French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes was born at the end of the 16th Century. He searched to uncover a philosophical principle that was undoubtedly true and which would therefore function as a valid foundation for the rest of his work. After much enquiry and doubting of everything about his perception of reality he famously arrived at the conclusion “Cogito ergo sum” –  ” I think, therefore I am.”

In this statement Descartes decides that if he thinks then he must exist, and even if he doubts he is thinking then he must exist in order to doubt. This statement is well known in contemporary Western society and many people still take it as a proof that we exist.

This famous statement is actually false and philosophically invalid, yet Cartesian (originating with Descartes) ideas have continued to have a major influence on Western thinking ever since.

The statement “I think therefore I am” assumes that an “I” exists in order to think, and then concludes that an “I” exists.  Any argument that simply assumes its conclusion is valid before arriving at that conclusion is inherently weak. The 19th Century existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard pointed out this logical fallacy.

But further, we can see how little examination there has been in our society of the most fundamental of all concepts – who is the “I” that thinks, feels and experiences emotion ?

In 1950 Albert Einstein wrote to the quantum theorist Erwin Schrödinger regarding his famous thought experiment that came to be known as “Schrödinger’s Cat” :

” You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality, if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. ”

We nearly always assume an external reality, assume that there is an identifiable “me” with beliefs and ideas that “I” have about this reality . But if we become still and simply observe experiences happening within ourselves then who is the “I” that we find ? ……………………

Spencer Joseph

From → Consciousness

  1. That’s a very good post. The need to separate through language creates that false sense of difference that leads one to accept the “I” as different than the “they/you/etc.” However, the silent voice within the mind speaks of “I” as though it were speaking to a “we.” If it were readily accepted that “I” exists and needs to beg the question as further proof of this “I” exists, than it serves that this question does not lead toward supporting evidence of the existence of “I”, but rather disproves that it is what it claims to be. The “I” becomes a “we” and the voice merely expresses that difference. Nice work.

  2. Spencer – we need to talk!!! This article is so in tune with the work I am very connected with at Concord: Let’s talk!

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