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Telos's avatar

I think therefore I am: Agree or Disagree?

Asked by Telos (54points) July 28th, 2010

Descartes spent a day deeply thinking about all the things he believed, and that which he could doubt. Eventually he came to a single thing he couldn’t possibly doubt.

“Cogito ergo sum”: “I think therefore I am”.

I tried the same experiment (for a much smaller amount of time), and it seems to me that, the thing that is thinking isn’t necessarily “me”. I don’t think I have full control over everything I think, in other words. I may not be the “thinker” writing this at all!

There does seem to be an observer, without opinion and thoughtless, quietly observing it all in the background. I “think” that is what I REALLY am, although I have no idea what it is!
Some kind of Buddhist ‘Ultimate Consciousness’ type thing I suspect.

Anyhow, I am interest in your opinions.
I think therefore I am: Agree or Disagree, and why?

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107 Answers

theichibun's avatar

A rock doesn’t think. And yet the rock is. I think that about covers it.

gorillapaws's avatar

@theichibun the point is that thinking is sufficient for existence, it’s not a necessary condition. See necessary and sufficient conditions to understand why your logic is faulty.

As for the Descartes thing, as you have intuited, only proves that there is a thinking entity, not what that entity is. Descartes continues by assuming there’s a God and that a God isn’t a deceiver, and proceeds to “prove” the existence the world we know from there.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I don’t think Descartes’ point can be rationally disputed. However, I think it is important to point out that the way things seem to be are very different to the way things are. On self-reflection, it is easy to come to the conclusion that there is a central observer in the mind, but the idea cannot be part of the real workings of the mind since it leads to an infinite regression (how does the observer think – with its own observer?). We are self-aware, not self-perceiving.

zophu's avatar

@theichibun Or do you think therefore the rock is? BAM! Blew your mind. Sorta like the gorilla but with less smart-talking.

If it’s not necessarily I think therefore I am, and just there is thought therefore there is a thinking entity then I guess I can’t disagree.

unless. . . Wait! no. . . a magical gas cloud in space generates a simulated intelligence that is then perceived by a true intelligence that can only. . . no cause that would still be thought by the intelligence. . . and what is simulated intelligence if not intelligence? No, something must be thinking, I think. that’s redundant. . . unless intelligence is an illusion . . . which would make illusion an illusion. which would mean it doesn’t matter if intelligence is somehow an illusion because illusion only exists with intelligence so it might as well be assumed that it isn’t even if it could prove itself to be which it probably couldn’t No. Can’t disagree. I think therefore I am.

anartist's avatar

@theichibun but does the rock know it is?
[and Simon or Garfunkel don’t count]

Coloma's avatar


Drop the ‘think’...leave the “I AM.”


I am, we are.

Thinking is the trouble, too much thinking, not enough ‘being.’

Afos22's avatar

He is saying that he is the only thing that he can be sure about being in existence. Everything else may just be a dream. But, because he can think, he knows he’s there. I agree, but not that Descartes is, that I am.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree.

Afos22's avatar

@theichibun You can’t be completely sure that the rock is. It may be the most realistic illusion ever, but there is no way to be absolutely certain

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Afos22 Are you absolutely certain there’s no way to be absolutely certain?

I’m confused therefor I’m not.

Thinking, thinking, thinking… really I am.

zophu's avatar

@Coloma Maybe that is the most valuable conclusion this saying can inspire.

Austinlad's avatar

The only thing I think I’m sure about is:

I think I think; therefore I think I am.

(Note to mods: that was meant to be a serious observation)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies There is no known way to be certain. Reality can be defined in any number of ways, but self-awareness means that the existence of the self transcends all potential levels of reality. The idea of a rock certainly exists in my mind, but beyond that we cannot tell whether the rock exists in any other sense.

dotlin's avatar


I was having a debate with a friend who said “Cogito ergo sum” shows we mush be conscious and I said it only shows we exist not that we are conscious.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I pay taxes therefore I am.

CMaz's avatar

It’s the foundation to ALL logic and reason.

LostInParadise's avatar

Descartes’ line of reasoning is brilliant. It changed the course of philosophy. Still, there is something a little off about it. How can you say, “I doubt my existence.” Who is this I? Doesn’t the use of the term presuppose one’s existence?

I very much like Sartre’s existential interpretation of the cogito, which he wrote in Being and Nothingness, and which gets around this problem. In Sarte’s view, the ability to negate is at the heart of consciousness. He said that if all we did was to perceive, then we would have no sense of ourselves as distinct from the rest of the world. Sartre said that consciousness begins with the ability to negate what we perceive, so that we become aware of ourselves through this doubting process.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz technically, this isn’t the foundation of all logic and reason. Those are the laws of thought. Descartes is the foundation of all epistemology.

@Coloma not to be a contrarian asshole, but I think the problem in this world is not ENOUGH thinking.

CMaz's avatar

@gorillapaws – In order to have “laws of thought”, you need to be self aware.
Otherwise it is just instinct to survive.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz technically, you can’t have thought without them, therefore no awareness. You need the laws of thought in place before you can come to the logical conclusion that Descartes does.

In theory, the laws of thought would still apply even if there were no one to exercises them. In that sense, they are even more fundamental.

CMaz's avatar

“technically, you can’t have thought without them”
It is thought that brings them on.

“In theory, the laws of thought would still apply even if there were no one to exercises them.”
There by not being thought.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it. Does it still make a sound?
No. You have to hear a sound to identify it.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz “It is thought that brings them on.” That’s not quite true. They exist apriori. They are called the laws of thought, but do not require someone actually thinking to exist. Just like the number 129898453734896223423624625634573745682462967055626234124574 exists without actually being thought of by someone at a given moment in time.

CMaz's avatar

Exists because through self awareness and thought you come identify, then create it.

You keep putting the cart before the horse.

It is only when we see significance in something does it have significance.

I think therefore I am, is the first step. Once we look in the mirror and see ourselves as individuals. I am. Then we ask, how and why? Everything else follows after that.

gorillapaws's avatar

So you’re saying that the concept represented by the token “129898453734896223423624625634573745682462967055626234124574” didn’t exist before there were minds to think it up? The concept of redness didn’t exist before life evolved to have eyes capable of perceiving redness from black or white? The planets didn’t obey gravity prior to newton understanding what it was?

CMaz's avatar

Yep. Because it did not matter and had no significance.

Has it bothered you today or have you given it any thought that I was sitting out in 90 degree weather? Have you given it any thought before I made you aware of it?
Was there any significance to it? Which would be no, since you were not aware of it till I made you aware of it.

And, that is pretty much what it is about.

I think therefore I am is a state of mind.

Planets obeying gravity, redness in eyes. Have no meaning or perception of existence till you make them so.

It does not matter if they or it REALLY does exist. If it does not matter.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz ”...Have no meaning or perception of existence till you make them so.”

I completely agree

But these laws precede even something as basic as meaning. The law that something can exist, the law that it can’t exist and not exist at the same time and the law that any particular thing (out of the infinite set of all possible things) either exists or doesn’t exist is absolutely fundamental to the nature of reality.

You can’t reason that “you think therefore you are” without logic. You can’t have logic without those fundamental laws. I’m not sure how to explain why any more clearly than that.

If those laws aren’t true then reality itself cannot exist which would make the rest of it a moot point.

CMaz's avatar

“If those laws aren’t true then reality itself cannot exist which would make the rest of it a moot point.”
Those laws only exist, because you given them existence.
I am not saying that they are not true. I am just saying without significance it does not matter and truth becomes a moot and insignificant point.

Reality itself is a state of mind.

LostInParadise's avatar

@ChazMaz , I am having trouble seeing your point. If you are saying that laws only exist per se as laws because we perceive them, I am in agreement. However, we can not arbitrarily make up the rules. They have to have independent existence for them to be perceived. It is an interesting philosophical and psychological question as to how we come to perceive some of these laws. How do we sense time? How do we come to understand the concept of causality?

Frenchfry's avatar

Ummmm What happens when I am not thinking? I don’t exist. I am dead?

Telos's avatar


How does a human being deeming something “significant” effect its existence? Its significance to anyone is only one aspect of it’s existence, relative to that person.
It’s solipsistic to assume that because you are ignorant of something, it doesn’t exist.

Are you a solipsist?

>If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
*Yes: We can measure it in the vibrations it’s imprinted in the dirt surrounding it.
>But if nobody is ever around to EVER see any evidence of the sound, did it exist?
*Yes: Every cause has an effect, which is in turn a cause, into infinite. The tree falling was a small cause necessary to the continued existence of the Universe, in some infinitesimal way, forever.

That is UNLESS you want to claim the Universe is inconsistent somehow; which I don’t think you could possibly prove, as all evidence points toward consistency… but it would be interesting to hear you try.

Frenchfry's avatar

Through meditiation you can reach a point where you are not thinking.
Clear your mind. My point
Then I don’t exit?
I think existance is not through your brain “thinking”
but rather through your soul

zophu's avatar

@Frenchfry Or do you think you’re not thinking?

Frenchfry's avatar

You can be brain dead but still stay alive.
I think I am thinking too much about ths question..
LOL I am giving myself a headache.

Afos22's avatar

@Frenchfry Unless you don’t think ‘your soul’ exists..

Frenchfry's avatar

I believe in the soul,but that’s whole other topic.

mattbrowne's avatar


I feel therefore I am.

“The critical role of the emotions in ensuring our survival and allowing us to think. Feeling, it turns out, is not the enemy of reason, but, as Spinoza saw it, an indispensable accomplice.”

“Dr. Damasio is at the forefront of what neuroscientists are calling an ’‘affect revolution’’ that is turning decades of scientific wisdom on its head and reverberating through other fields as well.”

“When Dr. Damasio presented his findings in ‘Descartes’ Error,’ the book was greeted as a breakthrough. (An international best seller, it has been translated into 24 languages.) ’‘It’s one thing to have a speculative theory about the role of reason and the role of emotions,’’ said Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California in San Diego. ’‘For the first time, his lab really showed’’ that ’‘you can’t shut off all the emotions from rational decision-making.”

Berserker's avatar

Maybe I’m not actually real (You all wish.) but if I think I am, despite not being real, then in that way I am.

Frenchfry's avatar

@Symbeline Wow repeat that five times fast.

Coloma's avatar

Our ‘being’ has nothing to do with thinking or feeling. It just is.
We just are.

Animals think and feel as well. Their thinking may be somewhat less complex than ours, but, even this is not always true. Alex, the infamous African grey parrot was proven to use the right words for the right co-corresponding emotional response.

Upon being left at the vets by his owner he exclaimed ” I love you, don’t go!”

This implies he had the cognitive ability to express complex emotion through words and to apply them in regards to the emotive situation.

To imply that our only reason for existing is our ability to think is rediculous IMO.

Feeling our beingness comes closer to the truth, even so, feeling still does not convey the essence of the ‘I am.’

Beingness goes beyond thought and feeling.

It is the ‘isness’ that defies catagorizing.

The ’ just this’ of being.

Descartes saying is the quip that began it all…the divisionary split between science and spirit.

Thinking is but a mere cognitive function and cannot touch the truth of beingness.

Stilling the mind is the essence of all meditative practice, and through the stillness of mind we access the truth of being.

CMaz's avatar

How does a human being deeming something “significant” effect its existence?”
Because our existence, is only significant knowing we existent. Otherwise we just exist, without a reference to it.

“It’s solipsistic to assume that because you are ignorant of something, it doesn’t exist.”
Ignorance has nothing to do with it. Don’t let you own insecurity get the best of you.

Any thought of reason is a “I think therefore I am” perspective.

“To imply that our only reason for existing is our ability to think is ridiculous IMO.”
I totally agree. But, our ability to think enables us to have reason for existence.

Does your dog (or cat) function because it knows physics? Does logic have anything to do with their living in the now. Do they even perceive that they exist?

I think some of you are seeing our knowledge of existence as a material form. That weather we know of its existence or not. It is still there and it is still real.
The physical world that we live in, is only seen as physical. Because we perceive ourselves as objects within that world.

I say, without self awareness. It does not matter. We are just part of the biological process of life. That being all that is needed to get by.

But then we think, and there we are. Standing before a whole new world, unfolding before us.

Coloma's avatar


I agree…our existence goes far beyond thought and material form.

Yep, self awareness and living in the now, not the mind, is my preferential way of ‘being.’

There is much more than meets the eye on the level of the eyes comprehension and much more that the human mind cannot make sense of.

Afos22's avatar

@mattbrowne Do you have to think to feel?

Coloma's avatar

Thinking happens, feeling happens, being just IS.

gorillapaws's avatar

Some of you guys are really missing the point. Descartes isn’t talking about “how to live your life” or anything like that. His conclusion is a logically sound defeat of radical skepticism that claimed we can’t know anything. Read his Discourse on the Method, and you’ll understand what he’s up to.

Telos's avatar

@ChazMaz I don’t think you understand what I meant by “ignorance”, as your response was more of a reflexive insult than an argument. I was responding to your attitude that “Reality itself is a state of mind.”

Your writing implies that you think things only exist OBJECTIVELY because you have a concept of them, and if you don’t have knowledge of them, they don’t exist… that is solipsism. Ignorance=not knowing (aka: having a concept of) something.

If you are speaking subjectively though, you are right. If you don’t have a concept of something, it dosen’t exist in your particular subjective experience of reality. Objective/Subjective is an important distinction.

@Coloma I think Being” is where the subjective meets the objective. Instead of the models of reality in our heads, we experience ‘being’ reality itself, which is the only truth.

In this sense, I guess, everything is being. But do we clump it all together into one non-dual “I” which is everything, or are we still individual egos within being?

@gorillapaws Descartes is just the starting point in the question evolving towards figuring out what “I” is… as others have said, saying “I” implies existence already even without thought. (And of course we have to describe the terms before we can understand the statement and evaluate its validity in the first place, right?)

Is “I” being? and therefore a rock is “I” to the rock? Or is ALL reality “being” and therefore the “I” we experience is reality itself? our physical bodies? our minds? What is “I”?

Coloma's avatar


Yes, but he identifies thinking as the reason for human existence.

He missed the ‘truth’ by eons.

Identifying with the logical thinking mind is not the truth of our being.

Truth lies outside the thinking mind in the connection to the ethereal, not over identifying with thought forms which is merely brain activity.


Agreed 100%

your comment to me.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Coloma where does Descartes ”...identif[y] thinking as the reason for human existence?”

@Telos I didn’t realize you wanted a discussion on the solution to philosophy of mind. I haven’t heard a satisfying solution from any camp. Dualism has major issues with causality, physicalism/materialism has issues with free will (which aren’t necessarily deal breakers in-and-of-themselves) that make it counter-intuitive. And the Buddhist stuff is mostly incomprehensible and guilty of the vagueness fallacy.

Coloma's avatar


‘I think therefore I AM.”

Coloma's avatar

I lean towards non-dualism….the interconnectedness of everything, regardless of thinking ability.

This is THE fundemental connection imo.

Buddhism is only vague to those that cannot get out of their heads and feel the truth.

Okay…gotta go…daylights burning and I am done thinking, going down to the river to ‘be’ in the sun and water.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Coloma “I think therefore I AM” does not state anything about purpose. You’re seriously misunderstanding Descartes if that’s how you’re reading the quote. Have you ever read Discourse on the Method? I think if you had, you would realize that Descartes isn’t talking about purpose there.

Coloma's avatar

@gorillapaws @gorillapaws

I’m not interpreting it as purpose.

I just ‘think’ it is backwards.

It should be ” I am, therefore I think” lol

I have not read the entire Discourse, but, I have listened to Eckhart Tolles interpretaion of Descartes in his work ” A new earth” and think he has it down.

Each to his own ey? ;-)

I’ll ponder this furthur while I float on my inner tube this afternoon. lol

gorillapaws's avatar

@Coloma you should give it a read (it’s only 29 pages). Enjoy your float.

CMaz's avatar

I don’t need OR EVER DID need to understand what Descartes intention was.
To understand… I think therefore I am.

It is common scene. Unless you just want to beat it to death.
This is one of those times when being outside the box looking in does not help you.

“that is solipsism. Ignorance=not knowing”
Ignorance is a comparison between what you (think) YOU know and what another does not. Then putting a label on it.
Having nothing to do with this discussion. As far as I am concerned.

Having no relevance, if you are not self aware. You keep making self aware statements to defend your hypothesis. If you cant see it, fine with me. :-)

Every observation you make, reinforces my reasoning. Because no matter what point you wish to make. Its founded by you looking in the mirror at yourself.
Pondering what it is you are seeing. Self awareness is everything.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Coloma I think you’ve missed Descartes’ point. You don’t know that you exist, except because you think. Sure, there is probably a lot more to being than pure thought, but a housefly does not know the extent of its being because it is not self-aware. Thought is the only known evidence of our own existence.

Coloma's avatar


No, I didn’t miss his point.

I get it.

But…thinking does not make ones existence any more or any less simply because we are aware of it.

The housefly is more fully PRESENT in it’s beingness than any human, because it does NOT think. lol

Thinking is the enemy of being.

zophu's avatar

@Coloma Enemy’s a strong word to use there, but yeah.

Maybe it has more to do with the difference between understanding and true comprehension. Thinking can be one with being.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Coloma I’m not sure I understand your point. When you see a housefly for the first time, you form an idea of what a housefly looks like. When you hear it, you add to that the idea of what it sounds like, and when you touch it you form an idea of what it feels like. Lets hope you never gain an idea of what it tastes like! These conceptions add up to form your idea of what a housefly is – but how do you know you didn’t construct it yourself in your own mind? You only have the concept of what it is, nothing more.

To know that it exists beyond the concept, you must become a housefly. Since that is impossible though, you can only ever know that you yourself exist beyond the conceptual level, since you can only ever be what you are.

So how can thought, or self-awareness, be the enemy of existence? Do you mean that we exist to a lesser extent than a housefly?

Coloma's avatar

Actually no.

But you are getting close to understanding my sharings.

You do not have to become the fly, but you do have to drop the concept of ‘fly’ and all that has been programmed into your mind about what a fly is. ( dirty, a pest, noisy, diseased, etc. ) To be fully present with the fly does not becoming the fly…although, in an advanced atate of consciousness that might occur. ( ideally it would lol )

A great excercise in consciousness beyond thought is to simply LOOK at something, anything, and drop the conceptual labeling.

It is only then that one is fully present with the is-ness of another being, whether a flower or a fly, beyond thought, simply taking in the magnificence of that being/object in it’s totality.

Thinking prevents presence. And presence is our essence, not thought.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Coloma , What you are talking about is mindfulness, but there can be no mindfulness without a mind. A housefly is an automaton. It is true that it just is, but the same could be said of a rock.

Coloma's avatar


Of course.

It is hard to find words that express beingness, if one has not had experience of such.

I am speaking of going beyond mind, so actually that would not be mindfulness but mind-less-ness. lol

zophu's avatar

@Coloma I think being is more than thought, but that thought is a part of being; whether thought is necessary or not for being isn’t something to think about. That’s where I keep ending up. When thought questions its own necessity—it’s own existence—that’s when thought is done. Thought therefore is.

Not something to hold as dogma, even if it is the most basic principle, but it does seem like it’s the basic principle for a lot of things.

What you are talking about, I think, is thought that is harmonious with immediate being. It’s not not-thought, it’s the truest thought—because it’s in live feedback with the current existence.

But we still need our old thoughts, that are dependent upon memory that is by comparison of true awareness, stagnant. This less trueness, though, does not truly make this kind of thought lesser than the truer thought. It’s another part of the whole for now.

Coloma's avatar


I hear you.

I am speaking of a still mind, and what we expereince in stillness is the truth of our being.

Of course thought is part of being, in beings normative state which is mostly unconscious. lol

Then there is thoguht in congruence with being, and yet then…no thought.

No thought, stillness of mind, would be the highest possible level of tapping into the collective. truth of our existence.

Never ‘mind’ it’s getting too hard to explain now…time for a sunset moment and no thought. ;-)

zophu's avatar

@Coloma I’ve thought before that if intelligence were to figure everything out, it would just be everything.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Coloma I think I understand what you’re saying now. I regularly use this exercise in regard to other people – he is not a fat, boisterous idiot, he is a man with a slow metabolism who does not know how best to express the wonderful ideas that possess his mind.

I’m not sure how this relates to existential debates on the nature of existence though. Descartes’ statement is about stripping existence down to its fundamental nature, and does not deal with the way preconceptions colour our perception. Your posts seem to relate more to the way something behaves and how we form judgements about it more than the debate over whether or not it exists.

Coloma's avatar




I am not sure of how to interpret your sharings, sincere or sarcastic?

Coloma's avatar


Stripping down existence to t’s fundementell nature means stripping away thought and simply basking in beingness.

Does the ocean think about it’s volume or does it absorb every drop of rain into it’s beingness?

Afos22's avatar

Give it a break guys. It’s in the general section for crying out loud. Just answer the question. Explain how you agree or disagree, and stop dismissing others opinions.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Coloma I generally try to talk straight online, since you cannot convey tone of voice or emphasis.

@Afos22 Why would you deny us a little healthy discussion? If you don’t like it, you are not compelled to participate.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Afos22 – No, you have to feel to be able to think.

CMaz's avatar

I’m feeling myself right now.

Coloma's avatar


No complaints, just an observation, I am usually pretty good at intuiting others vibes, you can be a bit hard to channel. No offense intended. ;-)

LostInParadise's avatar

@mattbrowne , It is true that we must feel in order to think, but feeling is not sufficient. Dogs and cats have emotions and perhaps animals lower in the evolutionary chain, but none of them have self-awareness. Our thinking brain is built on top of our lower so called reptilian brain.

zophu's avatar

I think this is more to do with the limits of thought than the definition of existence. Though, it may define a limit to that definition.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@zophu More specifically, I think it relates to the limits of absolute knowledge. Existence is the result.
What is the greatest amount of knowledge we can possess and never doubt? That we exist.

zophu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Don’t doubt my ability to doubt things. Reasonably doubted, though. I can doubt it with reason; but I can’t reasonably say that it can be reasonably doubted, that we exist. I still think it’s ultimately a pragmatic thing and not an absolute truth deal. May be the least foolish absolute truth to hold, but I don’t think it should be as held as such—not all the time at least. Maybe just when anything is held as knowledge, this could be held.

I guess that’s the point.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

“I do not exist.”
“Then what am I?”
“Nothing; ‘I’ does not exist.”
“Then what is thinking these thoughts?”
“Thoughts are the result of a collective cognition, not any particular Self.”
“Then surely this collective cognition can compose the self, and I am the one thinking.”
“I already told you, ‘I’ (or the Self) does not exist.”

Sorry, but I’m really not convinced that the existence of the self can be convincingly doubted without having yourself declared clinically insane.

Telos's avatar

@Chazmaz Once again, by ignorance I meant “uninformed; unaware. ” Which is it’s definition and it fits exactly my point so I use it… If we all had to write for other people’s preconceived notions of words, general understanding would be impossible. The rest of your comment reads like you’re just trying to fortify your previously held beliefs without trying to actually argue a point.. so no reply from me.

@Zophu Deep stuff man. Very thought provoking.

@Everyone Thanks for great replies, sorry I posted in general, it should probably have been in social, or reworded (I think therefor I am, what is I?), mod contacted me and they’ll be swapping it over soon.

zophu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Moderate use of insanity can be useful in existential thinking. It’s the moderation that’s the hard part.

LostInParadise's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh , You have to understand Descartes’ full argument. He wanted to know what he could be sure of. He found that he could take an solipsistic stance and deny the existence of everything but himself. He then realized, for just the reasons that you gave, that he could not deny his own existence. Perhaps he should have said, “I doubt therefore I am.” This fits nicely into Sartre’s characterization of consciousness as a “hole in being.” We know that we are, but we don’t know what we are.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@LostInParadise I must’ve missed something. Which post of mine are you referring to?

LostInParadise's avatar

“I do not exist.”
“Then what am I?”
“Nothing; ‘I’ does not exist.”

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@LostInParadise I see, thanks. “We know that we are, but we don’t know what we are.”
Although Descartes’ original statement aims to establish being rather than to address the nature of being, it does follow that ‘I’ is a thinking agent since thought is what establishes the existence of the Self. Of course knowledge of the Self beyond this is a construct, not an undeniable truth, and is not part of Descartes’ concern.

LostInParadise's avatar

Exactly, but I think it is interesting how Sartre interpreted existentialism as an extension of Descartes.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@LostInParadise Do you have a link for that? I’d be interested to read more of his ideas.

LostInParadise's avatar

Sorry, no link. What I know of Sartre I got from his writing, particularly Being and Nothingness, where he discusses Descartes. If you read the book, be prepared to do a lot of skimming. It is Sartre’s most important work, but definitely not the best written. It is in serious need of editing. It is also unnecessarily solipsistic and pessimistic, particularly his discussions of human relationships.

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – Yes, a necessary condition, but not sufficient.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned language as a necessary requirement for thinking. No thought may be thunk without a language structure to think that thought upon.

That’s why Washington University Cognitive Studies department has no less than 70 different language tests to determine a patients cognitive awareness.

In the beginning was The Word. And the Word became flesh.

Go ahead, try it. Try and think about anything without forming a sentence or an image about it in your mind. Yes, even images are a form of codified image/object relationship… Can you say “pictogram”? It’s dualism at it’s finest. Thinking occurs when an image in the mind represents a theoretical or observable phenomenon. Observational Awareness alone is not thinking. Staring at something doesn’t justify that being called thinking. But form an image of that object in your mind, and think your little heart out.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Not thinking requires all images and sentences to disappear from the mind.

And even thinking about nothing-ness (like a void), we still tend to imagine an image of a big empty black space in our minds.

Image/Object relationship = Thinking.

zophu's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Perhaps an intelligent creature without any senses at all would still have language to think developed from only the basic physiological structure of its brain.

I feel that I have thoughts that aren’t word or image based. They are the thoughts that connect the words and images. Perhaps that is some kind of internal form of sense? One thought senses another thought, and so on? Maybe sensing is more synonymous with creating . . . brain hurts.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Is language really necessary? It is obviously helpful, but I regularly have thoughts that are not word strings or images, and if someone asks me to express what I am thinking it takes quite a while to transform them into a format I can verbalise.

zophu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I’m having trouble with that as well. But Reelyz probably has a definition of language that is far beyond our mere mortal understandings. Trying to get him to explain further without pissing him off by disagreeing with him.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@zophu @FireMadeFlesh

What ju guys are describing is what I call Pure Experiential Awareness. A phenomenon is upon you, either theoretical or observable. I wouldn’t label that as actually thinking about it. No language necessary. I used to believe it relied upon simple sensory perception. However, after considering the research of Wes Warren (St. Louis University), I believe this sensory perception is somehow tied in to how it reacts with the ncRNA. These legacy genes are responsible for turning off our evolved heritage. For instance, our ancient primate olfactory genes are fully expressed within them, yet they are turned off. It is the learned attributes of our primitive ancestors which has been encoded into our genome over time. I suggest these are still accessible, in the manner of representing our natural fear of large fanged animals, or our natural inclination to befriend fire, etc…

Wes Warren has discovered that these very genes are responsible for engaging the language centers in song bird finches. These genes actually control whether or not the song bird’s brain will engage the speaking centers. The implications for this are primary to humans, for song birds are specifically studied because of our nearly identical ncRNA pathways to the brain.

So, upon the pinnacle of Pure Experiential Awareness, I propose the senses interact with the ncRNA, giving some the sense that actual thinking is taking place, when in fact, the ncRNA is merely at the point of being engaged, or not. It occurs at that pinnacle moment where the natural body reactive properties are teetering upon fight, flight, or invite. You label it as a type of sense, and rightly so. It is a natural inclination to move away or move towards the phenomenon. But actually thinking about it, requires us to attempt some form of description.

Imagine you are witnessing the first Sunrise. You don’t know what it is. Your first reaction is one of fight, flight, or invite. Your senses lead this process. But thinking requires descriptions of “warm, big, round, yellow”. That’s a little thinking. More thinking requires more description of “in the eastern sky, rising above the horizon, piercing through the clouds”.

Days later, when the phenomenon has gone, we may continue to think, and we do this with further descriptions of “carried upon a chariot, meeting her in the sky, casting jealous shadows upon the foolish fiends below”. Well that’s how the poet would think about the phenomenon. But the mathematician would have thought by collecting data, and then analyze with further calculations later. Both Poet and Mathematician are accomplishing this with language.

The larger a beings vocabulary, the greater the thinking capacity one achieves. A toddler can only think to the degree of “ball, red, bouncy, round”. But an adult can think to the degree of “30% off at WalMart, Toxic Properties, Polymers, Rubber Trees, Air Pressure, and Lives in the Corner of the Room”.

A Bee can think and be consciously aware of something only to the degree that his limited figure 8 waggle dance may encode and decode for distance, direction, wind drift, and quality of pollen. But he has nothing in his lexicon to allow thinking about a coffee cup. He literally cannot think about it. He’s not even aware of it beyond there being a thing, and he probably can’t even understand concepts of thing. But the sugar on the rim of the cup gives him cause for reacting in fight, flight, or invite.

I know you’re tired of hearing this, but the sugar and the bee are simple cause/reaction. No thinking involved. But the pollen harvest and the bee is language based and a clear case of thought/action, for we have deciphered the figure 8 waggle, and we know what it encodes for.

zophu's avatar

But wouldn’t it still be correct to say “Pure Experiential Awareness” is a part of thinking? Would it be incorrect to say that linguistic-thinking is awareness, of awareness? Perhaps several layers of awareness, each deeper level exponentially increasing the speed of consciousness until you enter Limbo where you could spend decades trapped in your own mind. Sorry, just saw Inception. Great movie. But you see my point. Several layers of cause/reaction, each exponentially increasing in complexity to make thought/action.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Thus far, I am unaware of any mechanism that suggests several layers of cause/reaction can lead to any form of thought/action whatsoever. Unless of course, the internet is actually thinking, and I’m simply unaware of it.

I don’t believe that thinking is reducible to a simple series of triggers and switches. Thinking involves considering and describing the implications of meaning which we assign to those triggers and switches.

LostInParadise's avatar

Language is not necessary for thinking. I remember reading about experiments done with chimpanzees showing their ability to reason. In one experiment, a chimp was put in a cage and was given two pieces of a rod that interlocked. In order to reach a piece of fruit outside the cage, it had to put the two pieces of rod together. The experimenter reported that the chimp was still for a few moments, as if concentrating, and then assembled the rods and got the fruit. Although we humans rely pretty heavily on language for thinking, it is possible to solve certain puzzles by imagining the manipulation of the components.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Perhaps, as @zophu suggested, I should expand upon my definition of language. I consider language as any form of image/object relationship. And I propose that it arose from our ability to throw an object.

Throwing requires that we must predict an outcome. We must project an image in our mind (image) forward to a result in the near future (object). This is no different than the monkeys envisioning reaching the fruit, envisioning a tool, envisioning constructing and using the tool, and finally manifesting them as material realities. It wasn’t done on the fly. It was first envisioned (image) and then manifest (object). A very primitive form of language no doubt, but dualism at its finest nonetheless.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The monkey planned the event. Plans are codified instructions (language), even if only within his mind.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Does the subconscious have a language? So often a problem can be posed and an answer found without any clear conscious path between the two. The subconscious evidently followed such a path, but since the operations were performed in the subconscious we do not necessarily know what that path was. It takes a greater degree of concentration to bring that path into the conscious experience.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Without defining subconscious, I’m not sure we can communicate effectively. I have no doubt that you and I may have very different opinions as to what that is, or even if it is.

The closest I could relate to a subconscious, would be something like instinct. I don’t know, maybe it could be gut feeling. If such an agent actually exists, if asked, I would suppose it to only function with a form of proto-language structure… perhaps the ncRNA that I spoke of earlier. I really don’t know.

“It takes a greater degree of concentration to bring that path into the conscious experience.”

I agree. But I’d still have to claim that descriptive language is the mechanism which allows it.

A therapist clearly asks questions, encouraging the patient to describe their most inner feelings. They dig it out and build it word by word, just like bricks building a viewable structure which can be named and identified… with language.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

The brain is capable of multiple strands of processing, but the conscious experience is limited so that we can only be aware of a few of these. Let us say I am trying to figure out who an anonymous present is from. It would be quite slow and tedious to list all potential candidates one by one and compare the present to my relationship with them. Rather, I would consider the present and it would remind me of a particular person. For it to remind me of that person though, I wouldn’t need to stand there saying “the present is intended to be amusing, and Uncle Freddy has always enjoyed joking around with me.” First it would remind me of Uncle Freddy, and then the more I thought the more reasons why it would be him would become apparent.

Language is certainly the tool by which we bring things into the conscious experience, but the initial process of forming a mental relationship between the present and Uncle Freddy is performed outside the conscious experience, quite possibly without the aid of language. Language allows expression, but what does it express? Using your revised definition of a language I have no problem with your claims though, since any form of information transfer could be called a language. However, I do not always think in English, or in fact any system of regular encoding (where impression A always represents thought X or Y) that I am aware of.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Interesting that you and @LostInParadise came at it from opposite angles.

His monkeys envision image (results) first, then manifest object later… demonstrates planning.

Yours requires impression A (object) first, and thought X later… demonstrates description.

Either way, talking about it demonstrates we are thinking about it.

I like the example of Uncle Freddie

LostInParadise's avatar

I think it makes sense to distinguish use of formal language from others types of reasoning. Formal language with its grammatical structure and words for abstraction is capable of expressing ideas that can not be formed in other ways.

Most people have not heard of Ludwig Wittgenstein, but he is regarded, at least among philosophers, as the most important philosopher of the 20th century. Wittgenstein emphasized the interplay of thought and language. He is famous and controversial for saying that there can be no private language, which would argue against use of the term language for subconscious thinking.

SVTSuzie's avatar

Completely disagree. I always thought that was the dumbest statement ever, ever!

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Well that settles that.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@SVTSuzie Do you have any reasons for saying that?

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