Re: Descartes and the Mind

From: Matsers, Kate (
Date: Thu Oct 19 1995 - 13:36:18 BST

Comments on Foundations of Cognition Seminar 1

> "You all see what I mean. We wouldn't get far if we didn't exclude
> contradictions. I would tell you something (e.g., that Descartes was
> born in 1596) and I would also tell you the opposite (that Descartes
> was NOT born in 1596). That would be nonsense; the only way to make
> sense of the statement that Descartes was born in 1596 is to
> conclude that IF it is true, then it is CERTAIN that the statement
> that Descartes was NOT born in 1596 is false."
> That's what Descartes meant by certainty.! (S. Harnad, 1995).

If we can only be CERTAIN of something given that it is based upon the
condition that we are NOT UNCERTAIN surely the ability to be certain
and thus the ability to doubt can only be conceptualised within the
world in which they were constructed. DOUBT and CERTAINTY have been
constructed as concepts by human thought. But can these concepts be
DOUBTLESS and CERTAIN if we are capable of doubting our existence?

I began writing this as an argument against Cartesian philosophy and
I thought my way into agreeing with him. If we could doubt our own
existence we would be making CERTAINTY self-contradictory which is,
to quote Stevan "a nonsense".

I will need courage to actually send this to Found as I don't want
to appear really stupid. However, this is the thought process I
went through in the last seminar and after reading Stevan's summary
of the seminar because I tend to only accept academic statements as
fact if I cannot doubt them adequately. Pessimistic, huh? (I have
just realised that if I think doubting is pessimistic Descartes must
have seen the world as wrong. That also reminds me of a Moby album
called "Everything is wrong." I am just very glad that I am a happy

> "The reason this is important is because it seems to put something
> extremely subjective and psychological (experience) on a par with
> something that is as objective and UNpsychological as anything can
> be: the truths of mathematics. These are the two things we can be
> certain about: the truths of mathematics and the reality of
> experience. All else is open to doubt." (s. Harnad, 1995)

I also see that it is important for us to interact with each other
as therefore we can juxtaposing the theoretical, academic psychology
with the subjective, social and personal psychology.

I hope that in my commentary above I have included an adequate blend
of personal reflection and academic thought.

Whilst reading Stevan's Cartesian passage I suddenly realised what a
huge task psychology has set itself - although Descartes did his
thinking many years ago our infant science has not progressed very
far from "I exist, now lets find out how and why." A close friend
of mine who is a chemistry student drew the analogy:

"Psychology is such a new science that you are still plonking things
together and seeing what happens as Alchemists did when they wanted
to sort out the Periodic table."

I decided to view this positively a retorted - yes, but it least it
means that each psychologists has the chance to discover a fact and
have their fifteen minutes of fame (was that Warhol or Ike? (Not
that I want to brand them as similar!)) sorry, side-track; the
response I had to this idealistic statement was "Nice idea but
psychologists never discover any facts because they can't quantify
anything realisably".

If philosophers are still uncertain of whether anything exists
except our seeming to experience things, how the **** are we
supposed to tackle the structure and function of, and processes
involved in thinking and seeming to experience. Its a bit like
trying to work out how water comes to the oil when you haven't quite
accepted that the kettle exists - let alone that it has internal
functions and that heat can be transferred!

Am I just a wimp or is psychology possibly one of the most
impossible subjects as nothing is certain?

I have degenerated into waffle now and although I haven't cut and
pasted much of Steven's stuff I have read it all and thought about
it so I hope that my general drivel is of some interest to someone.
I shall try not to treat the next one of these commentaries quite so
much like a late night conversation!


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:55 GMT