Re: Descartes and the Mind

From: Parker, Chris (
Date: Fri Oct 20 1995 - 08:36:13 BST

Here are my comments:
> Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650) was a French philosopher who applied
> what he called the "method of doubt" to everything he thought he knew:
> He would see whether he could be certain about it, and if not, he set it
> aside, to see whether there was something else he could be certain
> about: perhaps there would be nothing at all.

I couldn't stop asking why go to all this trouble, and where was he coming
so I read a little. He seems to have been a very original and independent
thinker (soldier even), in a time of Church control over intellectual
institutions, "currents" of scepticism and attempts to derive theories
of everything. I couldn't help admiring him and was sad that he died
younger than I am now. I found his eventual reconstruction of God and the
external world difficult to understand.

> Arithmetic is based on
> axioms, which we assume to be true. Our assumptions could be false, but
> that does not matter, because when we do a proof it is always
> CONDITIONAL on the truth of the axioms: In mathematics, I never prove
> that something is true "no matter what"; I only prove that it's true IF
> the axioms are true. In fact, the longhand version of a proof, if it
> starts right from the axioms, is always of the form: If the axioms were
> true and this were false, that would create a contradiction (so, this
> must be true!).

If you can't prove axioms, isn't anything that follows cheating?

> Scientific laws are only PROBABLE; they are not certain.
> All the evidence seems to support them, but evidence cannot PROVE them.
> It is not self-contradictory that future evidence should fail to support
> them.

Couldn't you say that scientific parameters are a bit like axioms. Eg the
melting point of a specific substance is always x if it's purity is y and
the pressure is z? Couldn't scientific theory one day explain and exactly
predict this kind of data form crystal structures etc which are fixed?
> Descartes did find that there was one thing left that he could not
> doubt, and that was the fact that he was doubting! His famous "cogito

> > is going on (even if the person having the experience doesn't understand
> > this!). For an experience is of how things SEEM. It is possible that the
> > outside world, for example, IS NOT the way it seems, but it is not
> > possible that it does not SEEM the way it SEEMS. Because seeming is just
> > experiencing. You can doubt what your experience tells you about the
> > way things ARE (and, in the case of, say, hallucinations, you would be
> > right!), but, you cannot (if you are in your right mind, rather than
> > delirious) doubt what your experience tells you about the way things
> > SEEM.
 Is this all saying that doubting can not be doubted
 doubting is experience
 therefore all experience can not be doubted
 but all experience isn't doubt?
> > So where did dualism and the mind/body problem come from? Well, how can
> > you possibly equate something as certain and immediate as experience with
> > something as uncertain and remote as a physical substance? How, in other
> > words, can you give a PHYSICAL explanation of experience?
 I have always felt it was the other way round in practice. How can a mind,
 if it has no physical explanation, operate in a physical world. I don't
 believe there is an homunculus or in the pineal gland interface (was that
 Descartes?), or is there a virtual homunculus in a virtual reality?
 I'm worried that doubt and certainty are just two constructs or categories.
 In practice don't we absolutely have to assume a physical world whatever
 philosophy we seem to believe? Doesn't the idea of conscious experience as
 a property, an currently unexplainable by-product of neuronal processes,
 fit best in the real world, even if we don't like the implications?
 Now I have a horrible feeling I've missed the point saying things like real

Some quotes (based on patients incapable of emotion)
in case they are interesting:

"pure reason is a self-defeating ideal"

"pure reason is a pathological rather than an ideal form of reason"

"Cogito ergo sum is neurophysiologically wrong, since human thinking
cannot exist as pure thinking without bodily experience"


All in the mind. Sven Ove Hansson. Review: of Descartes' Error:
Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. Antonio R Damasio. Picador, 1995.
in The Skeptic, Vol 9, No 4, p 26, 1995.

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