At some point or another–whether it was while taking a shower or engaging in a dull conversation– you have probably thought of the possibility that none of this is real. ‘This’, of course, is the reality that we are in and consciously experiencing. This idea is quite common, especially when you think of creative pursuits based of off this idea, such as The Matrix. The details change, the concept remains the same. Although we could talk about this for quite some time going over all of the nuances, I decided to write about what Descartes had to say about the issue. Let’s get to know our Doubting Descartes a little better, first.
Descartes insisted upon Methodological skepticism, in which he would doubt anything that could not be proven true without a doubt. More so, he thought that we should apply this to all of our beliefs that we inanely and naïvely adopted from childhood. Is this extreme? Quite so–but anything to save us from the clutches of a society functioning off of their semi-ossified heads! So Descartes said, but don’t source that…
One of the primary reasons for doubting everything we know is that what we know is based off our senses. Our senses are how we understand the world around us, but we can’t trust them. And so begins Descartes trust issues–and all of your trust issues. Because really, how can you tell you are in a dream? Perhaps what we are experiencing is a dream to a higher reality. What about color-blindness? The types of sight and sensing across animal species? Each experience the world in a different way, neither is true nor false. Our lack of perception shows that the world is not only what we perceive. Look at an insane person; their visions are real to them, but seem crazy to us. So Descartes finds that because we are deceived by our senses, we cannot accept reality to be absolutely positively true.
He also writes about the Evil Genius Argument– the idea that an Evil Genius whose control over everything is so absolute that he could be tricking us about reality. Because it is possibly that the Evil Genius exists, we must doubt everything else.
Except one thing.
Descartes comes up with the Cogito Argument. This essentially states that because he doubts, he IS. Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. Very tricky, Descartes. Very, very tricky. So Descartes now has this one thing that he can count on for his life span. Of course, this thought relies on the principle of non-contradiction. Although we cannot conceive of how something can be and yet not be, it is possible that an Evil Genius, for example, is deceiving us of some reality in which the principle of non-contridiciton does not hold. As long as there is this possibility, I cannot really accept Descartes’ argument. But I’ll go along with it for argument’s sake, just like everything in this world-non-world.
Descartes goes on with his yada yada and soon somehow proceeds to use cogito ergo sum as the basis of proving that God exists.
Yes. Yes, that did escalate quickly.
The main argument is that he clearly and distinctly perceives God, so God exists. Therefore he knows God exists as a non-deceiver, and so he knows that he clearly and distinctly perceives. This is what we call a Cartesian Circle, kids! When you see this shady individual, scream and get to an adult as quickly as you can! There is much more leading up to this argument from the Cogito, which I implore you to research if it wiggles your squiggly-bin–tickles your fancy, catches your interests–so to speak. Because the argument does crumble more than a metaphorical wall in a random hipster indie-song, I did not feel the need to delve into that argument.
So at last, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot trust anything (as if you didn’t already have enough reasons not to trust anything) with the help of our dear friend Descartes. I would like to end with a poem:
~A Completely Arbitrary and Facetious Poem About Descartes but More About Writing Whatever Will Rhyme~
Descartes, oh Descartes
How you make art
With your philosophical musings
and Cartesian coordinate system on chart.
Your reasoning fell apart,
Alas, we must part.