A Conversation for "Cogito ergo sum" is a non-statement.

Writing Workshop: A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 1

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking


I have allways thought Descartes' statement didn't give a lot of info, so I tried to prove it is empty using somewhat twisted logic.
I'm not sure it follows all the rules for PR, so I start here.
NB. The original title was 'The fallacy of "Cogito Ergo Sum"', maybe I must change it back.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 2


As it stands, this makes a reasonable funny article ridiculing the statement "I think, therefore I am". As such, it is unlikely to ever get into the edited guide, but is quite suitable for the unedited guide, but I think from reading it that you have entirely missed the point of what he was saying. I think, therefore I am is the only statement that you can deduce about existance. everything after that is based upon supositions, of one sort or another. you can quite easily prove to yourself that you exist, but it is imposible to prove that anyone else exists. they could just as easily be a good vr simulation, or an acid trip. The reason that the stuff was said in latin, was because latin was the language of science at the time, in the same way that english is at the moment.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 3

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

I did not expect it to get into the edited guide, seeing what was rejected.
Maybe I deliberatly missed his point, otherwise my entry could not be made.
I can go further than you. From the statement "I think" you cannot logically deduce "I am", only "I am thinking". The rest of my existence is guesswork, and can also be virtual reality. Also I can ask myself: "Did the universe exist before I started thinking?" and "Will the universe be gone when I die?". In fact, the ultimate creationist view. I do not think I will put this kind of deep philosophy in the entry.

About latin as the language of science, I assumed calling it the language of the church would be enough, but that stopped with the reformation. I will see if I can incorporate it.
Anyhow, thanks for the input.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 4


From 'I think', I cannot get to 'I am'? Well is it possible for something (I in this case) to think but not exist? Doesn't sound reasonable to me.

In the article, the bit about getting from I existing to other people existing - this is the really hard bit. Talking to philosophers about this, they tell me that although solipsism isn't really disprovable, it's generally seen as self defeating and a bit of a deadend. But its certainly not dismissable in a paragraph.

Also from the article: "People are, which contains no usefull information at all, since this was known from the beginning."

That's not true. Descartes started with the absolute minimum assumptions (basically none), and tried to derive the existence of everything from that point. He didn't start by assuming that other people exist - that was one of the things he was trying to prove.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 5

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Indeed I do not see the logical step why my thinking especially makes my existence. My senses tell me about a lot of existing things that may or may not be thinking. I even can imagine entities that do not exist in the normal sense of the word, but seem to think: the cases where people are sure that the mind leaves the body and starts traveling for some time on its own.

My article was not meant to become a deep philosophical discussion on the meaning of existence. In that case I would have written something completely different.
But I do have a intriguing question. Descartes must have been a very little baby that had not yet started to think. Did he exist allready then or had his existence to wait until he started to think about his existence? If he allready existed, what has thinking then to do with it?
I get more and more the idea he didn't think at all when he uttered that statement.

For the sentence "People are", or "people exist", it was quite obvious to everyone except maybe some whacky philosophers, that people indeed do exist in the normal sense of the word. They didn't have to think about that.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 6


"My senses tell me about a lot of existing things that may or may not be thinking."

Yes, those other things may or may not be thinking, thats not the point. The point is that there is one thing (you) that you absolutely *know* is thinking, because you're the one thinking. The step from here to knowing you exist relies on the fact (I think it's pretty unobjectionable though you may disagree) that if you have something doing something (in this case thinking) then it must exist. The idea of a thing doing something and at the same time not existing seems nonsensical. So if you accept these things then you have to accept that you exist.

In the case of out-of-body experiences, if it is indeed the case that the mind is leaving the body, and thinking outside the body, then the mind does exist, and it exists outside the body. The debate is if the mind leaves the body in the first place, not (I would think) in asking if, given it has left the body, it exists.

Descartes was not a baby when he wrote his meditations. He was trying to find out what he could be absolutely certain of, and the first thing he found he was absolutely certain of was that he was thinking, swiftly followed by the fact that he existed. He could not be absolutely certain to start with that (for example) other people existed, because they might be hallucinations, or products of his imagination, or whatever.

It is possible for something to be true but for one to not be absolutely certain that it is true. So before he wrote his meditations, presumably he existed but was not entirely certain of it. The issue was of what he could be absolutely certain was true, not what was actually true. Of course he thought other people existed, but thinking something is true is different from being absolutely certain that it is true.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 7

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

It is getting worse and worse. Descartes was not sure he existed, whatever all his sense were telling him, and then he started thinking and thought: Yes I am thinking and so my whole existence I still had my doubts about must be true after all?
This seemes to prove that it is true there is sometimes little difference between a philosopher and a nutcase.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 8


Well, this is philosophy - it gets pretty detached from everyday common sense stuff smiley - smiley. But if someone asks, "How do you know you exist?" what do you say? Is it just a silly question, is it just obvious that you exist? Why is it obvious?

If I recall correctly, Descartes got to the point of asking if he existed, by asking what things there were that he knew were absolutely true, and started throwing out things like the existence of other people, the existence of the fire he appeared to be sitting in front of (reminiscent of the ruler of the universe in, um, either 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe' or 'Life, the Universe and Everything'), eventually anything his senses told him at all, and then he got to asking if he himself existed. So he wasn't trusting his senses to tell him things that are absolutely true (which is reasonable I think) at that point. From that point of view, the question of your own existence seems to me to be a reasonable one to ask.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 9

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Maybe I must get serious for once.smiley - winkeye
We have talked a lot about existence, but I have not the least idea how to define "existence". What properties must an entity have to be able to say "Yes, this entity does exist". Thinking is not enough, for then we can disqualify most of the universe.

To get a bit more mathematical, we are looking for a set of elements that have the property "existence". Also there is another set, containing elements with the property "thinking". smiley - zen

What Descartes says, is that the set of thinking elements is a complete subset of the set of existing elements. The problem is, he only assumes it, he does not prove it. To prove it, he may have to prove that there is no element in the thinking set, that is also in the complement of the existing set; or in other words, the set of entities that have the thinking property but not the existence property, is empty.smiley - weird
Unless someone can prove this to me, I do not accept his assumption as proof.
There is more. If we have a good and complete definition of existence, we probably can use that to prove our existence, so we do not need the extra of thinking.

Maybe I should use some parts of this discussion in the entry, it may qualify then for the edited guide as being so wackey it must be serious.smiley - biggrin

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 10


Thinking is sufficient for something to exist, but not necessary. In other words, finding out that something thinks is enough to show that it exists (Descartes would say, and it seems reasonable to me), but finding that something doesn't think is not enough to allow us to conclude that it doesn't exist. Its a single way implication:

'thinking => existing'

This is not the same as:

'thinking <=> existing'

Which would indeed allow us to say that most of the universe doesn't exist.

So...I think our difference is that you don't accept that
thinking => existing

...or that you haven't seen a proof of it right?
Well I outlined the nearest thing to a proof of it that I know of in posting 6: That the idea of something doing something (in this case thinking) and yet not existing is nonsensical. It would be the same for doing something else - for example if you knew that a bird is flying, then it must exist, for how could it do something (fly) while not existing? The difficulty then in showing that the bird does exist is at the start - how do you know it is flying? In the case of your own thinking, that difficulty isn't there - you know you're thinking, for how could you ask the question of if you are thinking without thinking?

Do you accept that if something is doing something, then it must exist?

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 11


You seem to be deliberately misinterpreting what the 'I' in 'I think therefore I am' is. He didn't prove the existence of Rene Descartes, he merely demonstrated that if there's thinking going on then there must be something there to doing the thinking and that this entity can therefore conclude it exists. Thus I can prove to myself I exist but I can prove it to no-one else because even if you posit that this other person does exist, everything other than their own existence is only a perception and thus fallible.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 12

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Thanks for giving me the right words. I was looking for the words "sufficient" and "necessary". I tried to say that if thinking were necessary for existing, we can scrap most of the universe from the list.
The difference seems to be that everybody says thinking is sufficient for existing. I say that is an assumption that sounds reasonable, has never been disproven, but is not rigourously proven. Hence my reluctance to say that thinking PROVES existence.

And I am still wishing for a good definition of existence.
Even your definition of "doing something" may not be enough, but it will probably be sufficient for existing. It may change a wellknown statement to "It does, so it is". Thinking is then just one of the possible ways of doing. Also it makes it easier to "prove" my existence to someone else as it is then enough to do something like moving or talking, what he can observe and interpret as proving my existence. And his own existence, for he is doing some interpreting.

What about atoms at absolute zero, they are doing nothing by definition. Do they stop existing?

There is probably more needed, something with mass and/or energy or even more. Does the number one exist? It doesn't seem to do anything.
What about potential energy, it is generally accepted as existing, but it doesn't do anything, something else is doing something because of it.

How do I know anything at all? Because my senses tell me a lot and I interpret that as being enough to assume the existence of a lot of things. Thinking is just one of the ways to "prove" something exits.

The fact that I think, proves that there is a thinking process that seems to be connected with my person, and it may indicate my existence, just as my movements do. I still leave open the possibility that my thinking somehow gets separated from my body, resulting in the independent existence of both.

Maybe the thinking part of a person can be identified with what religion calls a "soul". In that case thinking without existence may become reality by a soul escaping from a dead body.

So I fall back on the general version.
Give me the ultimate definition of existing, and I will use that to prove my or your or even Descartes' (former) existence, without having to use thinking.
It may even give me the possibility to find something that does not exist according to that definition, but does think. But like you, I do not think my chances are high.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 13

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

Mycroft, welcome to the club of deep-thought thinkers.
Which "I" is misinterpreted, there are two of them.
I go along with you, up to the point where you think you proved you existence to yourself. Which "myself" do you mean, only the thinking entity or the combination of the thinking entity with the rest of your body and person? I accept the first, the second is an assumption.
In the first case we have something that looks very much like a selfreferencing statement which cannot prove anything outside itself.

Of course I deliberately misinterpreted the statement, that is the crux of the entry. Only now I have so much fuzzy philosophical stuff I can try to write a serious entry denouncing Descartes for the edited guide. I just don't have the time, I think.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 14


Thinking only proves the existence of one entity (i.e. the entity doing the thinking) to itself. Descartes could equally have used the phrase 'I percieve therefore I am'. Whether the perceptions are true and accurate or not is immaterial: if there are perceptions then there must be something there doing the perceiving.

Thus everything that isn't my mind (including my physical body and the rest of the universe) may or may not exist, but I can't prove conclusively that they do because I've no way of knowing that my perceptions are valid.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 15


"Even your definition of "doing something" may not be enough, but it will probably be sufficient for existing."

Yes, to hold up Descartes' argument, sufficient is all that's needed.

To go on to this new discussion - what would be a necessary and sufficient definition - I'm not sure if 'doing something' is necessary. Perhaps 'having some property' is an even more fundamental idea, although we can then start to talk about 'the biggest prime number' and such things, which have properties (self-contradictory properties...but still properties (?)) but I'm not sure we'd be happy saying that they exist. All gets rather difficult smiley - smiley

Atoms at absolute zero *don't* exist if I recall correctly, because its impossible to actually get to absolute zero. I could be wrong here. But even if you did remove all energy from an atom, I'd still say it exists. It's probably still sending out gravitons (if it has mass, and if gravitons exist smiley - winkeye) which would be doing something.

I don't think something should have mass or energy to exist. Perhaps to 'physically exist' yes, but I think we should have the existence of ideas. Which is maybe different again from mathematical existence, because different people looking at the same maths can have the maths tell them the same things, whereas that is not the case for arbitrary ideas.

"I still leave open the possibility that my thinking somehow gets separated from my body, resulting in the independent existence of both."

Absolutely, Descartes' initial argument 'I think therefore I am' says nothing about the physical body. You might be a brain floating in a vat, or a program running on a computer, 'I think therefore I am' still works.

Ultimate definition of existing - I suspect we won't find that. I think quite a lot of philosophy is trying to dig down to ever more fundamental definitions, but it has to bottom out somewhere. There comes a point when they're trying to dig below the bedrock, but there isn't anything there. Asking for a definition of 'exists' feels like one of those bedrocks to me.

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 16

Marjin, After a long time of procrastination back lurking

I am sorry I dropped out of the discussion for so long smiley - sadface, but I started to contemplate whether I wanted this discussion about the meaning of Descartes words to continue, instead of the entry itself as being a satire.

Anyhow, I have to drop out again for some time, as I go on holliday in a few days. I do not expect to be on H2G2 in those weeks.

For the next two to three weeks: "I travel, so I am off". smiley - zoom

A579035 - "Cogito Ergo Sum" is a non-statement.

Post 17

Monsignore Pizzafunghi Bosselese

"I did not expect it to get into the edited guide" -- if so, the methinks this thread is in the wrong place smiley - winkeye.

Another option is the FFFF: http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/A254314.

On the other hand, posting 9 also holds true: "Maybe I should use some parts of this discussion in the entry, it may qualify then for the edited guide as being so wackey it must be serious smiley - biggrin"


I think therefore God exists!

Post 18


Hi all you philosophers! smiley - cheers

I enjoyed reading the article and the thread. Interesting.

I am with René and his h2g2 'defenders' in so far as 'I think therefore I am.' strikes me as a reasonable argument. It does not set out to prove the existence of anything other than the existence of the 'mind' that 'thought' the phrase itself. If 'I' think to 'myself', "I think.", 'I' am actually performing the action. If 'I' did not exist, 'I' could not have 'thought'. (sorry about the complex punctuation. It is meant to be helpful!)

As has been said, this does not in itself imply any further conclusions about other things existing.

The thing that always left me gobsmacked with the 'Discours sur la Méthode' was that our famous reducer of ideas to the provable then goes on to use this famous maxim as a proof that *God* (and not just any God, but the Christian God!) exists! Much as I admire his method of refusing to take things for granted and descending to the level of the purely provable, I could never stomach the 'rebound' towards a string of things that are far from it.

Now, I always wondered if this wasn't for 'political' reasons, ie avoiding getting burnt at the stake for heresy. Not an uncommon fate for scientific theorists of the day. Reading the text, however, he certainly appears sincere. Any thoughts?


Oh and by the way, Marijn

Post 19


Yeah, hi Marjin,

just wanted to say that I *did* realise that you set out to write a satire (and NOT a learned philosophical thesis), and that I think you have had some success. smiley - smiley

Perhaps you might ask yourself why it has thrown up more of a serious discussion than people joining in with the joke. For my part, I would suggest that you try to make it clearer from the outset that this is a parody. I don't mean lay in there with a sledgehammer! I just think the tone could be more playful in the opening paragraphs.

Incidentally, I'm not keen on your translation, "Methinks I am." because it lacks that crucial 'therefore'. It is a funnier sounding phrase, I agree, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination a translation of the Latin.

Bet you weren't expecting all this hullabaloo, eh? smiley - biggrin


Oh and by the way, Marijn

Post 20

Martin Harper

I like this entry. It deserves to be in the Alternative Writing Workshop, not in this dump. Bossel - do the honours, would you? smiley - winkeye

The best description of Descartes I ever heard was that he discarded everything he knew, and then went back to first principles and built up a world view which was identical to the one he had started from - rather missing the point, eh? smiley - winkeye

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