It is said that Sixteenth Century in the European philosophic thought was dominated by rationalism; rationalism of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. It was this attention to rationalism that led to the imperative assertion of Descartes “Cogito ergo sum” meaning ‘I think therefore I am’. The undivided reliance on the mental faculty as against the physical faculties gave way to the fatalistic deduction of the ‘I’ as the only true reality that is immediately known and thus the only experience that could most certainly be labeled as true knowledge or absolute reality. Any other assertion or proposition that could be made was either prone to doubt due to the lack of immediate perception or was directly or indirectly dependent on the existence of the ‘I’ in its support. If there were no ‘I’, the dependent proposition could not be accepted in any amount of certainty whatsoever.
Even the existence of God (Good God) was dependent on the existence of the ‘I’. In summary Descartes gave way to extremely sophisticated and highly advanced solipsistic thought that would remain undefeated in its entirety. Although today Descartes’ assertions are at best considered to be a way of thinking but no true disproval has been proposed that would testify the existence of matter or mind other than the self without the existence of the knowing self.
The reason why Descartes resorted to his radical assertion about ‘I’ as a ‘thinking being’ to be the only reality that can be immediately known was due to his intuitive understanding of the way dreams are perceived while dreaming. It is only after the dream is over the dreamer realizes that it was a dream. But while he is in the dream he experiences everything as if it were real. Similarly Descartes asserts, what is that makes us believe that what we are experiencing right now is not just another dream. What convinces us that this is reality. We may very well wake up to find ourselves into a reality that is otherwise unknown to us in this realm. It may be true that the ‘I’ that is writing this article right now may very well be a sub personality of a bigger conscious personality that is dreaming right now and all that this writer witnesses as other conscious beings may be other sub- personalities of the greater conscious being. But what then stops us into thinking that the greater conscious being is alone and is not one amongst the many greater beings who are sub personalities of an even greater being. This becomes a form of Cosmological Argument in which the ‘I’ becomes the part of the hierarchical conscious beings that exist as part of one supreme being whose consciousness then we become all part of. This will lead to God solipsism rather than the self solipsism. This is the kind of fallacy this writer has found in Berkley’s empirical idealism.
In Descartes’ demon argument he suggests that there may be a being that is so powerful that it has the power to deceive the self into thinking about the external reality. But for that the powerful being will have to exist by necessity to influence the ‘I’. But if we approach this problem as has been suggested by many philosophers that all that the ‘I’ perceives is actually in the mind of the ‘I’ the problem seems to be solved but by compromising matter itself. I will try to approach this problem of the ‘I’ or the self differently so as to defend the position of existence of matter as independent from the self, where matter exists in itself rather than by the necessity of its perception which ends up being subjective rather than objective.
I will begin with Descartes’ position, “Cogito Ergo Sum”. This means that I am accepting all his arguments regarding the existence of the self, but no more. Starting our journey for the existence of the world we find ourselves in fretful anxiety, realizing that when resorting to pure logic, the only thing we can be absolutely sure about is none other than the self, the thinking being that experiences this fretful anxiety. We start believing in the possibility that everything we seem to experience might just be an extremely beautiful and convincing mirage. The empirical world mercilessly shatters and only the illusion of it remains in our mind, although the sense perception of the world remains as real as before, only the mind becoming skeptic of the reality. Since I have already declared that I will only accept the position of Descartes’ as far as the self is considered, but no more, Descartes arguments regarding the existence of God and the external world are not as convincing as his arguments for the self. Arguments of God and the external world are imperatively dependent upon the argument for the self. If the self is omitted from the equation everything else falls along with it. Hence Descartes did not really prove the existence of anything other than the self that is the thinking being. In the following part of the article I will try to prove the existence of the world without resorting to the existence of the self by demonstrating contradiction deeply rooted in the idealist position so that the external world is rescued from its dependence on the subjectivity of the perceptive self.
When I while writing this article start to think whether the laptop I am typing on exists external to me or all this is an illusory outward reflection of my mind, I realize that self should not be able to deceive itself if it is really a thing in itself. This is because if there is only ‘I’, then the ‘I’ cannot deceive itself without knowing that it deceives itself. In this case everything that the ‘I’ brings into existence by mere imagination must be vividly and lucidly clear and known to the ‘I’ to be self-imaginative. But if the ‘I’ does not know about something clearly, then it becomes the work of something other than the ‘I’ or already an another ‘I’ distinct of the first ‘I’. This may be referred to as Descartes’s demon. But this leads us into believing that matter other than the ‘I’ also exists. Considering this this writer thinks the mind or the brain as distinct from the experiencing ‘I’. This is because in many cases like that of the rope in dim light when the ‘I’ judges the rope to be a snake, the ‘I’ is deceived by the sense perception and the brain that works on the sense perception. Hence ‘I’ appears to be something that is other than the mind or the brain that the ‘I’ works on in order to make decisions. This is similar to the distinction that Daniel Kahneman has made in his celebrated book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow” regarding the two systems of the brain he calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 according to him is the part or attribute of the brain that is concerned with the fast, effortless and reflexive judgements and decision of the brain in a situation. System 2 on the other hand is the part of the brain which is responsible for slow, effortful judgements and decision of the brain. Although this writer accepts this distinction made by Daniel but attributes this distinction only to the brain or the mind and not to the self or the ‘I’. According to this author the experiencing ‘I’ exists independent of the brain and the mind which is only the instrument for the ‘I’ to experience reality.