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Posts Tagged ‘Descartes

The critical mind of Voltaire could summarize an entire philosophical book into a sentence

I just read a tiny story called “Micromegas” of 15 pages that condensed Voltaire highly critical mind.

In short, two men from far away stellar systems, both at least a mile tall and can live over 10,000 years and are endowed with 3 dozen sensory organs… and still Not satisfied and banned from their huge planet, still worried about the nature of their souls…). They haphazardly landed on earth, after boarding comets and earth arboreal light.

They had to look into a microscope to discover that these insects of humans do exist. The two men are interested in figuring out if these “insects” have soul and how different is their understanding of what is “The soul”.

At first, the giants were convinced that earth had no living creatures since they walked it quickly and crossed its shallow oceans without seeing anything that moves.

Actually the giants comprehended French but Not Greek to communicate with these French adventures in the North pole.

The giants discovered that these human insects have vast knowledge in geometry, algebra, and enough adequate instrument to measure their length and the circumference of earth and the distance to the sun…

“Since you know many things of what is external to you, how good are you in knowing what’s inside you?

One French in the boat described the state of human cruelty, of the perpetual wars among the human. Thousands in turbans, under a Sultan who never stepped out of his palace, massacre and burn villages of thousands of soldiers in metal headgear, under another king named Caesar or King and with different religious mythical ideology. And vice versa.

These human Princes are meant to eradicate the human species. Wars that will kill far more humans from famine and diseases for a piece of muddy land. Those barbarous urban oligarchies, who have never knew or seen who is being killed, keep thanking their Gods for their war achievement.

On the definitions of the Soul of a few philosophers of the period, such as Descartes, Leibniz, Locke…

One philosopher mentions Aristotle and his “entelechie”, a reason that extends the power to exist as is, and he quotes in Greek the definition, a language he doesn’t master, but he has to quote in order to impress.

The Descartes disciple claims that the soul is a pure spirit that is formed in the womb, but the person loses its meaning as he starts attending schools. It is then useless to have a soul if we end up totally ignorant about it, as we go on living. “And what you say about the spirit?” It is Not matter that can be divided and measured and described… “You can describe a few attributes of a matter, but do you know the deepest structure of any matter and the consequences of lacking of it?”

A Malebranche disciple claims that it is God that thinks and do everything for him and he doesn’t have to worry about anything. “Then there is no point for your existence”.

A disciple of the British Locke said: “I think only at the instigation of my senses. That there are immaterial and intelligent substances, I have no doubts about them. I hardly doubt that it is impossible for God can communicate spirit to material elements, if He wishes it. I contend that there are far more possible events that can occur and which I cannot think about or fathom…”

Among these insects, there was someone wearing a square bonnet (a Jesuit?) who vehemently repeated St. Thomas claim in the “Somme”:” Every thing in the sky and on earth were created for the humans”. The giants laughed their heart out and had a great moment on hearing this.

The giant from star Sirius decided to write a philosophical book, with as small characters as it was possible for him to reduce, and offered it to the human insects. The scholars at Paris Academy opened the book and discovered it was mostly blank.

Note: I will be reading Zadig by Voltaire and might review this other short story.

 

Dawn of Philo-Ethics; (Jan. 28, 2010)

In the previous post “Twilight for love of knowledge or philosophy”, I explored the theme that philosophy is reaching an end.

Before the 16th century, sciences in Europe were towed by philosophy until Galileo enforced the notion of empirical experimentation and measuring what was not measured. By the time of Descartes, philosophy started to limp and relied on religion as crutch to survive.

Sciences have taken over: they can extend answers to what can be answered.

Sciences are far more efficient than philosophy: faulty answers go unnoticed very effectively.  There are very few practiced scientists, and every man is a philosopher: man can feel what’s wrong with a philosophical system but he refrains to claim knowledge in sciences.

Knowledge is acquired by reasoning on the alternative options formed by perception of man and universe.  When we investigate our opinions and feelings we ultimately want to open up alternatives for the mind to discovering the immutable elements in the relationships. The brain is the field where perceived senses and reasoning procedures or processes interacts: without these interactions there are no perceptions, no actions, and no survival of any species.

It is not necessary to be a practicing scientist to have a scientific critical mind; otherwise, not many people would feel comfortable believing that they are endowed with sensible rational and empirical thinking. When I claim that we need to think philosophically, I mean that we need to combine the ethical component to whatever scientific thinking we undertake. The ethical mind should be the guiding rod to solutions or resolutions of any question.

For example, (it might sound a simple interrogation, but it might carry complex implicit ramifications), suppose that I stirred my Nescafe cup with a spoon.  My Nescafe includes no sugar or milk; just plain hot filtered water and Nescafe.  I got into wondering: should I rinse the spoon in tank supplied water (many germs) or just let the spoon dry when removed from the cup?  The idiosyncratic reaction is to rinse the spoon no matter what, isn’t it?

If I discover that the accumulated potent germs on a dried spoon are far less than the rinsed one then what would be your behavior?  The whole exercise is that we generally extend ready behaviors to our answers; we do not take a deep breath to wonder whether there are implicit reasons in the questions.

Philo-ethics (a new term that I invented) is to work on a set of stringent ethical reasoning that you feel are right.

The purpose is that you feel you have the right to state your ethics because you applied them.  The other advantage is that you won’t feel obligated to impose your ethics on people you like their company: you are in a position to be lenient and to compromise because relationships are more important than strict rules and regulations.

What can be the immutable norms that distinguish right from wrong?

What kinds of realities are eternal?

Cannibalism is not an immutable norm since many tribes still eat man in this century. Anyway, mankind is a carnivore and has been eating his own kind with various aspects of ceremonies such as eating the flesh, heart, liver, and brain boiled, raw, or roasted.  Thus, we need to be more attuned to ethnological studies and observations of the remaining tribes living separate from urban centers. We need to comprehend the behavior, customs, and traditions of primitive tribes since they resembled ours before we opted for urban life style, within mostly a fast developing virtual civilization.

Arne Naess disseminated the eco-philosophy which stated that western paradigm line of thinking is taking the wrong direction for a sustainable earth: Man is not in the upper chain of evolution and he has no right to destroy the other living creatures for his perceived universe. We are in a period of technological development that feed on itself and proliferates pretty much independently of any other sciences; technology feels confident that it does not need validation or control by third parties.

Fact is we need to have better understanding of the effects of our behaviors: mankind is on the same boat and everyone is asked to think that he is the captain of the boat.

Things have changed.  The world can be felt as reduced to a Town Square: instant audio-visual communications around the world is discouraging people to move out and investigate “his universe”.  Mind you that the Renaissance man had to travel on horses for long distances to educate his curiosity and talents.

The new wave of occultism, New Age, alternative lifestyle, mysticism, spiritualism, healing, astrology, clairvoyance, and telepathy are consequences of collecting mass “coincidental” happenings among the billions of people and which are relayed instantly on the Internet.  These coincidences can be explained rationally, especially if we believe in the power of the subconscious for erratic behaviors.

The worst part is that millions are still brandishing old Books or Bibles claiming every word for “truth”; as if we are in the Dark Ages.  Sciences and technologies have done serious empirical attempts to answering most of the dialectical problems in philosophy such as how the universe was started, how knowledge developed and progressed.

What is outside the realm of sciences is in the domain of faith, which should not be confounded with religious philosophical belief systems.

A few facts can now be settled that set the stage for the dawn of philo-ethics or for questions related to the dignity of man for freedom, liberty, opinion, shelter, clean water, health, safety, food, clean air, voting rights, anti-discrimination attitudes relative to color, religion, gender, and country of origin.

The hardship that you subjected yourself to is to keep sensible relationship working: a climate of genuine compassion to human frailty gives incentives to overcome shortcomings that may be surmounted.

Twilight of “Knowledge lovers”: Part 2

In part 1, I exposed the theme that philosophy was the super-structure of the dominant class in any period of what is now called “Class Ideology”, and that the economical aspect was not included in the philosophical system of reasoning.

Man has been asking questions; he has been cultivating doubts.

Every question generated many non-answered questions.  Every man is a philosopher once he starts jotting down coherent questions and then realizes that his “universe” is based on doubts.

Most of his questions have no satisfactory resolutions to constitute a perceived “structured comprehensive world” in his brain.

A philosopher sets out to devise a set of structural questions that he thinks are “logically deductive” in nature (it means that it would not be feasible to answer a previous question before resolving several basic questions).  Thus, philosophers have been driven to accepting a few fundamental “given” solutions, or “elemental facts,” or principles just to get going in their projects of building structured understanding of man and the universe.

Since Antiquity, philosophy (love of knowledge) was a catch-all term to represent all aspects of knowledge, including metaphysical concepts.  Since sciences were barely founded on facts or empirical experiments (not appreciated within the dominant classes), except during the Islamic Golden Age (9th to 12th century) and after Galileo in the 16th century “what is not measured should be measured”, philosophers fundamentally based their structure on abstract premises and deductive logic.

This makes sense: Once knowledge is firmly grounded on empirical facts (assuming the design of the experiment is valid) then philosophy should take secondary place in rational societies.

Sure, the name and meaning of philosophy was lost in the absurd long gestation toward the advance of knowledge.  The mathematician Descartes was the first who tried to delimit boundaries between sciences and philosophy: Descartes differentiated between invariant primal impressions and secondary perceived variables. It was the period when sciences got ascendance over abstract philosophical structures.

Before the 16th century, Europe’s philosophical systems were towing sciences (principally natural sciences).

Descartes influence stems from differentiating between forms of realities or “substances”.  The first kind of  substance is the mind which cannot be subdivided; examples of such substances are the notions of time, space, and mass with which quantitative properties of an object can be measured.  The second kind of substance or “extensions to the matter” represents the qualitative properties of an object such as color, smell, taste, and the like.  Descartes division in forms of reality is being validated in equations: the right hand side and left hand side in any equation must be compatible with the same dimensions of time, space, and mass (what is known as compatibility in units of measurement). By the way, Descartes was a lousy philosopher but first-rate mathematician.

There are attempts at “refreshing” interest in philosophy by giving new names and labels to ancient philosophical schools and beginning with the prefix “neo-something”.  For example, we hear about neo-empiricism, neo-Marxism, neo-Darwinism, neo-materialism, neo-existentialism, analytical philosophy and so forth.

All these new lines of current philosophical structures have historical roots that reach to antiquity and pre-Socratic philosophers. The new “refreshed” lines of thinking apply current scientific fields (such as anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, or sociology) to ancient philosophical systems to validate their contentions.

For example, current nuclear physicists are fundamentally pre-Socratic in their quest for the elemental matters; they want to be able to offer a satisfactory explanation of “what is matter?” This problem is thus a vital part of their “life’s philosophy”, the “essence” or an answer to the question “what is my nature”?

I conjecture that most universities have branches called “philosophy” or something related to logical processes: students need topics to write thesis and dissertations.

Sciences have taken over: they can extend answers to “what can be answered”.  Sciences are far more efficient than philosophy: faulty answers go unnoticed very effectively.

There are very few practiced scientists, but every man think he is a philosopher: man can feel what’s wrong with a philosophical system, but he refrains to claim knowledge in sciences.

593.  ICT: Transmitter of crisis and catalyst of global economic restructuring; (Dec. 19, 2009)

594.  First “mathematical” philosopher: Descartes; (Dec. 20, 2009)

595.  Idiosyncrasy in “conjectures”; (Dec. 21, 2009)

596.  Cases of “Historical Dialectics” of human and knowledge development; (Dec. 23, 2009)

597.  How causality relation and invariant are perceived by the brain; (Dec. 24, 2009)

598.  Color of your money; (Dec. 25, 2009)

Cases of “Historical Dialectics” of human and knowledge development; (Dec. 23, 2009)

            Dialectics is not only used to comprehend historical development of human or knowledge development but is basic in discussions and effective dialogues. Hegel was first to introduce “dynamic logic” and used the term of historical dialectics as the interaction of an extreme opinion (thesis) that generates an opposite extreme counter opinion (antithesis) which results in a consensus (synthesis).  Historical dialectics is a macro method for long range study and it does not explain the individual existential conditions (survival situations).  Hegel offered dialectics as a method for explaining how human knowledge developed by constant struggle between contradictory concepts among philosophical groups. The purpose of his method was to demonstrate how the “universe of the spirit” or ideas managed to be raised in human consciousness.

            Before I offer my version of knowledge development it might be useful to giving a few examples of historical dialectics. In Antiquity, the pre-Socratic philosophers were divided between the Eleatics or philosophers who claimed that change of primeval substances was impossible: we cannot rely on our senses.  Heraclites reacted with his position that we can rely on our senses and that everything in the universe is in a state of flow and that no substance remains in its place.  The synthesis came Empedocles who claimed that we can rely on our senses but that what flow are the combination of substances but the elementary particles do not change. 

            The Sophists during Socrates were the paid teachers of the elite classes and tore down the mythological teaching of the period and focused on improving individual level of learning.  They were in effect in demand by a nascent City-State democracy of Athens that relied on a better educated society to participate in the political system. Socrates reacted by proposing that there are fundamental truths and knowledge is not an exercise in rhetorical discourse. The same dialectics worked between the world of ideas of Plato and the empirical method counterpoint of Aristotle.

            In the Medieval period the Catholic Church set up a barrier or distance between God and man and forced people to believe that all knowledge emanates from God.  The Renaissance man (wanting to be knowledgeable in many disciplines) reacted by promoting the concepts that God is in every element, that man is a complete microcosm of the universe, and that knowledge starts by observing nature and man.

            Another example is the position of Descartes who established that rationalism was the main source for knowledge.  David Hume responded by extending that empirical facts generated from our senses are the basis for knowledge. Kant offered the synthesis that the senses are the primary sources for our impressions but it is our perceptual faculties that describe and view the world: there is a distinction between “matter” of knowledge or the “thing in itself” and “form” of knowledge or the “thing for me”. Kant became the point of departure for another chain of dialectical reflections.

            Many philosophers used the dialectic methods to explaining other forms of development.  Karl Marx wrote that Hegel used his method standing on its head instead of considering human material conditions. Marx claimed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”; thus, he defined three levels as basis of society: condition of production (mainly the geographic, natural resources, and climatic conditions), means of production (such as machineries and tools), and production relations (such as political institutions, division of labor, distribution of work and ownership). Marx claimed that the main interactions are among the working class (the new slaving method of production) and the owners of the means of productions or the ruling class: it is this struggle that develop the spiritual progress.  Another dialectical process is the extreme feminist political claims of equality between genders which brought about a consensus synthesis for a period.

            My view of progress is based on the analogy of combination of two schemas:

            The first schema is the coexistence of two strings of evolution (picture a DNA shape): the knowledge development (mainly technological) and the moral string (dominated mainly by religious ideologies).  The second schema is represented by historical dialectic evolutions in the shape of helical cones. The time lengths of cycles for the two strings are not constant: the technological progress phase has shorter and shorter cycles while the moral string has longer cycles.

            The two strings are intertwined and clashes frequently.  When one string overshadow the other string in evolution then there are a slow counter-reaction culminating in stagnate status-quo phases between the two forces. Technological or level of sustenance period has time length cycles that is shrinking at the top of the cone before the cone is inverted on its head so that the moral time length cycles start to increase and appears almost invariant (that what happened in the long Medieval period that stretched for over 11 centuries in Europe); then the cone is reverted on its base for the next “rebirth” cycles (for example the Renaissance period that accelerated the knowledge string ascent).

587.  Efficiency has limits within cultural bias; (Dec. 10, 2009)

 

588.  “Sophie’s World” on Hellenism; (Dec. 11, 2009)

 

589.  “Adon’s World” way of life; (Dec. 12, 2009)

 

590.  Unorthodox mathematical demonstration: Grigori Perelman; (Dec. 13, 2009)

 

591.  “Sophie’s World” on Indo-European and Semitic civilizations; (Dec. 15, 2009)

 

592.  Immortal mortals in 2100; (Dec. 17, 2009)

 

593.  ICT: Transmitter of crisis and catalyst of global economic restructuring; (Dec. 19, 2009)

 

594.  First “mathematical” philosopher: Descartes; (Dec. 20, 2009)

“Sophie’s World” on David Hume; (Written on Dec. 4, 2009)

How I stumbled on Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World”, one of New York Times best seller?

My niece is reading this book as required textbook in high school. The manuscript is of 513 pages divided in 35 chapters and talking of a wide array of philosophers and concepts from Socrates, to Descartes, to Hume, Hegel, Kant…, Freud, and the Big Bang.

A short introduction to the story might be entertaining.

The first chapter introduces us to Sophie Amundsen, a 15-year-old girl. Sophie arrives home from school and finds a first envelope addressed to her. The sheet of paper has a single hand written sentence “Who are you?”  Sophie finds another envelops that says “Where does the world come from?

The last delivery of the mailbox is a postcard “Hilde Moller Knag; c/o Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close. Dear Hilde, happy 15th birthday. Forgive me for sending the card to Sophie. It was the easiest way. Love Dad.”

Sophie knows of no Hilde and the phonebook was of no help. Sophie has now three problems to resolve, all in one day. Sophie is baffled and confused:  She is starting her philosophical initiation.  Would Lillemor be the same person? If her hair was not straight and defying all cosmetics for a curly appearance, then would she behaved different? If her nose was a tad bit longer or her mouth smaller, would she be the actual Sophie?

The next problem is even harder to reflect on. Can anything come from nothing? If not, then how far has she to go to the sources in the creation process? Can a creating God come from nothing?

I jumped to page 267 on the British philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). 

Hume was the contemporary of Voltaire and Rousseau or the Age of Enlightenment.  The previous Age was of the “rationalists” such as Descartes, Lock, and Spinoza.

Hume published his main work “A treatise of human nature” when he was 28 of age.  He claims that he got the idea when he was 15.

The empiricist Hume (believing in experiments as the most valid method for acquiring knowledge) said:

“No philosophy will ever be able to take us behind the daily experiences or give us rules of conducts that are different from those we get through reflections on everyday life.”

For example, people have experienced or sensed wings on birds, but that does not mean that the complex idea of “angel” exists. Angels are associations in man’s imagination; thus, the concept of angels is false as an experienced reality and should be rejected from the knowledge baggage.

If a textbook does not offer any experimental reasoning concerning matter of facts and existence then it should be committed to the flames as a book of knowledge.

Hume wanted to know how a child experienced the real world. Hume established that man has two types of perceptions:

1. impression (immediate sensation) and

2. ideas of external reality.

Ideas are recollections of impressions.  For example, getting burned is not the same sensation as remembering getting burned: this would be a pale imitation of actually the stronger feeling of being burned.

Ideas can be simple or complex; we may form complex ideas of the world for which there is no corresponding “object” in the physical world such as angels or God. Each element in the complex idea was previously sensed and the mind constructed a “false object” if not actually existing for the senses.

Descartes indicated that “clear and distinct” ideas guarantee that they corresponded to something that really existed.

One example for Descartes affirmation is the ego “I”, which is the foundation for his philosophy.

Hume begs to differ.

Hume considers that the ego I is a complex idea and constantly altered.  Since we are continuously changing our alterable ego is based on a long chain of simple impressions that we did not experienced simultaneously. “These impressions appear, pass, re-pass, slide away, and mingle in infinite varieties of postures and situations.” It is like the images in a movie screen: they are disconnected single pictures, a collection of instants.

It is the same concept of Buddha (2500 years earlier). Buddha said “There is nothing of which I can say “this is mine” or “this is me””.  Thus, there is no “eternal soul” since “Decay is inherent in all compound things. Work out your own salvation with diligence.”  Hume rejected attempts to prove the immortality of the soul or the existence of God but he never ruled out their possible existence or that of miracles.

On his deathbed, Hume said “It is also possible that a knob of coal placed upon the fire will not burn.

A miracle works against the laws of nature; but again, we have never experienced the laws of nature.

All that we know results from “habit” of our experiences, such as witnessing relationship or “cause and effect” occurring many times, but that we can never say that it might happen “always”.

For example, adults are more awed by magic tricks than children: a child is no more impressed by an apple falling or just floating because he didn’t acquire the habit in his mind for natural occurrences.  Expectations lie in our mind and not in one thing following another.

We human are great in the task of cutting and pasting everything that impresses upon us. Hume says that the preconditions to assembling complex ideas is to have entered all the elements in the form of “simple impressions”.   If we imagine God to be infinitely “intelligent, wise, and good being” then we must have “known intelligence, wisdom, and goodness”.

(How man brought in the “infinitely” in his concept? Did it come from watching the sky as a substitute to the experience of infinity? Somehow, man is able to extrapolate on piece meal experiences).

Hume wanted “to dismiss all this meaningless nonsense which has long dominated metaphysical thought and brought it into disrepute.”  (The introduction of the term metaphysical gave terrible nightmares to the succeeding philosophers fearing that they might sound metaphysical and had to explain at great length their concepts).

Hume cut off the final link between faith and knowledge.

(I conjecture that the deficiencies of our perceptual senses provide rich sources of strong impressions that modify our view of the real world.  For example, when we see double for a while (a temporary affliction), or we feel the ground waving and shaking under our feet when drunk, or under the influence, or when we hear background noises, then these sensation are real first impressions and not just ideas.

Thus, the weaker our constitution, the more acute and varied are our experiences; the more adapted our brain for capturing associations the far more complex is our perception of the world.)


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