May 13, 2010
Monty Python did a song about famous philosophers that included the lines:
Réne Descartes was a drunken old fart,
I drink therefore I am!
Now the real truth has been brought to light by that brilliant scholar of the great thinkers of the West, Frédéric Pagès. Monsieur Pagès, better known today for his championing of the thought of the forgotten philosopher, Jean-Baptiste Botul, wrote this book, Descartes et le cannabis: Pourquoi partir en Hollande in 1996. All of France was celebrating the 400th birthday of the man who started modern philosophy, the one who coined its most famous proposition: cogito ergo sum [I think, therefore I am.]
Well, what he should have said is, I think, therefore I know that I am, but that’s a trifle. Of course, how does the I know that it knows, before the I has determined that it knows that it, the I, is? Pretty obscure.
Pagès brings light to this dark murk by applying the Cartesian method to the mystery of why the most French of philosophers lived most of his adult life in Holland. And why did this man change his residence practically every year? The answer: cannabis. Descartes was a dealer and toker. Amsterdam is the place to be for that.
This explains so many things.
June 12, 2008
Locke, Berkely – hiding behind the globe – and Hume. More and more, I think they were dead on correct. Thought and ideas are all based on sensation, experience. How could it be otherwise? We deceive ourselves into thinking differently because we have developed language to such a high level of abstraction that it appears to have lost its moorings in lived experience. Have you ever seen the King of France? asks the modern analytic philosopher. No, there is no king of France anyway. So how could you even have the idea of it..? And so it goes on.
Still, language is manipulating bits of thought, idea-objects, modules, whatever, that all go back to experience. Our thinking is permeated with experiential imagery, reflections of the direct empirical nature of even the most abstract thinking:
I see what you mean.
Do you follow me?
Where are you with this problem now?
I feel I am close to a solution.
This concept is a perfect fit with that one.
I can’t find my way with his ideas.
That is approximately true.
Philosophers tend to dismiss this type of speaking as mere metaphor, but I would contend that all thinking is metaphorical. Metaphor is the tool of abstract thought, the means by which concrete experiential thinking – figuring out how to get out of a tight fix without using any words at all in the real world – can be transformed into a lightening quick abstract tool of analysis. It uses the same techniques, and we are only beginning to understand what they are and how they evolved. Which brings me to Berkeley’s disguise.
The map, I have come to believe, is fundamental to human thought. It is the simplest, most common, and most ignored thinking-tool we have. To map something is to abstract it into thought, yet it seems completely natural and simple to use a few lines to convey the notion of real space and location. Just so, we map everything from reality to thoughts about reality. If we figure out how maps work, something that is not at all obvious once you examine it, we will learn a lot about how our minds think. It’s a long way from cogito ergo sum – Descartes was NOT an empiricist!