Sunday, July 20, 2008

Phantasms

Indie t-shirt designers 410BC are channelling Descartes in their spring collection, with a brain emblazoned t-shirt that declares 'I think therefore I am'.

Not a bad shirt for $15 dollars I think you'll agree, especially if you're hip to 17th century French philosophers.
Image of COGITO ERGO SUM shirt guys
The phrase "I think therefore I am" originated because Descartes wanted to know about what sort of things existed in the world, but realised he couldn't trust his senses because they could be fooled.

He imagined the most extreme example he could think of, where an evil demon was keeping him in a Matrix-style universe in which everything he perceived was an illusion. He asked the question, if he couldn't trust his senses, what could he truly know.

Descartes came to the conclusion that he could doubt everything except the fact he was doubting and therefore concluded that his ability to doubt, and consequently his thought, was proof of his existence - summed up in has famous phrase "I think therefore I am".

In part, this also led him to believe that thought was not part of the physical universe, and that thought and matter were separate entities. In fact, he believed thoughts were part of the soul but interacted with the body through the pineal gland - a small structure which occupies a central position in the brain.

Descartes' proposal that thought and matter (or mind and brain) are separate entities is known as as Cartesian dualism and is now much derided.

One difficulty is that while few people deny that both mind and brain exist in the physical world, it's difficult, and some would say impossible, to talk about them in the same way.

For example, it's easy to answer the question 'what colour are your neurons?' but impossible to answer the question 'what colour are your thoughts?'

This causes all sorts of merry hell for cognitive scientists and leads to the rather bizarre tendency for people to think that every explanation that includes the mind needs to be reduced to brain function for it to be valid.

Philosophers, who tend to be much more able to think about these things without panicking, tend to favour what's called property dualism, which says that while we accept everything happens in the physical world, we can't always match every aspect of one level of description to another, even if both are both completely coherent on their own level.
Mind Hacks: Cogito ergo t-shirt

well just came across this item on google reader and i remembered i was supposed to do a follow up on that unified theory post, with that philo stuff that got left out. Here it goes.

Hmm...ok, it all started with the song 'Phantasmagoria in two', amazing song from this brilliant album. Doing define: phantasmagoria in Google, gave me this -

'a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination'

along with a whole lot of other stuff, who knew that the word was so popular?! :)

So, anyways googled 'phantasms' (some ppl may know this word from my gtalk status msg 'n did i get some interesting comments for it! :) ) to know the exact meaning, when i landed up on these pages. This first one talks about the connecting the concept of phantasia in greek philosophy
with modern philosophy's notion of the idea and imagination. 'n yea this basically reminded me of the book 'Sophie's World' that i had read long long time back and how much i had forgotten :( Anyways its a really good book, do read it if you get chance.
Now coming back to phantasms, you will find this in the above post -

The ancient greeks--beginning with Plato--used the term 'phantasia' to refer to the faculty
of sense judgment or belief and 'phantasm' is the belief itself; i.e. a
belief (doxa) which arises though sensation is a 'phantasm'.


See the paradox in the meanings? And the second page i came across talks about the same. Do read it and check out the complete site, just amazing some of the stuff covered there.
In the previous post i mentioned 'Plato’s Theory of Love: Rationality as Passion'. And since i can't remember what i wanted to talk about that or maybe 'coz 'm just tired and lazy, 'll let you guys to read it for yourselves here. Its an interesting read actually.

'n that concludes unified theory :P

adios
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