Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

No quiz, Sep28/29

It's exam day, so no new quiz. But here's an old one.

Descartes (LH) & Montaigne (How to Live, ch1); LISTEN: Sarah Bakewell on Michel de Montaigne (PB); A.C. Grayling on Descartes' Cogito (PB); WATCH: Montaigne (SoL); Descartes (HI); Midterm group report presentations continue... Podcast

It's "Super Tuesday" - cousin John Oliver has some thoughts...

1. What state of mind, belief, or knowledge was Descartes' Method of Doubt supposed to establish? OR, What did Descartes seek that Pyrrho spurned?

2. Did Descartes claim to know (at the outset of his "meditations") that he was not dreaming?

3. What strange and mythic specter did Gilbert Ryle compare to Descartes' dualism of mind and body? ("The ____ in the ______.")

4. Sarah Bakewell says Montaigne's first answer to the question "How to live?" is: "Don't worry about _____."

5. What was Montaigne's "near death experience," and what did it teach him?

6. Montaigne said "my mind will not budge unless _____."

BONUS: What pragmatic American philosopher was Descartes' "most practical critic"?

BONUS: (T/F) A.C. Grayling thinks that, because Descartes was so wrong about consciousness and the mind-body problem, he cannot be considered a historically-important philosopher.

BONUS: What skeptical slogan did Montaigne inscribe on the ceiling of his study?


1. Is there anything you know or believe that you could not possibly be mistaken about, or cannot reasonably doubt? If so, what? How do you know it? If not, is that a problem for you?

2. How do you know you're awake and not dreaming? Is it meaningful to say "life is but a dream"? (And again: "Inception" - ?!)

3. Are you essentially identical with or distinct from your body (which includes your brain)? If distinct, who/what/where are you? How do you know? Can you prove it? OR, Do you believe in immaterial spirits? Can you explain how it is possible for your (or anyone's) material senses to perceive them?

4. At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?

5. Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them? How often does the thought occur to you that you're always one misstep (or fall, or driving mistake) away from death?

6. What have you learned, so far, about "how to live"? Have you formulated any life-lessons based on personal experience, inscribed any slogans, written down any "rules"?

It’s the birthday (Feb. 28) of essayist Michel de Montaigne (books by this author), born in Périgord, in Bordeaux, France (1533). He is considered by many to be the creator of the personal essay, in which he used self-portrayal as a mirror of humanity in general. Writers up to the present time have imitated his informal, conversational style. He said, “The highest of wisdom is continual cheerfulness: such a state, like the region above the moon, is always clear and serene.” WA
Montaigne in The Stone...
  1. The Essayification of Everything

    “How to Live,” Sarah Bakewell’s elegant portrait of Montaigne, the 16th-century patriarch of the genre, and an edited volume by Carl H. Klaus and Ned Stuckey-French called “Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne...
  2. Of Cannibals, Kings and Culture: The Problem of Ethnocentricity

    In August of 1563, Michel de Montaigne, the famous French essayist, was introduced to three Brazilian cannibals who were visiting Rouen, France, at the invitation of King Charles the Ninth. The three men had never before left...
  3. What's Wrong With Philosophy?

    getting on board a student’s own agenda. Sometimes understanding is best reached when we expend our skeptical faculties, as Montaigne did, on our own beliefs, our own opinions. If debate is meant to be a means to truth — an idea...
  4. Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

    questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is...

Old posts-
Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Montaigne was originally scheduled for just before our Spring Break, but it got a jump-start week before last. Looked like a snow-globe out there for awhile. Now, it's practically Spring!

Older Daughter and I went and did what we'd been talking about doing for years, now that her Break and mine finally coincided: went to Florida's Grapefruit League Spring Training! Day after day of waking to 72 degrees, on the way to high 80s. Baseball and bliss.

But that was then. Now, Montaigne (& Bakewell on How to Live acc'ing to M)...

One good way to live, he thought, was by writing and reflecting on our many uncertainties. Embracing and celebrating them, in fact. That makes him an anti-Descartes, a happy and humane modern skeptic.

One thing we know for sure is the historical timeline. Montaigne comes first, but since I always introduce him as the anti-Descartes he rarely gets top billing. The late Robert Solomon did the same thing. Not fair, for a guy who gave us the essay and (as Sarah Bakewell says) is so much "fun" to read. Unlike Descartes he was a true skeptic (again though, not so far over the cliff as Pyrrho) and "quite happy to live with that." His slogan was Que sçais-je?

Montaigne retired in his mid-30s to think and write, and ponder what must have felt to him (ever since his unplanned equine-dismounting event) like ever-looming mortality. He inscribed the beams of his study with many of his favorite quotes, including "nothing human is foreign to me" and "the only certainty is that nothing is certain."

Some of Montaigne's life-lessons and rules for how to live, as decoded by Sarah Bakewell: Don't worry about death; Pay attention; Question everything; Be convivial; Reflect on everything, regret nothing; Give up control; Be ordinary and imperfect; Let life be its own answer.

Montaigne leaps from the page as mindful, both ruminative and constantly attentive to the present moment. He has good advice for the walker. "When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me."

Sarah Bakewell quotes Montaigne, disabusing us of the false image of him "brooding" in his tower. He was a peripatetic, too: "My thoughts fall asleep if I make them sit down. My mind will not budge unless my legs move it." So, like Emerson he might have said "my books are in my library but my study is outdoors."

There's just something irresistibly alluring about the candid and disarming familiarity of his tone, that's drawn readers to this original essayist for four and a half centuries and obliterates the long interval between him and us. He makes uncertainty fun.

"The highest of wisdom is continual cheerfulness"...

[Montaigne @dawn... M on Self-esteem (deB)... M quotes... M's beam inscriptions... M "In Our Time" (BBC)...M's tower...M's Essays...]

Also today, we'll consider the philosophical status of science. Montaigne the fallible skeptic actually had a better handle on it than Descartes, the self-appointed defender of scientific certainty. That's because science is a trial-and-error affair, making "essays" or attempts at evidence/-based understanding through observation, prediction, and test, but always retreating happily to the drawing board when conjectures meet refutation.

To answer some of my own DQs today:

Q: Are there any "authorities" (personal, textual, political, religious, institutional, traditional...) to whom you always and automatically defer? Can you justify this, intellectually or ethically? A: I don't think so. Whenever I feel a deferential impulse coming on I remind myself of the Emerson line about young men in libraries...

Q: Can you give an example of something you believe on the basis of probability, something else you believe because it has to be true (= follows necessarily from other premises you accept as true), and something you believe because you think it's the "best explanation")? Do you think most of your beliefs conform to one or another of these kinds of explanation? A: Hmmm... The sun will probably rise within the hour. I'm mortal. Life evolves. Yes.

Q: Do you think science makes genuine progress? Does it gradually give us a better, richer account of the natural world and our place in it? Is there a definite correlation between technology and scientific understanding? Do you think there is anything that cannot or should not be studied scientifically? Why? A: Yes, yes, yes, no. Science is a flawed instrument, because the humans who practice it are finite and fallible; but we have nothing to take its place. We shouldn't be scientistic, to the neglect of all the other tools in our kit (including poetry, literature, history, humor), but we definitely should be as scientific as we can.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Rene Descartes, not at all (Pythons notwithstanding) a "drunken fart," simply wanted to know what he could know for certain. He asked his version of the Howard Baker question. (The majority of students in my Tennessee classrooms could not identify the statesman-Senator when asked, the other day. Sigh.)

His skepticism was methodological, his goal was indubitable certainty. This, he thought, would serve the new science well. He misunderstood the self-correcting, probabilistic, fallibilistic nature of empirical reasoning. But most philosophers still think it’s worth wondering: how do you know you’re not dreaming, not being deceived by a demon or by your senses, not mistaking your own essential nature?

Still, cogito ergo sum overrates intellect. You don’t have to think, to demonstrate your existence. You just have to do something… even, as an old grad school pal used to say, if it’s wrong. (NOTE TO CLASS: I flip-flopped Descartes and his predecessor Montaigne, the anti-Descartes, on our syllabus: Descartes before the horse M. fell off of.)

Descartes' different aspects - mathematician, scientist, Catholic etc. - might suggest his split allegiance between Teams Aristotle and Plato. Both would probably like to claim him. I think he belongs with the armchair Platonists.
Reducing the operations of the universe to a series of lines,circles, numbers, and equations suited his reclusive personality. His most famous saying, “I think, therefore Iam” (cogito, ergo sum), could be stated less succinctly but more accurately as 'Because we are the only beings who do math, we rule.'
For Descartes, the essence of mind is to think, and the essence of matter is to exist-and the two never meet... we are the ghosts in the machine: souls in a world machine that operates inexorably and impersonally according to the laws of geometry and mechanics, while we operate the levers and spin the dials." The Cave and the Light

I usually think of Charles Sanders Peirce as Descartes’ most practical critic, and I agree with him that a contrived and methodological doubt is not the best starting place in philosophy.

But it occurs to me that an even more practical alternative to what I consider the misguided Cartesian quest for certainty is old Ben Franklin’s Poore Richard. His is not armchair wisdom, it comes straight from the accumulated experience of the folk. Some of that “common sense” is too common, but plenty is dead-on. “Early to bed, early to rise…” has definitely worked for me.

Still, says A.C. Grayling, "we may disagree with Descartes that the right place to start is with the private data of consciousness" rather than the shared world of language and common experience; but even if he was wrong he was "powerfully, interestingly, and importantly wrong." Russell concurs.

The thing is, the quest for certainty in philosophy tends to go hand-in-glove with the assertion of rational necessity. That, in turn, courts determinism and fatalism. Do we really want to rubber-stamp everything that happens as fated, not free? Hobbes (the contractarian and the cat) did. Calvin learned not to.

Is there anything we know or believe that we could not possibly be mistaken about, or cannot reasonably doubt? Certainly not, speaking at least for myself. But I'm next to certain that I'm more-or-less awake, at this hour, as the coffee drains.

I'm also pretty darn sure that I am (and do not "have") a body/brain. When I think of who, what, and where I am, though, the answer is interestingly complicated by all my relations (I don't just mean my familial relations): I am inclusive of a past and a future (though it keeps shrinking), and of wherever my influence (for better or worse) manages to stretch. I am vitally related by experience (actual, virtual, vicarious, possible, personal, interpersonal) to points far and wide. And, to actual physical objects in the extended world - not merely to possibilities of familiar object-like patterns of perception, as the phenomenalist has it. I'm not trapped in my skin, and we are definitely not alone in a solipsistic universe. Like Dr. Johnson, contra Berkeley, I find the pain in my toes (or hips) decidedly more substantial than an immaterial idea.

Or ghost.

I don't believe in ghosts, except metaphorically. (I am haunted by opportunities missed, possibilities unnnoticed, diems uncarped.) But most of my metaphorical spooks are Casperishly friendly (albeit incoherent, dualistically speaking). This is true of most people who read and think a lot, isn't it? We're in constant, happy communion with the dead, the remote, and the prospective members of our continuous human community. Books transport us to their realms, and to the great undiscovered country of our future.


  1. Posted for Philip R Giguere-

    EXTRA CREDIT. My idea of the good life is not necessarily one idea or way. I believe that people should do what they do best or enjoy doing the most. Sometimes the things you do best aren't always the things that you should build a life or career out of. In order for me to live out my opinion of the good life I'll need my family, my friends, and money. Some people say that money does nothing but destroy, this may be true but sadly today if you don't have any money or you're completely economically unstable, you will spend your entire life struggling with just making it through to the next day. This may be some peoples idea of the good life, living on the land and having a more rustic life but it is not mine. I'm all for hard work and I do work hard every day to reach and make my goals, but at the end of the day I'm going to but my self a mattress and pillow rather than build a tent from sticks outside. I suppose what I'm trying to say is my idea of the good life is working hard no matter what it takes, and earning something in return for it. Once you earn your part you make what you want out of it or do with it what you please and that is when " the good life" will come out. Ive done my best so far to live the good life and right now as a college student things get a little bumpy. Although it's just a few small bumps in the road to what should lead to me having the opportunity to build and live " the good life". I'll have to stay focused as well as everyone else that wants to " live the good life" and in the end, it will happen.

  2. #12 the Video was interesting. I found Montaigne is like me he doesn't like to read complicated books and he likes to get pleasure form books.

  3. Samantha Smith11:57 AM CDT

    #11: BONUS QUIZ QUESTION: What is the well-known Latin phrase Descartes said concluding that if you can think, you exist?

  4. Today in class a comment was made that people get tattoos to make a statement, and instead of a poster on a wall it's kind of like a poster on your body. I definitely agree with this (at least for me). I definitely feel like my tattoo is an expression of who I am and am happy with my decision to get it every time I see it! I can easily see how a tattoo can turn into a big regret for someone later on!

  5. Anonymous3:34 PM CDT

    Be derived from the simplest things like TV shows machinist pleasure from pain does it just feel a void. #12 kali Justine kali eillihai

  6. (8) Janet Peoples
    At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?
    i would like to retire when im in my 60's because i don't want to work my whole life until i die. Even if i loved my job because i want to be able to relax and enjoy my life. i want to be able to spend time with my family and be able yo go see places in the world.

  7. (8) Janet Peoples
    Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them? How often does the thought occur to you that you're always one misstep (or fall, or driving mistake) away from death?
    the closest thing ive had to death is when im driving and i almost get hit, it scares me and makes me think about what would happen if one of those times i did get hit and died. i try to be a better driver and watch for other cars because i dont want to die at this point in my life but if god thinks its my time then i will go. thinking that i could die at any minute makes me scared and worried because you never know how you will go and who it will hurt the most.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. (#8) In response to DQ4, I would say that I hope to retire in either my late 60s or early 70s. I generally enjoy working, and I feel like if I'm in a career that I love in the future I wouldn't necessarily want to retire. Anyways, I would probably spend my free time enjoying the remainder of my life with those whom are close to me.

  11. karol saleh {8}
    At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?
    i don't want to retire at specific age, because life without work is boring, you don't have nothing to do everyday especially, in America because it's a boring county for who came from another country as Egypt. i will try to keep working until i loose all the power i have. we work to prove ourselves that we have life, not live to work.

  12. karol saleh {8}
    Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them?
    for me i haven't but i know some people over the news on T.V that they have passed away for almost 5 minutes. when they came back from death, they said that we saw Jesus and heaven and hill. they teach me that their is a second chance to change our life and their is a second life with Jesus for whom accept him as a savior.

    Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them? How often does the thought occur to you that you're always one misstep (or fall, or driving mistake) away from death?

    I’ve never had a near-death experience but my dad has. My dad is an electrician and he has been for a long time now. However, when he was just starting off he got electrocuted by 277 volts of electricity. He was told to wire a light fixture and that the breaker was off, so taking their word for it he went ahead and started going to work which is when he got electrocuted. Luckily, he was he was up on a 6-ft ladder and the convulsions from the electrocution was enough to knock him off the ladder. What my dad took from this experience is to trust no one when it comes to your safety, and to make sure that the power is always off when working with electricity. Driving is a scary concept if you think about, we have 16 year old kids with very limited experiences driving around 2,000 + pound vehicles so the thought occurs quite often, especially when one is driving through narrow and winding roads.

  14. Will Nelson8:35 PM CDT

    4. At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?

    Personally, I have no set time as to when I plan to retire. I feel like that's a really broad question for us college students, for whom most haven't even started their careers yet, and some have yet to even declare a major. But if I had to answer it would be, i would like to retire in my late 60s or early 70s. I personally don't mind working, as long as it is fair. For example, working for the right price is good but if you're getting underpaid it isn't good. I know the world isn't all about money, but it sure is a big part of it. What i plan on doing when i retire is doing what i love, hunting, fishing, building cars, etc.. These are the things i will be doing after retirement, no doubt about it. I will spend more time thinking, mainly thinking about the next lake to fish or what lure to tie on next, but i will think! I also feel like life is too short to work it all away, everyone gets tied up in the whole work thing, but in reality we have other purposes other than working our entire lives.

  15. Sean Byars Section 6
    DQ#4: In the past people wanted to fully retire at the age of 65. For our generation, many have abandoned the idea of a full retirement at the traditional age. This is due to many reasons including longer life expectancy and the uncertainty of social security. However, I hope to retire by age 65. I have already started saving for retirement and because of this I am optimistic that I can retire at least at some point. As to what I am going to do, I have yet to figure that out.

  16. Sean Byars Section 6
    Quiz Question: Descartes's Cartesian co-ordinates allegedly derived from what observation?

    1. sect 6
      Watching a fly walk across a ceiling and wondering how he could describe the position of it at various points.

  17. Bonus Questions: Ashley Lavoie Section 4
    Charles Sanders Pierce
    "Nothing human is foreign to me"
    "The only certainty is that nothing is certain"

    I really like the quote above. I believe we can not be 100% positive about a lot of things. Identifiable's are a lot of times man made, therefore skewing the accuracy and authenticity of that item. I believe that to be certain you must be sure you are unsure.

  18. The thing I have learned about how to live is that life is all about your perspective. You make your life the way it is.

  19. Are there any fun facts about Descartes?

  20. 6 Brock Francis
    What does Descarte's reputation as a philosopher rest on?

  21. 6 Brock Francis
    4. At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?

    I think it is important to define retire. To me it means when you reach the point in life where you don't have to work. I would like to be retired by age fifty-five. I believe it is important to develop your opinions and thoughts early in life, so when I retire I hope to do some traveling and playing a lot of golf. Maybe I will get an opportunity to write a book in order to put my beliefs into the public.

  22. Lucas Futrell (6)
    Extra Quiz Questions:
    1. (T/F)Descartes was more certain about the existence of his mind than his body.
    2. Did Descartes believe in God?
    3. What were Descartes' two scientific pursuits?

    1. One more:
      4. How many essays did Montaigne write?

  23. Anonymous10:31 AM CST

    Devin Mahoney (6)

    I really enjoyed the philosophies of Montaigne. I find I have inadvertently lived my life similar to some of his core beliefs. I truly enjoyed this quote from Montaigne "You can attach the whole of moral philosophy to a commonplace private life just as well as to one with richer stuff."

    Bonus Quiz Question:

    The idea that the mind is separate from the body and interacts with it is referred to as what? (Hint: This view was mocked by Gilbert Ryle)

  24. sect 6
    QQ: Which philosopher helped shape Descartes' argument about God's existence?

  25. Kellie Whitaker (6)
    I hope to retire at age 50 and spend my time doing volunteer work and working in non profits.

  26. sect 6
    2. How do you know you're awake and not dreaming? Is it meaningful to say "life is but a dream"?
    I think to some life may appear to be a dream, and to others it's realistic. It all depends on your perception of moment in time. Regardless if you are dreaming or not, the feelings are there, the connection is there. That feeling of deja vu often happens to me,like i have seen the same moment happen in a dream before. At these conjectures, i find myself thinking, as Descartes does, about an inception. What if we are all part of a dream within a dream? I wouldn't be surprised if we were, because it could be possible. When i wake up, i get the idea that this is some reality(the one that is considered reality to most), and the dream i just came from is just a blur-- it seems funny how time and perception is warped. However, at the same time it felt real in the dream. I think perception is everything. If it it is real to you, then this is reality. If you are like me, keep dreaming.

  27. Section 6
    DQ 5
    I have known a few people who have had such experiences. I find that the outcome changes from person to person. It can make some people warmer and focus more on the subtleties of life, while others may continue on as normal after that have brief recovery period.

  28. Section 6
    DQ 4
    I hope to retire at a normal age of 65. Of course, I am well aware that situations can change, and I may, for positive or negative reasons have to adjust that date to an earlier or later time. If I find myself doing what I love for a living (music), then the day of my retirement has little meaning. If I find myself locked into a career that I do not favor, then I wish that at at least could give me some savings so I can bow out sooner than later.

  29. Section 6
    Quiz Question suggestion:
    What part of the brain did Descartes believe interacted with the body to create effects and vice-versa?

  30. 6 Brock Francis
    2. How do you know you're awake and not dreaming? Is it meaningful to say "life is but a dream"? (And again: "Inception" - ?!)

    I believe I am awake and not dreaming because of the fact that life would be not meaningful otherwise. I believe the difference between a dream and reality is the sensations we get from reality. If you say "Life is but a Dream," then you could take a determinist approach and write everything off as not having any purpose.

  31. http://youtu.be/Was0Wn8eZGs

  32. Sterling Smith (#6)2:08 PM CST

    Discussion Question: Whose ideas do you align with the most, Montaigne or Descartes?

  33. Sterling Smith (#6)2:09 PM CST

    Discussion Question: What influences do you think had the biggest impact on Descartes?

  34. Sterling Smith (#6)2:12 PM CST

    Quiz Question: What is Descartes biggest contribution?

  35. Danielle Bonner Section 4

    Thursday 3 Essay
    In response to Descartes, I’m not a big fan of dualism. I think it’s a cop out. If you think that your mind, or soul, is separate from your body, then you feel as though you never really die; you can live on forever. It’s a way for people to think that they can cheat death, in a sense. I think the “mind” is nothing but the brain and the information that it holds, and the brain is nothing but the body. That being said I think that the brain is the most important part of the body and when the brain has terrible damage done to it, and full memory is lost to never be regained, the original “self” is forgotten, in a sense the person that you were is dead, although a new person may be formed if the body and brain is healthy enough to redevelop a sense of self and personage.
    Descartes also said, “I think, therefore I am,” which I agree with, but if existence is dependent on the ability to recognize thought, then we cannot definitely recognize the existence of anything else, besides ourselves. Especially not a being like God through just the idea that “if we can think about it it’s real” especially when he said that nothing that we think about is real for sure, except God. Like the book said, how do we know that the “demon” who makes us think that two plus three equals five, when it actually equals six, isn’t making us believe in God? I think some of his ideas were self-gratifying in the sense that if he were to follow the logic of the rest of his ideas, he wouldn’t come to the conclusion that he did. Since he already believed in a God, he fit his philosophy to reflect that there is a God, regardless of the fact that he was skeptical of the fact that two plus three equals five. Although I can agree with some of his ideas, the logic associated with this one is somewhat flawed.
    Descartes is most famous for asking whether or not he was dreaming. Whether or not any of us, at any moment in time, could be dreaming; and he never really came to a conclusion. He said we couldn’t trust any of our senses, so we cannot conclude that we aren’t asleep at any moment, having a very vivid dream that mimics reality. Although we cannot really prove that we’re awake, if you go around believing that at any moment you could be dreaming, then you can’t come to any solid conclusions about anything else that may affect you. That being said, living like you could always be dreaming could, potentially, be as dangerous as Pyrrho’s skepticism. Whilst dreaming you can do anything you can imagine without being hurt, reality is not the same, and if you were to live as though you were dreaming, you could cause some serious damage to yourself. Although Descartes is not classified as a skeptic, he does have a lot in common with them.

  36. Ian Law section 4


    How do we know we are not dreaming?

    While it’s hard to philosophically pin down exactly what we mean by dreaming, we all have an innate sense of what we call waking and dreaming. If we start from the premise that there are two distinct states, we can make some observations about how each one appears to us. However, it might even be hard to argue which is the “real” state.

    Firstly, dreams are inconsistent. Forms shift and waver and objects move. Narratives we tell ourselves while sleeping seem bizarre on reflection. We don’t necessarily feel this way while in the dream state. It can just seem frustrating. However, during lucid dreaming one can actually be aware of the absurdity of the dream, and this triggers one’s conscious awareness. Some would even regard the dream as the “real” world, while waking life is only an illusion. Regardless, when we wake up we realize it was a dream and wonder how we could have been fooled. Waking life brings a sense of stability and certainty as we focus on things we believe to be outside of ourselves instead of the illusions created only in our minds.

    But “reality” is not that much different from dream. What we call reality is made up of sensory impressions we receive in our heads. These impressions are composed into a coherent narrative automatically by our brains. Everything we perceive is really just such a virtual environment. Although we feel assured that these ideas originate from real objects, we have no way of knowing for sure. Indeed, many people become obsessed with the idea that reality has undergone profound changes that only they recognize. A common example on the internet is the so-called “Mandela effect” in which people swear that they remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s, even though there is no evidence that this occurred. To those who misremember this event, it is everyone else who is wrong. Examples like this show that our brains are susceptible to error, and we can’t rely on our sense of stability to say that what we perceive isn’t just as fake as what we imagine.

    Just as we believe the dream is real, we could be deceived because we are thinking in a limited capacity, ignorant of the greater reality that exists outside of our minds. Maybe there is a yet higher state that we can achieve—one that lies outside our conscious experience. This is certainly the impetus behind films like the Matrix and much of mysticism including Gnosticism. However, since there no evidence of these higher realities, it’s best to focus on the world we do know.

  37. Emily Blalock
    section 4 - essay
    In his quest for certainty, Descartes concluded that we can't trust our senses because they sometimes can fool us. He pushed doubt to its limits, and also proved that the philosophy of the Pyrrhonic Sceptics was wrong, and that there are some things that must be known for certain. I think it is important that he believed that although our senses can sometimes fool us, and that we can't always trust them, they probably aren't tricking us a majority of the time.
    I don’t agree with Descartes that you can prove God's existence simply by saying that the fact that we have an idea of him proves that it is a certainty that he must exist. I also don't really agree with his Trademark Argument, that we can know God exists because he left an imprint on our minds and we wouldn't have the idea of God if he didn't exist. He then continues to base the idea that the world must be how we perceive it because of his conclusion that a good God exists, and a good God wouldn't deceive us. However, his earlier thoughts of an evil demon controlling his thoughts could be applicable to this belief as well. Although I agree with Descartes on his view of complete skepticism, and that there are some things that we can know for certain even if we can’t trust all of our senses all of the time, I'm not so sure his way of proving it is completely logical.
    As far as Descartes’ question of whether or not we can know we are dreaming right now or not, I suppose we can’t truly know. However, if you truly believe that you are in a dream and not reality, I believe that would have an impact on your life and the way you choose to live it. I would say it is better to be open minded to the possibility that we could all be dreaming and not in a true reality, but then continue carry on our lives as if we are in reality. I think that if some people grasped the idea that they were only dreaming, they would come to the conclusion that what they are doing is irrelevant or meaningless, and there could possibly be some negative consequences that stem from that thought pattern. If we are only dreaming, what could we even do about it? We still must carry out our lives either way whether we are dreaming or not. That doesn’t mean that it’s not an important and interesting question to ask, as well as one that challenges a set belief that we hold to be true and real, but I think there are potential negative consequences if we focus too much on it. I don’t think we can know, unless one day we happen to wake up.

  38. Section 6 - Essay for spring break

    “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Rene Descartes not only said this, but he sought to fulfil its essence in the many areas he pursued. In mathematics, science, philosophy, and writing, he questioned and pushed and questioned again, sometimes seemingly beyond what was possible.
    Born in La Haye en Touraine (since renamed Descartes) in the Loire Valley in central France on 31 March 1596 to a lawyer and magistrate, he and his siblings were raised by a grandmother when his mother died.
    Living during a time of much skepticism, he saw the answer to doubt to be more doubt, a thorough examination of “what if”. For example, he realized he could doubt something as basic as his own body but he could not, under any circumstances, doubt whether he had a mind or that he could think. His conclusion was the act of thinking was proof of its self.
    Following this same method, Descartes began to use the same arguments for the remainder of the questions he had of the world. As he distrusted the sense, saying, “The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once”, he had to develop other methods for following his doubts to a successful conclusion. To demonstrate the problem of accepting the senses as a basis for truth, he used the so-called Wax Argument. He noted a wax object, which has certain properties of size, color, smell, temperature, etc, appears to change almost all of these properties when it is melted, to the extent that it appears to our senses to be a completely different thing. However, we know that it is in fact still the same piece of wax. Descartes concluded from this that the senses can be misleading and that reason and deduction is the only reliable method of attaining knowledge. Using reason and deduction to arrive at the truth is the essence of Rationalism.
    Descartes defined "substance" as "that which requires nothing other than itself in order to exist", but he eventually concluded the only true substance was God himself, because everything else, whether souls or material objects like the human body, was dependent on God for its existence.
    It is understandable Descartes is often called the Father of Modern Philosophy when one takes into account later philosophers who were no doubt very influenced by him, even though their questions may have taken them in different directions. Descartes wrote, “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” Philosophers such as Sartre seemed to take that thought very much to heart in works like Nausea where he examined himself and his life down to the smallest intricate detail in order to find resolution. In Descartes’ own, Discourse on Method, he illustrates what goes into a scientific observation. It is not merely strict observation of the world as it is, but interpretive.
    Descartes himself said, “With me, everything turns into mathematics.” This statement shines a light on his beliefs in perhaps one of the truest ways. “In my opinion, all things in nature occur mathematically.” In saying this, Descartes furthered his basic premise that everything must be questioned and broken down to their basest parameters. When he did this, through his scientific observation, he was left with stark truth. This process led not only to the reimagining of the Aristolean method, but also to Descartes’ discoveries and contributions to mathematics, as the inventor of the Cartesian coordinate system and the founder of analytic geometry, crucial to the invention of calculus and mathematical analysis.
    Perhaps, even though the most often offered Descartes’ quote is “I think, therefore I am,” his work could be expressed with this: “Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.” Descartes questioned and passionately worked at the problems he saw for his entire life, through each moment, even while asleep.

  39. Retirement. I have not thought much about retirement, but I think I would like to retire around the age of 50. That way, i will still have plenty of time to travel and explore the natural world like my grandparents.

  40. Retirement. I have not thought much about retirement, but I think I would like to retire around the age of 50. That way, i will still have plenty of time to travel and explore the natural world like my grandparents.

  41. How do you know you're awake and not dreaming?
    There's a sense of non-identity that exists when you are awake. When you are dreaming, most of the beings around you focus on you or react in a way that only you perceive. In reality, these people are their own identities and you are your own identity. Without going into science, you'd be literally crazy to not be able to tell the difference.

  42. (H3) At what age do you hope to retire? What will you do with yourself then? Will you plan to spend more time thinking?

    I would like to retire whenever I get tired of obsessing over society and it's politics. It's important now because I am directly affected by it, but once I get to the age where the younger generations surpass me, I'd just like to move somewhere quiet and do the things I don't normally get a good amount of time to do: draw, read, and think.

  43. (H3) Have you had a near-death experience, or known someone who did? What did it teach you/them? How often does the thought occur to you that you're always one misstep (or fall, or driving mistake) away from death?

    As morbid as this answer is I still felt it was important to share. I've had more friends who have had near death experiences and then attempted (some succeeded) suicide because of how it changed them/the lessons they learned than I have can count on my hand. Mortality is a fragile thing, and while we can't live in constant fear, we shouldn't believe we are invincible either. Death can become obsessive, but shouldn't be either taboo or idealized. It's a process to life that will happen, but can be influenced by our decisions.

  44. (H3) What have you learned, so far, about "how to live"? Have you formulated any life-lessons based on personal experience, inscribed any slogans, written down any "rules"?

    The biggest lesson to living I've learned is to not take things so seriously. Having anxiety for the bigger parts of my life prevented me from experiencing a lot of things a regular teenager would. Life is meant for having fun on your terms (within reason). People who are too critical prevent others from enjoying their life, and they don't get any kind of enjoyment from life. Life is a blessing and an opportunity to make a mark on a world you will not be in forever.

  45. H01

    DQ: Who is your favorite Philosopher so far? Do you agree with all of his/her beliefs?

    DQ: What idea do you most believe in? (skepticism, cynicism, etc)

    DQ: What have you learned about yourself since the beginning of this class?

    DQ: Has this class changed your personal beliefs? How/Why? What Philosopher's ideas?

    DQ: If you could meet one of the philosophers we have spoken of, who? What would you say?

    DQ: Do you agree with the poor man (cynic)?

    DQ: Do you agree with the belief system of avoiding earthly pleasures as to avoid loving anything other than God?

    DQ: Do you agree with Hobbes' idea that Religion is only different from superstition in that it is publicly accepted? Why or why not?

    DQ: What do you personally gain from walking? Do you have peripatetic walks?

    DQ: Do you agree with Aquinas' idea that we can't separate God from his essence?

    DQ: Do you agree with Plato's idea of justice? Are there exceptions?

  46. DQ: Lastly, why did you take this course?

  47. (H3) After contemplating on the question for a while, I guess there isn't anything that I know or believe that I couldn't possibly be mistaken about or cannot reasonably doubt. I do not believe I am an expert on anything, therefore, there will always be facts and opinions that I am unaware of, causing reasonable doubt or if nothing else ignorance. I don't believe I have to know everything about a subject to have an opinion about it. My opinion is not concrete and can change when affected by differing viewpoints or facts.

  48. (H3) I actually had a bit of a panic attack a long time ago about a question like this, whether you're awake or dreaming about being awake. I guess you don't really know you just have to accept the fact that either way you have to proceed with events as they occur.

  49. (H3) I don't have a specific age at which I hope to retire. When I am unable to complete the job in which I am employed, I believe that is when I would retire, probably mid to late seventies. I hope that I would be in good enough health to travel and explore different places and cultures. I would spend more time thinking about my life and the lives of others, perhaps with some regrets, but hopefully more good memories and acomplishments.

  50. (H3) I have thankfully never had a near-death experience or known someone who has. I believe it would readjust your priorities and make you consider what really matters in life. Hopefully the person would get something good out of the situation. In regards to the question about whether it had occurred to me that I'm always one misstep away from death, I've never thought about it that way in much detail. I think it's kind of an unhealthy way to look at life. Perhaps it should be how you're just one step away from truly living.