Monday, March 14, 2011

Wishful thinking

I've been suffering from insomnia of late, but I'm fighting back not with pills - no big luna moths latching onto my back - but with a lecture series called "The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida."

I'm only partway into the course - learning about Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Spinoza, Leibnez, Rousseau, those early guys of "modern" philosophical thought - but as soperifics they fit the bill for a sleepless guy like me. Don't get me wrong. These philosophers remain smarter than 99 percent of everybody in the world today - you could say they invented much of the world of today - but they each suffered a fatal flaw. Their ultimate goal was to prove intellectually, beyond doubt, the existence of a perfect God.

(As your neighborhood far-right-Christian will tell you, it is faith, not the intellect, that has to do the trick.)

Anyway, let's just take Descartes, of "I think, therefore I am" fame. Descartes decided to discover if anything could survive his doubt. He rejected all experience and feelings about the world, noting that it all could be concocted by an evil imp just to fool him. But the mere fact that the imp tried to fool him meant that he had to have a mind. (What else could the imp be trying to fool?) His problem, however, was that he mainly wanted to prove that the existence of God the same way, without relying on experience. So Descartes reasoned thus: The fact of his mind's existence implies its creation by an infinite, perfect being. There IS a perfect God! And because science is part of mind, and a perfect God could not be a deceiver, there must be a material world that the scientific method deals with. This "solution" to the mind-body problem has bedeviled philosophers for centuries.

Yikes! I'm supposed to stay awake through this drivel? Who says god isn't the imp? Who says our conception of perfect is anywhere near right? Who says that just as human scientists test lower animals in a deceptive maze, God doesn't do the same with us? In other words, Descartes, (and all the philosopher mentioned above) are doing little more than wishful thinking.

As I ponder such things, my head starts to droop, and with tsunamis and plagues slowly circling my mind and my body like so many imps, I fall asleep in my chair.

No comments:

Post a Comment