Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Oscar’s Week Off | A Choice of Self- Inquiry

 

My Plan?

Initially I really did not have a plan, in fact, these past weeks have been mind-clogging and in truth, the entire unit of metaphysics has not embedded a seed of clear understanding in my brain as it should be. Regardless, my plan for my P.D.O. was to go through an uninterrupted period of meditation to answer questions of my own self- an ideal I aspire. While I pondered over my existence and jousted mentally with myself, I found it incredibly difficult to decide on how I should go about my P.D.O. as this ‘day off’ was starting to turn into a week off- this ‘plan’ I had ended up being scrapped.

Upon trying to gather and create options, narrow them down and eventually take action through a process of decision making, I realized that I was doing exactly what I told myself not to do- to overthink and strive for perfection. I had too many options to choose from and while I continued to I agonized over this ‘Day-Off’ I had finally arrived to moment of clarity. I could watch some home videos I had never watched but had just been “shelved”, only for me to visit these digitized VHS tapes fifteen years in the future!

First Inquiries going into P.D.O.

Metaphysical questions. Always present, often never conclusive. After finally deciding what I was going to do going into my P.D.O I generated too many questions to be comfortable with answering; most of which subsided into my sub-conscious mind and never made it out alive onto this web-page. In any case, here is a handful of questions I gathered going into my P.D.O:

  • How is my mind and body actively contributing to each and every choice I make?
  • Are the choices I’m making actively making me grow in the mental essence? In the physical essence?
  • As I believe in free-will, at what extent am I living the best version of myself? How do I know the choices I am making are contributing to the unveiling of my best ‘self’ version? 

As these questions continued to expand, I questioned whether I was or was not living an optimal version of myself during the course of my ‘day off’ or whether my choice to sit down and view “ancient” home videos was to bring the best e-motions (literal energy motions) within me; emotions that could prompt me to seek more questions about self-knowledge.

What Actually Happened:

Everything actually worked out pretty nicely despite my indecisiveness that prolonged throughout the week. I sat down at around mid-night, uninterrupted on a Friday night where I rolled back the tape (literally, well maybe not because it was digitized) and took three solid hours to be left mesmerized by my existence throughout 1999-2003. These years fabricated the detachment from my own existence where my existence preceded my essence. Essentially, these years marked the transition between the mechanisms of a being and a Being. In hindsight, the year 2003 marked the beginning of my essence in which viewing these videos prompted me to think how much I actually knew of myself? If memory does support the bundle theory, than my past is simply a mere conjunction of qualities and not a substance- what would be of myself if my own memory was suddenly withdrawn from my physical essence?

Suddenly, I found myself choosing to take a path of self-inquiry; I was striving to seek answers to strengthen the knowledge of my own self based on past and present but not future.The American/English philosopher Stuart Hampshire’s argues that the question, ‘Who am I?’ requires a person to engage in a process of rational, reflective detachment from the first-person point of view. In direct correlation to this statement, viewing a periodic video of myself that took place at the beginning of my life states that I could now pursue my aspirations- to be more self-knowledgeable. Being self-knowledgeable in my views, lays on the foundation of every choice and action you make because that is the only realistic or “action-based” way to go about ‘things’; when thoughts and choices formulated within the mind can be expressed in the physical, spacial world.

 

Remaining Questions? Artefact?

Now that this blog is quite literally giving me a headache I’d like to introduce my artefact. I found the original VHS tapes laying somewhere in the depths of my basement. Each tape, essentially being a consequential chapter in my mind, can be rolled back and ‘fast-forwarded’ much like my brain can do within my own memories. I may wish to roll the tape back or fast-forward towards any point in my life but never in the future, for that would require the creation or introduction of another new VHS tape.

In short, none of my questions were answered but I only formulated more doubts and reasons to comfort myself because metaphysics has just clogged my mind with the nature of ‘things’ being too complex to discuss.

Image result for vhs tape

As this post is beginning to become somewhat of a headache, I’d like to state my remaining questions as follows:

  • What is the bridge between freedom of choice and self-awareness? How are they linked together?
  •  How is ‘reflective self-detachment’ possible in our day-to-day lives? Is this only possible through travelling through memories (in the mind, through pictures or videos?) and through lucid dreaming?
  • What kind of power can “successful” reflective self-inquiry bring upon our lives? Would we be able to make the ‘best’ and right choices without much doubt?

Questions I will try to never answer but will always want to answer…

 

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The Original Evil Genius

“Cogito ergo sum”

“I think, therefore I am” stands as one of the most well known statements in the history of philosophy, representing, to its creator, the sole truth we can be sure of. In reaching his epoch-breaking conclusion, Descartes followed every path available to try to disprove it. As the one statement that he believed humanity could prove, no matter what, he had to ensure that it stood to the utmost scrutiny. While putting it to the test, he abandoned the realm of what we might call realistic and hypothesized a few extraordinarily, on the surface, ridiculous ideas.

No, not this evil genius

One of these theories, representing the furthest extent of Descartes’ theorizing, was the Evil Genius theory. It essentially posited the existence of some being that deceives us in all things, forging an entire world that is nothing but an illusion designed to trick us into accepting it as reality. The idea struck me, and I decided, though it does not represent my true beliefs about epistemology(not at the outset of this post, at any rate), to do some theorizing myself and examine and understand what the basis of such an idea would be, if any.

Firstly, we must realize that the ‘reality’ we perceive is unknowable – whether or not there is some objective reality, there is absolutely no way of knowing that. All information about the outside world must, at some point, come through our senses and be processed by our brain, whereby any hope of reliability is obliterated. Thus, it is entirely plausible that everything we experience is simply an illusion implanted into us by some deceiving evil genius – true or not, we would have no way of knowing.

We must not, however, confuse our terms of external realities – everything is external. Our bodies are external. Our brains are external. No piece of information that is based in any external stimuli or information can assure us of its reliability, and thus, even our own knowledge of ourselves is subject to skepticism – how can we be sure of even our own bodies when all we know of them is relayed as signals, via our nerves, to our brain and then to our mind? Every action we take and every sensation we feel could very well be the product of some false stimuli fed to us by this Evil Genius.

“But…what then?” I hear you say. “Doesn’t that mean everything could be part of that illusion? How could anything be real?” These are the same questions Descartes asked himself. But – and this is exactly how he reached his final conclusion – he reasoned that even accepting everything we know of the world and everything we know of reality as nothing but illusion, there still must be something to perceive that illusion. To deceive, something must be being deceived – and thus we must all, on some level, no matter how base or primal or fundamental, exist.

But – and here I depart from Descartes`axiom – that prompted another question: what about reason? We can accept that all knowledge of things outside our minds is subject to unreliability, given the potential for illusion, but what about ideas and knowledge that are derived entirely within our own minds? Are these, too, subject to questioning and skepticism?

I see several answers to this question. Firstly, no – reason and logic are by definition flawless, and pure logic in a field like mathematics is only flawed to the extent that the logic is compromised by the logician. Secondly, yes – this evil genius we speak of must also have the power to twist thought and logic, thus making even reason unreliable. And thirdly, an answer purely from my own interpretation, both yes and no – reason and logic are flawless, but their foundations may be quite the opposite, evil genius or not.

Reason is, at its heart, a construction of building blocks, an endless chain of cause and effect, of premise and conclusion, that leads from one idea to another. Done properly, reason can form an unassailable edifice of thought upon which any attack would break. But while the walls reason erect may be strong, we must consider what it is built upon.

Just try taking out the bottom piece. I dare you.

Reason is, of course, dependent on the assumptions we make and the conclusions we can prove, and to a very large extent strives to limit the former while expanding the latter. But at a certain point, there had to be a jump from nothing to something – there had to be a first premise, a first assumption, and a first idea. Without any logic leading to it, it would be unquestionable – how can you argue against a conclusion created out of thin air when you have no other conclusion to compare it to? This first thought, unreliable as we might find it today were it to be identified, would have to lay a foundation for all successive thought to be build upon. The obvious problems this raises are compounded even further once one realizes that this first thought would likely be an inference made on the basis of experience and reality – and thus, the Evil Genius worms his way into our very way of thinking.

What, then, have we established with the exploration of this idea? Firstly, anything that depends on the senses or processing into the mind from the outside world is unreliable, subject as we are to illusion and deception. Secondly, reason too must be questioned, as the possibility remains that some evil genius would be able to manipulate our logical processes just as easily as he would manipulate external realities. And thirdly, even if the above is not true, reason is still to be questioned because of the first, fundamental assumption or conclusion all else must be based on.

While Descartes’ basic idea – I think, therefore I am – still holds in the face of all that(something must be being deceived, even in the face of all this deception), we have to wonder what exactly the point of all this is. Essentially, we have proven that no piece of knowledge, whether of reason or of reality, is reliable. Really, a more unhelpful and useless conclusion has never been reached. True knowledge, it seems, is nowhere to be found – and because of that, we must accept the flawed, unreliable knowledge that we have and make do with it. Reality itself may be questionable, but so long as we exist within some reality -and Descartes established that we do – we are forever bound to exist within that framework, true or not. Let us not be so caught up in matters of absolute truth and reality. When we can trust nothing as true, we must accept what we have, though forever vigilant against the flaws in that knowing. Be careful about what you believe – the Evil Genius is out there.

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