Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Exist. I Think.

"COGITO ERGO SUM" ~ Rene Descartes
Basically that interprets from the Latin to mean, I think therefore I exist.

I often wonder about existence. What is it? Why do we do it? How do we do it? The same questions come to my mind when I consider thought. What a strange creature man is, that we would actually contemplate thought itself. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only creatures on this planet that exhibit this peculiar trait. We are at least the only ones who have managed to fill libraries with the study of this age old question.

What is thought? According to Wikipedia; "Thought" generally refers to any intellectual or mental activity. It can refer either to the act of thinking or the resulting ideas or arrangements of ideas. Similar concepts include cognition, sentience, consciousness, and imagination.

So thought and thinking are mental forms and processes, respectively. Thinking allows beings to model the world and to represent it according to their objectives, plans, ends and desires.

But what exactly is it?

In Eric Baum's book, What Is Thought?, Mr. Baum proposes a computational explanation of thought. Just as Erwin Schrodinger in his classic 1944 work What Is Life? argued ten years before the discovery of DNA that life must be explainable at a fundamental level by physics and chemistry, Baum contends that the present-day inability of computer science to explain thought and meaning is no reason to doubt there can be such an explanation. Baum argues that the complexity of mind is the outcome of evolution, which has built thought processes that act unlike the standard algorithms of computer science and that to understand the mind we need to understand these thought processes and the evolutionary process that produced them in computational terms.
Baum proposes that underlying mind is a complex but compact program that exploits the underlying structure of the world. He argues further that the mind is essentially programmed by DNA. We learn more rapidly than computer scientists have so far been able to explain because the DNA code has programmed the mind to deal only with meaningful possibilities. Thus the mind understands by exploiting semantics, or meaning, for the purposes of computation; constraints are built in so that although there are myriad possibilities, only a few make sense. Evolution discovered corresponding subroutines or shortcuts to speed up its processes and to construct creatures whose survival depends on making the right choice quickly. Baum argues that the structure and nature of thought, meaning, sensation, and consciousness therefore arise naturally from the evolution of programs that exploit the compact structure of the world.(ref)

Got all that? I have to ask then, if evolution were the key to thought, then why would more animals not exhibit the same traits as we do when it comes to the thought process? Why would we alone, as a species, which shares so much of it's DNA with all other lifeforms on the planet, act in such a unique way? To my understanding, evolution has a tenancy to repeat mutations that have proven to be beneficial. Such as the common eye and the fact that most creatures on the planet which have eyes, have two of them, allowing for binocular vision and the ability to judge distance. For that matter, in an overwhelming number of cases, said evolution has kept a common theme of creating things in pairs. Two eyes, two ears, two front limbs and two hind limbs, just to name a few. So, I have to wonder, since evolution is renown for it's repetitive nature, then why are we, so different from all other creatures, when it comes to thought?

So, please pardon me, if I do not go for the simplistic theories of Mr. Baum on this matter.There is obviously something more to this, than a simple matter of biochemistry.

Let us return to the thoughts of Rene Descartes on this  matter. Keep in mind however, that Descartes was in the end a religious man. I personally do not hold the same prejudicial bias on the matter, but I will try to not get into that at this time, but instead save it for the topic of future thoughts.

For those of you who are not familiar with Rene Descartes, I offer the following three minute video:

Or to be more precise on Descartes view on the matter, I offer  the following two videos:

So, do the musings of Descartes explain what thought really is? Does he explain how or why we think? To me the answer would have to be, a resounding no, he does not. But he does bring us to one undeniable conclusion; Since we ask the question of our existence, than we must indeed exist, otherwise, we would not be able to even ask the question at all. I think, therefore I exist, the rest of you however, may yet end up being figments of my overactive, highly dubious and bizarrely humorous imagination.

I may not be able at this time, to explain what thought is, but so long as I exist, I will continue to think. And so long as I exist, the thoughts that I have, I will attempt to report here for your consideration, as this blog is after all, dedicated to my thoughts.

Peace, love and light to you all,

doc haynes

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