It’s a matter of Belief – A Philosophical Detour of Descartes and Brotherton

twilightSpiritual belief is important to me. The abstract mysteries of the human mind go beyond what science is able to understand, and most neurophysiologists believe it might go beyond what we may ever be able to understand. The pathways and structures of the brain are not the end-all-be-all of our minds and selves. There is something unexplainable about the psyche that makes us more than merely our synaptic triggers.

“Je pense donc je suis.” – Descartes

Cogito, ergo, sum. I think therefor I am.

It is one of the most well known statements in the vast history of philosophy, and most people don’t even know that it is only the tip of Descartes’ iceberg. It’s actually the spring in his trap, so to speak. Descartes was one of those guys that questioned reality. He was a rationalist. He believed that you could only believe in what you could prove to exist.

To most people that seems perfectly logical, and they don’t ever question anything after that.

Fortunately for me, like myself, Descartes was never willing to accept anything at face value, and he dug deeper and deeper into his own mind and research until  he came to one conclusion:

Nothing exists.

I like to believe that he had a similar experience as my own, sitting in the kitchen of his shared 2-bedroom apartment one night, drinking freely and cracked out on pseudoephedrine while his room mate made very pointed and logical assaults on his sanity. The conversation would probably have been in French, but I still imagine it went something like this:

“You know, none of this is real. You’ve been completely insane for years, locked away in a rubber room.”


“No, seriously, think about it. Why else would you seek more and more ways to isolate yourself from everyone you know, and why else would you pursue a romantic relationship with a woman that is at best physically frigid?”

“Because I’m an emotional train wreck filled with self-loathing and a determined subconscious need to self destruct?”

“Doesn’t that sound like someone who would have a psychotic break and live in a fantasy land? One where life is shit, but you manage to get by just well enough for it to not get any better?”

“You’re a dick.”

“As a voice inside your head, I blame you.”

It probably continued on like this for several hours until he had a nervous breakdown and began searching for his own soul inside the prison of his mind.

You see, Descartes came to a conclusion way back in the day. If the only things we could believe to be true were the things we could prove to exist, and the only things we could prove were our own perceptions of reality, how could we prove that reality wasn’t an elaborate hoax played by our minds?

He came to a conclusion, he could prove he existed because he was thinking about whether or not he existed. Therefor he was the thinking thing inside his flesh suit, separate from it. That’s important, because then he can observe his own flesh with his mind and conclude that it doesn’t matter if it exists or not. The knowledge of how it should exist makes it come into being.

This is all very quantum physicsy, and though people who claim to be physicists will argue with you in defense of their own religion, there are piles of evidence pointing to the core particles of the universe behaving like this.

From there, Descartes went on to state that anything we had a concept for had to exist, otherwise there would be no basis for our concepts.

Extrapolated, that meant he proved the existence of God by our existence of a concept of perfection, which so far has not been observed in nature.

And that’s where I find myself.

I believe in the world around me. I understand pretty well all of the technology and science we live with in our lives. What I don’t know, I actively seek, and the more I learn about our scientific understanding of the Universe the more I begin to understand that people are basically stupid.

There is something out there, guiding us and teaching us. We have hardwired into our DNA a universal moral compass, though obviously there are plenty of us that have some damage to those circuits, and we can see the same basic behavior in other society forming animals on our planet.

That’s not a very good statistical probability.

Probability is a bullshit math for people who like to just half ass it anyway.

8 thoughts on “It’s a matter of Belief – A Philosophical Detour of Descartes and Brotherton

  1. This was very good, Brotherton. Kudos.

    1. Thank you. I strive to be informative and entertaining.. or just, you know, read.

  2. Stereo.* says:

    I like the direction you took this, Matt. I think when you are doubting your writing ability, you should visit this post and see how far you’ve come.

    1. Thanks. I’ve always been a fairly decent technical writer. I think drawing from that helps me sometimes.

  3. Stereo is right. Your writing, like your doodles are constantly getting better and better. I wish we could sit down over coffee and talk because so our beliefs and thought processes are very similar in many ways. 😀

    1. I love to discuss beliefs and philosophy. It’s one of my main passions. Unfortunately that almost always means also discussing religion, which is something I abhor.

  4. Debbie says:

    Descartes was a rationalist (you can only know anything through reasoning) but he wasn’t a  materialist (you can only know something empirically, i.e. through your senses).  Descartes was NOT a solipsist (nothing exists outside my experience) or a nihilist (nothing exists, not even myself), though his writings have been used to develop solipsism as a philosophy (which no philosopher who matters believes in).  Descartes was mostly concerned about a mind/body duality (Dualism) because Descartes thought the mind (i.e. consciousness) couldn’t possibly be a physical attribute, which is pretty understandable given the limitations of the knowledge of human biology in his day.  “I think, therefore I am” was his possibly exasperated attempt to prove that the body and the “mind” (consciousness) were two separate entities and that both had equal empirical weight.  Which they aren’t and don’t. Descartes’s idea of the “mind” is akin to our modern idea of a “soul”.     

    Berkeley might be a better model for a ” the only things that are real are those I perceive” sort of mindset.  He was all about consciousness and perception being the only reality, but he also stopped short of solipsism.  

    If you want your mind blown, read some David Hume, especially his writings about causation.  David Hume made me not believe in God.

    1. That’s the entire point of what I was saying. Descartes began his philosophical career as an argument to the construct that you can only prove what you perceive. That’s Descartes’ Trap. If you have a concept of something, it must exist.

      I don’t know that I can agree that David Hume is mind blowing. Probably not his fault, but he’s the go to argument for every wanna be Richard Dawkins in the world. I have an aversion for prosthelytizing, regardless of belief. I guess it’s prejudiced me in a way to Hume, since the biggest evangelists I know are those that spout the ignorance of spiritual belief unbidden and constantly.

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