Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes - Philosophy - I think, hence I am, was so certain and of such evidence, that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search. (Descartes)Rene Descartes - PhilosophyRene Descartes - Philosophy

Philosophy: Famous Philosophers: Rene Descartes

Discussion of Philosophy & Metaphysics of Rene Descartes
'I Think Therefore I Exist'

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'A Discourse on Method Meditations and Principles'

I think, hence I am, was so certain and of such evidence, that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.
(Rene Descartes)

Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterwards based on such principles was highly doubtful: and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences.
(Rene Descartes).

Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes - Philosophy - I think, hence I am, was so certain and of such evidence, that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search. (Descartes)Introduction - Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes is one of the most elegant writers of philosophy. He is also one of the most important of the western philosophers due to his determination to find a certain foundation for philosophy / truth that could not be assaulted by the skeptics!

His solution? That it is impossible to doubt that you are thinking (you must think to doubt) thus we can be certain that a thinking mind exists. From this certain foundation he then concludes that God exists as the necessary creator of our material world and minds, and matter exists because our mind senses corporeal matter (particles), and God would not deceive us;

By the name God I understand a substance that is infinite, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything else, if anything else does exist, has been created. (Med. 3)

But, since God is no deceiver, ... and He has given me no faculty to recognize that this is the case, but on the other hand a very great inclination to believe that my sense are conveyed to me by corporeal objects, I do not see how he could be defended against the accusation of deceit if these ideas were produced by causes other than corporeal objects. Hence we must allow that corporeal things exist. (173)

Each substance has a principal attribute, and . . . the attribute of the mind is thought, while that of body is extension. (175)

He then distinguishes the properties of mind, matter and God.

Body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible. (Med. 6)

Thus extension in length, breadth and depth, constitutes the nature of corporeal substance; and thought constitutes the nature of thinking substance. For all else that may be attributed to body presupposes extension, and is but a mode of this extended thing; as everything that we find in mind is but so many diverse forms of thinking. (175)

Philosophical Sketches: Chapter Fourteen: Rene DescartesGod is the primary cause of motion; and he always preserves the same quantity of motion in the universe.
After this consideration of the nature of motion, we must look at its cause. This is in fact twofold: first, there is the universal and primary cause - the general cause of all the motions of the world; and second there is the particular cause which produces in an individual piece of matter some motion which it previously lacked. Now as far as the general cause is concerned, it seems clear to me that this is no other than God himself. In the beginning, ,<in his omnipotence>, he created matter, along with its motion and rest; and now, merely by his regular concurrence, he preserves the same amount of motion and rest in the material universe as he put there in the beginning. Admittedly motion is simply a mode of the matter which is moved. But nevertheless it has a certain determinate quantity; and this, we easily understand, may be constant in the universe as a whole while varying in any given part. (Principles Part II, article. 36)

It is interesting to read Pascal's criticism of this foundation for God as the first cause of matter's motion.

I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God. (Blaise Pascal)

There are numerous criticisms of Descartes conception of mind, matter and god - most relating to how these three different things are interconnected in the world that we all commonly experience.

I am convinced there is a solution to this problem - but it requires describing reality in terms of only one substance existing - space and its wave motions that form matter. Thus we change the metaphysical foundations of physical reality from Newton's motion of matter 'particles' in 'Space and Time' (which then required forces to connect the discrete particles) to the Wave Motion of Space that causes (and unites) matter, energy and time.

Basically the problem was to apply motion to discrete matter particles rather than realising that matter is motion, the wave motion of space. This is explained in the following pages;

Truth Statements on Physical Reality - These truth statements show people how to deduce physical reality for themselves and confirm it is true. It also provides a very concise summary of the central things the Wave Structure of Matter (WSM) explains. See if you can show any statement is not true.

Wave Equation in an Elastic Wave Medium - Deducing the famous energy equations, Einstein's E=mc2, Planck's E=hf and Newton's F=ma from simple wave equations in an elastic medium (space). This confirms that the equivalence of matter and energy is because matter is made of waves, and waves propagate energy. All forces are due to changes in wave velocity.

Metaphysics - Solving the central problem of metaphysics - what is the one active substance that causes and connects the many changing material things we experience. The solution is simple, space is a wave medium and contains wave motions. i.e. From the motion of matter particles in space and time, to the wave motion of space that causes matter and time.

Cosmology - Explaining how our observable universe exists as a finite spherical region of infinite eternal space.

Theology God Religion - Defining god in terms of the one infinite eternal substance that exists.

Free Will Vs. Determinism - How we can have limited freedom and limited determinism in a necessarily interconnected reality of waves in space.

Geoff Haselhurst
(February, 2010)

Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes - PhilosophyRene Descartes: I Think Therefore I Exist


I think, hence I am, was so certain and of such evidence, that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search. (Rene Descartes)

It is strange that Descartes did not further pursue this line of reasoning, as he would then likely have solved the problems of philosophy / knowledge.

The reasoning is simple.

1. 'Cogito Ergo Sum' - I think therefore I exist (a thinking thing exists).

2. I think I exist as a material body in space and that I can see and interact with other material things in the space around me, including other thinking things (other humans).

3. Thus three things seem to exist in an interconnected way;

i) Many thinking minds (of which I am certain of my own).
ii) Many material things (people, cars, trees, houses, earth, sun, stars, ...).
iii) One common Space (that these many minds and material things exist in).

From this there is only one way to describe reality if we abide by the rules of simplicity (Occam's Razor) and metaphysics (necessary connection). i.e. There are many minds and material things - but they all seem to exist in one common space. This leads to a simple deduction of the wave structure of matter in Space which then deduces the fundamentals of physics (without any opinions), i.e. Quantum Theory, Albert Einstein's Relativity and Cosmology.

The complete argument is on the Truth Statements on Physical Reality page.

I do find it strange though that many people now seem to reject Descartes argument that we cannot doubt our thinking minds exist. As I see things, postmodernism has become so skeptical that people even doubt that they exist as thinking things - they take the idea that language is metaphor to illogical extremes. This is discussed more on the Friedrich Nietzsche page.

Let us assume that we do not know reality- the solution to metaphysics (substance and its properties). Thus any statement you make about the external world is uncertain. For example we can say;

"I experience seeing a tree." But of course this does not mean the tree necessarily exist. The certain truth is the personal / subjective truth (what we experience with our minds) not the objective truth (that the tree actually exists).

Thus all we can say with certainty is "I experience seeing a tree so this experience of the tree exists."

However, there is one and only one exception to this.

I experience thinking thus thinking things exist.

This cannot be doubted - as we must first think to doubt.
Thus we can be certain that we exist as thinking things.

What is most interesting is how we solve this, by solving metaphysics - by correctly imagining what exists - space - the one thing that we all commonly experience existing in as one thing. David Hume explains this problem of causation and necessary connection very well.

This problem of the 'external world' and causation disappear when you realise that we are universal structures - there is no external world, just one world, matter-energy and space-time are a unity - the wave motions of space. As Schrodinger wrote;

What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space. Particles are just schaumkommen (appearances). ...
The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist. (Erwin Schrodinger)

Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'

The 'ghost in the machine' was made famous by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle in his book 'The Concept of Mind' (1949). It relates to the problems of René Descartes' mind-body dualism. Descartes describes this as follows;

Nature also teaches me by the sensations of pain, hunger, thirst, etc. that I am not only lodged in my body as a pilot in a vessel, but that I am very closely united to it, and so to speak so intermingled with it that I seem to compose with it one whole. ... I consider the body of a man as being a sort of machine so built up and composed of nerves, muscles, veins, blood and skin, that though there were no mind at all, it would not cease to have the same motions as at present, exception being made of those movements which are due to the direction of the will and in consequence depend on the mind (as opposed to those which operate by the disposition of the organs). (Rene Descartes, Meditations 6)

Descartes is correct that the body is a machine, but the mind is also a machine, and so is the universe. So really we should say there is a machine (mind) in a machine (body) which are both part of one machine (the universe). To understand this it is necessary to realise that matter is a wave structure of the universe, so is mind (this is why we can see and interact with the rest of the universe - it is a part of us). From this we can deduce that we have neither complete freedom, nor complete determinism.

Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes: Three Laws of Motion

Descartes Laws of Motion are quite similar to Newton's Laws of Motion. He states;

Law 1. Each thing, in so far as it is simple and undivided, always remains in the same state, as far as it can, and never changes except as a result of external causes. ... Hence we must conclude that what is in motion always, so far as it can, continues to move. (Principles Part II, article. 37)

Law 2. Every piece of matter, considered in itself, always tends to continue moving, not in any oblique path but only in a straight line. (Principles Part II, article. 39)

These first two laws are correct, and are equivalent to Newton's Law of Inertia, F=ma.
i.e. A body does not change its motion (acceleration) unless a force acts on it. This corrects Aristotle's physics (which was dominant at the time) that thought a body would stop moving unless a force continued to move it.

Law 3. When a moving body collides with another, if its power of continuing in a straight line is less than the resistance of the other body, it is deflected so that, while the quantity of motion is retained, the direction is altered; but if its power of continuing is greater than the resistance of the other body, it carries that body along with it, and loses a quantity of motion equal to that which it imparts to the other body. (Principles Part II, article. 40)

This is nearly correct. He was just missing the concept of mass and the resultant conservation of momentum (mass by velocity).

In The World, he states: "the virtue or power in a body to move itself can well pass wholly or partially to another body and thus no longer be in the first; but it cannot no longer exist in the world" (AT XI 15)

This is one of the first formulations of the conservation principle and the concept of 'force'. It basically states that motion is conserved in the universe. This is correct, but it is the wave motion of space that is conserved!

Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes: Vortex Theory of Gravity

Descartes explains the orbit of the earth about the sun due to the earth being carried along by space which is moving around the sun in a large vortex. Thus he assumes space is like a liquid or a gas, made of tiny particles that can move. It is not correct - but historically interesting.

The wave structure of matter tells us that space is a nearly rigid (slightly elastic) wave medium. We have a page on Vortex Theory which explains the reasons why it cannot be correct.


Introduction Descartes - I Think Therefore I Exist - Rene Descartes 'Ghost in the Machine'
Descartes Three Laws of Motion - Descartes Vortex Theory - Descartes Biography - Top of Page

Rene Descartes Biography

René Descartes, also known as Cartesius, was a French philosopher, mathematician and part-time mercenary. He is equally notable for both his groundbreaking work in philosophy and mathematics. As the inventor of the Cartesian coordinate system, he formulated the basis of modern geometry (analytic geometry), which in turn influenced the development of modern calculus.

Descartes, sometimes called the Founder of Modern Philosophy and the Father of Modern Mathematics, ranks as one of the most important and influential thinkers in modern western history. He inspired both his contemporaries and later generations of philosophers, leading them to form what we know today as continental rationalism, a philosophical position in 17th and 18th century Europe.
In Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), Descartes attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called Methodological Skepticism: he doubts any idea that can be doubted. Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: if I am being deceived, then surely "I" must exist. Most famously, this is known as cogito ergo sum, ("I think, therefore I am"). Therefore, Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists. But in what form? You perceive your body through the use of the senses; however these are unreliable (he uses the changing characteristics of wax by a flame as an example and dreams - one's senses perceive things that seem real, but do not actually exist). So Descartes concludes that at this point, he can only say that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted. (Edited from Wikipedia)

Descartes main interest was in the development of science, and he had very clear ideas about the proper direction for this development. Mathematics, and in particular geometry, seemed to him to provide the model for scientific procedure. He thought that the fundamental method in science was the deductive method of geometry, which he conceived of as rigorous reasoning from self-evident axioms; and he thought that the subject-matter of all the physical sciences must be fundamentally the same as the subject-matter of geometry, and hence that, from the point of view of science in general, the only important characteristics of things in the physical world were the spatial characteristics which geometry studies. It is not the holding of these beliefs which makes Descartes a metaphysician. It is rather the dramatic expression they receive in his doctrines about the essential nature of knowledge and existence.

He offers a picture of a world in which the only realities, apart from God, are purely material substance with none but spatial characteristics, and pure thinking substances whose being essentially consists in the ability to grasp self-evident axioms and their deductive consequences. Knowledge is nothing but the results of exercising this ability. ...
Thus Descartes teaches, on the one hand, that it is only through our confidence in God's veracity that we can have reason to believe in the existence of material things; and on the other that it is only through our willfulness that we ever believe what is false. (Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy)


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