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The Crucible Of Methodic Doubt

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It is possible to doubt most all of our beliefs. Ð'-Rene' Descartes

Rene' Descartes, often referred to as the father of modern philosophy, was very pessimistic in his ponderings. He doubted all until he was only left with cogito, ergo sum or I think, therefore I am. Why did Descartes bother with all of his cynical ruminations? Why would he doubt all that he had learned in his lifetime? Why not just take what the world gives you, that which you see with your own two eyes? I will offer some answers to these questions while talking about the appropriately named Crucible of Method Doubt.

It seems to me that many a philosopher was also deeply entrenched in studies of other, more well-defined disciplines. It also seems that when they had learned all there was to learn, they ventured out to where no one had gone, simply thinking about thinking. Descartes sought out to rebuild his knowledge base from something or things, which he knew he could be absolutely certain about. The beginning of his doubting sprouted from trying to determine just how much we really know or how much we can be absolutely certain of. These reflections, published around 1633, start out with the first and second meditation, which, I believe, blend to become the first stage of The Crucible of Methodic Doubt, where Descartes begins to have a sense of doubt of his knowledge and perceptions.

Stage 1 of the crucible eliminates all of our perceptions of life and learning experiences taken in by touch, taste, feel, sight, and hearing. Descartes offers the possibility that one cannot readily discern between real perceptions or a set of false ones. For example, most people have seen the puddles or even lakes of water on the long, flat stretch of asphalt on a blisteringly hot day. Our eyes perceive the virtual water to be right in front of us. Our optic nerve carries the transduced signal to the back of the brain where the visual cortex is located, and our brain interprets it to be water, of some sort or another. At the same time another message comes out of seemingly nowhere and informs us that there is no possible way that this could be a puddle, lake, or any other sort of water reservoir simply because, who, in their "right mind," would build a road right through a body of water. It is not easy, reasonable, or practical to do so. From then on, when you see a body of water on a hot day, you know that it is not really there simply from experience. To reinforce this, you return in the winter, provided there is a season of considerably cooler temperatures, and discover that the body of water is no longer visible on the horizon from the same vantage point. If it were there when it was so very hot a few months ago, it would surely still be here when it is so much cooler,  all of our perceptions could be illusions since they are, in fact, only what we perceive not what we "in fact" or what we "truth." After this verity, it would not be unsuitable to say, hell, I even argue that it is relevant, "The craziest person alive is the only person who sees the truth and the rest of us, supposedly sane majority, are all out of our minds with our opiate and mundane perception of color, height, mores, norms, etcetera." Throughout life we are taught what things are, how they work, and why things are the way they are. Every preconceived idea we have now is a result from some form of an idea or collection of ideas that was taught to us at some point. The only reason that we believe, or are absolutely certain, that a banana is supposed to be yellow before you eat it is because someone told us so. If the first instruction on banana consumption had been to eat it while the peel is still green, would we all be eating green bananas? In closing the first stage of the Crucible, all of our perceptions can be factually void since there is no way to tell the difference between a true perception or a false one.

Stage 2 of the Crucible is rather an extension of stage 1 but involves more depth into the human psyche. It involves the ever-elusive dream world and often shunned drug perceptions. He believed that if one can dream something to be so real (lucid dreaming: where one tastes, feels, hears, observes colors and interacts with the environment), then it is possible to be dreaming all of the time, or at least impossible to disprove. At first, this seemed quite preposterous to me however, upon further reflection, I began to see where Descartes could have a valid argument. I suppose we could be sleeping our entire lives, but why will I never end up taking a calculus exam in my dream or why do I end up ordering mashed potatoes at McDonaldsÐ'®? It seems like the dream world can be distinguished from the "real world" simply by understanding that one is quite different in magnitude from the other and does not seem reasonable. The dream world gives the impression that it is an exponentiated form of the real world. It is so different, in fact, that we just pass it off as having a dream or nightmare, possibly out of ignorance or fear of this other world. I suppose it could be possible to live most of our lives engrossed in dreams (our current reality) and the experiences we perceive are taken back with us to the actual real world (our current dream world). This would present quite a problem when considering why we need to sleep so much, or are we just dreaming that we are in reality. I sense a vicious cycle presenting itself. I once had a dream that I was swerving in and out of traffic on a motorcycle and I was traveling at an obnoxiously fast rate. If I had to estimate, I suppose I would do so at about 200 mph. I ended up crashing as a result of running over some person, however I felt no remorse nor did I feel any pain. I never hit the ground, I was simply no longer on the motorcycle and suddenly I was walking along normally while kicking a rock with me on the sidewalk. Surely this couldn't be real, could it? In another dream I woke up, yes, I woke up and sensed I was late for something; I went through my whole day and got back home only to wake up again three hours before I actually had to get up. I have tugged back and forth with the idea of not knowing whether or not I am awake or sleeping, so I have convinced myself that I do not, in fact, have any proof of either case. One might say, "If I cannot know whether or not I am sleeping, how can I know what is or isn't real when I am under the influence of one or more hallucinogenic drugs?" It could be, perhaps, that humans are not the perfect being we perceive ourselves to be. We could lack the final chemical required to bring about the truth in all of our perceptions. Possibly di-lysergenic acid (LSD) or if you are an organic, from the earth type, psilocybin from your friendly,



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