Have you ever defeated a king with he’s own weapons?
“I think therefore I am.” You know that statement, right? To my point of view, it would be disregarding our own intelligence to leave that reference aside while we are watching closely how we deal with mind and thoughts…
In Europe, to say the least, this statement and the Method from which it is extracted has laid down a blue print for how to deal with our consciousness, guiding us on how we should conduct it. Indeed, it constitutes another example of the confusion that brought us to believe that consciousness should be conducted by mind, rather than mind conducted by consciousness. However, amongst the main references and arguments that we took from this Method to build and maintain an overpowering confusion, some of them could have been totally misunderstood and interpreted backwards…. Maybe because their meaning was voluntarily made non-obvious, nay hidden. Why that? Perhaps to elude the lethal judgement of those in power in that time (and nowadays?).
“I think therefore I am” is the most famous quote from the “Discourse on the Method (of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences)”, first exposed to the censorship of the religious prosecutors, then written by René Descartes and published in 1637. Here is a totally different view of that huge reference, that could make up with what you knew what true, despite the ordinary education you received, which - wether you knew it or not - has been influenced by it one way or another.
THE TROJAN HORSE OF FREE WILL
Dethroning the reason with reasoning
(Initially written in July 2007 for the Professional School of Mediation and Negotiation - EPMN)
What if if we played a little with reason? Let's look at the basics of this society from another angle; let us see the interest that we can find in a point of view which I believe is one of the deepest foundation of our problems, our boredoms and our limitations. Unless we mistook this point of view for what it was not, the statement ”I think therefore I am" could have been unfortunately reserved to its literal sense only.
Nowadays, most of people have already refused such a statement since a long time; it became obvious that the thinking process brings more troubles than ease in life. Yet, having disregarded this Method (either consciously or not), we may have thrown the baby out with the bath water, not considering what this old reference could still hide as a treasure for us. Let's see what the author of this old statement - a statement that indeed became inept - could well reserve us as a present surprise...
The Rhetoric of the Clandestine
In the 17th century already, censorship is quartering wisdom between knowledge and its contract, the contract of “the one who knows” defining the transmission of his knowledge. The wise man must then engage in making his message up, to have it validated. This making-up could require some unexpected talents. For the sage presenting his theory is not always an artist, he sometimes have to act as a politician. Hence some of those wise men (yes women were not much aloud there), were, at the risk of their lives, displeasing the censorship by divine right if they were outstanding. As you know at that time the divine right had all the power to decide and define what would or would not make sense and reference as what truth is.
Thus this 17th century (preparing the Enlightenment one), rushes to the fortune of a different rhetoric; a rhetoric serving the clandestine, sometimes clever enough to harbour the curiosity, the meaning and the provocation within the so-called "reason" of a sophistical preaching.
Although some others lose themselves, or must finally kowtow and bow down on their heels, regretting the audacity of their provocative freedom, Descartes already brings a light to the agility and decoys of reason. Better than hiding his opinions in a distorted package - which, being suspect, would force him to be led astray later - he excels at the art of deceiving the censorship by becoming the flag bearer of the very cause he refutes. To manipulate the manipulator is an exquisite dance. After all, why not have fun sending reason flying elsewhere?
The Irrational Release from Constraints
It is this position of reading that I choose, wishing not to misrepresent its meaning, while wishing in the same time to transform it, into the perspective of this very same meaning. To satisfy these "irrepressible" censors, René Descartes pays homage to the omnipotence of God (whose existence he claims to prove with an absurd reasoning), whereas he simultaneously offers the means to dethrone this “King God” with an exhaustive method of reasoning. Choose your side.
This science that could be likened to humour - theatre of political comedy - sows a sense for the words of a future Molière... In his Discourse on the Method, Descartes perhaps gives a lesson to the envious of free expression, demonstrating by the fact, that one can free oneself from all constraints, including those of reason… And this by reasoning alone, defeating the “king” with he’s own weapons.
Nevertheless, he indicates precisely the data of his own reflection, which leaves not even a dust of hope to the believes. Then he argues about the existence of God (proving its existence through reasoning) by leading the reader through a maze of overabundant scientific descriptions. In this way he confuses the rational landmarks that the common sense protects. In other words he brings the guided reader so completely out of his own references - until losing them all - that the reader fells into a trap where the good-thinking censor he could have been finds himself so confused - in his naive acceptance - that he simply get lost. What about you now, reading this?
Thus Descartes perhaps leads the religious around by the nose. He makes the censor who tries to prevent him from writing, to acknowledge - in spite of himself - a skilful demonstration of the art of heresy. And this Trojan Horse to sow the doubt around… As from doubt its own benefit, which allows the author to extend his art.
The Method (for a permission to be?)
In a few lines already, anticipating this manipulation, he warns the reader about the change to come. In fact, he begins his Discourse on the Method with a sentence which could well sum up the essence of the art of dethroning the reason for points of view:
_ “Good sense is the best shared-out thing in the world ... / ... Since it’s not likely that everyone is mistaken about this, it is evidence that the power of judging well and of telling the true from the false—which is what we properly call ‘good sense’ or ‘reason’—is naturally equal in all men…/“
Is there so much more to write about the freedom of having no point of view? Doesn’t that brings a certain foundation for the advantage that one can choose to have on any situation? And finally, what best way to recognise the legitimacy of each person’s view?
_ ”... it is also evidence that our opinions differ not because some of us are more reasonable than others, but solely because we take our thoughts along different paths and don’t attend to the same things ... /"
How to give a better sense of impartiality, of the allowance to be and of the "interesting" value of all points of view whatsoever? Who would go, knowing this, for preferring an opinion rather than another? The field is ready now to receive "the unacceptable".
Recognising the full powers of the Order, by making it a Chaos.
After grovelling to the God whom he venerates so obviously (by acknowledging its full powers without ever conceding them), Descartes now specifies the position of the one who will change the consistency of his reason into his own reflection. Here again the allowance to be is educated:
_ “All the opinions I had until then in my debt, I could do no better than to undertake, once and for all, to remove them, in order to put them back afterwards ... / ... when I had adjusted them to the reason. "
If opinions are the consistency of reason and if it is enough to change its order to differ this very reason, then the reason itself canot refer any more. It loses indeed its very function. One would then have to be willing to argue that it is "reasonable" to demonstrate one thing by a+b=c, while at the same time demonstrating its opposite… At the time of the Kings Louis in France, you would be punished for less than that and accused to be malevolent. The most agile thinkers were burned at the stake for that much. *
_ ”And I firmly believed that by this means I would succeed in leading my life much better than building myself on old foundations ... / ... and on the principles that I had allowed myself to be persuaded in my youth, without ever having examined they were true. "
This is how the author refutes his own thesis, leaving nothing to appearances. Descartes here leads his juror to consider his reasoning as a pinnacle of honesty, supposed to demonstrate the greatest Order desirable to bring to one’s consciousness. Yet watching closely, in the name of the Order of Reason, the author most likely infiltrates in his plea the Chaos of Consciousness.
By verifying the foundations of what he "firmly believed" by “allowing himself to be persuaded", does he not make those foundations waver? The pretext here is to make those foundations even more ordered. He however says that he now aims no longer at the "conduct”, but at the "truth"... And the divine reason of the public prosecutor, having now lost ways to be defended, wobbles without blinking in the net of confused opposite meanings. Is there worse heresy for the Order than consciousness? And yet here consciousness is honoured, like this giant horse that one day infiltrated the last night of Troy.
This could be a perfect example of an organised game between chaos and order, where the reasons are confused in such a coherence, that consciousness is liberated, right under the jailers’ nose. Plato’s Republic has yet to say on this subject ...
Here the author is an accomplice of his censors; being an advocate for them, he can contradict them so clearly that the only thing they see is an argument under the zeal of reason. Therefore, after humbly praising the positions he has chosen for himself, Descartes requests the blessings of the holy censor, stating himself as a bad example to follow… He declares, however, by signing his missive:
_ ”I have never tried to hide my actions as crimes, nor have I used many precautions to be unknown. "
In this way - enjoying his full right - he would be free to present the precepts and maxims of his own invention, which - with complete impunity - would throw the totality of beliefs off balance and eventually change its course. Then to prevent even more certainly the Last Judgment, he would put in the core of his work a plea for the existence of God, winning since then all holy purses, cleverly intoxicated by the motionless motion of an unreasonable reasoning.
Descartes the provocative?
Descartes elaborates and structures his reason by some declarations that flatter common sense. In order to present his four precepts and three maxims (we see two here), he inoculates his message in a few lines, which he must neutralise with hundreds of other lines. But this poison against ignorance is irreversible for the consciousness in motion, though - apparently - harmless against the beliefs in place. As he writes at the end of the presentation of his principles:
_ ”The action of thought by which one believes something being different from that by which one knows that one believes it, they are often one without the other. "
In full provocation and perfect sophist, Descartes seems to create in the mind of the reader the belief of a demonstrated thesis (of the existence of God), which he displays to exonerate himself from censorship. But in so doing he discreetly provides the skilful means for "knowing that one believes it” (read here “merely believes the existence of God”) which by itself demonstrate its own antithesis. What skilful means does he provide? Well, those which dare to replace the divine right itself (without failing to legitimise them of course):
_ ”The multitude of laws often provides excuses for vices.”
And here he goes, entrusting them to their gullible beards, as if he would address them saying “as you left me your armies, I will crush you down with them.” Thus does he presents the precepts and maxims which in a few lines - although supposed to be appropriate only to the author himself - will give the reader a recipe for the autonomy to think and act. In other words it gives a reasonable access to the freedom to choose. Which comes down to propose "an underwater technique for climbing a tree“ or "a pocket of water to hit a nail". And yet, behind this aspect refuting all the dangers of heresy, he will plant that nail and he will climb that three.
A commitment is encouraged here; the one that you can have with your own free choice.
What freedom of contract can you have with all your reasons, to commit yourself further in your own living?
It is indeed in those lines that Descartes succeeds, right under the nose and the beard of the higher authorities, to render the so-called contract that God made to humanity, obsolete.
From problem to Possibility (the opposite of what appears to be)
_ ”… to never receive anything for true, that I did not know it to be such: That is to avoid carefully the precipitation and the prevention ..."
For "precipitation" and "prevention" it is annotated in some editions to read: "judgment" and "prejudices" (cf. L.Renault, GF Flammarion) ... Which already reminds us two out of the three elements of a communication "at risk” (as identified by Jean-Louis Lascoux, Director of the EPMN). The precept which makes possible to free oneself from these elements thus represents a doubtless interest for someone who wishes more relational possibilities and freedom. Let's see then the second precept:
_ ”… to divide each of the difficulties that I would examine into as many parcels as possible and that it would be required, to solve them better. "
Here Descartes becomes more difficult to unmask; he seems to keep us under the conclusive power of reason and analysis. Yet, would you say that it is more legitimate to let oneself be guided by the conclusions of a state policy or by religious rights, than it is to be trapped by one's own thoughts? In the same way that it dethroned the reason of another, the analytic method could now indeed dethrone itself. What happens here is that it allows us to go from "difficulty" to Possibility. Are you ready to refute everything? If we would extend the freedoms that he perhaps have been encouraging us to unmask into his "Discourse" so far, Descartes would now offer to us the possibility of liberating oneself from his own "method”, by developing it ad-absurdum.
Let's go then, before we rest our minds… If dividing a difficulty makes it easier to solve, then how many additional problems (to be solved) do you create at each division you do? Would solving 100 small problems be easier than solving 1 big one? Now; what is the value of a problem if it is not to be solved? Incidentally, isn’t it easier to not have to solve 1 problem than 100? Which leads us to see that trying to solve a problem is precisely what keeps the problem in place (or 100 for this matter).
Have you ever wondered whether the value of a thought, of a theory or of a culture is measured by the number of problems it pretend to solve? Hence, if "to examine" is to divide and question each division, in order to thereafter better conclude on a resolution, what would it bring to consider the question itself as a fundamental tool for the expected change (the so-called resolution), without having to go through separations? If the “question” does not head toward the “division”, toward the cause, or toward the reason of a problem (which, in fact, would prove and maintain its existence), what remains of that problem or that difficulty itself?
What else could be asked? What if the longest and the greatest lie that Descartes attacks here was, in fact, the religiously unmistakable belief that every question must get a defined answer? This is how we maintained the value of our ideas and beliefs; by answering and concluding; that is to say, by the oppression of one point of view (on another one, most likely).
What if Descartes already dismantled here “the reason of the reason” by demonstrating the absurdity it is? And if demonstrating what the reason is, dismantles it, what answers to the problems can we now Not choose, to instead Question the possibilities?
For the legitimacy of perhaps giving to consciousness more “reason” than he would give to opinion, Descartes - just as Socrates did - testifies:
_ ”And I have never noticed either, that by means of the disputes which are practiced in the schools, we have discovered no truth which was previously unknown; for while each one tries to conquer, much more is exercised to assert the likelihood than to weigh the reasons on both sides; and those who have long been good advocates are not for that reason, afterwards, better judges. "
I would not draw anything from this last quote, for humour obliges me to wish that my flights of fancy - like the verdigris on a sculpture which lend to its greatness some aspects it invents - will have touched nothing to your appreciation of the work, which work I let you debone more by yourself. The author himself ends-up his thesis by denying that he didn’t bring any proof - contrary to what he attributed in passing to his diatribe on God - but has only proposed some explanations.
Here is how he pays homage to the respective roles: he closes his effect with a touch of reproach to the pretension, or by what I still allow myself to interpret as a sleight of hand, skilful he is in making light of the targets by making himself the archer of a knowledge that he claims to aim at, thereby substituting himself to the judges, whose reason becomes his very prey. I would therefore receive this arrow right in the sense:
_ ”… (these suppositions) I think I have the power to deduce them from these first truths that I have explained above, but that I wanted expressly not to do so, to prevent certain spirits, who imagine they know in one day all that another has thought in twenty years, as soon as he has only told them two or three words, and which are all the more subject to fail, and less capable of the truth, that they are more penetrating and more lively, and can not take occasion to build some extravagant philosophy on what they believe to be my principles, and to blame me for it. "
... This, possibly, being eventually useful to some others.
* : "Ridicule", a film by Patrice Leconte, shows this principle of sophistry, beautifully put into practice by the Abbot of Vilecourt (Bernard Giraudeau), when he performs for the court and the king a highly appreciated demonstration of the existence of God, to which he adds in the end - passing from the exploit to the scaffold - that he "just as well could have proven the opposite". Which drives him to get excommunicated. There, zeal lacked irrationality.