If you’ve taken a philosophy class you’re probably familiar with Rene Descartes. In this post I will be using the foundation of one of his theories in a rather nontraditional format.
“Cogito Ergo Sum” translated from Latin – “I think, therefore I am”.
This is probably one of the most influential phrases in the history of philosophy. Descartes considered the ‘cogito’ to reveal an absolute truth. The statement came to him while he was expressing doubts about the certainty of all aspects of knowledge. Some examples of such a skeptical stance:
-Knowledge is based on experience (or the senses), which are sometimes unreliable, and so cannot provide an indubitable foundation for truth.
-The life we live, and the world we live in, may be nothing more than a dream, and so we may not be certain of it
Having reached what he considers to be the ultimate level of doubt- Descartes examines his beliefs to see if any have survived the doubt. When he calls into question the certainty of his own existence he realizes his belief in existence is secured, for how could one doubt unless one existed to experience the doubt? (I think, therefore I am)
He continues in his Meditation and presents us with a piece of wax. We can observe a candle to have one form, yet change shape when exposed to a high enough temperature. If someone were to walk into the room and notice the pool of liquid, they would have to rely on your word that it was once a candle. On the other hand, you saw the candle stick, observed it change form, and saw its new form.
What does this tell us?
First and foremost, mental concepts are necessary for us to deal with time and space. We need to use our mind to create a sense of linearity. The candle, the melting process, and the pool of wax. What is this absolutely dependent on? The idea of each, i.e. Memory!
(From this point onward I will mostly diverge from Descartes)
If your body, like wax, changes form as you grow older, than how do you know you’re the same person you were five years ago? Biologically and physically speaking, the vast majority of your current cells are not the ones you were born with. If you’re not physically the same, how do you know, while you read this post that you’re the same person you were when you were born? You believe you are the same because you have particular memories from different stages of your life which create a sense of linearity! Your self-concept is merely a mental construct!
Now, how does your mental construct make you feel? How often have you wanted to do something yet waited until it was too late? The decisions you make and the actions you perform are often deeply connected to your self-concept. You may say to yourself “I’m not that kind of guy” or “It’s not in my nature”. Also, an individual whose self-concept is full of insecurity and overrun with self-doubt will experience higher levels of stress. This correlates to various effects such as increased likelihood of physiological problems and psychological distress.
Now that I (with Descartes help) have reduced you to an identity-less goo, and perhaps you’ve come to realize aspects of yourself which you would like to change, I will proceed to provide you with insights into how you may choose to reconstruct yourself. Remember, your self-concept has grown with you for many years. Altering it may be a challenge and abandoning it altogether can be perilous. Our identities provide us with a safety blanket, a lookout post from which we can see the world. The farther out you venture the more twists and turns you’ll encounter. But not to fear, for what you need to overcome is yourself.
In the next series of posts I will present you with a number of observations by various intellectuals, psychologists, academics, and other such weirdoes. You will read about techniques used to ‘hack’ or modify your self-concept, and insights into how some groups use this knowledge to manipulate you as well as others.