26 April, 2004

On Truth (& A Refutation of Descartes' Cogito)

Unlike the ancients, I do not believe that the noblest end is to think. Nor would I even grant that to think is at least the noblest end of man. But put this aside for the moment. I will grant thought as the pinnacle of existence for the purposes of this argument, so that I may best illustrate my point.

Even if the true end of man is to think, why is it that this would be so? (I realize it is odd to grant a point not to use it as a premise, but rather as a conclusion, but if the reader will bear with me, I am sure they will see the reason for my attacking the argument in this way.) The reason, as given by the ancients (and almost unilaterally agreed upon until the Heideggerian reopening of the question), is this: only because it is through thought that we may be closest to what is (e.g., the truth, the good, or the God) that it may be true that the end of man is to think.

Thus, if one accepts God's existence, the noblest quest is to try to know God. But notice this is merely a corollary to the main idea that the noblest quest is to try to know truth.

As such, I strive to know truth. (This is despite my inability to grant thought as the pinnacle of existence, as stated earlier. The reason why will become clear soon enough.) Not relative truth, nor what others would call fact, but real, solid, truth. As in the complete opposite of falsehood.

The truth I speak of is necessary truth, concepts (or events, or whatever you choose to call them) that must be, no matter what. I am speaking on a level which transcends even Descartes. This is way past the cogito.

Am I? I mean this question quite literally. Do I exist? Descartes says that if I think that I am writing this question, I may not actually be writing this question, but at least I think I am writing it, which means that I must be thinking. And if I think, then there must be something which is having a thought, and whatever that thing may be, it must necessarily exist.

But Descartes fails in this argument. Such has been made quite clear in numerous doctoral theses over the many years. If one still remains unconvinced that Descartes' argument fails, I will briefly introduce my own counterargument here, which to my knowledge has not been made elsewhere.

My counterargument:

Even if it is granted that if one's existence is guaranteed by their thought, their thought may never be shown to truly exist. What I mean by this is that we, as observers, determine what the meaning of existence is. We call the existence of a thing "something", while we call its absence "nothing". But we, in all our years as observers, have never seen "nothing". Instead, all we see is "something". And we try to give this concept of "nothing" a descriptive quality that we truly do not have the ability to judge.

Imagine a field filled with "nothing". We observe this field, and we see nothing. If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would say that they are nonexistent.

Now, imagine a field filled with protons, a very different situation than the one filled with "nothing". If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would have the exact same answer as before: they are nonexistent.

Then imagine a single anti-proton inserted into the former field of nothingness. We would then say that the electric charge at this single point is -1, and that at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Now consider in the latter field filled with protons that we remove a single proton. What would we say about the field now? The same as in the previous example: the electric charge at this single point is -1, and at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Which is the truth? As Feynman once quipped, is the positron merely an absence of a electron, or is it the other way around? Or is it neither? The point of this argument is not to show that it is one or the other, but rather to show that we cannot know which situation is the true reality.

Now consider Descartes. He says he is thinking. Or at least he thinks he is thinking. But regardless, he must exist, right? But this is not neccessarily so, even if you grant the hypothesis of his cogito, since the antecedent of his hypothetical cannot be established. Is it not possible that true nothingness -- the absence of all which is something -- is what Descartes considers his own state of thinking? I am not arguing that this is the necessary case, nor even a likely case, but I am arguing that you can never establish for a fact that the act of thinking is "something" rather than 'nothing", and so Descartes may not definitely assert his own existence.

And so, with even Descartes falling short of what may be called true truth, the question rears its ugly head once more: Am I?

I'm not sure.

I am bombarded on all sides by arguments for the existence of Jesus' divinity, or at least Abraham's god, or if not that, then at least the civil war, and when I am still unable to profess true belief, they all look at me increduously and declare that surely I must at least believe in their existence, for if that much is not granted, then how can we even speak to one another? But even Descartes never granted others' existence. He only granted his own.

What bothers me most is my own hypocrasy. You see, I enjoy life. A lot. I like to think. I like to play games. I like to argue with people. I love, and I feel loved. I live my life with regard to what I consider is good, going so far as to commit to charities, and to remain a strict vegetarian. My actions are consistent with a man who cares about things, and who thinks he can make the world a better place.

But I do not get my notion of what is better from God. Instead, it is rather more like Zarathustra. I think, and if I consider what I think to be bad, then I deem it bad. If I consider it to be good, then I deem it good. Granted, my considerations are heavily influenced by the Christian society that I was brought up in, but if one puts this aside, then my situation is the worst form of idolatry: To me, I am God.

Unlike with Boethius, it is not philosophy which consoles me, but rather it is philosophy which terrifies me. It is the wonderfulness of the life around me which keeps me from depression. Not the thoughts that logic give me so readily.

Do I exist? If I am truly truthful with myself, I am forced to answer that I do not know. Is there anything, then, that I might know?

I ask this question of myself, and I am amazed at my own answer. If it is a question of belief, then I can only believe what I feel to be true. And there is only one thing that really and truly feels true to me:


I love Robin. I love my life. I love the world, and all that is in it. This feels true to me, just as it feels morally wrong when I see someone kicking a dog, or eating meat. Not because I see the necessity of kicking a dog to be morally wrong, but because I feel kicking a dog is morally wrong.

By what other method may I attempt to define truth? True truth remains unnattainable, by every method I've considered. But if one creates their own horizon, rather than accepting that which they are given, then truth suddenly becomes attainable, since that truth is defined by one's very existence.

My truth is that of love. Zarathustra's truth may differ from mine, but they have come about in the same way. And I am proud of this meaning of truth. I am proud because it is the strictest interpretation that truth can be tied down to. Sure, I could easily give looser meanings for truth... But this is as strict as it gets. This is the best that can be done. And I am proud of it.

04 April, 2004

An Interesting Day

Today was an...interesting day.

This morning, I awoke to a knock on the door. Before I even opened my eyes, Dorek had unlocked the door, and Matt walked into the room. "Oh, sorry, guys; did I wake y'all up?" Matt's accent is distinctively not Southern, but he still occasionally lapses into the vocabulary of a Southerner. I suppose that is what he gets for having lived down here for so long.

I was still too groggy to get up, but I listened as Matt explained his presence. "My car stereo was jacked last night." The words bounced around in my head a few times while I considered what he was saying. To me, I suppose, it was at first unbelievable; mainly because I've never had anything stolen from me before (anything sans a few minor type two Magic cards, that is), and also because I had assumed our closed campus community was safe enough to prevent such inane things from occurring. I suppose that in reality, these thoughts of mine are merely proof that I am still far too naive in how I view the world around me.

"You need to call campus security, Matt. Call them, and see what they say." I was still slightly asleep at this point, and I recall being slightly surprised in that Matt wasn't even spazzing all that much. Somehow, it just seemed wrong that his level of spazziness was not even close to what I had seen him capable of in the past. I suppose serious incidents such as this, then, have some alternate effect on him....

After he called campus security, he went out to meet them at his car. He was gone for a few minutes, or maybe even longer -- I can't remember as I may have fallen asleep again in the meantime -- and when he arrived again, he mentioned having to clean out the glass from his car -- whomever had stolen his cd player had apparently broken through his passenger side window in order to get to it.

So Dorek and I went out to his car to help clean up the mess. It was horrible. The window had shattered into a huge amount of tiny pieces, and we needed to pick up every last one of them, since Matt had a four hour drive to make back home, and we didn't want one of the pieces to be picked up by the wind (coming from the open passenger window) and cut him while he was on the interstate.

So we each took up a plastic bag, and we began getting all of the glass out of his car. It was tedious work. All three of us got cuts while picking up the tiny shards, and some of the glass was so hard to get at, that we had to go find a vacuum to pick all of it up.

After the big pieces were accounted for, we went to Drumheller's, and he let us borrow an extension cord and a vacuum. Then we went back to our dorm (they in the car, while I went back by foot), and picked up two more extension cords so that we could get electricity from inside the building to reach all the way to the car. While Dorek and Matt vacuumed, I went upstairs to take a shower and finish waking up. It was time for me to change, anyway -- I had been wearing the same clothes for three days, despite my having finished doing my laundry two days ago. That alone is a good way of showing how lazy I truly am.

When we were done, we opted to go out to eat. We called Drumheller and David, and while David decided not to come, the rest of us went out to the Olive Garden.

I adore Italian food. My maternal grandfather was Italian, and my entire family has always enjoyed eating Italian food. It is one of those things that I enjoy immensely.

I had a wonderful time there. We talked of light hearted things, and put the incident from earlier today out of our minds. The food was utterly delicious; I would have loved to get a dessert as well, but I was so full by the end of the meal that I couldn't eat another bite. Afterward, we went to EBGames, as we so often do, and we looked around at all of the games we always look at, yet so rarely buy. (Or is once a month more than just rarely?)

Then we went to Best Buy, and Drumheller bought an Anti-virus program that he could have gotten for free from elsewhere, had he been willing to do so underhandedly. I would say that I respect him for not having taken the free copied version that we had on hand to give to him, but the real reason he bought a registered copy was because the money he was spending was his parents', and by spending money at Best Buy, he got more "Rewards Zone" points. So his reasoning was entirely selfish in this instance.

I don't usually write entries of this sort, where I talk only of my day, or what has happened during it, but today was the kind of day that just had to be written about. At least, I think it was.

What a way to begin my Spring Break....

02 April, 2004

Rearranging Ketchup Bottles

He still works there.

Every day I see him, rearranging the ketchup bottles. Except on weekends. He has weekends off.

I wonder if he ever notices me watching him. Today, he wore black jeans. His face reminds me of how old these college grounds are. There is a building on campus that was built before the civil war. The grass I walk upon as I go to class each day was once mowed by the hard work of slaves.

Please don't get me wrong. This college is a Jesuit college, and it is famous for being the very first in the South to integrate both blacks and women, before it was mandatory by law to do so. I have always ben quite impressed with the Jesuit culture and history, for as long as I've been aware of it.

But there is still an underclass here. I see them every afternoon, when I stop to look at the construction site on the library and new chapel. Once, I even noticed a guy named Chris that went to middle school with me. Apparently, Chris works construction now. I wonder how he must feel in seeing that I am attending school here.

I'm talking to myself, now; I realize this. You, of whom is reading my words, take this fact for granted: I am not writing to you. I am not interested in converting anyone from whatever point of view they might hold. I am not to that point yet. Before it is okay for me to try to convince another, I must first convince myself. And this is the argument of that convincing process.

I have heard people say that those who do not make as much money do not deserve to make money. While I am unsure as to whether or not this is true, Iwish to admit it for the sake of this argument. I want to see if their argument holds even when their premises are taken to be true.

Let us say, then, that these people have less income because they do not work hard, or they are lazy, or they are stupid, or they make bad life choices. While others, who do make good money, work hard, and do the right things.

This does not change the existence of slavery -- it only changes the form and definition of the slave.

Whereas slaves were once determined by color of skin or makeup of gender, now we see them (even if the aforementioned premise is admitted) determined by stupidity, laziness, or bad life choices. How is it right, even if Chris did not do the right things, that he should have to build the schoolhouse that I will attend?

I am reminded of a journal entry I made on 11/19/2002, when I first started to realize these things:

--begin copied text taken from part of "Anarchy Versus ... Me?", 11/19/02--

He is there every day when I go to the cafeteria for food. Forty hours a week he toils, sometimes more. Yes, he gets paid, but so what? How does he get out?

"How does he evade the system?" my friend asks me.

I'm stumped. I sit for five or so seconds, and the smile on his face grows as others at the table snicker at my expense. It is the first time they've ever seen me hesitate.

I have to answer with something... anything. "Well, ..." I imagine a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead, but it is too cool for any such thing to happen. "... he shouldn't procreate. If he can't give a good life to his children, then he shouldn't have any; this will break the cycle, and the children that are born into this world will be better off than otherwise."

"So we should round up all the poor people and have them spayed? Then we can use them for slave labor afterwards and it'll all be good, right?" The snickers become outright bursts of laughter, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

"No, no -- they shouldn't be forced into it, but surely you see why --"

"No, I don't see, Eric. What do you mean? What are you getting at?"


I look at him, and I see what I see everyday that I come to the cafeteria. He walks from table to table, fixing chairs and sweeping floors and rearranging ketchup bottles.

Am I really doing this to him? Is it really people like me who have dictated that his life be as it is? My glass of tea is empty, so I excuse myself for another round. Is this what capitalism really means? That I am better than him? Why am I better than him? I can't stop glancing at him as I walk through the cafeteria. I worked hard to get where I am; I am working hard even now. Why should he get what I get if all he does is rearrange ketchup bottles? I fill my glass with tea. But he has no choice; where else can he go? This is the best job he can get? Could you do better if you were in his position?

I pour out the tea, disgusted with myself. I look at my hand, quivering in the bland light of the cafeteria, and I see the scar. Greg's scar. It was his sword that pierced me that night; it was my thoughts that night that scared me more than any other night I've ever been alive. I lied that night. I know not why, but I did. It wasn't a big deal at the time, but now, looking back, I know how important that night was to my life. On that night, I was the one rearranging ketchup bottles. By choice.
What am I here for? Why do I do what I now do? Why do I have such thoughts? ...such hurt?

Absalom? No. God, I hope not.
Tyson? Perhaps. I don't think so, though.
Conan? ... Maybe. Maybe so.

That's scary, you know. Really scary.

--end copied text--

The slavery is not ended, but only the face of how it is done is changed. To work for another is to be cheated, regardless of the price given for it. If I sell you a thing, why would you ever buy it for what it is truly worth? If you did that, then you could construct it of your own free will for the same cost. Instead, you pay more than what it is worth -- though from my perspective, and not neccessarily your own. But the difference in our perspectives is due to a difference in how much money we have in the first place! It is a circular thing. If I sold a for what it is worth, then I'd be seling at cost, and I wouldn't be making money. By definition, I must sell for more than what a thing is worth, preferably in a situation where it is sold for less than what it is worth to you (otherwise, why would you even buy the thing?). But the whole relative difference in price is based entirely upon whomever has the means of production. If I can produce at an easier rate than you, then there exists a cost for an item where what is above cost for me is below cost for you, and I can make money while you are saved the expense of having to obtain the means of production that I already have. But how is it that I get the means of production in the first place?

This world is not just, and I do not like it. Some form of justice in this world should be in existence. Even if it is my own. Does it truly take the √úbermensch to get things done? And if I want it done my own way, does it have to be me that does something about it?

There is something inherently selfish here in these thoughts of mine that anybody else would forever consider selfless.

I said that I hoped I was not Absalom. I was referring to catholic history there. It scares me that I even considered Mike Tyson's use of force. And the Conan reference, to those who missed it (which was everyone by my last count), was for Conan O'Brian, a tak show host who uses such thoughts as humorous material.

There is a fourth option... One that I had notconsidered at the time. That of Nietszche. But... The odds are against it. Still, were it true...

But it isn't, Eric. Quit hoping.

I am a selfish, selfish man.