Descartes Winter

by Rebecca Bynum

Oftentimes I mark time by what I’m reading and I remember time that way. Milton Spring, the year of Donne, Byron Autumn and now my Descartes Winter.

In Meditations he makes the argument for the reality of mind using illustrations from mathematics, arguing that the structure of mathematics is a part of the structure of mind, just as is language.

Consider the triangle. The sum of its angles is always equal to two right angles. A relation of the sides of any right triangle will always be expressed in the a2 + b2 = c2 formula. These properties are eternal truths. They exist completely independently of man. They have existed before man ever was. Man did not invent geometric proofs, nor can he manipulate or change them.

Though the symbols of mathematics and the words of language are cultural inventions, the underlying structure is not. Consider also the mathematical properties of the elements.

Man is the only sell-reflective animal. No other animal ponders what should have been or contemplates what should be. Man is conscious of being conscious, therefore he experiences a higher level of mind/spirit existence – he is uniquely able to rise above himself and examine his own mind. How does he do this without partaking, at least in part, of something higher? This “something” may be termed higher mind or perhaps may be thought of as the mind/spirit nexus, where value comes into play – the realm of ought. Thus man rises above the animal kingdom.

All of this seems so simple and self-evident that it is disconcerting that our supposedly great minds continue to be engaged in the effort to reduce man to a level below animal – to that of a will-less machine – explaining nothing.


6 Responses

  1. The sum of the angles in a triangle is always the same (equal to pi) only in Euclidean geometry. On the sphere a triangle can have three right angles and three equal sides. So the "eternal truths" have to be taken with a grain of salt, because they depend on the axioms on which the particular geometry (Euclidean, spherical, hyperbolic) is based and from which the various theorems are proved. 

  2. I always find that when something hits a nerve people will retreat into particulars. what about this? what about that? The broader point is that the structure inherent in mathematics and in language is part of the structure of mind – even proves that that structure exists, proves therefore that mind is real and exists apart from man.
  3. "Mental" reality is the only kind that exists indisputably.  In comparison, the reality of so-called "physical objects" is just one theory among many.  Idealism has never been disproven, it's just come to be ignored by atheist philosophy professors (the same folks who redefined the original meaning of "humanism" into something close to its opposite) because it seemed uncomfortably close to religion.

  4. Granting equal esteem to both the factual and the lyrical is a reason that NER readers remain so loyal (though so few). Never putting Decartes before da Horace. Rudi knows this. Thats why he's here and having fun.

  5. Stan, Decartes did the mental experiment of imagining all senses to be closed and asked what is left? He still found himself to be a "thinking thing." Thinking, therefore is independent of all the senses, independent of the body entirely even.

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