Monday, February 23, 2015

The Descartes-ography of Logic (Part 3 of 4): The Sensational Self

In my previous section, we explored how Descartes was operating from an assumed irreducibility of the soul and mind. In this section, I'll attempt to get underneath the mechanism of Cartesian logic by looking at how we sense ourselves in relation to the world.

Let's look at what I called Decartes' "first logic."

Even for Descartes, self-awareness was never a complicated notion. It was not an awareness of the meaning of the self, but an awareness that these bits are part of me and those bits "out there" aren't. In the example I used earlier, a baby that is throwing things from its high chair doesn't have an advanced self awareness, but a developing one. In the most non-technical terms, what it is doing is building a sense of self, and in the process reinforcing an idea akin to "me vs not me."  I'm speculating here that the first thing a human becomes aware of is the phenomena of its own body. It literally has no idea that the body "belongs" to it, because, biologically, it hasn't made the association yet between body and mind; it doesn't know what "belong" means; and it has even less of an idea of mindedness. All sensory input would be on equal footing, including the sensory information the baby itself is generating. There would be no "sense of self." Instead, there would be just "sense."

The baby is passively taking in the sensory information that is thrown at it; and a great deal of that sensory information is the physical phenomena of itself. This covers interoception (the perception of things like hunger, pain, and the 'presence' or movement of internal organs), and proprioception (the perception of the feeling of movement, and the position of parts of the body relative to other parts of the body). Added to that is is exteroception, which is the perception of external stimuli. It's the final one which seems to steal the show when we think about our own development, but for now lets try to keep it on the same footing as the others.

Let's assume that all physical phenomena that the baby-entity takes in are equal in how they're processed through the senses. If this is the case, then what would be "learned" first would be that which was the most reinforced. Even with the most present caregiver, what is always there is the child's physical sensations of its own body (interoception and proprioception). The child senses itself first, and does so constantly. It's the consistency of certain sensory input that would allow the process of associations to begin in earnest. At that point, the "self" is more or less a behavioral entity; one that is a product of reinforcement of associations, and an "awareness" of sensory states on the most simple level: the aversion of pain, and the positive association of things that reduce pain or augment pleasure.

If this sounds somewhat cold and technical, it's supposed to be, because we necessarily (and properly) anthropomorphize these little bundles of sensory processing units into humans -- and, rest assured, they are humans. But we need to pause and try to understand this bundle from its point of view without the self-reflexivity we ourselves associate with the Cartesian subject. On the level of the developing human/sensory processing unit, there are no "known" relationships among sensations. There is not yet a sense of unity of "self." Thus, logic has not (yet) developed. The ingredients are all there, however, for logic to develop: the biological phenomenon of a neurological system outfitted with the necessary sensory inputs allowing for a recursive, algorithmic-like learning; and the sense-datum which those sensory inputs receive. I am purposely not using terms like "embodied mind" or "brain in its head" or using any kind of brain/body metaphor because this is a full-body system. The central processing unit of it happens to be centered in the head. But the development of that processing unit is contingent upon sensory input. It is not an independent system.

I'm emphasizing this because it is very much the first hurdle in deconstructing the Cartesian self: the mind as, literally, a self-contained component ... or perhaps a "contained, self-component"?  Either way, there's a philosophical and cultural hierarchy to how we see ourselves in the world that generally places mind on top, followed by body, followed by "everything else." I'm speculating from a philosophical standpoint that -- for that baby/sensory processing bundle -- there is initially no hierarchy. There certainly wouldn't be an idea of mindedness, nor would there be an idea of the body-as-body, it might be more like "everything without the else." In terms of the body, we are conditioned by our biological structures to emphasize the body because it is the first sensation. Bodily sensation comes first. In fact, the sensation is so reinforced and constant that we don't even know we're sensing it. However, our bodily awareness via interoception and proprioception is always active -- almost like an app running in the background, or an 'invisible' background process of an operating system.

Obviously, this decentralized state of "everything else" doesn't last long. The structure of the brain allows learning to begin immediately, through the neurological system of which it is a part, and such learning stimulates its growth and physical development. If, in a glorious moment, all sensory input is equal, it would be no different than the multitude of sense-datum that is around it. But very quickly, the proprioceptive and interoceptive sensations which that body is constantly producing and reinforcing, phenomenally, become so reinforced that the phenomena slip from sensation to a kind of general bodily awareness (personally, I believe that this it's this background sensation, almost like white noise, that is what is responsible for "just knowing" you're not dreaming when you're awake. But that's another potential entry).  Think for a moment, when you're not touching something, can you feel your hands? When they're not moving, or in contact with any surface, are you feeling them? At first you don't think so, but then if you start to concentrate a bit, maybe move them slightly and try to hold onto the sensation of the skin of the crooks of your fingers touching the skin perpendicular to it, there is a little "weight" that's not really weight but more like some kind of presence or mass. It's kind of a neutral sensation. It's just "there." That's part of proprioception. Just as the awareness of the movements and rumblings of your internal organs is interoception. And when you go about your business it falls into the background or is woven back into the tapestry of all your other sensations. Those bodily sensations, for the most part, are so constantly associated with a "self" that they become fused with it.

My contention is that this type of bodily sensation was, at one very early point in each of our lives, just as vibrant and present as resting a hand on a table, or as the sounds that occur, or any other sensory stimuli. The body is a phenomena like all other phenomena we consider to be "other." But because the sensation of our own bodies is always present via our interoception and proprioception, it becomes part of an overall awareness.

This, of course, doesn't quite explain those last havens of Cartesianism: volition and intentionality. In my next post, I'll attempt to do just that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Descartes-ography of Logic (Part 2 of 4): Not Just Any Thing

In my previous entry, we looked at the Cartesian link between self-awareness and logic and how it that link helps define our humanity. In this post, we'll look at the bedrock of Cartesian logic, and why he didn't try to dig any deeper.

Let's return to a part of the original quote from Rene Descartes' Discourse on the Method, Part II:

"I thought it best for my purpose to consider these proportions in the most general form possible, without referring them to any objects in particular, except such as would most facilitate the knowledge of them, and without by any means restricting them to these, that afterwards I might thus be the better able to apply them to every other class of objects to which they are legitimately applicable."

In Descartes' quest for certainty, he believes that he can separate thinking from the "objects" to which his ideas refer in order to "facilitate the knowledge of them." And, for Descartes, it is the unencumbered mind which can perform this separation. Now, later philosophers noticed this leap as well. Kant critiques/corrects Descartes by elevating the role of phenomena in thinking, believing that a mind cannot function in a vacuum. Nietzsche realizes that any kind of references to any kind of certainty or truth are mere linguistic correspondences. Heidegger runs with this idea to an extreme, stating that language itself is thinking, as if to revise the Cartesian "I think, therefore I am" to read: "we language, therefore we think; therefore we think we are." After that, it's an avalanche of post-structuralists who run under the banner of "the world is a text," rendering all human efficacy into performance.

Kant was onto something. I'm no Kantian, but his reassertion of phenomena was an important moment. In my mind, I picture Kant saying, "hey guys, come take a look at this." But just as philosophy as a discipline was about to start really giving phenomena a more informed look, Nietzsche's philosophy explodes in its necessary, culturally-relevant urgency. In the cleanup of the philosophical debris that followed, that little stray thread of phenomena got hidden. Sure, Husserl thought he had it via his phenomenology -- but by that point, psychology had turned all phenomenological investigation inward. If you were going to study phenomena, it had damn well be within the mind; the rest is an antiquated metaphysics.

But the thread that became buried was the idea that we base logic on the capacity to know the self from the stuff around us. Descartes' choice to not look at "objects," but instead at the relations among them and the operations that make geometry work shifted his focus from the phenomenal to the ideal, leading him down what he thought was a road to purely internal intellectual operations. Descartes, like the Greeks before him, understood that variables were just that -- variable. The function of logic, however, was certain and unchangeable. Coming to the wrong sum had nothing to do with "faulty logic," because logic was not -- and could not be -- faulty. Coming to the wrong sum was about screwing up the variables, not seeing them, mistaking one for another, and generally making some kind of error for which the senses were responsible. And, when we realize that the imagination, the place where we visualize numbers (or shapes), is itself classified as a sensory apparatus, then it becomes a bit more clear.

Descartes was so close to a much deeper understanding of logic. But the interesting thing is that his point was not to take apart the mechanisms of logic, but to figure out what was certain. This was the point of his meditations: to find a fundamental certainty upon which all human knowledge could be based. That certainty was that he, as a thinking thing, existed -- and that as long as he could think, he was existing. Thinking = existence. Once Descartes arrived at that conclusion, he then moved forward again and began to build upon it. So Descartes can't be blamed for stopping short, because it was never his intention to understand how human logic worked, instead he was trying to determine what could be known with certainty so that any of his speculations or meditations from that point forward had a basis in certainty. That bedrock upon which everything rested was self-existence. "Knowing oneself" in Cartesian terms is only that, it is not a more existential idea of being able to answer the "why am I here?" or "what does it all mean?" kind of questions.

But answering those existential questions isn't the point here either -- and yet we can see how those also serve as a kind of philosophical distraction that grabs our attention, because those existential questions seem so much more practical and relevant. If we pause for a moment and think back to Descartes original point -- to figure out what can be known with certainty -- and push through what he thought was metaphysical bedrock, we can excavate something that was buried in the debris. So, how do we know that we exist and that we are thinking things? How do we arrive at that "first logic" I mentioned in my previous entry?

To review, that first logic is the fundamental knowledge of self that is the awareness that "I am me, and that is not me." You can translate this a number of different ways without losing the gist of that fundamental logic: "this is part of my body, that is not," "I am not that keyboard," "The hands in front of my typing are me but the keyboard beneath them is not," etc. To be fair to Descartes, contained within that idea of me/not me logic is his 'ego sum res cogitans' (I am a thinking thing). But as we've seen, Descartes lets the "thing" fall away in favor of the ego sum. Descartes attributes the phenomenon of thinking to the existence of the "I," the subject that seems to be doing the thinking. Given the culture and historical period in which he's writing, it is understandable why Descartes didn't necessarily see the cognitive process itself as a phenomenon. Also, as a religious man, this thinking aspect is not just tied to the soul, it is the soul. Since Descartes was working from the Thomasian perspective that the soul was irreducible and purely logical, the cognitive process could not be dependent on any thing (the space between the words is not a typo). I want everyone to read that space between 'any' and 'thing' very, very carefully. A mind being independent of matter is not just a Cartesian idea, it is a religious one that is given philosophical gravitas by the wonderful Thomas Aquinas. And his vision of a Heaven governed by pure, dispassionate logic (a much more pure divine love) was itself informed by Greek idealism. Platonic Forms had fallen out of fashion, but the idealism (i.e. privileging the idea of the thing rather than the material of the thing) lived on via the purity and incorporeality of logic.

Descartes felt that he had reduced thinking down as far as he possibly could. Add to that the other cultural assumption that the imagination was a kind of inner sense (and not a pure process of the mind), we see that we do have to cut Rene some slack.  For him, there was no reason to go further. He had, quite logically, attributed awareness to thinking, and saw that thinking as separate from sensing. The "I am" bit was the mind, pure logic, pure thinking; and the "a thinking thing" was, more or less the sensory bit. "I am" (awareness; thinking; existence itself; logic), "a thinking thing" (a vessel with the capacity to house the aforementioned awareness and to sense the phenomena around it).  The mind recognizes itself first before it recognizes its body, because the body could only be recognized as 'belonging' to the mind if there were a mind there to do the recognizing.  That is to say, Cartesian dualism hinges upon the idea that when a human being is able to recognize its body as its own, it is only because its mind has first recognized itself. This, to me, is the mechanism behind Descartes' "first logic." The human process of consciousness or awareness IS self in Cartesian terms. The conceit that pegs Descartes as a rationalist is that this awareness cannot become aware of the body in which it is housed unless it is aware of itself first, otherwise, how could it be aware of its body? The awareness doesn't really need any other phenomena in order to be aware, for Descartes.  The capacity of awareness becomes aware of itself first, and then becomes aware of the physical phenomena around it, then finally understands itself as a thinking thing. The "awareness" kind of moves outward in concentric circles like ripples from a pebble dropped in water.

As philosophy developed over the centuries and the process of cognition itself was deemed a phenomenon, the Cartesian assumptions is still there: Even as a phenomenon, cognition itself must pre-exist the knowledge of the world around it. Pushed even further into more contemporary theory, the mind/body as a unity becomes the seat of awareness, even if the outside world is the thing that is bringing that dichotomy out (as Lacan would tell us in the mirror stage). From there, the mind is then further tethered to the biological brain as being absolutely, positively dependent on biological processes for its existence and self-reflexivity, and all of the self-reflection, self-awareness, and existential angst therein. Consciousness happens as a byproduct of our biological cognitive processes, but the world that is rendered to us via that layer of consciousness is always already a representation. The distinction between self/other, interior/exterior, and subject/object still remains intact. 

I think that even with the best intentions of trying to get to the bottom of Cartesian subjectivity, we tend to stop where Descartes stopped. I mean, really, is it possible to get underneath the "thinking" of the "thinking thing" while you're engaged in thinking itself? The other option is the more metaphysical one, and to look at the other things which we are not: the objects themselves. There are two problems here, one being that most of this metaphysical aspect of philosophy fell out of favor as science advanced. The other is that the Cartesian logical dichotomy is the basis of what science understands as "objectivity" itself. We are "objective" in our experiments; or we observe something from an objective point of view. Even asking "how do we know this object" places us on the materialist/idealist spectrum, with one side privileging sense data as being responsible for the essence of thing thing, while on the other, the essence of the object is something we bring to that limited sense data or phenomena.

Regardless of how you look at it, this is still a privileging of a "self" via its own awareness. All of these positions take the point of view of the awareness first, and that all phenomena is known through it, even if it's the phenomena that shape the self.  But what if we were to make all phenomena equal, that is to say, take cognition as phenomena, biology as phenomena, and the surrounding environment as phenomena at the same time, and look at all of those aspects as a system which acts as a functional unity.

I've been working this question over in my mind and various aborted and unpublished blog entries for months. To reset the status of phenomena seemed to be something that would be a massive, tectonic kind of movement. But with a clearer head I realized that we're dealing with subtlety here, and not trying to flank Descartes by miles but instead by inches. In my next entry I'll be taking apart this Cartesian "first logic" by leveling the phenomenal playing field. As we'll see, it's not just stuff outside of ourselves that constitutes sensory phenomena; we also sense ourselves.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Descartes-ography of Logic (Part 1 of 4): Establishing Relations

"I resolved to commence, therefore, with the examination of the simplest objects, not anticipating, however, from this any other advantage than than that to be found in a accustoming my mind to the love and nourishment of truth, and to a distaste for all such reasonings as were unsound, But I had no intention on that account of attempting to master all the particular sciences commonly denominated mathematics: but observing that, however different their objects, they all agree in considering on the various relations or proportions subsisting among those objects, I thought it best for my purpose to consider these proportions in the most general form possible, without referring them to any objects in particular, except such as would most facilitate the knowledge of them, and without by any means restricting them to these, that afterwards I might thus be the better able to apply them to every other class of objects to which they are legitimately applicable." -- Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method, Part II (emphasis added)

And so the Cartesian privileging of the mind over object begins in earnest. Actually, it had its roots all the way back to Plato, where the ideal world was privileged over the material. The relationship between ideas and objects has been an ongoing conundrum and principal engine of philosophy. For Descartes, this dualism is reflected in the metaphorical split between the mind and body: the mind is incorporeal, as are its ideas; and the body is a sensory apparatus and very material. I like to think that when the earliest Western philosophers began asking epistemological questions, they were the first to look "under the hood" of how the mind worked. And what they were seeing was a process of understanding the physical world around them, and representing their own physicality.

The questions continued, and, relatively quickly, brought philosophers like Plato to the conclusion that the physical universe was just too damned flawed to be Real. That is to say, things broke down. There seemed to be no permanence in the physical universe. Everything changed and morphed and, in a glass-half-empty kind of way, died. For Plato, this just wasn't right. Change got in the way of the core of his philosophy. There had to be something permanent that was not dependent on this slippery, changing, and ultimately unreliable matter. Skip to Aristotle, who, in turn, embraced matter because he believed the key to understanding knowledge and permanence was actually the process of change. I like to think of this as the first "philosophical sidestep," where a philosopher points to a paradox and/or re-defines a term to make it work. The only thing that is permanent IS change. I picture Aristotle raising an eyebrow and feeling very proud of himself when his students oohed and ahhed at the very Aristotelian simplicity of his statement. I'm sure it was up to the Lyceum's versions of TAs and grad students to actually write out the implications.

With the exception of atomists like Epicurus -- who embraced matter for the material it was, thinking that we knew things via atoms of sensory stimuli that physically made contact with the physical mind --  most philosophers in one way or another were trying to figure out exactly what it was that we were knowing and exactly how we were knowing it. But there was something about the way Descartes tackled the lack of certainty inherent in the apprehension of the physical world that really stuck with western philosophy. Culturally speaking, we could look at the mind-over-matter attitude that prevails as an aspect of this.  Such attitudes inform the science fiction fantasies of uploading the consciousness to different bodies, whether the media of that body is purely machine, a cyborg hybrid, or even just a clone. Regardless, all of these cultural beliefs rely upon the notion that the mind or consciousness is the key component of the human: similar to the SIM card in our phones.

Modern and contemporary philosophers and theorists have chipped away at those assumptions, focusing on the mind/body dualism itself. These critiques generally follow a pattern in which the biological basis of consciousness is reaffirmed, and deem sense data absolutely necessary for the mind to come to know itself. In spite of these critiques, however, a more subtle aspect of Cartesianism remains, and we can see the roots of it present in the quote above. Cartesianism doesn't just privilege mind over body, it privileges relations over objects. In other words, in Descartes' attempt to scope out the boundaries of certainty, he de-emphasizes the corporeal due to its impermanent nature and the unreliability of our material senses. Any later philosophy which implies that the "real" philosophical work comes in examining the relations among objects and the ways in which the "self" negotiates those relations owes that maneuver to Descartes.

Now anyone who has studied Marx, Nietzsche, the existentialists, and all the structuralists and poststructuralists thereafter should have felt a little bit of a twitch there. I won't be the jerk philosopher here and call them all Cartesians, but I will say that the privileging of relation over objects is Cartesian-ish.

Let's go back to the quote that led off this entry. Descartes is referring to objects, but not necessarily corporeal objects. He was imagining geometric figures. For his time period, this would be the place where the veil between the corporeal and incorporeal was the thinnest -- where the very ideal, incorporeal math meets its expression in real-world, material phenomena. Geometry relies upon physical representations to be rendered. But don't numbers and operations need to be rendered as symbols in order to be known? Not in the most simple Cartesian terms, no. You can have a group of objects which, phenomenally, precedes the number that is assigned to them. So, the objects are there, but it isn't until some subjectivity encounters them and assigns a "number" to them that they become 9 objects.  The same goes for the operations among numbers -- or the relations between them. You don't need a "+" symbol to, according to Descartes, understand addition.

Now the rational philosophers before Descartes understood the above as knowledge; or, as I like to say in my classes, "Knowledge with a capital K." The relations among numbers don't change. Addition is always addition. 7 + 4 = 11. Always. Even if you replace the symbols representing the numbers, the outcome is always, ideally, 11, no matter how that "11ness" is represented. So, VII + IV = XI. "11," "XI," "eleven," "undici," all represent the same concept. Thus, mathematics -- and more importantly, the logic behind mathematics was a priori, or innate, knowledge.

Where Descartes is really interesting is that he believed that what was actually a priori wasn't necessarily math as information, it was related to an awareness of the operations that made math work. In the Sixth Meditation of Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes addresses this more directly. He states that he is able to imagine basic geometric forms such as triangles, squares, all the way up to octagons, and picture them in his imagination; but then being able to conceive of, but could not imagine accurately, a chiliagon (a thousand-sided figure). This made him realize that he could not fall back on the symbols that represent mathematical operations. So, if you try to imagine a chiliagon, you think, okay, it probably looks a lot like a circle; that inability highlights the difference between intellect and the imagination. The imagination, for many Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers (both rationalists and empiricists alike) was a place where one recalled -- and could manipulate -- sense experiences. However, it was not where cognition took place. The imagination itself was classified as (or associated with, depending on which philosopher we're talking about) an aspect of the senses; it was a part of our sensory apparati. While the intellect was responsible for dipping into the imagination for the reflections of various sense data it needed (i.e. imagining shapes fitting together, creating new objects from old ones, remembering what someone said or what a song sounded like, calling to mind a specific scent), the intellect itself was separate from the imagination. The intellect was logical, and logic was a perfect process: x always = x. Various stupid mistakes we made were caused by faulty sense data or by a passionate (read: emotional) imagination that drew away our attention and corrupted the information coming in.

This is why Descartes epistemologically wanted  to separate out the object from the relations among objects. If you really think about it, it makes sense that early philosophers would pin our humanity on the capacity to understand complex relationships among objects in the physical world. To them, no other species manipulated tools in the same way that humans did, because we were aware that the tools we used allowed us to achieve better results: self + tool = better result. It also makes possible what I see as later becoming a "sliding scale" of humanity. For example, Descartes himself -- after many of his "Meditations" -- fastens our humanity on our capacity to learn and be aware of that learning. At the basis of this learning and at the core of our a priori logic, is the certainty of our individual being itself. That is to say, the "first logic" (my term, not his), is the realization that one is a singular entity; a res cogitans, a "thinking thing" as Descartes himself likes to put it.

So, any entity which has the capacity to recognize itself as a thinking thing has this first logic. The question is, then, can this thinking thing learn beyond itself and understand its place in the world? That's a tall order, and filled with lots of wiggle room. Who is to say what is understanding its place and what is not? For Descartes, that's where a self-aware learning comes in. First, one must be able to "know thyself," not existentially, but logically. The self/other dichotomy, for Descartes, must be established in order for all other learning to apply. This is really key to the Cartesian self. Too many people want to place a more contemporary, existential/psychological dimension to this "knowledge of self" (Personally, I blame the Germans). However, for Descartes, he's speaking of a more simple, fundamental logic. Once the consciousness understands on a very basic level that it is a singular entity that has some kind of efficacy in the world around it, then things start building very quickly. So, the baby who throws Cheerios from its high chair and watches in wonder as things happen is on the cusp of this first logic. As soon as the association is made between "action" and "result" occurs (regardless of what the result is), Descartes assumes that the baby is also learning that this is "MY action."

As the child becomes more advanced, it comes to the real philosophical knowledge that it is a unique entity with efficacy in the world , and it can imagine itself acting in a given situation. It is aware of itself being aware. It has self-reflexivity. For philosophers of the time, this is what constitutes the difference between human beings and animals:  an animal can be trained, but that's different from 'human' learning which is a process that requires that second layer of awareness. The easiest way to think about it is how we fall into physical or mental habits. In a behavioral fashion, certain things are reinforced. However, we have the capacity to recognize that we are falling into a habit, and thus have the power to change our behaviors. It may not be easy, but it is possible. The smartest breeds of dogs (Border Collies, Standard Poodles, etc), seem to perform complex tasks and are very attuned to the most subtle behaviors. Using a mixture or training and instinct, they behave this way. However, they cannot transcend that mixture.

In a Cartesian tradition, it is a human awareness of the self as this res cogitans (thinking thing) that defines the human for itself, by itself. And, for Descartes, it was the only thing of which we could be absolutely certain. This is very important, because this certainty was the basis upon which all other logic was founded. Descartes' philosophy implies that an intuitive, innate awareness of the self as a thinking thing (X = me, Y ≠  me), basically superseding Aristotle's own logical cornerstone: to say of what is that it is not, is false; to say of what is not that it is, is false. Understanding that you yourself are a thinking thing and acting accordingly is proof that you are aware that X = X (this = me) and that X ≠ Y (that ≠ me), only then can one be aware of what is and what is not.

This means that any entity that knows itself in this manner -- and acts within the world with an awareness that it is an aware being acting in the world (an awareness of being aware) -- is human. Thus, an automaton was not human, because it was incapable of moving beyond its programming of gears and cams. It had no awareness that it was acting from a script and this could make no attempt to move beyond it. In practical terms, this meant that the complex, representational thinking needed for the creation and support of laws, ethics (regardless of custom), any kind of agriculture, animal husbandry, coordinated hunting, etc.) were human characteristics. Any entity that showed these behaviors was human, because they showed planning; or, an imagining of oneself in the future, creating if/then scenarios.

Descartes' philosophy was quite egalitarian in his designation of humanity. He was well-traveled and understood that customs and cultural differences were superfluous in the designation of the human. To have any kind of customs or cultural traditions was to have a self-reflexivity. The dehumanization of other cultures, races, and gender identities was a product of psychological, social, religious, and economic forces which distorted Cartesian principles: i.e., if someone's culture is not as technologically advanced as ours, it means they're not thinking in an advanced way, which means that they're not quite human. This was NOT a Cartesian idea, but a twisting and misrepresentation of it.

However, Cartesian principles do come into play in the justification of what it is to be "human" in various other areas, and are usually at the crux of many ethical issues when it comes to abortion, euthanasia, and even animal rights. A the capacity to measure and map brain activity advances, and our understanding of psychology and ethics evolves, we are starting to grant more human-like qualities to non-human entities, especially species which show the very Cartesian characteristic of self-reflexivity. Great apes, dolphins, elephants, and other species have been shown, via variations of the rouge test, to have an advanced self-recognition. Notice, however, that all of those designations are ones that hinge upon a capacity to, in some form or another, know oneself; to be aware of oneself in one's surroundings and learn accordingly; to transcend a simple behavioral relationship to the world. Also helping here is the fact that psychology and sociology have shown that much of what we do is actually a product of reinforced, behavioral patterns. So science readjusted the parameters a bit allowing us to be more like animals.

As a philosopher, this is a tempting point of departure where I could start discussing the differences between human, animal, and artificial intelligences and problematizing their designations. This inevitably leads toward the age-old "what does it mean to be human" question. Please, if Descartes were alive today, "he'd freak the fuck out" (as I say so eloquently in my classes), because by his own definition, if a machine could learn based on the parameters of its surroundings, it would thus be human. But, over time, especially through the industrial revolution and into the 20th century, "humanity" remains in tact due to some slight tweaks to the Cartesian subject, most of which come back to the self-awareness inherent in self-reflexivity.

But as we will see in my next post, these possibilities are the shiny objects that distract us from the fact that all of this conjecture is actually based on a fundamental leap in Cartesian logic: that a mind is a separate entity from not only its body, but also from the objects which it thinks about.