I Think, Therefore What?

Every introduction to Western Philosophy mentions Descartes. And at the root of every mention of Descartes is that brazen, audacious statement in translation: "I think, therefore I am."

Without getting too deep into the maze of positing and postulation (or lack thereof) that these words incite, it's generally accepted that Descartes is assuming a world from the inside out (the inside being the self). This assumption has become so pervasive, so omnipresent, that it's now literally a building block of Western civilization. It influences our language, our ethics, our educational system, et cetera.

But--what if Descartes' assumption was wrong? What if the relationship of the self and the world is more complicated than that? There's a whole counter-current of thought running perpendicular to Descartes, and one of the foremost mediums for this rebellion, if you will, is books. Here are some very intriguing titles that deal with this particular dilemma:


Phenomenology of Perception, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty

The concept of phenomenology is central to undoing Descartes' grip on the self-world relationship. Husserl and Heidegger did it first, but Merleau-Ponty did it better--his 1945 masterpiece stresses the importance of the kinetic body to consciousness and, from there, to a reciprocal relationship with the outside world.      




Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio Damasio

This 1994 book challenges Descartes directly, both in title and in content. Damasio, a neurologist, examines the complicity of emotions in reason and rationality. The muddying of what was hereto regarded as a clean-cut break between reason and emotion can resonate far beyond Descartes and this book--many of the problematic binaries we refer to everday, in particular gender binaries, can be reexamined and re-understood through this new lens.   



Parables for the Virtual, by Brian Massumi

Although at times infuriatingly and consciously abstract, this 2002 book takes the centrality of the kinetic body that was so important to Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology and explodes with it in various different directions. It demands of the reader a complete reunderstanding of how the body moves and senses, and what that movement and sensation means in the context of the world and its construction. 



The Ego Tunnel, by Thomas Metzinger

Published in 2009, Metzinger completely destroys the concept of "self" that Descartes depended on so entirely. He argues, through scientific and psychologic case studies, that the concept of a self is just a projection of the construct he calls an ego tunnel...in other words, there is no such thing as a "me." Which, of course, destabilizes Descartes' argument to the point of removing its very foundation.