Cogito Ergo Sum

The title, Cogito ergo sum, is a famous Classical Latin phrase by René Descartes which translates into English as, “I think, therefore I am.” It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, largely because it relates to my fascination with consciousness (more specifically, sentience, the ability to experience sensations). So it annoys me when people misinterpret this quote and apply it to improper contexts. In fact, of all the times I’ve heard this phrase, I’ve only ever heard it used correctly once. A most recent example, I’ve been watching a series of Crash Course videos on Psychology. In the 15th episode at 1m19s, he applies this quote incorrectly in the context of Psychology.

To put it simply, the phrase, “I think, therefore I am,” came about as Descartes pondered the nature of consciousness, eventually pondering and doubting his own existence. But then he realized that the ability to doubt this own existence meant that there was a doubter, himself, doubting his own existence. In another words, the ability to contemplate one’s own existence, or to think in general, is proof of one’s own existence. If you change a single word in the English translation, it might make more sense: “I think, therefore I exist.”

I can’t fully explain it, but consciousness fascinates me, and it’s something that I’ve spent a good amount of time contemplating myself. In relation to this quote, one aspect of conscious experience that I came to realize is that we are aware of our own conscious experience and that we’re able to communicate and talk about our conscious experiences. For me, that is strong evidence that consciousness plays a role in brain function and controlling our behavior. As a consequence, this implies that consciousness has an effect on the physical world, however major or minor that effect may me. I consider this one of the fundamental properties of consciousness and one that must be accounted for (explained) if we are to ever hope to develop a so-called Theory of Everything.

p.s. I recommend the Crash Course collection for those who are curious-minded, but not to those who are hoping to study and obtain a deep understanding of a subject.

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