Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rutgers Philosophy Dept. Proves Descartes Wrong; Shuts Itself Down In Response

Rene Descartes' famous "I think, therefore I am" has been re-examined and found to be untrue, according to the Department Head of the Rutgers University Philosophy Department.

"Indeed, quite the opposite is true. We have found that we do not in fact exist. In lieu of these findings, we have decided to take the moral high road and shut the Rutgers Department of Philosophy down for the time being, until such time as we can find the flaw in our reasoning, at which time, if and only if we come to said conclusion, we will ask Rutgers to be re-instated. In the meantime we will meet each morning over coffee at the local Panera's Bread restaurant to see if we can logically deduce how to re-instate our non-existent selves into our non-existent jobs."

Asked about this odd turn of events and how this came about, the Head continued.

"It began as a sort of a joke by one of our grad students, whenceforth most jokes spring. A few assistant professors took up her cause, and once a tenured professor took up the cause, well, you know where that leads.

"Briefly and without going into the details, you are aware of course of Rene Descartes famous 'I think, therefore I am', generally accepted by Science and Philosophy for hundreds of years. Our student questioned the assumption, which is of course what good philosophers do. She posited:

"'I think I think, therefore I think I am.'

"While seemingly an unnecessary extension into an Abstract Space of which Mathematicians are known/vilified for, this position led to some further developments, as so:

"'If I only think I am, this opens up the possibility that I am not, that I do not  in fact exist, but rather am only given the illusion of my existence, however remote, and however small. Much like a creature in a video game such as Spore. This vexed us, because try as we might, we could not prove ourselves wrong.

"Since Philosophy is the source of most 'Interdisciplinary' studies, we decided to consult the experts in other fields.

"So we presented our case to a well-respected professor at Rutgers Physics, who reminded us of the phenomenon of Quantum Tunneling, that there was a small, but non-zero possibility, that we might be right. Well, we knew THAT! Why the hell did he think we were approaching him in the first place? However we were polite and nodded our heads in agreement and thanked him for his time, and quickly left lest he get it into his head we were crackpots, because the last thing we wanted was Rutgers Physics producing a professor who would think such of others.

"We then approached a professor at Rutgers Mechanical Engineering, and presented our case. His reply was 'If I understand you correctly, then for all practical purposes, given that the set of non-existent things is far larger that the set of existent things, and further given my knowledge of Thermodynamics that everything seeks equilibrium (which in your problem is non-existence), that nothing really exists. Heh, maybe that explains why I can't keep a positron trapped in my Quantum Computing experiments for more than a few weeks.'

"Astounded, we thanked him for his time, and asked if he'd ever considered a switch to Philosophy.

"'Thanks but no thanks,' he replied, 'But I prefer a job where things actually get done. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some non-existent tests to grade of some non-existent students and a short non-existent time in which to grade them before my next non-existent class.'

"'And so we retreated across the Raritan River from lovely Busch campus to our humble abodes on the College Avenue campus to ponder what we'd learned.

"After much discussion and to make a long story short, we concluded as follows:

"If there is even the smallest possibility of our non-existence, then in those such universes where non-existence is in fact the norm, those beings such as possibly ourselves in said non-existent universes would have no benchmark to prove, or disprove, their very existence, or not.

"Therefore, given the probability that non-existent things far outweigh the probability of existent things, it is most likely that we do not exist.

"Interestingly, as the last of our staff moved out of our offices, we noticed grad students from Physics and Mechanical Engineering had moved in, playing Spore."

Disclaimer: Everything on this post is fictitious. It is based on an article (which I lost!) of the Mugrat, being a parody of the Rutgers daily paper, The Daily Targum. The artwork of Descartes, which I very much like, came from searching Google Images and is by Jock Alexander of Sydney, Australia.


Steven Colyer said...

Yay! I found the original article. It's the The Medium, not the Mugrat, and you can see it here, in the right-hand column.

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

"Je pense, donc je suis."

The weirdest thing in this assertion is its shortness... Isn't it questionable to have skipped so much between "I think" and "I am"?

According to Descartes, Hamlet should've never wondered "To be or not to be?", since wondering "not to be?" is literally making a thought of the non-existence concpet, hence is a thinking something, hence triviality of the answer.

Have I made myself understood?

"I make myself understood, therefore I am understood by others"

Steven Colyer said...

Understood perfectly Jérôme, thank you.

The fact of the matter is we lack the tech to prove one way or the other, at the present time, but in the future we'll know more. :-)

christopher said...

Buddhists say this all is central to the distress of existence. I suffer therefore I am, if I am not then I do not suffer.

Dan said...

If you think you think, then you are thinking. The very act of thinking you are thinking means you are thinking. This, of course, says nothing towards whether it is you actually doing the thinking, or whether it is someone else doing the thinking, and so on and so forth.