I interpret that famous quote is by Rene Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician to mean that one cannot doubt the existence of themselves because the mere act of doubting is proof of existence. Descartes believed in a nonmaterial soul inhabiting and finding expression in a mechanically operated body. He maintained that the mind and brain are completely separate, but dependent entities much like a fountain pen and ink. The pen does not write without the ink and the ink cannot express meaning without the pen. These views were rejected by important thinkers that followed him. While I am probably not an important thinker to anybody but myself, I know this to be wrong from my own experience.
The Other I
After reading A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Ekhart Tolle in which he explains the flawed logic in the Descartes statement, I questioned how this saying could be right because my thinking was very scrambled and extremely shaky from a recent brain injury, but “I” still existed unaffected. However, I did have a weird, double consciousness where I acted as both the observer of myself and the object of my observations for the first time.
I became strangely aware of some separate, distinct part of me observing the brain injured me and watching everything unfold. Even though huge chunks of my personality were gone and my mental processes weren’t functioning properly, my spirit or soul or whatever you want to call it was intact and fully aware. This entity was objectively and compassionately watching me and my life play out remaining whole and undamaged. As a matter of fact, the persona grew stronger and more clearly defined as my ego and physical self became quieter and less imposing. “What part of me is observing me?” I wondered. Kind of freaky, but comforting at the same time.
While this other me observed the impaired me squirm with empathy and understanding, she didn’t yet have any effect on the actions or feelings of the existing me. The existing me was still very critical and was a pro at the negative self-talk she had spent a lifetime perfecting. Instead, this other me looked at the existing me kindly which was a totally new perspective for me.
The Brain Is A Tool Used By The Mind
I watched the Deepak Chopra video below in which he discusses the brain and consciousness with Rudolph Tanzi, a Harvard Professor of Neurology, who GQ Magazine called a “Rock Star of Science,” and others. They get very complicated talking about consciousness and self and raise some interesting points. In another video continuing the conversation, they stress that a person is not their brain any more than a person is their stomach or gall bladder. A brain is a tool used by the mind for expression and function much like a computer.
Because of my brain injury experience, I now believe and understand this.
They convincingly convey the belief that we are not our brains or bodies, but they exist for us to use them to express ourselves.
Wonder what Descartes would have to say about that?
image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathyroom17/7330270054/