René Descartes captured the essence of human life with cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Still 400 years later it remains a gritty summary of the mental action that distinguishes the human. It epitomises the level of self-awareness that gave homo the apprehension and yearning for knowledge of existence beyond the self. Before reaching objective knowledge, the yearning spawned myths that filled the vacuum. Constrained by the myth of his time, belief in the soul, Descartes still extracted the essence of mind in his conclusion that it can exist without one’s body. It does, but not in the form that religion prescribes. The immaterial mind consists of ideas, which exist in the impress they leave on the living minds of the group, which perpetuates the process with its impress on the young. In “Welcome to the Loony Bin” (Bell, 2015) I refer to the living repository of our thought as the group mind, an indispensable element of humanity.
Descartes’ aphorism captures his own lasting existence in the human group mind. He founded modern science. He laid down the rules of scientific methodology (Devlin, 1997, p.275). His coordinates not only provide the basis for cartography, but remain central to the method used for the computations of modern astronomy and space travel. Of course his genius fed on the knowledge the group provided. Innumerable individuals had fed their own genius into the store, which he wove into his syntheses. Myth still constrains the group mind. Its store of knowledge still gives little hint of its own existence.
Putting aside Descarte’s dated speculation about the soul, the current body of knowledge still gives support to Descartian dualism. At the level of the individual body and mind have a corporate unity, but the group the mind has a far more extensive existence. The child inherits the group-created tool, language, and its content of knowledge. The group mind contains the reality of Sir Karl Popper’s World 3. For centuries scientists had no quarrel with dualism, but today it has become fashionable to reject it. Devlin himself concludes that Descartes has become de trop. I will argue in this blog how well dualism sits with modern science and evolutionary biology. Perhaps the new fashion to debunk will prove justified, but I suspect that the correspondence of dualism to the reality of brain action will prevail. Just one feature alone of life, the bipolar systems of biological mechanisms, gives it biological substance.