Descartes believed that information gleaned from the senses could be very unreliable, and since dreams depend upon sensory information, their trustworthiness becomes even more suspect as they mimic the things that we actually do and feel/experience while awake. That is part of the reason that he has serious doubts about what we call the Pinch Test. Many websites suggest that there are two possibilities for Descartes’ “Pinch Test.” Although various websites phrase them a bit differently, the choices they propose are:
(1) If I’m dreaming and someone in the dream pinches me, I will wake up.
(2) If I am awake and think I might be dreaming and someone pinches me, I’ll be able to tell whether I’m dreaming or not.
But, Descartes has considered both of the above possibilities and rejects them equally in his Meditations. In fact, he concludes that: (Descartes) If I am dreaming and someone pinches me, I will not wake up but dream that I felt the pain and dream that I woke up—but, I will still be asleep and still be dreaming.
Granted, this sounds a lot like what is going on with the people still connected as energy generators in “The Matrix” movies, which is not too surprising since the guys who wrote those movies actually studied Philosophy. The people still connected to the matrix are dreaming that they are awake; thus, when they are dreaming that they are awake and experiencing sensations (like being pinched), they are actually still dreaming.
So, here comes your real challenge.
If you cannot trust your senses when you are awake (since they often lie to you and give you bad information, like telling you a favorite food tastes “weird” when you are sick, or that a road is wet on a hot day when it is actually an optical mirage, or even that you might have a “phantom pain” in a limb after it has already been surgically removed), what sort of knowledge can you know with certainty is true, whether you are awake or dreaming? For help, look at Descartes’ reasoning for the “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think; therefore, I am”), and try to figure out why Descartes was so positive that this was the first thing that he could know was true without any doubts. Explain why this was the first thing he could know was true with absolute certainty.
Then, tell us something that you know is true with the same sort of undoubtable certainty.
After that, answer these questions:
o How did you reach the conclusion that it was true and could not be doubted?
o Was there a process or method like Descartes used to prove it was undoubtable, and what was it?
o How could you convince other people that it is true and they cannot doubt it either?
o Finally, what would have to happen in order for you to doubt the truth of this thing in the future?
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