Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Phasers, Descarte, and "I"

"I" represents many concepts. It can be the address of a certain "ugly bag of mostly water" (a quote from episode 18, Star Trek Next Gen), a reality -> 'I have green eyes.' It can be expression of the idea of separateness from the rest of the universe (what some might call the "delusion of self") -> 'I think, therefore I am.' And, it can be some fuzzy mix of these two -> 'I feel tired.'

The power of Descartes' "I" in our (Western) culture is, of course, very strong. I've had a criticism of one aspect of Star Trek science for many years that I realized this morning is a great demonstration of this cultural prejudice. I have always thought it was interesting how the beam from a phaser knows the extent of a person's body and clothing. A the molecular level, the border of the body is essentially indistinguishable from the clothing over the body, which, in turn, is indistinguishable from the air surrounding the clothing or the ground underlying the shoes. So how do Star Trek phasers "know" to stop disintegrating matter at the clothes.

If it is disintegrating all contiguous mater, the whole universe should go with one shot. If it is stopping because, say, of density differences, then at least all of the ground touching the soles of the shoes should also disintegrate. Of course, writer's can't allow the whole universe to go up the first shot of a phaser, but it is interesting that most of us just accept that there is a neat border around that "self" that is being destroyed.

As a side note, its also interesting that often when a phaser is directed at a wall or door it cuts through what it's aimed at rather than disintegrating all of it.

Many Buddhist practioner's teach us otherwise. They teach that we are just a senient part of the continuous univerise which is the 'all' of reality. We use the concept of 'I' to get represent certain facts or ideas, but it is just a concept. Really we are just a collection of matter, just like my filing cabinet, but we happen to be assemble such that we are sentient.

I now believe Descarte got it backwards. Instead of "I think, therefore I am," in reality "I am, therfore I think."

Set your phasers on "stun."


Jordan said...

I think the classical argument was that of the Brahmin belief of a permanent unchanging self and the hedonist/materialist (and some might say nihilist) argument of no self, and somewhere in between those two views there was a middle way. or so the stories say...

I think you have the makings of a nice update!

novice101 said...
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