Cogito Ergo Sum. I think, therefore I am. Or so the saying goes.
Upon being admitted to University in Norway, you must first, regardless of your chosen field of study, complete – and pass – a basic Philosophy 1-0-1 type course known as Examen Philosphicum (them academics likes their Latins). This in order to prepare the student for the basic principles of higher learning, scientific method, critical thinking and so on and so forth.
Those of you who know me may also know that I had my own run-in with Academia and that I lost, shamefully, leaving University after several changes to my major, degree-less and with precious little to my credit other than a student loan, the barest minimum of knowledge and understanding, hardly enough even to get me in trouble, but still sufficient to fool those of even lesser learning and/or wit to believe that I was more learned and/or witty than they were. In other words I knew very little about a lot and used it to be snooty and snarky to cover up my own insecurity whenever the opportunity presented itself. (I have since evolved to become a much nicer person.)
But I do remember the lecture on René Descartes and Cogito. That in order to find truth, you must first deconstruct everything until you arrive at that which cannot be doubted and build from there. And the most basic truth is “I Think, Therefore I Am”. Cogito Ergo Sum. Surely nothing can be more basic and true than the assertion that your thinking is proof positive that you exist.
At first this seemed perfectly reasonable and self-evident to me. But what if “I” myself was somebody’s creation programmed to believe (erroneously so) that I was thinking and therefore I was? This was before the breakthrough of personal computers and the Internets, and I have already admitted that I didn’t stick it out long enough to acquire a greater understanding of the subject. If I had, I might have gotten answers. I was also afraid to appear stupid, so I never asked my professors or discussed the matter with my fellow students. I just took the damn course and got on with what I thought was going to be the rest of my life.
Years pass. Moss grows on a rolling stone. Computers become as common as yeast infections in whores. I am vaguely aware of background chatter about artificial intelligences (AIs), Ray Kurzweil, the impending Singularity Event (when machine intelligence develops self-awareness and processing power skyrockets exponentially, potentially leaving flesh-humans behind in the dust), I watch and enjoy the three first Terminator movies, et cetera, et cetera, but can still not muster up enough energy or interest to go beyond passing awestruckness © (Is that a real word? If not I claim copyright.) and fascination with the subject. The possibility that I may not be an independent sentient/sapient being brings little worry to my life.
Current day. I download a short-story (novella, novelette?) from Amazon on my Kindle (search terms, search terms) by David Brin called “Stones Of Significance” and rediscover my fascination when I see that I’m not the only one who has pondered (however slightly) this existential question. Of course I’m not. I relatively firmly believe that every thought worth thinking has already been thought by someone else, someone smarter, and no matter what I think, I’m not adding anything of value to the pool of human knowledge. But I digress.
Disclaimer: I’m only through 19% of the story, but so far I gather it’s about digital simulations of people – even fictional people! – fighting for civil rights in a post-singularity Heaven where everybody is their own god. How totally awesome is that? I have said on occasion that I hope computer science advances fast enough and I live long enough to upload the contents of my mind to the Heavenly Server and live out eternity in virtual reality, digital bliss if you will, where your every whim and wish is possible at the speed of thought. I don’t know how realistic this is, but I quit smoking four years ago and try to live as healthy (or as little unhealthy) as I can. But my determination wavers, after all I am only human. Or am I? Maybe I am just someone’s really good simulation of “Me”, in which case it doesn’t really matter.
So here we are, waiting to die. Or to be saved by The Singularity. Or for someone to hit “Delete”. Just wanted to put it out there.