Mind and Body:
From René Descartes to William James

Writing Descartes:
I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ...

Story Evolution

excerpted from an exchange of emails triggered by Grobstein's Writing Descartes ...
19 July 2004

Darlington followed by Grobstein

Dear Paul,

Your letter to RD (quotes in italics) is an orchestra of thought, complex, engaging, resonant, vibrant, simple, inclusive, and exciting. Yes, yes, and yes again.

"You thought being and thinking were distinct and logically equivalent things, instead of being things related successively by the degree of complexity of their underlying architecture, and so you could start with either."

Well said.

"And when we do think, its necessarily in ways that are rooted in how we are when we're not thinking".

This is so simply said and so vital to understand.

"One has to doubt not ONLY sense data and logic but also thinking."

Thoughts like this get you burned at the stake.

"Maybe then the starting point one is looking for to support ongoing inquiry is wherever one is at any given time based on all of these. And one can at any given time take any (or all) of these as a solid foundation in the sense that one won't ask questions about them before acting."

Sounds like dipping into a three dimensional madras plaid, each point of entry harboring a unique confluence of sensory and non-sensory data, no two points being the same, each point an opportunity to experience the whole of the present moment in it's unique configuration of qualities. Thinking, the thing that we do after we to get out, towel off and think about configuring the numerous aspects of any given experience. In this part of the process we create the next story.

"Instead one temporarily abandons skepticism for all things in order to act." "... one acts, observes the consequences of action, and then uses those observations as part of one's on-going inquiry into anything and everything for which they may have relevance."

A fine description of life lived as a full-bodied wine if you ask me. I would tend to insert the word hopefully or ideally between "one acts, [hopefully] observes the consequences ... "

"While it may be a little uncomfortable to give up the security not only of authority and logic and sense data and thinking but also the "self", one achieves along this path the freedom to become, and, in becoming, to be oneself the agent of new territory to explore and inquire into."

Well said, Bodhisattva. However, I do not think that "little" is the adjective most people would apply to this activity.

"I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am".

In the field of psychotherapy there is often polarization between those who believe that "feeling" is the starting point and those who believe thinking is the starting point. "I am and I can think" is a more dynamic and inclusive approach to considering a starting point. With this statement you are taking into account the fact that the human organism (" ... takes in nutrients, responds to changes in it's environment, retains traces of prior occurrences in their lives, AND thinks ..necessarily in ways that are rooted in how it is when it is not thinking"). Seems to me there is a good deal more to work with, when you consider the organism as a whole. Add to this the therapist, who also "takes in nutrients, " etc., the interaction between the two and the possibilities for something changing increase exponentially.

" ... therefore I can change who I am"

Isn't quite an absolute is it? As we spoke about, in the case of major depression you can think, you can change medication, you can do cognitive re-patterning and sometimes you still canšt count on change happening.

For now, this is some of what I am thinking. This was fun. Thanks for the opportunity to organize the experience of what I do in my daily work a day world. I think the process you describe of setting aside thinking, leaping into experience, being in the excitement of the moment, then coming out on the other side and reorganizing experience with thought (if that is what you are saying) is a similar to the process described by Gestalt therapy.

Dear Lucy,

Thanks. Means a lot to be to be so fully/richly "gotten". Means even more to have it be so in the context of your "daily work a day world" as a therapist. Was indeed arguing for "setting aside thinking, leaping into experience, being in the excitement of the moment, then coming out on the other side and reorganizing experience with thought" (and repeat, as many times as possible), and do indeed think it is precisely that that therapy (among other things) can help people do better.

Multiple yes's back to you as well. There are indeed situations/times when an individual's ability to loop between the unconscious and the conscious (experiencing/thinking) is compromised, and depression is a good example (so too, I suspect, is schizophrenia). Its very much in those times that one wants/needs the help of a therapist, ie someone who understands looping and has the kind of patience/skill to support its discovery/rediscovery. The key here is, as I understand it, is exactly that "the interaction between the two and the possibilities for something changing increase exponentially".

Change, as you say, isn't an "absolute", in the sense that it may be hard at times, and there are real limits to what can be done at any given time, but .... my guess is that SOME kind of change over some kind of time course is always possible. And that's important too. One of the scariest aspects of depression is the sense of being permanently and unchangeably lost; it was important to me to be assured it would pass, and to be encouraged to accept the depression itself as an activity of change whether it "felt" that way to me (and others) or not.

Like you, I suspect there is a fair measure of "zenishness" in all this. And maybe some shamanism as well. Its always interesting when one gets places along particular paths and discovers that others have gotten there along other paths; it increases one's sense that there is actually a there there. And, yes, for many people "its more than a little uncomfortable to give up ... security ...". Maybe that's why zen/shamanism take lots of training? On the other hand, my sense has always been that young children know instinctively that things are pretty "iffy" around here, and they seem to know how to deal with it, even enjoy it. So, maybe, the "uncomfortable" isn't something we're born with but rather something we acquire (in certain cultures) and so .... could in the long run avoid acquiring with appropriate cultural change? And a part of that might well be to assure that everyone KNOWS that "observes the consequences" HAS to follow "one acts".

Appreciate your concern about my well-being, having had my share of experiences with the hazards of noticing/pointing out the shortcomings of one or another emperor's understanding of clothing. THINK I have, over the years, learned how to do so with some measure of .... "safety"? Will though keep my eye out for mobs, matches, and piles of kindling. You too, huh?

Yep, "fun". Thanks again for sharing it.


See on-line forum for continuing discussion/comments

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