“Tiny differences in input could quickly become overwhelming differences in output…. In weather, for example, this translates into what is only half-jokingly known as the Butterfly Effect — the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York.” -James Gleick
Let me tell you a story that happened 400 years ago and has had a dramatic “butterfly” effect on us modern humans. On the night of November 10–11, 1619, a young French soldier had three consecutive dreams that made him question the nature of reality. In these dreams a 23-year-old René saw ghosts, a church, a dictionary and a book of poems. That one night has set a new course of intellectual pursuit that later transformed scholasticism of the middle ages into exact sciences and philosophical disciplines of modernity.
Though a promising mathematician, René Descartes has become disenchanted with formal education and wanted to educate himself by experiencing the world. Since his earlier days at the Jesuit lycée — the high-school he attended and then quit before completing education — he had marveled at mathematics, especially geometry, a science in which he found certainty, parsimony, and precision. He aspired to find a basis for all knowledge of man so that it might have the same unifying principles and accuracy as mathematics. Tired of what he felt to be “the endless intellectual discussions” that distracted his mind aimlessly, he set out to undertake a study of military engineering and joined the Dutch States Army in 1618.
He volunteered for the army so that he could travel and see the practical matters of war in which the Central Europe of the early 17th century was plunged during the 30 Years War between the forces of the Habsburg Catholic Holy Roman Emperor and those of the Protestant Princes of Northern Europe. Descartes was soon in touch with leading scientists of his time, including Isaac Beeckman, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. That was the story of the many young men of the time who were of a well-to-do standing but no particular purpose in life.
While stationed in Bavaria, Germany, on that legendary November night, Descartes shut himself in a room with a stove to escape a severely cold weather. It was a bitterly cold evening — freezing rain with gusty winds banging against the doors and window-panes. Earlier in the day, Descartes was meditating on the “disunity and uncertainty” of his knowledge. He fantasized that sciences must be unveiled by one honorable man, not many, and all the words of all the wise men could be reduced to a few general rules which he intended to frame. This night, he was reading a treatise on music in which he saw mathematical patterns. But, perhaps because he was very tired, he kept dozing off. So, he put away the book, undressed, blew out the candles and went to bed.
The young man felt asleep and immediately entered into a whimsical dream: He is walking in an unknown street, when suddenly ghosts appear in front of him. Terrified, he wants to run away, but he feels a great weakness on his right side that forces him to bend over to his left to be able to advance. Embarrassed of walking with this silly gait, he makes a huge effort to stand upright, but a whirlwind spins him three or four times on his left foot. Then, he stops spinning and tries to charge ahead. But his body’s position makes walking difficult, and he thinks that he is going to fall with each step that he takes.
Then he sees a college church and wants to go inside to pray, but he notices that he has just passed an acquaintance who he wants to greet. So, he wants to turn back to say something agreeable to him but he is violently pushed back by the wind. At the same time, he sees, in the middle of the college courtyard, another person who calls him by his name and says to him: “Would you be kind enough to carry something to one of our friends?”
The young man asks what he is to carry. He receives no answer, but imagines, out of the blue, that it is a melon brought from overseas. He continues walking, dragging himself along and zigzagging, while the people whom he sees are walking firmly on their feet. He is so miserable that he wakes up. The dream, from which he emerges with difficulty, has anguished him so much that he thinks that an evil genie has come to torture him. So, he makes a long prayer to secure himself against the bad effects of his vision.
After two hours of praying and thinking about the good and evil in the world, he falls asleep again, only to see another dream. He hears a “sharp, explosive noise,” which he takes for thunder. This time, fear wakes him up immediately. Opening his eyes, he observes sparks from the stove scattered in his bedroom. But this doesn’t worry him, for it has happened several times before. So, he concludes, the sound he heard was a dream after all. After a short while, he goes back to sleep again, and finds himself in a third dream.
In front of him, on a table, is a book. Having opened it out of curiosity, he recognizes it as a dictionary. Then he notices a second book. This one is a poetry anthology. He flicks quickly through it and immediately comes across the Latin verse: “Quod vitae sectabor iter?”: “Which path in life will I choose?” At the same time, a strange angel appears and presents him with a poem which starts with Est et non (French: what is and is not) saying that it is an excellent work. The young soldier of fortune replies: “I know. It is in this book of poems. Look!” But when he flicks through the anthology, he can’t find the poem. So, he picks up the dictionary and notices that some of the pages are missing. Then the angel says: “The mastery of Nature is to be achieved through measurement and number” after which the books and the angel of truth disappear.
Once he wakes up, our young adventurer, very troubled by these three dreams, is convinced that they have been sent to him by God and wants to uncover their meaning. The explanation of the first dream was simple: The wind that made his walking so difficult was “nothing more than an evil genie.” He thinks: “That is why God did not allow me to be blown away, even towards a holy place, by this demon spirit.”
Of these three dreams, it was the third that shook Descartes the most and elevated him to the new outlook on reality — what is and is not. Since in his dreams he clearly failed to distinguish reality from illusion, he concluded that he could only be sure of one reality that his mind exists. From then on, Descartes would question everything he saw to verify whether it was not a dream after all.
A series of three dreams with demonic forces and angelic deliverance would play a determining role in the life of this young seeker. The very next day he decided to step on the path which has been laid out to him. The next year he quit the army to pursue mathematics and philosophy. In his research, Descartes would meticulously consult the rule which had been given to him in his third dream — separate the true from the false. He would forever live by his famous guiding principle “he received as true only that which he knew to be so.” He would go on to become the father of modern Rationalism, the worldview that “regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge.” He would also create the field of analytical geometry (also called ‘Cartesian Geometry’, or ‘Coordinate Geometry’), bridging algebra with geometry.
On the basis of this deific revelation, the 23-year-old Descartes set out to develop his philosophy which later built the foundation to modern disciplines. The now-400-year-old rational science has been founded on angelic revelation. Human history, it seems, is not without a twist of irony. A displeased bishop William Temple once referred to the third dream of Descartes as “the most disastrous moment in the history of Europe.”
“Cogito ergo sum” is a Latin philosophical proposition by Descartes translated into English as “I think, therefore I am” aptly outlines Descartes’ First Principle of Philosophy. In Discourse of the Method, he writes: “Seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations.
And finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams.
But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM), was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the skeptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.”
While any knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting his own existence served as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity — in this case the self — for there to be a thought.
Often misinterpreted, Cartesian Dualism well may be regarded as a Western version of Vedanta. Firstly, if you read between the lines of this extraordinarily brilliant thinker of his time, you should realize, just like Descartes, that your sensory world is illusory, transitory, and ephemeral; life is a dream, and you need to “wake up” from it to a higher truth. Secondly, in line with Descartes’ philosophical observations: Your own consciousness is the only necessary truth. Ultimately, consciousness is all that is — the claim that you would have less difficulty accepting once you’ll have read some of my works. And counterintuitively, that’s what quantum theory, our most successful theory of all times, tells us by negating the existence of mind-independent reality. That which leads to the realization of the existence of transcendent self.
In my book The Syntellect Hypothesis: Five Paradigms of the Mind’s Evolution, I share one of my deepest revelations quite relevant for mentioning here: “Your life is a dream. It’s a dream of reality. When I woke up one morning, I got poetically epiphanized: To us, our dreams at night feel ‘oh-so-real’ when inside them but they are what they are — dreams against the backdrop of daily reality. Our daily reality is like nightly dreams against the backdrop of the larger reality. This is something we all know deep down to be true. This purposeful computational process is centered around one objective, one guiding principle only, one ‘raison d’être’ — to produce a meaningful experience in the context of ‘embodied’ mind.”
Thirdly, as your transcendent self needs experiential self to manifest any logically possible world which, if we take Cartesian Dualism to its logical conclusion, might be viewed as progressively monistic concrescence — object and subject are one, one experiential thread in the humongous tapestry of all that is.
P.S. This article is adapted from my recently-published book “The Origins of Us: Evolutionary Emergence and The Omega Point Cosmology.”
Tags: Syntellect Hypothesis, Five Paradigms, Minds Evolution, magnum opus, scientific discourse, philosophical discourse, The Origins of Us, The Science and Philosophy of Information, butterfly effect, scholasticism,, René Descartes, Isaac Beeckman, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, Cartesian Geometry, Coordinate Geometry, rational science, angelic revelation, human history, William Temple, Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, Discourse of the Method, first principle of the philosophy, Cartesian Dualism, Western version of Vedanta, embodied mind, quantum theory, transcendent self, experiential self, concrescence, experiential thread
About the Author:
Alex Vikoulov is a futurist, evolutionary cyberneticist, philosopher of mind, founder of Ecstadelic Media Group, painter, essayist, media commentator, author of “The Syntellect Hypothesis: Five Paradigms of the Mind’s Evolution,” “The Origins of Us: Evolutionary Emergence and The Omega Point Cosmology,” “The Physics of Time: D-Theory of Time & Temporal Mechanics,” “The Intelligence Supernova: Essays on Cybernetic Transhumanism, The Simulation Singularity & The Syntellect Emergence,” “Theology of Digital Physics: Phenomenal Consciousness, The Cosmic Self & The Pantheistic Interpretation of Our Holographic Reality,” “NOOGENESIS: Computational Biology.” Self-described neo-transcendentalist, transhumanist singularitarian, cosmist. Lives in Burlingame, California (San Francisco Bay Area). More Bio…
Author website: www.alexvikoulov.com
*Image Credit: Shutterstock
**Original article first appeared on EcstadelicNET (ecstadelic.net) in Top Stories section on April 25, 2019