On Descartes

The Cartesian Subject

The ego, the self, the body, the mind. Freud describes the psyche, or soul, as a trinity, a division between the id, ego, and superego. Descartes has ascribed to him a dualism, a separation of mind and body. But the body is simply extension, metaphysically, where thought is done in the mind or soul. This reminds of Spinoza where all that exists is substance. From substance we get attributes, humans are only aware of two attributes: thought and extension. Therefore with Descartes, the mind is the representation of thought, and body is extension. There is a special divide intrinsic to consciousness according to Descartes that gives us a sensation of knowing our own selves but not the Cartesian Other (Lacan, Hegel). We can only know the Other through extension. Cogito Ergo Sum is the first principle we can rest on if doubt is our guide. This Cartesian Subject is the thinking self, the soul, the atman, the Brahman. It can think about itself, about existence, about being versus becoming, the great dramas.

Alan Watts describes the self as a compound between ego and non-ego (non-dualism). When the ego disappears there still remains a version of you that can’t be understood through the ego, (i.e. how do you know how to open and close your hand?). You are the you that exists between your thoughts, Wu-hsin (no mind) (Philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism). Being vs becoming, are we who we are right now or are we the thing who can change who we are right now (Yo y yo y mi circunstancia). To get into the buddhist temple, you have to answer the question of who you are. You are not your job, not the name you were given at birth, you are not a somebody — you are a nobody. You are void pretending that you are something, the great Drama myth. We are all God in drag, pretending that we are not. Anatman, no self. The goal of meditation is to create a witness (an awareness outside of ego) that can observe the ego. This is not an act of judgement or conceptualizing, but simply of passive awareness. The ego has things it has to do, desires to attend to (the allure of satiation), it is a busy body. Like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The witness just watches the ego’s antics. The witness is to help you understand the illusory nature of the ego, the ego is not static it is always moving, always becoming. A man goes to the Buddha and spits on his face, then goes back the next day and apologizes but is taken aback when the Buddha looks at him confused. The Buddha says, “the man you spit on yesterday does not exist anymore, why would you need to apologize to me? I am not that person, and you are not the same person either.”

Heraclitus, “You can not step in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and you are not the same person.” Plato (the Parmenides sell-out) defined the psyche as having three distinct regions: the brain (thought), the heart (passion), the liver (appetite). The Greeks were well aware of this as the myth of Prometheus has his liver being preyed upon as an eternal punishment. The persona (Latin for mask) was the costume the actor put on to go onto the stage. This is Piaget’s cognitive philosophy of what is doing the assimilation or accomodation of the personality. We can become very dependent on this personality we become accustom to. The best actor on stage is the one who forgets he is acting. But how do you know you are acting in Good Faith (Sartre)? And not in Bad Faith? Is there an existentially authentic self?

Heidegger and the Phenomenologists (Husserl, Sartre) philosophically debate the Cartesian Subject. The act of enframing (The Gaze) projects a subject-object framework onto any situation in which the Cartesian Subject is used as an ontological assumption. This limits the users ability to understand, limitations can be beneficial at times but blinding in certain aspects.

D&G developed schizo-analysis to parallel psycho-analysis and detail the limitations of Freud/Lacan.

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