I think, I am, I know nothing

By Louis Joubert

Our era has been called the information age. The internet is available at the touch of your phone. If you still only use a computer for the internet, that means you’re down right old-fashioned. Wikipedia, internet dictionaries and encyclopedias are our constant companions. Daily the media is bombarding us with new bouts of international information. Who killed whom — and when and where. Ever wonder how much of it is true? What if absolutely none of it is?

Philosophical skepticism is the belief that none of our beliefs about the external world are true. The belief goes back to a group in ancient Greece called Pyrrhonian skeptics, but where skepticism really took off was with a guy called Rene Descartes. Descartes pondered whether he could be certain about anything he knew or thought he knew. He felt that he could doubt all his knowledge about the external world. There is no reason, thought Descartes, why the external world is not a deception created by an evil demon. A modern version of this is the film The Matrix — we’re all living in a computer simulation. Well, it all comes down to the fact that there is no reason for us to trust our senses. In fact, Descartes found that the only thing that he could know for sure was the fact that he existed, because for him to doubt his existence, he would have to exist, coining the famous phrase “I think, therefore I am.”

But let’s take a closer look at this argument, because I’m sure that a few perplexed and dismissive faces are looking down on these words. So, is Descartes right in thinking that he must know that he is not in a constant state of dreaming to have any sensory knowledge at all? Put differently, must we be 100 per cent certain of our senses before we can trust them? It needs to be understood that the skeptical problem relies on a distinction between two types of knowledge: sensory or experiential knowledge and non-experimental knowledge (such as mathematical knowledge) that does not rely on sensory knowledge. The skeptical problem claims that we cannot have any certain experimental knowledge. Thus, what can validate our sensory knowledge? The problem is that we don’t have any immediately obvious reason to trust our senses. Think about that for a second. I suppose the argument stands or falls on whether you can give a reason for not believing that knowledge requires certainty.

Jean Baudrillard, the stimulating and visceral French sociologist, contends that reality has become suffused in “simulacra.” Our world is so full of simulations and images of the things that the original has become indistinguishable from the copy. Our global village is a mere illusion, created by an overly-zealous media. Our endless summarizations and stereotypes of things have made them “unreal,” or as Baudrillard prefers, “hyperreal.” Baudrillard claims that the real reality does not exist anymore. Who would have thought that Facebook is a tool of the apocalypse?

So, there you have it. We are all hopeless, ignorant bastards, in a nonsensical world of knowledge chaos. Somehow, I don’t think this is so far from the truth. Imagine that. Your girlfriend or boyfriend is just a psychological mechanism to curb your loneliness. Your parents are figments of your imagination. Your accomplishments are only results of your delusions of grandeur and everything you understand, know to be true and derive comfort from is the creation of your mind, possibly present in a post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear world of void, nothingness, emptiness, absolute solitude, crumbled civilization and shattered humanity. All that remains is your insane and traumatized mind surrounded by rubble, dust and chaos, inventing new ways to comfort yourself to avoid slipping into complete panicked delirium. Sounds like fun! Survival instinct has taken complete control, reminiscent of the non-civilized days, because if you were to realize the true nature of your surroundings your fragile psyche would collapse completely. How do you know that this is not true?

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