Obviously Descartes would suggest that we can't doubt that we think, because doubt is a cognitive attitude. But is it one that occurs when we think it does, i.e. can I doubt that I am typing this now without committing myself to my thinking at that time? Might I be unconscious at the time I think I am doubting?

I am suggesting that I might, to draw a disanalogy between death and unconsciousness... as their equivalence is always stated whenever I say to anyone I think I can't die.

  • 3
    All depends on who is asking.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 13 '14 at 19:54

Does it matter what exact time thinking occurs? If so then humans have nothing productive whatsoever to say on the subject, because our thinking is massively distributed with all the parts of it happening on different delays and competing for conscious notice that most of it never gets.

Some of it definitely happens when you are unconscious -- sleep is necessary for some forms of learning to occur, which has been verified experimentally for various strategic skills. And we sometimes make decisions while we sleep, or when we think we are idle and not thinking, only to realize we have already made them once they become relevant.

Totally non-autistic people seem not to pay a lot of attention to their own thinking, and folks largely reject these facts, but we have enough data from psychology now to confirm that thought really happens this way, and not the continuous way everyone talks about it happening. The continuity is an illusion we construct to improve communication, and not an actual experience.

Working from there, if the doubt occurs, you have been conscious, whether or not you are right now, and setting the exact parameters when you are doing the thinking is an idealization that just does not fit the observed facts.

If you go back and forth between being dead an not being dead, then you do in fact die, you may just not do so permanently.


Only Intellectually; that is by the imagination. Anyone who actually claimed this, in the sense that it actually affected completely how he saw the world would be locked up.

Descarte is often misunderstood here, he was setting up an axiomatic basis for knowledge.

  • he definitely DID doubt these sorts of things, sorry.
    – user6917
    Oct 15 '14 at 11:27
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    Read the [wikipedia]() article where they say "who sought to doubt the truth of all his beliefs in order to determine which beliefs he could be certain were true." And consider what I meant by an 'axiomatic basis of knowledge'. They also distinguish between methodological and philosophical doubt, and say Descarte is doing the former. Oct 15 '14 at 11:36
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    And in fact only one form of the former, which they call Cartesian doubt. None of these is actual doubt, that form is a form of madness I'm afraid. Think about it. Oct 15 '14 at 11:40
  • i remember having this discussion before? i've not read descartes but i don't see why you think he didn't "doubt" these things.
    – user6917
    Oct 15 '14 at 11:42
  • i read the wiki entry "Methodological skepticism is distinguished from philosophical skepticism in that methodological skepticism is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out true from false claims, whereas philosophical skepticism is an approach that questions the possibility of pure knowledge." which only supports my claim, sorry but if you think you've answered my question soundly i can't help but think you've misunderstood me
    – user6917
    Oct 15 '14 at 11:45

I would argue that, as with the laws of logic, consciousness is self-evident in that in order to even attempt to disprove it, you must first assume its validity. Although, in a way, this would be contingent upon how one defines consciousness. If you believe that it is the "aware of one's own existence, sensations, and thoughts," then, by definition, you must exist to be conscious.

I consider myself to be a skeptic, and a rather rigid one. I am suspect of everything in, what I perceive to be, the external world, but I simply don't know how I would even begin to be skeptical of the claim that I do, indeed, exist and that I am having some sort of an experience, whether that experience comports with reality (or ultimate reality) or not.


When starting to push the bounds of consciousness and life, nailing down definitions becomes important. Unfortunately for us, both of those words are particularly tricky to come up with a definition. Call it the human condition.

One approach would be to define consciousness not as a "thing" but as a metric of a system, and what we traditionally call "consciousness" is actually more of a threshold on that metric. I point to the longstanding debate over the consciousness of animals as a rationale for this definition. If "consciousness" is not a thing that one has, but some critical-value score on a metric, it becomes easy to see how some could disagree on what that critical-value is; some could consider a dog "conscious," while others may not.

If such a metric could be named, then taking the limit as consciousness approaches 0 would begin to model systems which are not-conscious. We could then try to find such a system which admits a concept we can call "doubt" without consciousness.

I do think it would be difficult to doubt that we are conscious, even with such a definition. Consider the original phrase "can we doubt that we are conscious." The Wikipedia answer for consciousness is an awareness of an external entity or internal state. By that definition, "we are conscious" would be an internal state, and thus any phrase which is formed with that phrasing will force consciousness by definition. A definition which does allow that phrasing for unconscious beings would, at the very least, force Wikipedia to change its definitions.


I don't know how it is that easy, someone comes without having any robust evidence and plays with words, finally satisfies himself to have made an axiomatic set of systems which the whole philosophy can be built upon!
Conscious is a aspect of human body.It's the most powerful representation of human being which is central core to anything else.It's not something that exists, it's an abstract idea which can be given to anything that exists.

  • how can people claim that consciousness is not something that exists unless they are not conscious? It is almost as if you and Descartes had entirely different inner experience and are using the same words with entirely different meanings.
    – nir
    Oct 15 '14 at 20:25
  • @nir Consciousness does not exist means that there is nothing as a independent part of human body called conscious and it is a aspect given to things.
    – FreeMind
    Oct 17 '14 at 3:50
  • Which is more real, your right hand or your consciousness?
    – nir
    Oct 17 '14 at 8:40

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