Was Descartes secretly an atheist

The soul is conscious thinking


Read on one side

But then the demon whose hypothetical deception Descartes played through has no more chance. God in His goodness cannot want to deceive me when I use my mind and senses appropriately, argued Descartes. By and large, the world really has to be the way I perceive it to be.

Descartes had achieved his goal. He had made sure of himself and the world around him. The price, however, was a deep split between the two. On the one hand there is the I as a thinking being - on the other hand the outside world, nature, the houses, other people and one's own body. With Descartes, the world disintegrated into subject and object, and this division can still be felt today. In many minds there is the idea that humans are above all a thinking being, while feelings and sensual experiences are only accessories.

A strange story about Descartes has been going around since the 18th century. On his travels he always carried a mechanical doll in a box that was supposed to resemble his illegitimate daughter Francine. With her he wanted to demonstrate that animals are just soulless machines. One night while traveling by ship, the captain secretly inspected the box, was shocked at the sight of the mechanical monster and threw the doll into the sea. The story is probably made up, but it illustrates a key point in Descartes' thinking: the separation between body and soul. The soul is conscious thinking. It is immediately given to us with the "I think". The body, on the other hand, is a questionable matter. One can be mistaken about having a body, argued Descartes.

How can the soul move the body at will? Why does consciousness hurt when the body is injured? How are body and soul connected at all? This is the famous mind-body problem that only becomes a problem when one distinguishes between mind and body as thoroughly as Descartes and many philosophers after him did.

The mind-body problem is becoming particularly explosive today due to the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Machine thinking, what nonsense, Descartes might have said, machines are as inanimate as my doll, and only souls think. The matter is controversial among today's philosophers. The mind-body problem is a pseudo-problem, some say: Of course, AI systems could produce consciousness, just as human brains produce what Descartes calls "soul". Others, on the other hand, believe that conscious experiences have a quality that can hardly be replicated technically. A poppy meadow, for example, gives a person a red experience and touches them in a way that goes beyond recognizing light of a certain frequency range. Can an AI system ever have such a poppy flower experience?

Descartes ’radical separation between soul and body can no longer be maintained today. But if he was wrong, then in an instructive way. The world needs more people today who strive so consistently for the truth instead of inventing their own truth.

Descartes was an intellectual superstar even in his day. The Swedish Queen Christina exchanged letters with him for years and invited him to her court. In the autumn of 1649 he traveled to Stockholm. But the northern winter hit his heart, and the queen had the late riser come to teach her at five o'clock in the morning. He got pneumonia. On February 11, 1650, he ceased to think and be.