25 June 2010

The Demon of Descartes

South African author Joan De La Haye offers Demon Friday. Surprisingly, it's each Friday and it involves a demon from one grimoire or another. She also greets us as 'freaky darlings', similar to Vampira. Top class!

This is my own take on Demon Friday, except it's not always on Fridays and it doesn't feature real demons or pictures of real demons. Sorry.

These are all my posts on demons:

  1. The demon of Laplace, regarding probability.

  2. The demon of Maxwell, regarding thermodynamics.

  3. The demon of Descartes, designed to invoke skepticism.

  4. The demon of Morton, designed to make one aware of confirmation bias.

Frans Hals portret of Rene Descartes
René Descartes invented the evil genius, or evil demon, to illustrate how far his skepticism stretched. The evil genius of Descartes presents a complete illusion of the outside world to the senses. In addition, Descartes's demon presents an illusion of a physical body to the senses. Similar to the Truman Show scenario, this demon keeps us captive in a simulated reality where we have no way of determining what is real or unreal based on sensory input. We also have no way of knowing that the demon is manipulating us.

This evil genius must have convinced Joel Schumacher to cast Val Kilmer as Batman. Or even to go anywhere near the Batman franchise.

Batman Forever Val Kilmer Joel Schumacher Jim Carey film poster

Batman Forever, a film that underperformed due to its violent content. Really? No, I think it underperformed because it was crap. If Uma Thurman can't save a movie, nothing can.


Descartes held that there are three realms:

  1. The realm of the body, which is the physical world.

  2. The realm of the mind, which is our internal mental world.

  3. The realm of God, which is something that only Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead knows anything about.

Similar to the religious conviction that people are souls that inhabit bodies, Descartes held that people are thoughts that somehow think themselves without the need for a body. The body is thus part of the physical realm. This physical realm is easily manipulated by the evil genius.

Lemmy Kilmister Motorhead Motörhead evil genius

Lemmy of Motörhead. A real evil genius.

Different Versions of Descartes's Demon

Some interpretations of the evil genius grant the demon different powers. To some interpretors, there are things that do not rely on the senses for their validity. Among these are mathematics and logic. The evil demon would not be able to fabricate mathematics and logic, thus these are your weapons against Descartes's demon.

Other interpretations hold that the demon is omnipotent and can even manipulate our thoughts, or mathematics and logic itself, to convince us that our world is real. We are thus helpless against Descartes's demon.

BP stock holders might like Descartes's demon

If this world is simulated, it means that BP stock holders did not really lose a fortune after the tragic oil spill. Which would be a more comforting thought if the demon did not fabricate money in our realm in the first place.

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