Sentire ergo sum

I tend to differ from Descartes’ now famous exposition: Cogito ergo sum. Cogito??? Does thinking define mankind? I would rather paraphrase the famous statement as “Sentire ergo sum”: I feel therefore I am. Let me explain.

Though important for mankind thinking does not really differentiate and make man unique. I am not  saying this only because of the rapid advances in “thinking machines” or artificial intelligence or heuristic programming or computers that learn. The speed with which all these technologies are moving ahead leave no doubt in any observer that man’s preeminence will have to be defined by some other characteristic than logical thinking. We stare at a time when the machine behind the man ( and not the earlier model of man behind the machine) will determine the future course of progress as well as our end  goal posts. So thinking is not the sole prerogative of and chief differentiation for mankind.

My candidate for the top differentiator is Feeling. Because of his ability to feel man is unique. Emotions and the feelings that course through him are the “unique sauce” that maketh a man. Hence Sentire ergo sum.

At a very personal level each and everyone of us have experienced times when the “head” told us something and our “heart” suggested the opposite. Though it was not logical and not based on data on hand and not prompted by the “facts of the case” we have done what we intuitively felt was right: and felt very good about following that path. Did feelings not overtake thinking at such points? Recollect the soldier at the frontier who logically knows the odds of being outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy and still for the emotions that rise when he sees his country’s flag is ready to lay down his most precious possession i.e. his very life for his Motherland. All of us have personally experienced the love of our own mothers who have loved us divest of any logic and for whom our entire heart head and being is perpetually in a state of gratitude. Our own love for children and the extent to which we are ready to go out on a limb for them should convince all that there is much more beyond mere thinking and logical analysis.

Can all these aspects of our lives be explained by logic and by thinking? Feeling overtakes and drives all that we do. Feeling helps us make more sense of our lives and circumstances. And I believe it is our ability to feel that differentiates us and makes us unique from all others. Correspondingly if I can understand and channelize my feelings better I will be be able to do more. Experience more happiness. Be more in control of my life. And generally be a much better human being than I am today.

Logical? Or more importantly: do you feel what I am saying makes sense? In the next blog I would like to explore more about feelings and look more holistically at feelings and the multiple levels at which this subject can be understood. However before that I look forward to your views and feedback on this topic.

in anticipation: vikas






2 Replies to “Sentire ergo sum”

  1. We are living the 4th industrial revolution of the world. The age of artificial intelligence, where it is estimated that 90% of the world’s jobs will be replaced by a computer. But does the existence of thinking machines mean that logical thinking is not humanity’s to call it’s own? I think not.

    Logic is very varied. 10 different people thinking logically could come up with 10 different solutions to the same problem. This is what puts subjects like mathematics and computer algorithms under the domain of creativity. How to solve the problem more efficiently with fewer resources? How to find the hidden connections and patterns that when applied, elicit the same solution? In the scientific field we often hear of stories on how mundane observations inspired people towards great scientific achievements. Newtons apple being one of the best examples. Can machines match this ability? And if they can, will feelings be completely beyond them? This raises a question in my mind: is thinking really not unique to mankind?

    While I have no doubts in my mind that feelings are at the soul of mankind, I wonder if they should be the defining factor. This may be slightly tangential, but I think it worth a mention; too many problems in this world are caused by people with noble dispositions and clouded minds. History provides us with numerous examples of people who were convinced that they were doing the right thing and committed terrible crimes. As such, wouldn’t it be better to learn to reason analytically and think clearly than to let our feelings be our sole guide?

    I agree that we have all had moments where we have acted on intuition and felt better for it. But I would argue that the examples of a mothers love for her child and a soldiers patriotism are more generic than unique, for all mothers and soldiers feel so. What then makes man unique? I am not familiar with Latin, but I think several factors, including feelings, in unison, make man unique. I think it is our journey in pursuit of these factors, is what makes us unique.


    1. Victor thanks for your detailed comment.
      I have erred in my exposition if I have created an impression that thinking is not important. I do not hold that brief. Thinking is after all the “crowning glory” for the homo sapiens. Its importance cannot be gainsaid.
      But I see emotions and feelings as a more evolved state. A higher order state if you will once the thinking stage is transcended. The intelligent machines are after all a creation of the human intellect and are best today for following rules and replicating decisions/actions where rules are well set based on past experience . Again past experience of the intelligent human being. Machines that “learn” are still not very sophisticated and not at all “creative”. Your point is well taken that it is only expected that the next frontier of science will take us there.
      But my case is the pre eminence of feelings and emotions which “hijack” our logic and take us away from the true path as suggested by data and analysis. Why does that happen?
      My thesis is that emotions and feelings are a higher order need and a more evolved stage.
      Hitler was not logical. He believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race and would not stop at all the “logical cut offs” causing the Holocast. Did his emotions not supercede his intellect? or of the entire Geran war machine for that matter??
      On another scale take Jesus or Mohammed or the more recent Jaggi Vasudev or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Is their appeal purely intellectual? as a management student i have only admiration for Baba Ramdev who has created a thousands of crores business empire first targetting the MNCs and then calimig that his noodles and his biscuits are all right but heaven help you if you buy MNC products. Deh ka paisa desh me rahe aur us se bhi accha ki Baba Ramdev ko mile. If there any logic in buying incense and all pooja related stuff from Jaggi Vasudev or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar outlets? what real advantage exists over the already commercially available incense and dhoop sticks. But since you are attending my discourses I will use that emotion to hook you into buying my “pure and pristine” incense. Decisions taken are clearly driven by emotions and feelings and have nothing to do with logic or physical properties of the atta noodles incense or agarbattis.
      Only with all this I conclude that we may have been thinking beings once but now have graduated from that to be more emotional and feeling beings.
      any way that is my view. I do not claim only I am right. This is a space where reality and truth will not be black and white. As humans we can revel in the shades of grey.


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