evolution of philosophy
Existence – the evolution of the ultimate question.
Who am I? Why am I here? What is life? These are questions that have been asked by man through out history. Existence, consciousness and reality have been the battle grounds of philosophers since the dawn of human creation, and although eminent names such as Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Hume and Gettier have all offered their own theories and opinions, no agreement has ever been reached. Ultimately these questions revolve on the understanding of the definition of knowledge. What constitutes as knowledge and how that knowledge is acquired. This questioning of knowledge - epistemology, has traditionally been the great divide between common man and philosophers. The definition of existence for example taken in terms of common usage could be defined as the world as it is experienced through the five senses, and of course, the world is not dependant on the five senses. It exists regardless of our experience of it. However, philosophical debate questions what exists but how we know it exists and how reliable our senses are, and can extend the discussion to encompass the nature of essence and even individuality. Having stated that the question of knowledge and ultimately existence has traditionally been a great divider, it could be argues that this is no longer the case a ‘common man’ has embraced such philosophical contentions as offered through the study of existence – ontology – and further more, this is reflected in popular culture through films such as The Matrix, Dark, City, Memento and more recently Avatar.
The first arena it could be said in which this evolution has occurred is the acquisition of knowledge of existence, and the world around us. Over 400 years ago philosophers argued that senses could not be trusted to inform us of the world and thus our existence within it, and theme emphasized more recently in films such as The Matrix. In the 17C Descartes stated “Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am” In 1999 proposed that the world was a construct only in our minds and yet “the matrix can be more real than this world” (Cypher). Descartes proposition was the result of questioning the acquisition of knowledge and the reliability of the senses. Could sensations similar to sights, hearing or touch be recreated during fever; causing hallucinations, or indeed through hallucinogenic drugs? As the senses can not be trusted how can knowledge of existence be truly evaluated. Descartes conclusion was that the only ‘fact’ that he could affirm to having true knowledge about was that he was thinking, hence his proposition, and this proved his existence. In the universe of the matrix the theme of false beliefs regarding the world due to our senses being unreliable is at the forefront and the world is in fact all a type of hallucination.
This debate naturally transposes into the questions of how the world around effects, mould and determines identity. This is another area in which evolution has occurred. In the 1800’s Schopenhauer stated “every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world”. Mans world, and therefore identity, is influence by the immediate world in which he lives in. Thus, both the identity and knowledge of the world to a person living in New York will be the produce of his experiences open to him. Even his beliefs are formed because of the world around him. This debate has since grown within common man and in ‘Dark City’ the central focus of the film is regarding the question of how man is shaped by the world around him and his experiences within it. The characters lives, the structure of the city and even their memories are manipulated in order to view how man, his existence and his identity, is the product of experience. The lead character even questions the reality of ‘day’: “I don’t think the sun even exists in this place” (John Murdoch). This also highlights the argument that not only is our existence and identity shaped by the world around us but also by out memories and experiences.
It has been argued that man’s identity is the result of his experiences and memories. Where he has been, and what he has done; and indeed what his senses have told him. In the 1600’s philosopher John Locke stated “no man’s knowledge here can go beyond experience” a theme picked up in the 1990’s in the film Memento in which the lead character goes through life without memories; without experience. To survive he has become a man of “habit and routine” (Leonard Shelby: Memento). Although separated by four hundred years both philosopher and film argue that a man’s knowledge, and therefore identity is the result of his experience. Memento emphasizes that without these experience man has no identity, no way of defining his existence.
Overall it is apparent that the debates and discussions that have been the life blood of philosophy and now has a spotlight within the realms of common man and as long as popular culture continues to produce work that is constantly causes its audience to question their very existence such philosophical debates will continue.