Rene Descartes, the father of subjective philosophy, wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes believed that our mind knew itself more directly than what the senses perceived of the outside world. He argued that philosophy should start with your thoughts, perhaps emphasizing individualism, and then we should doubt everything else.
Subjective philosophy is based on deductive thinking or on knowing something a priori. You may infer knowledge with this gift without examination or analysis. Whether it is through instinct or presumption, your thinking is the “I am” in Descartes’ statement.
Let’s start by defining “I am.” Does it simply mean that “I am thinking”? If we insert this definition into Descartes statement it becomes: “I think, therefore I am thinking.” Of course, this is true, but Descartes must have considered “I am” to be more than just thoughts. The thinking may lead to “I am,” but what is “I am”?
Grammatically, “I am” is the present first person singular of the verb to be. The conjugation of the verb is: I am; you are; he, she, or it is; we are; you are; and they are. Is “I am” a form of being? Does it mean “I exist”? Does it mean “I am aware”? Or does it mean all these things and more?
The famous soliloquy by Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play of the same name should be included in our analysis of “I am” because of “am’s” connection to the infinitive verb “to be.”
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action…”
Hamlet’s question “to be or not to be” may be similar to my question of “I am or I am not?” Could Hamlet have been asking when he dies, would he “be” or would he “not be”? Some interpret the question as Hamlet pondering whether to commit suicide or not. Even though Hamlet mentions “by opposing, end them…” and “he himself might with his quietus make with a bare bodkin” as potential terminations to his life, he appears to be more concerned with the afterlife or “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” Hamlet may have worried that suicide actually would not have been a termination.
If death were as simple as falling asleep, then why would we go through the torture of living our lives? But Hamlet recognizes a potential problem. “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…” What if we had nightmares in this sleep of death? It is the fear of what comes after death in that “undiscovered country” that prevents us from embracing death.
Hamlet may not have been as concerned with the act of suicide during his lifetime, as he was with what might follow after the suicide. He stated that he might fall asleep in death, but that was “the rub,” because anything could happen in that sleep of death. We might have horrible dreams for infinity. That would give you pause before taking your life and you might “lose the name of action” to commit suicide.
So is “to be” similar to “I am”? And is “not to be” like “I am not”? There certainly are similarities. We can argue that Shakespeare’s “to be” was the predecessor to the “I am” of Descartes. Descartes could have been inspired by “Hamlet.” Certainly, the two thoughts were close in time and may have been close in meaning.
What happens if we define “to be” and “I am” as existing? Then “not to be” and “I am not” could be interpreted as not existing. In other words, while we are living, we are “I am,” but when we die, we become “I am not.” Thus Descartes statement becomes, “I think, therefore I exist” during our lives. But is this simple definition sufficient to define “I am”?
Perceived existence is based on what we see in our universe. We are either living or not in our temporal stay in this universe. But how does the invisible part of our universe factor into the equation? How would you define “to be” or “I am” as it relates to the invisible part of our universe?
Scientists know that we can only see about 5% of our universe. The great majority is dark matter and dark energy. We not only cannot see it, but we are still learning about dark matter and don’t even know what dark energy is. So how do we know something exits if we can’t see it and can’t define it? Well, the scientists use a mathematical calculation, telling them that about 68% of the universe exists, but we don’t know what it is. So, we call it dark energy. The remaining 27% is called dark matter, which also is invisible. That means a total of 95% of our universe is out of sight. So, relying on what we can observe, a posteriori, does not appear to be a good option for us.
The law of conservation states that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed in our closed universe. If the Big Bang created our universe, this creation had to occur outside the boundary of our universe. The creator’s universe is invisible to us. And the mystery of dark energy pales in comparison to the mystery of God’s universe.
The law of conservation of matter and energy is important for another reason. If you are “I am” during your brief lifetime, what will you be after death? If you are a nonbeliever and you say that you will be “I am not” after death, then how does that comport with the law of conservation? In other words, if the “I am” cannot be destroyed in our universe, it must remain infinitely “I am” in a recycling universe. In our universe, if you believe you are “I am not” in death, you must also argue that you are “I am not” in life, which runs into many practical and scientific problems.
The inference is that we are “I am” during life or we wouldn’t even be thinking about it. Like Sherlock Holmes, we deduce that since we are aware of our surroundings, we are “I am” in life. And if we are “I am” during life, then we will be “I am” during the afterlife because nothing can be destroyed in our universe. However, it will be a naked “I am” in a perilous world without time and a humane end for “I am.”
We deduced that dark energy existed without any observations or dark energy sightings. We also cannot see any evidence of God in our universe other than the existence of our universe itself and the Big Bang theory. Without any physical proof, Christians believe, a priori, in God. Just like the missing piece called dark energy, believers supply the missing piece of the one who created our universe.
So, how does “I am” fit into God’s kingdom? I’m not certain, but it is very interesting to note that there would be no consequences for our misdeeds on earth if we went from “I am” in life to “I am not” in death. But if the law of conservation is to be believed, then there will be consequences when your “I am” crosses into the afterlife. That’s what Hamlet was agonizing about, because there could be ugly consequences waiting in that undiscovered country if you are still “I am” or as Hamlet states “to be.” Hamlet might have wondered if he would still be thinking, existing, or being in the afterlife.
In a closed universe, creation of that universe occurs outside the edges of that universe. God’s kingdom is outside the boundary. The magic and mystery of God’s universe could never be explained applying what we know in our universe. The laws of physics probably are completely different in God’s world. Your “I am” may have to pass tests in order to leave the universe of perpetual nightmares to enter into the kingdom of God. I have no idea what these tests might be, but the Bible refers to a judgment numerous times with at least three levels of judgments.
Paul, who talked to Jesus after His resurrection, refers to three levels of heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul, who may be the most reliable source in the Bible with his first-hand accounts, admitted that he did not know whether he met Jesus in the body or out of the body, but Jesus reached the third heaven.
In order to be prepared for this journey through the dark side to reach any of these heavens, your “I am” must prepare properly during your lifetime. You must consider facing the consequences in the afterlife for what you have done during your life. So, let’s think about that preparation. The first step may be to think and have faith, therefore “I am.” The second step may be in being like Jesus… being like the great “I am.” Jesus referred to Himself as “I am.” The preparation comes from studying the actions and teachings of Jesus, so you can be more like Him in both life and the afterlife. The third step is beyond our comprehension. However if I unify with God, He is “I am.” When Moses was talking to God in Chapter 3 of Exodus, God told Moses to know him as ‘I am.’
What does all this mean? It is difficult to say, but it may mean that if you are aware of God and He exists in your thoughts, then He is ‘I am.’ Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus also was focused on what we think as much as what we do in the Beatitudes. There are many sections in the Bible which tell us that we will not be initially judged by our works, but by our faith and thoughts.
Why was Jesus so concerned about our thoughts? Is it possible that He knew that the first test in the afterlife was entirely based on our thoughts? Jesus offers two primary benefits over other religions: (1) erasing all your sins, so you will not carry guilt into your thoughts after death and (2) providing a human face and personality for God, so that your imagination will not create an angry ogre.
Jesus can be thought of in human form, but it is difficult for us to envision God. If we tried to imagine God, who knows what He would look like. We might conjure up an angry giant in our thoughts. But Jesus is the way to God because He has a human face and a pleasant disposition. We would not fear Jesus, but we might fear God. It may be best that Jesus is in our thoughts, not God, when we die. But there is probably much more required than just having Jesus in your thoughts.
What other preparation is necessary? When you die, your senses may disappear, leaving you deep in subjective thought just like Descartes taught. Sensory deprivation may initially be relaxing, allowing you to reach a deeper state of meditation; however, longer terms of sensory deprivation may have the opposite effect, leading to anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, nightmares, and depression.
Sensory deprivation has been used by the military as a method of questioning prisoners with some degree of success. But it is a form of torture. The European Court of Human Rights held that the British soldiers were employing inhuman and degrading treatment when they used sensory deprivation to interrogate Northern Irish prisoners.
If you are not thinking after you die, then this will be great news for both nonbelievers and believers. Why is it good news for believers? If you are thinking after death whether you are a nonbeliever or believer, you will suffer consequences for your wretched life. What can you do to avoid the torture that is ahead from sensory deprivation for infinity? This is where the believer has an advantage over the nonbeliever.
If you are conscious and Jesus is in your thoughts when you die, then He exists. Your thoughts connect. Jesus can also say, “I am.” If you are thinking of Jesus when you die, then your thoughts make Him exist. You are unified with Him. He is the great ‘I am.’ You think about God and Jesus, therefore ‘I am.’ And ‘I am,’ therefore I am aware. But it may be much more than just awareness.
Have you ever looked into the mirror and wondered who was staring back at you? Is it the “I am” who is looking into the mirror or is “I am” staring back at you? In effect, you and the person in the mirror are on opposite sides from each other, yet look very much alike. How do you know which, if either, is the real “I am”? One of you may be “I am” and the other one may be “I am not.” But this is an objective perspective, which really does not matter in subjective thinking. The only “I am” that is important is the one that is doing the thinking.
Is the reverse statement also true: I am, therefore I think? The reverse may be a more accurate statement than “I think, therefore I am.” “I am” may include thinking and existing and being and believing and self-controlling and many more attributes. “I think” is not the same as “I am.” “I am” is much more than thinking.
Does existence require thinking? If we did not think, then we probably would not exist or at least would not exist as we do now. It is like the tree that falls in the woods, making no sound if nobody is standing nearby. In other words, existence may occur without us being aware of it, but it is our being conscious of this existence that requires a thinking that appears to be unique in our species. Without our existence, there may be nobody thinking like humans. Animal existence does not require thinking like we humans think. We still might exist like an animal reacting instinctively to stimuli without independent thinking. But we are given “free will” so that we decide what to do, making choices every day. So, “I am” must be more than simple thought and existence.
Thus, “I am” is more than thinking and it is more than existence. So what is it? “I am” must be a primal consciousness or awareness of your surroundings. When you look into the mirror and see the person staring back, you, as the being aware of your surroundings, are the “I am.” Even if the person staring back at you is also aware of his surroundings, it does not detract from your awareness. In fact, the person staring back at you is irrelevant to your “I am.” It could even be the opposite, “I am not,” but it does not matter because of the individual basis for subjective thinking.
In effect, it only matters about your “I am” and what that means to you not only in life, but more importantly in the afterlife. And this is true for the over seven billion people walking the earth. They also are irrelevant to your “I am.” Only your individual consciousness is judged for meeting the definition of “I am.” But is this individual awareness enough?
We are distracted throughout most of our lives and our awareness is desensitized by our everyday pattern of existence: getting ready for work, going to work, eating meals, going to the bathroom, taking care of family, and sleeping. It is hard to focus on what is really important. But if you set aside 15 minutes of each day to meditate, then more than likely you will reach a level of controlled awareness. You may start to discover a sense of “I am.” But what amount of controlled, individual awareness might be sufficient to be considered “I am”?
If we are not thinking when we die, then there can be no Descartes’ “I am.” Thinking is a basic ingredient for “I am,” but, as we said earlier, it is more than thinking. And it is more than existence. Existence can be without any purpose or direction. And it is more than awareness. Being aware without focus can lead to chaos. So what is “I am”? Well, it is a generous amount of controlled, individual consciousness. The recipe for “I am” calls for thinking, existence, and awareness, but they have to be mixed together in an extreme, controlled environment following the directions. A cook not following the precise directions will soon be out of control. What will satisfy this generous amount of control that is needed?
It is a Godly control. We must turn over the steering wheel to God and Jesus and let them drive you through the unknown territory of deep thought, avoiding the pitch black of chaos. For without your senses, you will have no road map or compass to guide you. Individualism is important in the preparation for control employing discipline and self-control. But you cannot control your awareness by yourself, so you have to reach out for the creator’s help.
God and Jesus certainly exist in their universe no matter what we do, but it is likely they cannot exist in our universe unless we are thinking of them. God’s kingdom where creation occurred is outside our closed universe. But God and Jesus can connect with us through our thoughts. Our thoughts are all we will have after we die. Our senses will be gone; but we will think, therefore we will be aware. But we need a powerful, controlled awareness through God.
Your primary thought when you die should be to exist with ‘I am.’ You should immediately become one with Jesus in your thoughts. The unification with Jesus in death will be easier if you had communicated with Him while you were alive. If you are thinking and existing and are aware at death in a controlled environment, then you are ‘I am’ and you will meld with Jesus ‘I am’ and later with God ‘I am.’ Your faith in Jesus and God will give you the control that you need so that you will not be drawn into chaos. Thinking, existence, and awareness without God’s control could lead to infinite nightmares.
Your religion should be, “I think, therefore I am.” And the ‘I am’ is within you united with Jesus and God as one.