Mind and Body:
From René Descartes to William James

Writing Descartes:
I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ...

Story Evolution
Phillips/Grobstein

excerpted from an exchange of emails triggered by Grobstein's Writing Descartes ...
24 July 2004

Phillips with interspersed Grobstein


You once accused me of being too "cute" with my writing style and I'm going to return the favor. There's an interesting blend of wishy-washyness and not wanting to step on toes and a kind of arrogance where you reference your work almost exclusively (actually only once do you reference someone else). I think the points you are making would benefit a lot from the confidence displayed in the middle section of the paper being carried into the beginning and ending. You wouldn't let me get a way with a paper written exclusively on my own thinking because it isn't based in something else, so why can you do that?

Fair is fair, and if you didn't take (and relish) the opportunity to offer "constructive criticism" in turn you wouldn't be Chelsea (and our "student/teacher relationship" wouldn't have been as satisfying as it is, to me at least). In fairness, though, I was, in an earlier phase of our relationship, trying to help you develop the (useful?) skill of "academic writing", and my own aim was, in this essay at least, the quite different one of trying to take something from the academic realm that I thought was more generally useful and engage with it people who might or might not be "academic". Along the same lines, I agree the essay is indeed about my own thinking and hence additionally not a good model of "academic writing" (though its not quite true that I only cite myself; if you include the picture and title, there are 4 links to things written by other people, 6 to things written by myself, and one to something involving both). Even in this context, though, the essay should probably at least have carried an acknowledgements section, perhaps something along the lines of

I deeply appreciate conversations with large numbers of people (including the students in my College Seminar courses) that have been essential to the development of the ideas expressed here. Such people, however, should not be held responsible for any mistakes, which are of course entirely my own, nor for anything I say which is so utterly outrageous that they would prefer not to be seen with me. Finally, I agree that the essay is additionally defective by the standards of "academic writing" in terms of its overall organization, perhaps for the reason you mention but certainly because it doesn't say what the point is until the very end. And that, as we both know, just doesn't cut it with busy academics, who want the point upfront so they can decide whether its worth their while to wade through the thing (and know what to be critical of along the way so they can make "helpful" comments in the margin as they go and won't have to read it twice).

Glad we're both sometimes less "academic".

Your big "wow" thing is that thinking and feeling, etc can be very useful but must be recognized as fallible and used as a sort of means to an end, or means to a .... something. This is great- but then you should recognize the fallibility of your own ideas which have become the basis for this paper. It might dishearten the reader, but it is very illustrative of your point.

Yep. You're right. The "wow" is indeed complete "fallibility" and that has to be extended to the story I told as well. Hopefully, that won't dishearten the reader (or you) too much. It IS inherent in this story that everyone has to make their own (and actually I say that at the end of a more academic essay in a more academic context). Stories are told for whatever use they might prove to be in helping others write their own. And maybe that's the ..... something: writing and rewriting stories over and over, individually and collectively, to get them "less wrong" (sounds awfully familiar, no?).

I really like the bit about trees retaining traces of past experiences and correlating that with human experience; biological trauma not completely healing vs. psychological trauma not completely healing- cool. We can choose to seek help with our healing/exploring/etc, which means we can make a conscious effort to change ourselves, very cool.

Glad you liked that piece. Was part of what I in particular got out of writing the essay. Hadn't fully realized/said to myself before that "treeness" and the unconscious could usefully be thought about in very similar terms. And indeed what consciousness gives us is the potential to change ourselves, in a variety of ways including seeking help from others.

Basically, I really like the points you are making. I really like the revision of "I think, therefore I am." Good thinking. Fallible, but good. Of course, you could be wrong about that too. And everything I've said is based on thinking, so ....

We go on living, exploring, being/thinking/becoming ... and maybe have a for now useful additional vantage point to do it from. Glad its one we both like. Trust you'll share your own version of the story with others for whatever use it might be to them. Too.


See on-line forum for continuing conversation and to leave your own thoughts




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