Posted by Zia H. Shah MD - Twitter: @ZiahShah1
Cogito ergo sum (French: “Je pense donc je suis“; English: “I think, therefore I am“) is a philosophical Latin statement proposed by René Descartes. The simple meaning of the phrase is that someone wondering whether or not he or she exists is, in and of itself, proof that something, an “I”, exists to do the thinking. However, this “I” is not the more or less permanent person we call “I”. It may be that the something that thinks is purely momentary, and not the same as the something which has a different thought the next moment.
The phrase became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it was perceived to form a foundation for all knowledge. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception or mistake, the very act of doubting one’s own existence serves to some people as proof of the reality of one’s own existence, or at least that of one’s thought.
The statement is sometimes given as Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum (English: “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”).
A common mistake is that people take the statement as proof that they, as a human person, exist. However, it is a severely limited conclusion that does nothing to prove that one’s own body exists, let alone anything else that is perceived in the physical universe. It only proves that one’s consciousness exists (that part of an individual that observes oneself doing the doubting). It does not rule out other possibilities, such as waking up to find oneself to be a butterfly who had dreamed of having lived a human life.
Descartes’s original statement was “Je pense donc je suis”, from his Discourse on Method (1637). He wrote it in French, not in Latin and thereby reached a wider audience in his country than that of scholars. He uses the Latin “Cogito ergo sum” in the later Principles of Philosophy (1644), Part 1, article 7:
Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat.
English: This proposition, I think, therefore I am, is the first and the most certain which presents itself to whoever conducts his thoughts in order.
At that time, the argument had become popularly known in the English speaking world as “the ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ argument,” which is usually shortened to “Cogito” when referring to the principle virtually everywhere else.
Human knowledge needs to be somehow well grounded in reality to distinguish it from myth, superstition and prejudice. Even though the Greek, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Muslims and many others practiced science before the Western civilization in Europe, Rene Descartes perhaps best articulated the foundation of our scientific tradition, in “I think, therefore I am.” It would be a reasonable speculation that others may have provided similar articulations before him, but his expression has gained broad acceptance in the Western civilization. So, it is helpful to understand our scientific tradition grounded in reproducible human observations, which in turn are grounded in “I think, therefore I am!”
But, do not forget that in addition to thinking while awake, we all also dream when sleeping. What does that mean for us or what ramifications it has on a larger scale? “Dreaming, a common and distinctive phenomenon of sleep, has throughout human history given rise to myriad beliefs, fears, and conjectures,” says Encyclopedia Britannica, “both imaginative and experimental, regarding its mysterious nature. While any effort toward classification must be subject to inadequacies, beliefs about dreams nonetheless fall into various classifications depending upon whether dreams are held to be reflections of reality, sources of divination, curative experiences, or evidence of unconscious activity.”
By providing a faculty of dreaming to almost every human on planet earth, God has provided a metaphor for True dreams and Revelations. Every human can easily understand and conceptualize, the idea of True dreams, because of his or her own limited experience with dreams, in at least healing of emotional wounds and new insights and intuitions every so often. The very first verses of the Holy Quran, revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, served as grounding the truth of Islam in Revelation and human observation at the same time:
Convey thou (Muhammad) in the name of thy Lord Who created,
Created man from a clot of blood.
Convey! And thy Lord is Most Generous,
Who taught man by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not.
Nay! man does indeed transgress,
Because he thinks himself to be independent. (Al Quran 96:2-8)
Sir Zafrulla Khan, the President of the UN General Assembly in 1962–1966, explains how the Holy Quran grounds Revelation from the Divine and human observation at the same time, by highlighting its style of reasoning, ‘From the Physical and Tangible to the Spiritual and Intangible.’ Khan writes in Islam: Its meaning for the modern man:
The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22). It reasons from the physical and tangible to the spiritual and intangible. For instance: “Among His Signs is this; that thou seest the earth lying withered, but when We send down water on it, it stirs and swells with verdure. Surely He Who quickens the earth can quicken the dead. Verily, He has power over all things” (41:40). Here, by quickening of the dead is meant the revival and rebirth of a people. As the dead earth is quickened by life-giving rain from heaven, a people that appears to be dead in all respects is revived and regenerated through spiritual water from the heavens, that is to say, through Divine revelation. This idea is expressed in the Quran in several places. Both resurrection and renaissance are explained with reference to the phenomenon of the dead earth being revived through life-giving rain (22:6⎯8). 
Anyone who has had an epiphany moment, a sudden yet luminous intuition from nowhere or has experienced a True dream has partaken from a portion of Revelation. These phenomena lie on a continuum of decreasing human contribution and increasing input from the Transcendent God. However, unfortunately, most atheist philosophers generally do not address Revelation, when building a case for their philosophy. In this sense they shut the possibility to themselves and to their readers. They want to crib, cabin and confine reality into a paradigm where revelation is a taboo. In this background Emeritus Professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Prof Victor J. Stenger has devoted a chapter to ‘Revelation’ in his book God: the Failed Hypothesis. Read further in May 2008 Alislam-eGazette: Revelation and Reason.
Like Descartes provided foundation for our observations, True dreams, which emphatically and precisely describe a future event, root another source of human knowledge firmly into reality, namely ‘Revelation.’ We Dream, Therefore God Is! Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the previous international leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has precisely tackled this question, in his epic making book, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth. He writes in a chapter titled, the Nature of Revelation:
In 1865 a German chemist, Friedrich August Kekule, was struggling to solve a problem in chemistry that had baffled all researchers. One night Kekule had a dream in which he saw a snake with its tail held in its mouth. This dream instantly put him on the right track leading to the solution of the perplexing question. Thus was unravelled the secret of the molecular behaviour in certain organic compounds, a discovery which created a revolution in the understanding of organic chemistry. He interpreted this dream to mean that in the benzene molecule, carbon atoms bond together to form a ring structure. This knowledge gave birth to the huge and highly developed field of synthetic organic chemistry producing a vast new range of synthetic materials. The contemporary pharmaceutical industry has become growingly dependent on synthetic drugs. Mankind is indeed indebted to that one dream through which Kekule resolved that problem.
Elias Howe was the first person to mechanize the process of sewing. He too received the answer to a problem that had frustrated him for a long time through a dream. In his dream he saw himself surrounded by savages, who threatened to kill him unless he designed a sewing machine. Being unable to respond he was tied to a tree and the savages started to attack him with arrows and spears. It surprised him to see eyelets on their spearheads. On waking from this dream, he immediately realized the solution, which led him to invent the prototype of the sewing machine that was to dramatically revolutionize the sewing industry. Through his dream he understood that he should consider placing the eye of the needle in its point.
It was this idea which helped him resolve a seemingly impossible task. It is difficult to visualize the sorry state in which man would find himself today without the blessing of this dream. What a revolution was created indeed by this revelation!
In view of many such experiences, one of the possible explanations that comes to mind is that revelation is a phenomenon arising from the subconscious. When the conscious mind is tired of pondering over intriguing problems before falling to sleep, it transfers those problems to the subconscious. During sleep the subconscious keeps reflecting on the data fed into it, and finally computes the much needed solution. Sometimes the solutions may be perceived through visions and sometimes heard in the form of verbal messages. This being so, would it mean that all types of revelation, in whatever manner they appear, are really messages from the subconscious without exception?
In the cases described above, it may well be argued that all the necessary pieces of information needed for the resolution of those problems were already in the conscious mind, the subconscious only proving to be a more powerful tool for synthesizing such information in some mysterious manner. Is this then the sum total of the entire human experience of inspirational revelation or are there other forms that lie beyond the scope of mental processes alone?
The major religions of the world believe that their prophets and also many other holy men received revelation from an external source called God. Others consider this to be a mistaken inference and do not accuse them of willful fraud, since they could genuinely have mistaken a purely internal experience for a message received from an external source. But if this was so, then the foundations of all the so-called Divine religions would be on very shaky ground. The truth of such claims could only be proved if ample external evidence supports it.
As it would be too extensive and laborious a task to verify the truth of all such claimants individually, we shall only attempt to apply this criterion to the Holy Quran. The foundation of most major religions rests in the belief that there is a Supreme Creator Who, having created man, never abandoned him and continued to take interest in his affairs. It is He Who imparts guidance through His messengers, whenever and to whomsoever He pleases. He reveals knowledge of His existence and expresses His will to mankind to shape their lives in accordance with His instruction. If this is true then revelation will have to be treated as an independent source of knowledge, distinct from mere psychic inspiration, and rationality would occupy only a second place compared to it.
The Holy Quran offers a precise criterion for the truth of Divine Revelation. It is rooted in the demonstrable fact that humans do not have any direct knowledge of future:
He (Allah) is the Knower of the unseen; and He reveals not His secrets to any one, except to him whom He chooses, namely a Messenger of His. (Al Quran 72:27-28)
One can quibble till the cows come home, whether a certain claim of a True dream or Revelation is genuine or not, but, any unbiased person will have to agree that a clear and well documented Revelation of an improbable future event has to be attributed to an All Knowing God. We Dream, Therefore God Is! If and when we have a collection of improbable yet true prophecies, the claim becomes irrefutable. It is true that a great majority of dreams are not true and have no profound message. But, we do not want to throw the baby with bath water. We need to separate out the pearls from cow dung, in a manner of speaking. Now, let me present an account of dreams as a source of divination, from Encyclopedia Britannica, for some broad and general ideas:
There is an ancient belief that dreams predict the future; the Chester Beatty Papyrus is a record of Egyptian dream interpretations dating from the 12th dynasty (1991–1786 bce). In Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon is visited in a dream by a messenger of the god Zeus to prescribe his future actions. From India, a document called the Atharvaveda, dated to the 5th century bce, contains a chapter on dream omens. A Babylonian dream guide was discovered in the ruins of the city of Nineveh among tablets from the library of the emperor Ashurbanipal (668–627 bce). The Old Testament is rife with accounts of prophetic dreams, those of the pharaohs and of Joseph and Jacob being particularly striking. Among pre-Islamic peoples, dream divination so heavily influenced daily life that the practice was formally forbidden by Muhammad (570–632), the founder of Islam.
Ancient and religious literatures express the most confidence about so-called message dreams. Characteristically, a god or some other respected figure appears to the dreamer (typically a king, a hero, or a priest) in time of crisis and states a message. Such reports are found on ancient Sumerian and Egyptian monuments; frequent examples appear in the Bible. Joseph Smith (1805–44), the founder of Mormonism, said that an angel directed him to the location of buried golden tablets that described American Indians as descendants of the tribes of Israel.
Not all dream prophecies are so readily accepted. In Homer’s Odyssey, for example, dreams are classed as false (“passing through the Gate of Ivory”) and as true (“passing the Gate of Horn”). Furthermore, prophetic meaning may be attributed to dream symbolism. In the Bible, Joseph interpreted sheaves of grain and the Moon and stars as symbols of himself and his brethren. In general, the social status of dream interpreters varies; in cultures for which dreams loom important, their interpretation has often been an occupation of priests, elders, or medicine men.
I have collected the role of dreams in intuitions leading to development of science in an article: Al Aleem: The Bestower of true Dreams.
A thorough understanding of physiology of sleep and dreams, gives us back ground knowledge to judge the issue at hand of True Dreams and Revelations, with greater clarity: True Nature of Divine Revelations.
Ultimately the issues pertaining to our thinking and our dreaming impinge on our understanding of our soul and consciousness, which is a very detailed subject by itself and if you would like to take a detour, I am going to suggest a publication: Alislam-eGazette publishes its landmark Volume about Soul and Consciousness
The practice of reductionism in science is helpful in studying small aspects of nature at a time and in making discoveries and precisely communicating with each other, but, at the same time it has the side effect of losing the forest for the tree and at times creates a situation of several blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and confusing the part for the total reality:
In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. The stories differ primarily in how the elephant’s body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved. The scientific tradition has certainly helped us in developing our technology and in knowing our world and we all accept Rene Descartes premise, “I think, therefore I am.” If we deny revelation we are not only ignoring our dreams but also a large segment of human history and trying to explain it in secular colors, with only minimal success. Any attempt to deny revelation only fractures human understanding and appreciation of reality and puts us in the state of blind men feeling parts of an elephant. To a thinking and humble mind the conclusion, ‘We dream, therefore God is,’ is inescapable! When we allow both human observation and the faculty of Revelation, we come up with a holistic view of our universe and our station and purpose in it. There is no denying that acceptance of all claims of revelations or dreams, on face value, will lead to total chaos in human understanding. Discrimination among dreams and revelations is clearly in order. This is where our religions and religious freedoms come into play and different apologists want to make a case for their respective scriptures. Unlike, human observation, true dreams or revelations of one person cannot be shared per se by another and are not reproducible. So, each person has to confirm or refute the claim of different scriptures for himself or herself, but the struggle is worth the effort.
We Dream, Therefore God Is!
So, for any one who has himself of herself experienced true dreams or one who believes in the institution of true dreams for historical reasons, based on the unparalleled influence of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, Jesus, Moses and other Jewish prophets, may peace be on all of them, in human history, the inference is inevitable, “We dream, true dreams at times, therefore God is!”
Let me collect a few posts to demonstrate some of the prophecies in the Holy Quran:
To see our collection of articles about Revelation, click here.
1. “dream”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 03 Jul. 2012
2. Source: Islam – Its Meaning for Modern Man