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I Shop, Therefore I Am

David Cowles

Aug 11, 2022

I before me except after T (Theos)

According to Genesis, "...God said: Let there be light and there was light, and God saw that the light was good." (Gen. 1:4) From the outset, Being and Value have been inseparable... for God, and for us! We evaluate whatever we experience, and we experience only that which we evaluate. Experiencing and evaluating, apparently so different, are, in fact, two aspects of one process.

Life according to Schrodinger: nothing has ‘value’ until someone measures (evaluates) it. Our experience of things is always in terms of our wants and needs. Utility is proto-value. “This is good for that,” “that is better than this,” ad infinitum. We retrace God’s steps on our own road to consciousness. Genesis says that we are made in God’s image and likeness. Well, in that case, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

We build what we imagine to be a map of the world ‘as it is,’ but, in fact, what we are building is a map of comparative utility. What works becomes the cities and roads that dot and criss cross our map; and what doesn’t work? “Here, there be monsters!”

We end up with what looks like a schematic for assembling a child’s toy on Christmas Eve. We are looking at the display case (‘the window’ in the language of retail), not the inventory (‘the warehouse’). According to Sartre, our map is ‘hodological,’ not ‘existential.’ We are not sketching the world ‘as it is;’ rather, we are modeling the world as a multiplicity of levers, some furthering our projects, some inhibiting them. Like the Beatles in Yellow Submarine, we ‘Liverpudlians’ are born Leverpullers.

We are like Christopher Columbus, searching for India, finding South America, but calling it ‘India’ nonetheless. We set out in search of the world but all we find are the footprints of our own needs and desires. What we imagine to be ‘the substructural world’ is really a superstructure of obstacles and tools, at least as far removed from the substructure as Kant’s phenomena are from his noumena.

It is through our needs and desires that we first access the world. Consider a baby, a newborn, experiencing hunger, i.e., the need and desire for food. The newborn has no map, at least nothing worthy of the name, but that’s about to change. The baby soon learns that some behaviors are instrumental for the satisfaction of hunger, other behaviors not so much. Et voila, a map is born!

The map fills in with more detail as baby discovers additional behaviors associated with the satisfaction of hunger and other behaviors efficacious for the satisfaction of other wants and desires. For human beings, at least, map building is synonymous with living. How do I get my first taste of food becomes how can I get my last shot of morphine.

Life is one long, continuous, but never boring, game of Battleship. We are constantly probing: ‘there’ is safe, but ‘here’…not so much.

It is perhaps more accurate to say, “I shop, therefore I am,” than it is to say, “I am, therefore, I shop”. For human beings, doing precedes being (per Sartre, my existence precedes my essence). I act…therefore I am; I am…therefore I react.

It’s a bat’s life! Like Noah releasing a dove to measure the course of the Flood, I too release reconnaissance drones into the world. Like Noah, I learn as much, maybe more, from the drones that don’t return as I do from the ones that do. For our part, we are continually sending unguided missiles into the undifferentiated environment; we wait for feedback.

So, we have to stand Rene Descartes on his head (what a sight!). "I think, therefore I am" becomes "I am, therefore..." I am before I am. I before me except after T (Theos, God). Our primal experience is not one of thinking, or even of doing, but of being – being, initially undifferentiated between 'self' and 'other', far below the level of conscious thought, a 'still small voice', the small 'I am' that echoes the great 'I AM' (Ex. 3:14).

Essentially, God is Good; existentially, God is Being. Therefore, Being is Good. When sipping espresso at your favorite sidewalk café in Paris, it is fashionable to talk of essence sans existence and existence sans essence. But what happens in Paris stays in Paris! In the world the rest of us live in, nothing is unless qualities are manifested, and qualities are 'insufficiently real' until they have been exemplified in the constitution of an actual being.


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