Take a guess: was the following written by (A) a Zen master, or (B) a philosopher of neuroscience?
Here's the answer.
Thomas Metzinger has a great title, "Director of the Theoretical Philosophy Group at the Department of Philosophy of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany." He's also head of a Neurophilosophy Section there.
Not surprisingly, Metzinger is capable of writing some pretty involved stuff -- such as this summary of a previous book, "Being No One."
Download Being No One
I browsed that precis until I got to some lines that I could understand. Or at least, believe that I understood. (SMT stands for Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity.)
Metzinger's new book is "The Ego Tunnel." Thankfully, it makes the same basic points as "Being No One," but in a more readable fashion (it's billed as his first popular book aimed at general readers).
A few chapters in, I'm enjoying it.
I hesitated before ordering "The Ego Tunnel" from Amazon after reading a review in New Scientist. The reviewer's big criticism was that no reputable neuroscientist believes in the "self," so Metzinger was tearing down a straw man.
OK. But most people do believe they have a self -- some mysterious ineffable essence, often termed soul, that inhabits their bodies and survives physical death.
Metzinger debunks this notion with philosophical precision, grounding his arguments in solid neuroscience. After the sentences I began with, he goes on to say:
But it is not just that the modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are about to shatter the myth of the self. It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical problem of consciousness -- that is, how it can arise in the brain, which is a purely physical object -- if we don't come to terms with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?
I haven't read far enough to fully understand Metzinger's answer to that question.
Since elsewhere he's said, "Strictly speaking, nobody is ever born and nobody ever dies," I'm pretty sure he's going to say that the entity I call me is No One (good guess, since that's in the title of his previous book).
The New Scientist reviewer thought the ego tunnel is a "forgetable metaphor." Well, I like it. This isn't a new idea, that our brains selectively pick out bits and pieces of information which become conscious experience, but Metzinger explains it clearly:
This is why it is a tunnel: What we see and hear, or what we feel and smell and taste, is only a small fraction of what actually exists out there. Our conscious model of reality is a low-dimensional projection of the inconceivably richer physical reality surrounding and sustaining us... Therefore, the ongoing process of conscious experience is not so much an image of reality as a tunnel through reality.
Yet we have excessive self-confidence in what appears on the walls of our ego tunnel (including the mistaken notion that a "self" is doing the observing) because it isn't possible to recognize the process by which the tunnel is being dug.
So my ego tunnel seems absolutely real to me, as does yours to you, and we end up arguing about our subjective representations of reality, each of us wanting our own ego tunnel to be considered as really real -- failing to understand that, in Metzinger's words, "We see only what our reality tunnel allows us to see, and most of us are completely unaware of this fact."
This doesn't mean, though, that reality is entirely subjective. I can't claim that I grasp everything Metzinger is saying here, but I like his concluding simple idea.
To form a successful theory of consciousness, we must match first-person phenomenal content to third-person brain content. We must somehow reconcile the inner perspective of the experiencing self with the outside perspective of science.
And there will always be many of us who intuitively think this can never be done. Many people think consciousness is ontologically irreducible (as philosophers say), because first-person facts cannot be reduced to third-person facts. It is more likely, however, that consciousness is epistemically irreducible (as philosophers say).
The idea is simple: One reality, one kind of fact, but two kinds of knowledge: first-person knowledge and third-person knowledge. Even though consciousness is a physical process, these two different forms of knowing can never be conflated.
Knowing every last thing about a person's brain states will never allow us to know what they are like for the person herself.
Reality is subjective. Reality is objective. One reality, two ways of knowing it. That idea resolves a lot of knotty philosophical and metaphysical problems.
As does the idea that there is no self. My self, or soul, doesn't have to be saved if it doesn't exist. Nor do I have to worry about self-realization, self-understanding, or self-actualization.
I can simply merrily burrow along in my ego tunnel, along with everyone else in the world -- who are doing their own burrowing. We can share the third-person knowledge Metzinger speaks of (2 + 2 = 4; July 4 is Independence Day) but not what it is like for us to know.
Difference and similarity. Togetherness and separateness. Unity and duality. One reality, several ways of knowing it.
What makes writers need to prove such things? If there is no self, who wrote your words in this blog? Saying there is no spiritual entity that lives beyond the body is a valid question but it is a question since he can't prove there isn't and nobody else can prove there is. He can't find a place for it in the body therefore it doesn't exist? You can stimulate part of the brain and get some of these white light experiences but what does that prove? Nada. Why isn't mystery enough for people? Maybe it's the self that wants to know for sure if it matters... It would be nice to 'know' but nobody will who is alive today. Some just have to think they prove it though-- either way.
Posted by: Rain | April 13, 2009 at 06:40 AM
"To form a successful theory of consciousness, we must match first-person phenomenal content to third-person brain content. We must somehow reconcile the inner perspective of the experiencing self with the outside perspective of science."
---Not trying to form a successful theory of consciousness, however, is there a clarification of definition of:
1. first-person phenomenal content.
2. third-person brain content.
That is, explain what is meant by the two phases.
Any mention by Metzinger of a theory of Awareness? Does Metzinger mention Awareness at all? Or, non-conceptual mental activity, as well as, a non-conceptual non-mental activity?
Posted by: Roger | April 13, 2009 at 07:54 AM
Rain, flowers are blooming in our garden. Rain is coming from clouds. I don't believe nature has a "self," but there's lots of activity in the natural world -- much of it seemingly conscious (flowers turning toward the sun, for example).
Spirituality doesn't require a self. In fact, Buddhism is founded on the notion that genuine spirituality is selfless. As is Taoism, I'd say. The idea of a separate and distinct soul does appear in both Western and Eastern religions. However, most religions advocate less of a "self" rather than more, so if Metzinger is correct (along with neuroscience in general), this is great spiritual news.
Roger, I think first-person content is what each of us experiences consciously from the "inside," which is private to us. Third-person content can be viewed objectively by others, such as when a brain scan shows what parts of the brain "light up" when certain actions, thoughts, or emotions are active.
I haven't gotten to any mention of awareness. I suspect this would be synonymous with consciousness to Metzinger. He sees consciousness as a continuum, by the way. People and other entities can possess varying degrees of consciousness.
There are plenty of non-conceptual mental activities, of course. Most of what goes on in the brain happens outside of conscious awareness.
Metzinger talks about the ineffability of much mental content. Meaning, we can know that something exists as a distinct object of awareness, but not be able to identify or conceptualize it. For example, people can distinguish many more shades of color than they can categorize.
That is, presented with two subtly different shades of green, people can say "shade 24 and shade 25 look different to me." However, if shades 1-100 are presented to the person in a mixed-up fashion, he or she can't point to one shade and identify it as #24.
This shows that we can experience something, yet it has an ineffable quality (like a fleeting bit of emotion) that can't be described to other people.
Posted by: Brian | April 13, 2009 at 11:42 AM
Would be interesting, if Metzinger would have mentioned presence Awareness, as a topic of discussion in his book. Or a possible theory of Presence of Awareness. Or, the possibility to know, "a thing in itself" thru non-conceptual non-mental activity.
So, the third person brain content is a brain scan? Still not clear, however, not a big deal. Interesting discussion though.
Posted by: Roger | April 13, 2009 at 12:05 PM
Roger, in a way Metzinger gets at this subject -- in that he speaks of the minimal necessary means by which someone has an "ego" or sense of existing.
He talks about the fact that meditators can be still with no bodily movement, be thoughtless, have no perceptions of the outside world, yet still have a sense of embodiment, of existing as a distinct entity (which is the only way to exist, unless it is somehow possible to exist as everything in existence).
I'm not sure what isn't clear about third person brain content. It just means, I'm pretty sure, that third party observers can be aware of what is going on in a brain, such as by looking at a computer screen.
Posted by: Brian | April 13, 2009 at 12:23 PM
If you were a pagan, Brian, you might believe nature had a self. I don't know what happens after the body dies and am content to not know but the concept that we aren't here, that whatever happens to us doesn't matter, that's why I could have never been a Buddhist. I am here. I feel. I love. I have all these experiences and if they end at death, well that's okay; but they are here now and to say they are not to me takes as much faith to believe as any religion. We can experience only what we can. If someone else believes they aren't here, that they don't really have a self, a will, all of that, well that's their experience but not mine.
And whether the self is a supernatural entity and lives on after the body, well who knows but if you were into metaphysics and new age thinking, you'd believe that your 'self' might not dwell within your body even now. That there is a higher self that is outside of us and can live more than one physical life at one time. Is that true? I don't personally know but there are those who swear it's true.
Whether you decide you don't exist as a self or you do, won't change what happens to be the truth of it. I prefer to settle for mystery until such time as I 'know' and that's sure not here yet for me.
The thing I wrestled with on the trip south, and that my husband and I tried to use logic to decide was whether the soul survives the death of the body. Perhaps logic, no matter how logical it might seem, will never settle these questions. Then again maybe someday I will think I know also... maybe...
Posted by: Rain | April 13, 2009 at 01:59 PM
"To form a successful theory of consciousness, we must match first-person phenomenal content to third-person brain content. We must somehow reconcile the inner perspective of the experiencing self with the outside perspective of science."
---So, I'm guessing, Metzinger never formulated a theory of consciousness? He just talked about it.
Posted by: Roger | April 14, 2009 at 08:48 AM
Roger, Metzinger's book reflects his understanding of modern neuroscience, so in that sense he is describing a partial theory of consciousness.
But nobody has a full blown defensible theory. Not yet. Not scientists, not mystics, not philosophers. Nobody. We may never have one, in the same sense that I can't see how we can ever have an answer to the question, "Why (or what) is existence?"
Existence is all there is. Consciousness of existence is all we know. Perhaps irreducible things can't be known or understood, because they are the way we know and understand.
Posted by: Brian | April 14, 2009 at 09:16 AM
Thanks for the reply.
A theory is a theory. I find them interesting, in different degrees. The "partial" or "full blown" terms, imo, are not necessary.
With that said, it seems like Mitzinger is discussing "brain consiousness," that is, whatever Consciousness is, through brain activity, in different parts of the brain.
Maybe, maybe not. However, the topic is very interesting.
Posted by: Roger | April 14, 2009 at 10:28 AM
In Buddhism you don't believe without a reason that there is no self. Buddhism is not about believe. It's about insight through meditation. Insight meditation can be considered a scientific method directed at the subjective experience. It actually is observing the mind and everything that appears in it, as it is. But due through hard concentration training, this happens at a much deeper level than normal awareness has. Everyone who did a meditation retreat will confirm this. Buddhist knowledge is based on self experience, not on faith. But unless you have not engaged in meditation yourself, it will be hard for you to understand or imagine how it can lead to wisdom.
In Buddhism it is also said, that everything that happens in the mind has a bodily correlate. So i find it not surprising that neuroscience arrives at similar conclusions. The only difference there is for now, is that buddhists don't consider the mind being a mere product of the brain. If they are right, we don't know if we haven't experienced it ourselves, as the scientific (materialistic) method could never prove it.
Posted by: Zeepunkt | November 08, 2009 at 02:21 AM
Zeepunkt, I wonder how it could be proved that the mind isn't a "mere product of the brain." If someone is alive, bodily, they always will be using their brain. So how could a Buddhist, or anyone else, get experience of the mind existing outside of a physical brain?
Posted by: Blogger Brian | November 08, 2009 at 05:32 PM
I think, I like this Buddhist saying, "through hard concentration training, this happens at a much deeper level than normal awareness has."
--I need this concentration training, and to go to a deeper level than someone that has a normal awareness. If this training is hard, thats ok, I just want to go to a much deeper level. Could someone train me? I need help. Thanks for any help anyone can bring my way, Roger
Posted by: Roger | November 09, 2009 at 08:40 AM
Its an interesting book and thankfully he has got an english speaker to edit it, cos his academic stuff is basically undeciperhable and i think alot is lost in translation without him realising it. The use of his speficic buzzwords and terms also confuses issues, which are no doubt clear to him, but will lose the understanding of much of his readership.
Also, i agree with the new scientist revieweer, he's metaphors are not great, tho understandable superficially they seem a bit vague.
I thought his idea of the global neural correlates was very interesting and understood it, despite rather than as a result of, the island metaphor.
There are some very interesting ideas tho as well as some amazing experiments.
Posted by: George | November 25, 2009 at 03:42 PM
The Ego or false self is nothing but an identity crisis problem of an illusory being
The Ego or false sense of I feeling in the body is an illusion. An illusion is best explained as something that appears to be there like an image but when investigated its existence ceases. The Ego is exactly that. Its like a ghost image. Since it is empty and devoid of truth it clings or you may rather say looks for an identity by identifying with objects of the world and thus it accumulates a lot of excessive baggage only to find for itself some kind of identity. To destroy this false sense of I is simple, firstly give up attached to the world by realizing that the promises of the world are temporary and there is no use running after the temporary. Next stage one can dwell into the meaning of temporary and realize temporary and unreal mean the same. Then unreal can be understood as illusion i.e. non existent. With wisdom when you destroy all the objects of identity that that the false self(ego) tries to cling to then it will be left with no support and vanish into thin air without leaving an exit notice.
Once attachments to the world are broken or at least reduced to a rarefied state the "Who am I? " Investigation will burn the root of ignorance i.e the wrong belief of an existence of a fellow called "I".
"I feeling" is an illusion and to try to ratify his false existence into an imaginary reality this "I sense" runs after an identity. Firstly the false sense identifies itself as follows:
I feeling to "I am the world" to "I am the individual" from "I am the individual " it adds more definition by saying " I am the individual and these (family, friends, worldly objects etc etc) are mine"
To kill this false sense work backwards. "Mine" is attachment and as described needs to be broken by first understanding pleasures are temporary, then understand temporary means unreal and unreal means they don't exist. Once you come to understand that they don't exist the Who am I investigation will be effective in burning the illusory fellow to ashes and whats left is the Glory of God (truth- formless consciousness existence intelligence bliss) shining forever.
Work without thought of reward, Meditation out of love for God or Truth in whatever form you believe it to be, and prayers only out of pure love are all equally powerful means to this end.
Understand the meaning of reality
Meaning of Reality
Reality is a word we use very commonly but very rarely does one dwell into its deeper meaning. However if one were to dwell deeper into the meaning of reality one would come to the conclusion only that which is permanent is fit to be called real. For something to be permanent it must be free of any kind of change. Our bodies do not fit into this criteria of being free of change. Infact Nothing in this universe does. Hence what we see can not be called reality. It is appearance (an image) just like a dream experience wherein a dream is seen but it is not existent. It appears to be real during the dream. So too when you wake up from the dream of being the body (I am the body feeling) the truth that the waking world is a mere illusion will be known to you. You will also know at that time that you were never born and and you have nothing to do with this illusion called world.
Waking World is also a dream
To illustrate this further here is an experience that one can relate to. One may dream of a snake at night and notice that they wake up with their body trembling in fear and sweating. Yes! Its a dream but lets take the analysis deeper. A dream Snake had an impact on the physical body. It implies the dream snake made of imaginary thoughts is related to the physical body which is also made of thoughts. Just as much as the dream is unreal so is the physical body unreal.
In Deep sleep you must have noticed neither are you aware of the body or the world. This implies the body is not yours. The body belongs to the world. When there is no thoughts there is no world. This is the experience of deep sleep.
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 12:17 AM
I would like to invite all of you to read some of the experiences in Self realization that I have had that I share as articles that will help people live happily. Some of your questions may also find answers there. I welcome all of you to visit the blog and if you feel the articles will help you or someone you know feel free to share it. I look forward to your comments and questions too...
Wishing all of you a happy new year and season's greetings!
Blog address: wwwselfrealizationblogspot.com
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 12:23 AM
How to learn from life's experiences the Truth about your self?
Life is a school of experiences given to wake you up to your royal reality. We all undertake action to pursue our desires but we never reflect post the action on the outcome of our actions. If we think deeply all our actions are simply a search for happiness. Hunger, job, relationships etc are all driven by the search for happiness. While its not wrong to search for happiness in these places we don't reflect on the actions later and that's why we don't learn. Take for e.g relationships. Look back and reflect as follows " Do these relationships give me true (lasting) happiness?" "Does the happiness keep fluctuating?" Is there any object or relationship in this world that give me lasting joy without any fluctuation or boredom of any kind?" Its these provoking questions against which you must weigh your life experiences. When you do this everyday and truly within your self will you develop the discriminative ability to see how the your desires have been fooling you. This practise is simple and will help you wake up to your reality slowly and without a shock and in a manner that is logically acceptable for you. Once the false identifications of the ego are broken down you can then easily and willingly imbibe the higher wisdom of your True self quickly, smoothly and easily.
Snippets of wisdom to think about when you analyze your life experiences:
What is true joy?
Ans: True = Permanent = Reality
Can Temporary joy be called reality?
Ans: temporary = Impermanent = Unreal = Non existent (it appears real because of desire i.e belief that true happiness can be found in the objects of the world)
Does not the object that gave joy turn into sorrow sometimes and vice versa?
Ans: Change = Impermanent = unreal = non existent
What is the truth about such objects when they keep changing from sorrow to joy?
Ans: They are unreal. reflect on this, realize the truth within and give up the attachment
What does temporary mean?
Ans: Temporary = unreal = non existent
Can the temporary be called reality?
Ans:No. Its a dream!
Can the unreal exist? Cannot only reality be called existence?
Unreal does not exist for e.g dreams are seen but you know them to be non existent when you wake up. So too this universe is a dream and you will know it when you wake up to the truth that you are not the body.
Can that which changes constantly be called reality?
Ans: Change = unreal
The Ultimate wisdom of all this:
"I am aware of all these experiences (the body is the experience of these opposites). Does it not mean that you are different from the body? If not how could you be aware of these experiences?
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 01:10 AM
The world is unreal! How do I live up to this fact?
If you think running away will work it wont because the mind is the world and mind is like a shadow. Besides, if you run your indirectly implying the world is real and I will run away from it. If you over indulge in it you again imply its real and get stuck with it. Find the balance point in between that's unique for you. Don't over indulge or run away. Live in it but be out of it like the Lotus plant which lives in dirty water but is itself clean. This is achieved simply by not being attached to the fruits of actions. Do good with wisdom that you are not the body that appears to be doing action. This will lead you to a point where you don't get excited or depressed and this neutrality would live up to this Truth that the world is an illusion.
Similarly when you praise someone that's indirectly implying reality in the world. When you find fault your again implying reality. Neutral is to not praise or find fault. Calmness is the answer regardless of the situation.
Running after what you don't have implies you believe the world to be real. Running away also implies indirectly you believe the world to be real. Being neutral is simply performing duty that falls on one's plate with indifference towards the fruits of actions i.e never get excited or depressed
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 01:12 AM
The journey of the Ego from the false to the real
One who strongly identifies and limits his identification of the Self as the body is an Egoist. Such people limit their understanding of reality to the outer world of appearance only. That's why they tend to focus strongly on over activity of the body in many situations like work, physical exercise etc etc. This limited vision of the ego makes them measure work only as a quantity (focused on a numerical measure) as its a measure that the physical world is limited to. As the ego consciously evolves into higher states of being (knowing higher dimensions of the self) the inward vision and recognition of the feeling of unity behind the apparent diversity of the world will shift the focus away from being immersed in quantity (number target of whatever sort) alone and start looking into quality. Quality to an inward looking ego is a feeling that does not have a physical measure. It is a state of happiness derived from the activity done out of purity. As a result of purity in work a sense of fulfillment and contentment is expressed as joy . This shift is the result of inward vision that recognizes slowly that the outward vision of many is only APPEARANCE wherein the THE ONE TRUTH appears as all this many. When you have served ONE with purity (joy of pure service) you have served the ONE who lives in billions or trillions across the entire universe
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 01:14 AM
Self Realization is not about emptiness but about fullness of joy
Knowing your true self should lead to fullness (joy) and not emptiness (low motivation). Reality needs to be understood in its proper perspective. The world is unreal and that remains a fact. Knowing this will help you de -addict the ego from over clinging to the objects of the world as Mine (attachment). Once that de - addiction happens one needs to move away from the unreal world idea and understand their self with Investigation - Who am I? This will then turn the table around for you that you have become everybody and everything to love yourself. With this motive of loving your self in everybody and everything you will have a new life of purpose and enthusiasm from good thoughts that will fulfill your human birth and in the end lead to bodiless liberation.
The One Self has imagined this world to love itself. To love needs a lover which is the Self and the loved (object of imagination - you, me, everybody and everything). Hence the world of many has been imagined by the One Self. So the relationship between God and you is Love. This love is also the basis of relationship between the individual egos for the power to love is with the Self and when you love you are God
Posted by: Account Deleted | December 16, 2009 at 03:08 AM
Mohan, I dont follow some of your logic at all:
--- "What is true joy?
Ans: True = Permanent = Reality"
Why do you say reality is permanent? It seems most aspects of the universe are impermanent and subject to flux. What permanent reality are you referring to? Reality exists whether or not you have joy.
--- "Can Temporary joy be called reality?
Ans: temporary = Impermanent = Unreal = Non existent"
Everything appears temporary relatively speaking, there is joy as well as sadness (and many other emotions of the human condition). Just because joy or sadness are not permanent, does not make them unreal or any less true.
--- "What does temporary mean?
Ans: Temporary = unreal = non existent"
I disagree, temporary means impernant, not unreal. Reality consists of objects with different levels of permancence/impernance. A feeling of love exists for a certain time, as well as feeling of grief, depending on the observer. Certain objects have a longer permanence (rocks) than others (human bodies). Just because something changes does not make that thing unreal.
"Can the temporary be called reality?
Ans:No. Its a dream!"
I disagree, most of reality appear to be temporary and impernant and changing. Though certain laws of physics such as entropy suggest that matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed or transmuated. Also the question of whether the universe itself is impernanent is not answered, or the question of an omniscient god.
However, just because physical forms are changeable, does not make it a dream or unreal. We experience forms in whatever state they are in at a particular time of being observed.
--- "Can that which changes constantly be called reality?
Ans: Change = unreal"
Who says change is unreal? Everything changes, that seems to be the true nature of reality.
Posted by: George | December 16, 2009 at 03:11 AM
In your comments on 9th nov. you said,I need this concentration training, and to go to a deeper level than someone that has a normal awareness. If this training is hard, thats ok, I just want to go to a much deeper level.
Nearly 4 decades ago,there used to be basic VIPASSANA meditation courses for a period of 30-45 days, which nowadays have been reduced to 10 days, maybe such a course can help you.
Posted by: Juan | December 16, 2009 at 05:07 AM
Read your comment and appreciate your response. While Science does say what you have said perfectly the implied meanings of the words we use for example reality needs to be understood at at deeper level and this is where meditation and concentration on a matter of interest like this one through meditation takes one to the deeper understanding of the meanings of the words like real, permanent, temporary etc...
Investigation of Who am I is also a very effective means for the nature of the ego is self conceited and when it is investigated it slowly fades. While science helps to understand somethings science measures the effect and not the cause. world of change we see is an effect and the cause can be realized by investigating who am I?
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 06:24 AM
Something else I wanted to share..My teacher a budhist monk in Adelaide and Gurus in India have taught me one starting point to know your self. First we must investigate our self before we understand anything else. Our belief that we are just the body is itself a limited understanding that obscures our vision of the infinite. If we systematically root out that with prpoper inquiry then we will be able to see many mysteries of the universe unfold to us. Real and unreal are relative words. So even going by your argument is not wrong but reality of this world must be seen as a relative truth and not absolute. Its when we ascend beyond the experience of the five senses that we can know the absolute and then we must reunderstand the relative to get rid of all confusions that behold us!
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 06:30 AM
"Its when we ascend beyond the experience of the five senses that we can know the absolute and then we must reunderstand the relative to get rid of all confusions that behold us!"
--So what is this "known" absolute? Describe, as best you can, what is known regarding the absolute?
Posted by: Roger | December 16, 2009 at 07:57 AM
"While Science does say what you have said perfectly the implied meanings of the words we use for example reality needs to be understood at at deeper level and this is where meditation and concentration on a matter of interest like this one through meditation takes one to the deeper understanding of the meanings of the words like real, permanent, temporary etc..."
---So, if one engages in meditation, one is taken to the deeper understanding of meanings of words? How many years of meditation will it take to understand what a non-illusion is? This would be an absolute non-illusion, a perfect complete and true permanance. Redirecting someone to meditation, sounds like another spiritual tease. Many "teases" have been prepared on this blog over the past 3 1/2 years. The best teasers are the ones with a gift of gab, nothing more.
Posted by: Roger | December 16, 2009 at 08:24 AM
I shall share my self realization experience with you in words but the experience is limited and is merely a pointer but not indicative of the experience itself must be felt by the seeker of truth.
Self realization experience can be described as a feeling of blissfull changeless existence (no body no world no nothing around where you intuitively know yourself as the absolute only existence...). From this absolute truth you become aware of a feeling of "I am" - I feeling but no world around you...but you know distinctively that this I feeling is not your nature but an adjunct to your existence for e.g you may sit in a chair and dream anything you want and have an experience of it but you know that dream to be different from your reality... So too is this feeling of I that has arisen from your being.. This I turns into your world as you soon get back a memory of the world and at first you don't identify yourself as the body but as everything in the world and then the feeling of an individual consciousness of being so and so comes up..
In my starting days of the journey to know my self I too was confounded by a strong belief in science etc but I must admit now that I understand only after many years of earnest search that the root of all our confusion is wrong understating of our self. We take our self as the body and this identification is called Ego. Its an illusory identity which inverses the real and unreal. The world we experience is a dream and we take it to be real because of this wrong identification of the self as the body. To one who is dreaming the dream appears to be real until he wakes up. So too this waking world is unreal and this can be known to you when you wake up to your truth that your true self is not the body.
The Self or I is universal. Like electricity has no form so is this Self. Yet this one electricity when it shines through different bulbs of different wattages and colours appears to be different. The key thing here is the APPEARANCE. The diversity seen through the senses can or should at best be called phenomenon. It is mistaken or appears real because it is seen. However if you investigate the truth of its existence its reality is shaky.. Such an appearance is what scriptures call the world as Maya or mind... Its illusive nature..
The essence of Self realization in my experience has been to develop universal love for all by expansion of love. The ego feeling I am the body must be allowed to expand by understanding the nature of the Self by investigating - Who am I? When this is done, your understanding of the Self expands and love grows for everybody and everything. This love expresses as community service out of pure love and leads to realization that everything comes from one and you are actually the one who dwells in all beings and things.
One of the key things to bear in mind with Self realization is that certain questions bind you to the ego (false self) and only one question that frees you from ignorance (clutches of the ego) is - Who am I? When you investigate "Who am I? " you will answer get the answers to all your questions simultaneously with the understanding of the True Self. That's what the Vedas also declare by Saying " When you know your Self all else will also be known to you." I used to question these many a time and when my teachers instructed me to follow the method of inquiry and meditation and service to community I realized that the answer to the mystery is to embark on the journey to realization. Books are good guidance for sure but eventually all books on spirituality will lead you to understand that to go beyond the mind there is only one means - give up thoughts. To give up thoughts the means is to investigate - Who am I?
To put it simply and I am sure you will realize it with your own earnest inquiry the truth is simple and profound. The true Self is formless - existence - bliss. To love himself he has imagined all this many people, forms everything and dwells inside all as the Self (consciousness existence bliss). For e.g the name of your form is Roger and mine is Mohan. However the person is mistaken due to the ego as two different persons. However with Self realization you will realize the actor or person playing the role of Mohan, Roger etc etc and everybody and everything is One and the Same and you are that. The Vedas proclaim the same truth by saying "You are That person living in all and not the body".
Similalry Budha's heart Sutra says " Form is emptiness and emptiness is Form" This actually implies forms (the world of form is empty ie.its an appearance coming from nothing and goes back into nothing and is like what science says "Matter is energy and energy is matter- the forms are coming from the formless source "
DO feel free to ask me whatever you feel like and I shall gladly share my experiences as best as I can.
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 08:34 AM
Thanks for your reply. Like I said, you have a "gift" of Gab. Through your meditations, could you answer the question, posed above? Again, avoid the harmless teasing and give an answer. Nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know."
Posted by: Roger | December 16, 2009 at 08:47 AM
Mohan, I've unpublished a few of your lengthy "sermons" as they seemed repetitive. I think we've gotten your basic message, which doesn't sound very different from other sorts of Eastern philosophies.
Thanks for sharing your ideas. I just wanted to caution you about going over the line from "sharing" and "discussing" to "preaching," which is a no-no on this churchless blog.
I pretty much agree with George's comments on your comments. You don't provide any evidence that your assertions are correct. As George noted, why should only the permanent be considered "real"? And what is permanent anyway?
Time? Space? Laws of nature? Existence? We can theorize that some aspect of the cosmos is permanent, and logically it makes sense that existence has always existed. But how does this relate to us humans? What of us can be demonstrated to be permanent?
I'm not looking for a restatement of Hindu philosophy. I'm asking for evidence, which I'm sure you can't provide.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | December 16, 2009 at 09:09 AM
In my November 9th comment, I was being facetious. The basic VIPASSANA meditation courses which, you say, nowadays have been reduced to 10 days, sounds like something for the "fast" food crowd. Thanks for your reply, however, do remember I can be rather silly at times. Roger
Posted by: Roger | December 16, 2009 at 11:25 AM
I like and resonate with Mohan’s comments.
But, is this because of conditioning from what I have learned from the teachings in Sant Mat, Hindu philosophy as well as the Buddhist teachings?
So, back to not thinking and analyzing too much and just “being” as Brian says in his most recent post.
Posted by: Jen | December 16, 2009 at 04:08 PM
Brian, thanks for finally putting a limit on Mohan's excessive postings of repetitious vedanta dogma.
as you know, i've heard all that stuff before. in fact, i know it inside out. its just abstract philosophical concepts and unfounded assumptions, that have no bearing or meaning relative to our human lives. and yes, there's no evidence whatsoever that his assertions are correct, much less being applicable to anything.
Also much thanks goes to George for pointing out the basic absurdity and irrationality of Mohan's claims. I very much agree with George in all his comments which I have assembled here...
"Why do you say reality is permanent? It seems most aspects of the universe are impermanent and subject to flux. What permanent reality are you referring to? Reality exists whether or not you have joy."
"Everything appears temporary relatively speaking, there is joy as well as sadness (and many other emotions of the human condition). Just because joy or sadness are not permanent, does not make them unreal or any less true."
"temporary means impermanant, not unreal. Reality consists of objects with different levels of permancence/impermanance. A feeling of love exists for a certain time, as well as feeling of grief, depending on the observer. Certain objects have a longer permanence (rocks) than others (human bodies). Just because something changes does not make that thing unreal."
"most of reality appear to be temporary and impermanent and changing. Though certain laws of physics such as entropy suggest that matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed or transmuated. Also the question of whether the universe itself is impermanent is not answered, or the question of an omniscient god."
"just because physical forms are changeable, does not make it a dream or unreal. We experience forms in whatever state they are in at a particular time of being observed."
"Who says change is unreal? Everything changes, that seems to be the true nature of reality."
Thanks for sensible articulation George.
Posted by: tAo | December 16, 2009 at 05:39 PM
Self realization is an experience. It can not be proved as a world experiment. The words that english language or for that matter in any language use can never explain the truth. Science can point to the truth but not illsutrate it. The world of change is also an eternal existence but its an existance of change. Who you really are is the witness of this change and it can be known only by giving up thoughts. Infact what we call the world is nothing but the mind with its combination of thoughts (feelings) and projection of its ideas.
But to put it short and straight self realization has to be experienced by following the prescribed excercises.
One can not say how long it takes. It simply depends on the earnestness of the seeker. Even for one who meditates over many years realization happens in a moment once he or she overcomes the influence of the mind to distract and take your attenion to the outer world. But the reason many people take time is because self relaization is slowed down by some of the beliefs that we have incorrectly understood in the past and the the biggest block is the ego or wrong understanding of ourselves.
There is a lovely video on meditation that I would reccomend to all who are interested. Log on to the following web site for the details: http://www.spiritual-reality.com/
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 05:53 PM
Just wanted to apolgize to the group readers in case I have hurnt any of you. The intention has not been to do so. Just wish to sum it up with this last message that whatever the means of knowing the truth that any faith in the world prescribes does work when the prescribed means are followed and implemented.
Once again please accept my apologies in case I hurt anyone out there.
Good wishes to all!
Posted by: Mohan Sundaram | December 16, 2009 at 07:57 PM
Mohan, you haven't hurt anybody. But I also don't think you have convinced anybody. What you said is fine. It's just a familiar religious philosophy that has to be taken on faith, like other faith-based systems.
I realize that you believe that it is possible to confirm your supposed truths through direct experience. However, every religion says this. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of enlightenment, satori, or god realization, just as there is no evidence that Jesus loves us.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | December 16, 2009 at 08:25 PM
hi meditation is the best thing one can do for himself
Posted by: udeshpal singh mann | July 01, 2010 at 02:31 AM
Why is one experience, whether more permanent, blissful, or spiritual any more real or unreal then a transient one. It's all experience in the end. I understand the benefit of exploring your own consciousness but I think the problem with these guided meditation retreats/guru's is that they supply the conceptual frame work for how you to interpret the experiences and hence how you apply them. There are philisophical, practical, and ontological biases in all interpretations, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Athiest, Psychological etc... And it's frustrating because I am an actor and an artist and really appreciates the value of experiential learning but if people don't spend time studying how and why they interpret experiences they won't see the limits of they're understanding or leaps of logic.
It's why you get guru's who have amazing access to non-dual states of consciousness but are not developed in other ways, or choose to use the world denying/mind only philosophy associated with meditative practice as an excuse to throw morality to the wind and abuse they're students.
The best way I've reconciled this whole dilemma about the illusive/representational nature of experience is this: it's a language in an of itself. If you treat perception and experience as a a biologically derived method of interpreting life, something opens up. Experience is the bridge. It may not be the thing itself, but as we know from experiments in neural plasticity and placebo effects, consciousness works from the bottom up and the top down. So in a way we are our experiences, but were so much more, we just don't experience it.
I still don't understand how the in The Ego Tunnel he reconciles our ability to witness our own experience. How we are aware of identity structures, and world views, how we can meditate and see the "illusive nature of the ego". Who is doing the witnessing? Authors like Faulkner and Virginia Wolf have revealed streams of consciousness or the narrative of self long before this book, but that is a conceptual self. What about the physical experiences of self? Is that what the ego tunnel refers to?And how can he say there is no "I". Isn't there a distinct physical being? An implied separate brain generating the subjective experience? Isn't that an "I" that lived and died? And if it is brain function that creates the subjective experience, isn't there a physical component to it, which also implies a reality to it?? So much emphasis is put on the conscious self and how it's not really seprate, but isn't that because we simply don't identify or are unaware of deeper unconscious realities or aspects of selves??? We tend to only identify with the conscious self? In Jungian psychology, when merging with the subconscious, aren't we deepening and expanding the ego tunnel?
I feel like this is written from the perspective of the modern human who relegates most of his/her experience to the rational/mental experience of life as opposed to the physical/energetic. Because that arena opens up a lot of confounding questions. How does mind/body awareness work? What about the instinctual self, or intuitive?
Sorry for the rant. I have been investigating this for a while now and I feel like there is a huge mind only bias with Eastern philosophy, and we confuse what mind actually means, and suddenly we don't have bodies at all but are just consciousness generating the illusion of one. That's absurd. How can you dismiss a subjective experience of the physical and all the wisdom derived from it because its "impermanent" or "unreliable" and then validate some other subjective experience. Why is that anymore ontologically real? Just because a meditator realizes our experience of the physical is illusion, doesn't mean the actual reality is. So a lot of Hindu dogma stems from making claims from 1st person knowledge, without marrying it to 3rd person knowledge.
And on the flip side, only trusting analytical scientific inquiry leaves out some of the truth that can be discovered through subjective investigation.
So yeah.... I'm confused.
Posted by: Michael | August 29, 2013 at 12:23 PM
I am enthusiastically struggling with both Metzinger books at the moment.
I note that he and other neuroscientists refer continually to epilepsy as clues to regions and mechanisms of dysfunction, much as failure points up how things work everywhere else. As a mild epileptic myself I find this illuminating but seeing how quickly some of the experiences are appropriated by the religiose is annoying. Yeah, some of my petis mals rouse similar stuff to LSD.
Recently been wanting to see how Metzinger et al see grief in the ego tunnel. Some of your lotus eaters would say grief-joy all unreal etc, completely un-useful and obscurantist. I do not say nobody has addressed it, only that I have not yet found it.
What does it mean that a child music-genius (not me) can patch over losing a twin by playing every instrument, living in a semi-wilful construction, and this be unraveled at confrontation at grave? I mean, what does it say about the tunnel, not this kid in particular? I suppose you could say, same sort of thing as joy, say sexual orgasm, but grief is not so transient. Wound becomes scar in the PSM, etc, how far does it invade, etc.
Posted by: Terry Gulliver | February 27, 2018 at 08:07 AM