Ah, I love instant enlightenment.
OK -- not exactly instant, because I had to watch 54 minutes of a You Tube video before I got to Thomas Metzinger's philosophical "money shot" right at the end.
But I had enjoyed Metzinger's book, "The Ego Tunnel," which I blogged about here, here, and here.
So when I saw a mention of the video on my Twitter feed, I figured that it would be worth watching. I'm a sucker for a Zen-titled talk, "Being No One," from someone who specializes in scientific perspectives on the philosophy of mind.
Most of Metzinger's presentation is pretty darn boring. I listened to it more than I watched it, dividing my attention between his ideas and browsing my habitual morning web sites.
One of his basic notions is that our self-model, our sense of "me," is a simulation. I don't claim to completely understand Metzinger's explanation of how this comes about, which is rather complicated.
However, I could grasp his point that evolution, via natural selection, favored humans who could simply recognize the presence of a wolf -- no need to also know how the brain processes sensory and cognitive data behind the scenes of conscious awareness.
So we have a naive realism. Metzinger said, "We didn't need to distance ourselves from ourselves." And...
We are systems, which are not able to recognize their own sub-symbolic self-model as a model. Therefore we operate under the condition of a naive-realistic self-misunderstanding.
We necessarily experience ourselves as being in direct and immediate epistemic contact with ourselves.
Metaphorically speaking, you are a system that continually confuses itself with the content of its own self-model.
This avatar doesn't know it has a visual cortex; it just sees with its eyes. It doesn't know it has a motor cortex; it just acts with its hands.
Meaning, I think, that it just seems so obvious "I" am the center of my "self."
That there is an ethereal being I call "me" who seemingly is separate and distinct from all of the crude physical goings-on in my body, neurons firing chemically/electrically, food being digested and crapped out, etc., etc., etc.
Given this assumption, which is almost universal among human beings, the quest for our true self becomes all-important.
People want to be self-fulfilled. They seek self-realization. They wonder what happens to the self after death. They yearn for enlightenment, which often is considered to involve ego-loss or becoming selfless.
Metzinger, however, dissolves these notions in some wonderfully intriguing closing remarks.
Given all this, isn't it true that the self is an illusion? I think it is not true, because it contains a logical mistake.
On the level on which we are talking, there is no such thing as truth or falsity yet. There is nobody who could have an illusion in this system.
So if you really wanted to stay with the idea that the self is an illusion, you would have to say that it is an illusion which is no one's illusion.
Then he addresses the big question: immortality of the soul.
If it is true that the self is not a thing, but a process, as I have described it, then it is also true that the tragedy of the ego dissolves. Because strictly speaking, nobody is every born and nobody ever dies.
Good news. I guess. Not that there is an "I" who guesses. But I'm still guessing.
Here's the video:
Good news? GREAT news. Thank you for recommending this book, Brian. Metzinger's findings are complex, but that's to be expected when speaking of the mind and the perceptual self-model. It explains that timeless aspect of our selves we call the "soul" and takes that troublesome concept right off the table.
Posted by: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508262195 | October 30, 2009 at 05:25 AM
John, yes, it's a great relief to realize that we don't have to fret about finding our true self, since the evidence points elsewhere -- sort of like stopping worrying about seeing the unicorn in my backyard, once I realize that it doesn't exist.
I was pondering along the same lines as I went to sleep last night. Envisioning the lightness of being that comes from not feeling as heavy with a soul or self, but rather floating on the same reality currents as everything else in existence.
Feeling special used to appeal to me. Now, not nearly so much. I'd rather be real and true than imaginary and false, even if the latter approach promises stuff like salvation, eternal life, and reaching the lap of God.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 30, 2009 at 11:07 AM
- - - - - - - - - -
The basis of my 'confusion' seems to be that I
consider myself to be some kind of a solid, continuous reality.
Plus I take great care to preserve that self-invented
illusory-certainty. For instance, I hold onto the sense that 'I' am writing these words.
Also I feel certain that I am going to be here
tomorrow to read any response to 'my' post.
Obviously, intellectually, I know that is not certain at all.
But still, I'm extremely confident.
This is what rules my life!
I go after 'self'-fulfilment and avoid anything
that minimises my sense of 'self'.
My own sense-of-self converts EVERYTHING I experience
into yet further means of preserving this sense of self.
Even the pursuit of a 'spiritual path'!
How wacky is that?
I convert the teachings of 'Spirituality'
into a subject for rational argument,
intellectual dissection and academic learning
without actually doing the decent thing and
attempting to actually surrender the struggle
of preserving this 'self' by melting it in the sea
of the promised and sought after 'reality of love'.
And I do that, even after receiving a considerable 'taster'
which held out a promise of that being a reality,
which seemed to be obtained due to belief in the RS concepts,
application of the philosophy,
and via personal association with an RS Master...
Mostly that last one. The most sublime moments following
the path of RS teachings have been nothing to do with
receiving an answer to a question or learning
a new aspect of the teachings
but have been just being in the presence of the one
I accepted as my Master with an absence of any
analytical thinking at all, a state of just letting go.
It sounds corny and doesn't come anywhere near
to describing the experience but a state of just 'being'
almost like being merely an observer to the 'play',
but without any awarenesss of observer or observed.
I imitate the Master's teachings by intellectually positing
it is my ego that is creating all the song and dance –
and that is not to say that there is anything wrong
with singing and dancing –
but these moments of stillness and what seems to be a vastly
purer awareness stand out in my memory as the most vivid
and profound moments of my life.
If only I could "let go" more often...
. - -
May 24th 2000
Posted by: Mystic Bumwipe | October 31, 2009 at 03:44 AM
i've ordered a copy of metzinger's book, but not sure its my cup of tea.
i prefer those who can explain their theories cleanly and vividly, and tend to distrust those who rely on techical, unclear or invented jargon - and the latter appears to be metzinger;s greatest problem.
he's almost dissapeared up himself with all his pseuso-scientific conceptualisations and definitions.
the tunnel metaphor is quite a nice one in that we humans are only able to percieve a small spectrum of reality, via our tunnels, but this seems to then this metaphor appears to get confused to.
as for the concept of a physical self (or soul), i'm not sure why he think this needs to be disproved. i thought the idea of a self-model generated by the mind as an evolutionary adaptation was the prevailing theory in any case.
in short i am not sure what he is really trying to say and what the implications of his theory supposely are.
Posted by: George | October 31, 2009 at 08:34 AM
Mystic Bumwipe, there are many ways to let go, to just "be," to dissolve into an intimate connection with someone or something else. I might make this the theme of today's blog post.
It's great that you felt this in the presence of your guru. But it's also possible to feel the same sensation via other means.
George, I agree that Metzinger isn't presenting any astoundingly new notions in his book. What I liked about it is that he isn't a neuroscientist, but a philosopher (who apparently specializes in the philosophy of mind).
So "The Ego Tunnel" has a different feel than other books I've read that were authored by neuroscientists. Metzinger knows his science, but also focuses on the philosophical implications of what has been learned about the brain in some fairly unique ways.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 31, 2009 at 11:25 AM
I have read Metzinger's book and yes, it's a bit technical. But the 'self' concept is not diffucult to understand -a 'self', 'me' or 'I' is composed of all our experiences and memories 'stored' in the brain. We identify these contents - my family, country, religion etc. as being who I am. The contents comprise the mind, the 'self' being just an aspect of mind. Minds are just information in the brain. Attachment to any of this information (contents) produces the 'ego' aspect of mind where all our conflicts of duality arise. Awareness of the process that creates the 'mind', the 'self' leaves only the reality we call 'Life'.
Posted by: Ron Elloway | July 18, 2012 at 01:42 AM
I have just watched the entire
Metzinger video. He says :
If it is true that the self is not a thing,
but a process, then it is also true that the tragedy of the ego dissolves.
Because strictly speaking, nobody is every born and nobody ever dies. end quote
(He got the nobody born and nobody dies
line from Ramana Maharshi.)
Metzinger appears to be making a mistake.
When enlightenment occurs it means the
realization of no self. (no ego)
It does not mean the ego disolves. Instead.
the enlightened use the ego like a toy to
The enlightened use the ego, whereas
before, the ego used them.
The source of action comes from a new source
when the self, or ego is seen as a falacy.
The loss of identification with the ego
suddenly leaves a vacuum.
Something Else must enter that vacuum.
Metzinger has not experieced this for himself yet. So, like Mary, he has not seen color yet. He can only speculate.
Posted by: Mike Williams | May 05, 2013 at 07:45 PM
Metzinger video. He says :
"If it is true that the self is not a thing,
but a process..."
The self is both a thing and a process.
Thought is a thing and it is a process.
The problem occurs when thought, a thing,
personalizes itself into a WHO.
How can a thing, as thought, become a WHO ?
Thought functions, but it somehow manufactures a permenant functioneer,
Posted by: Mike Williams | May 05, 2013 at 08:04 PM