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.
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: