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An Interview with Thomas Metzinger: What Is the Self?
You Are Not Who You Think You Are
Michael Taft 09/28/2012 02:15

Thomas_Metzinger_0.jpg

Thomas Metzinger, Ph.D. Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz Thomas Metzinger is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and an Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study (FIAS). He is also Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit in Mainz and Director of the MIND Group at the FIAS.

 

Michael W. Taft:  You’ve written at great length about the experience of selfhood in human beings. So let’s start off by asking, What is the self?

 

Thomas Metzinger: The first thing to understand, I believe, is that there is no thing like “the self.” Nobody ever had or was a self. Selves are not part of reality, in the sense of elementary building blocks that endure over time. The first person pronoun “I” doesn’t refer to an individual object like a football or a bicycle, or to some mysterious category of invisible things—it just points to the speaker of the current sentence. The speaker simply is the person as a whole.

 

A self also couldn’t be something you “have” (as we might say it), because then there would be another little man hiding behind it and owning the self. It also couldn’t be something deep inside yourself, because the you would be identical with only one of your constituting parts. We are living systems, embodied, dynamic. In short, there is no thing in the brain or outside in the world, which is us. We are processes.

 

Selves are a very interesting and vivid and robust element of conscious experience in some animals. This is a conscious experience of selfhood, something philosophers call a phenomenal self, and how this self subjectively appears to the organism as a whole is entirely determined by local processes in the brain, at every instant, from moment to moment. Ultimately, it’s a physical process. Today, the best way to describe self consciousness still is as a representational process: an image that is sometimes generated in the brain, an internal placeholder for the system as a whole, a neurocomputational tool. Sometimes it’s not generated, for example in dreamless, deep sleep. It’s a very fragile and vulnerable, intermittent phenomenon, but there is no metaphysical entity such as the self which exists independently of the brain.

 

 

Michael W. Taft: Yet the experience of being a self, of being someone, is very persistent.

 

Thomas Metzinger: Absolutely—that is the amazing part of it: Something virtual is experienced as a reality, the system’s currently best hypothesis about itself becomes something that feels substantial a lived reality. It’s the robust phenomenology of the self—the very convincing sense that we are somebody—that makes this naïve misunderstanding so very easy for beings like us.  I think the self is an intermittent and complex process, but not a thing. This is not provocative at all, a dramatic statement or dramatic new theory. I would guess that most cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and almost all philosophers today would subscribe to the idea that is there no thing or metaphysical substance like the self that can exist independently of the brain. In science and philosophy, the concept of such a metaphysical self is long gone.

 

But somehow for our life, and in our biological history, the feeling of being a self is and was very important, and for many reasons. Complex organisms do not only have to predict the world, but also their own future behavior—they have to minimize surprise on all levels. They have to successfully control themselves, as a whole. A conscious self-model is a perfect tool to achieve this. If an animal or a child wants to learn how to develop future planning, control momentary impulses, delay rewards and so on, then it is critical that it has an inner image of itself—however delusional—that tells it: “It is you who will reap the fruits in the future; it is yourself who will get lung cancer if you keep on smoking; your preferences will remain stable and it will be your very own joy, satisfaction, your own suffering and regret!” One thing we are all beginning to understand is how self-deception can be adaptive. Probably evolution has built some stable forms of self-deception right into our conscious self-models. One important function is mortality denial, I guess. We like to believe in an innermost essence or core, because it allows us to deny our finitude, or at least leave an open door of hope for life after death. And that’s also why it’s not going to go away. I think the folk-psychological, folk-metaphysical notion of self is going to stay in our everyday life and in our culture.

 

 

Michael W. Taft: If the self is some kind of transient mental representation, what is its function?

 

Thomas Metzinger: The body and the mind are constantly changing. Nothing in us is ever really the same from one moment to the next. Yet the self represents a very strong phenomenal experience of sameness, and it’s clear this would be adaptive or helpful for a biological organism that needs to plan for the future. If you want to hide some food for winter or you want to save some money in your bank accounts or work on your reputation, you’re planning for future success and you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t have the very strong feeling that it’s going to be the same entity that gets the reward in the future. That it was the same entity in the past that got cheated, injured, hurt by someone, and that is now longing for retaliation, revenge, or something like that. Obviously, for the evolution of culture, a fiction of personal identity was also necessary. Just think about responsibility and culpability in the context of evolving a legal system; or of the need to build a reputation in larger, growing groups of early human history. A self-model is not something in the brain or in philosophy, it is also something social and public. Personal websites and Facebook accounts are public self-models too—they have a function, and they make something happen.

 

So obviously in a biological or bodily context it may be good to have this experience that all of this, the reaping of the fruits, is going to happen to the same person. But again, strictly speaking, it’s never really happening to the same person, but it’s also not true that there is nobody there. Of course, there is a sufficient similarity over time, the organism survives, genes are copied, books are written. We don’t arbitrarily change and it’s kind of a flux. I like very much the image the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once used.

 

He said you could have a rope—a long rope made of very different strings of different color. And no string, neither the red string nor the blue nor the green one, would go through the whole length of the rope. Yet the rope could be very robust, strong, and stable, even though there is not one thread that goes through it from beginning to end. I think that’s a good image for how we are on the bodily level, as well as on a psychological level.

 

Despite this, we have robust experiences of autonomy and self-determination. We have the subjective experience of controlling our behavior, and we also have an experience of mental self- determination, controlling our attention, our mental state and all of these things. As modern science shows, some of these inner experiences may not be fully veridical, but just adaptive. Perhaps some of them are also efficient self-fulfilling prophecies. It may be functional to have the robust experience that you are in control, but from the thirdperson perspective of science, it seems that such experiences may not reflect the truth of our nature. What really happens is perhaps best described as an agent-free process of dynamical self-organization. This process has many layers – from the bodily to the social – and it manifests itself in itself, through conscious experience. Whenever we don’t understand something, we hallucinate a little man right into reality: a computer that suddenly “acts up”, weather gods causing thunder and throwing down lightning bolts, invisible demons causing diseases, Cartesian Egos that deliberately think their very own thoughts. It may work for a while, but it also causes considerable confusion. The self is not a thing, but a process.

 

 

 

http://www.beinghuman.org/article/interview-thomas-metzinger-what-self

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have read Metziner's book "The Ego Tunnel" and found it quite interesting so I am posting this small article.  I agree with him in some respects, but I don't think he (or anyone else) has a complete explanation for consciousness.

 

His position is that he is a naturalist and God does not enter into it.  It is still startling to realize that what we experience as the self is an illusion.

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Hmm. I'm not sure I get what he's about. I am a physical thing, as are other critters large and small. All of us seem to be aware of our own existence. Personality is clearly influenced by brain chemistry or damage. But why conclude that there is no self? If by self you mean something that transcends the physical, then yes that is up for debate (particularly with certain accounts of reincarnation). Maybe I'm missing something.

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He means that the self does not exist as a "thing" in reality.  It is an illusion produced by the brain. Personally, I think it does transcend the physical, but Metzinger does not believe this process is anything other than physical.

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A few thoughts.  No answers.

 

If I understand this aright, the idea is that "self" is just the particular characteristics of the way the electrical charges in the brain happen to be firing at any given time.  It is merely a process for now because it is a physical electro-chemical phenomenon.  It is merely a process over time because the way the fire tomorrow will be different to yesterday.

 

It seems to me, by that reasoning, the same must be true of consciousness.  That is just the particular characteristics of the way the electrical charges in the brain happen to be firing at any given time.  It is merely a process for now because it is a physical electro-chemical phenomenon.  It is merely a process over time because the way the fire tomorrow will be different to yesterday.

 

Indeed, the references to a "conscious self model" seem to me to indicate an understanding that the self and consciousness are inextricably interlinked.  I doubt if it can be maintained that the one is an illusion and the other not.

 

The difficulty comes with the language of "experience".  How can there be experience without consciousness, or consciousness without self?  If self is a delusion, my self consciousness is a delusion, but then what is deluded?  "I" cannot be both the deception and the deceived.

 

That says nothing as to whether self and consciousness is of physical or metaphysical origin.

 

Personally, I agree (but have no intention of entering into an argument over this) that it transcends the physical.  I also wonder if there is a valid distinction between "myself" and "the self" - the former my limited experiential thought processes, the latter the consciousness behind that (not the thoughts, but the awareness of the thoughts, so to speak).  I think that may have some reflection in Hindu thought.

 

On that basis, of course, what is above described as "another little man" would seem to have to be accepted as a reality...

 

Now my head hurts

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An Interview with Thomas Metzinger: What Is the Self?
You Are Not Who You Think You Are
Michael Taft 09/28/2012 02:15

Thomas_Metzinger_0.jpg

Thomas Metzinger, Ph.D. Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz Thomas Metzinger is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and an Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study (FIAS). He is also Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit in Mainz and Director of the MIND Group at the FIAS.

 

Michael W. Taft:  You’ve written at great length about the experience of selfhood in human beings. So let’s start off by asking, What is the self?

 

Thomas Metzinger: The first thing to understand, I believe, is that there is no thing like “the self.” Nobody ever had or was a self. Selves are not part of reality, in the sense of elementary building blocks that endure over time. The first person pronoun “I” doesn’t refer to an individual object like a football or a bicycle, or to some mysterious category of invisible things—it just points to the speaker of the current sentence. The speaker simply is the person as a whole.

 

A self also couldn’t be something you “have” (as we might say it), because then there would be another little man hiding behind it and owning the self. It also couldn’t be something deep inside yourself, because the you would be identical with only one of your constituting parts. We are living systems, embodied, dynamic. In short, there is no thing in the brain or outside in the world, which is us. We are processes.

 

Selves are a very interesting and vivid and robust element of conscious experience in some animals. This is a conscious experience of selfhood, something philosophers call a phenomenal self, and how this self subjectively appears to the organism as a whole is entirely determined by local processes in the brain, at every instant, from moment to moment. Ultimately, it’s a physical process. Today, the best way to describe self consciousness still is as a representational process: an image that is sometimes generated in the brain, an internal placeholder for the system as a whole, a neurocomputational tool. Sometimes it’s not generated, for example in dreamless, deep sleep. It’s a very fragile and vulnerable, intermittent phenomenon, but there is no metaphysical entity such as the self which exists independently of the brain.

 

 

Michael W. Taft: Yet the experience of being a self, of being someone, is very persistent.

 

Thomas Metzinger: Absolutely—that is the amazing part of it: Something virtual is experienced as a reality, the system’s currently best hypothesis about itself becomes something that feels substantial a lived reality. It’s the robust phenomenology of the self—the very convincing sense that we are somebody—that makes this naïve misunderstanding so very easy for beings like us.  I think the self is an intermittent and complex process, but not a thing. This is not provocative at all, a dramatic statement or dramatic new theory. I would guess that most cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and almost all philosophers today would subscribe to the idea that is there no thing or metaphysical substance like the self that can exist independently of the brain. In science and philosophy, the concept of such a metaphysical self is long gone.

 

But somehow for our life, and in our biological history, the feeling of being a self is and was very important, and for many reasons. Complex organisms do not only have to predict the world, but also their own future behavior—they have to minimize surprise on all levels. They have to successfully control themselves, as a whole. A conscious self-model is a perfect tool to achieve this. If an animal or a child wants to learn how to develop future planning, control momentary impulses, delay rewards and so on, then it is critical that it has an inner image of itself—however delusional—that tells it: “It is you who will reap the fruits in the future; it is yourself who will get lung cancer if you keep on smoking; your preferences will remain stable and it will be your very own joy, satisfaction, your own suffering and regret!” One thing we are all beginning to understand is how self-deception can be adaptive. Probably evolution has built some stable forms of self-deception right into our conscious self-models. One important function is mortality denial, I guess. We like to believe in an innermost essence or core, because it allows us to deny our finitude, or at least leave an open door of hope for life after death. And that’s also why it’s not going to go away. I think the folk-psychological, folk-metaphysical notion of self is going to stay in our everyday life and in our culture.

 

 

Michael W. Taft: If the self is some kind of transient mental representation, what is its function?

 

Thomas Metzinger: The body and the mind are constantly changing. Nothing in us is ever really the same from one moment to the next. Yet the self represents a very strong phenomenal experience of sameness, and it’s clear this would be adaptive or helpful for a biological organism that needs to plan for the future. If you want to hide some food for winter or you want to save some money in your bank accounts or work on your reputation, you’re planning for future success and you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t have the very strong feeling that it’s going to be the same entity that gets the reward in the future. That it was the same entity in the past that got cheated, injured, hurt by someone, and that is now longing for retaliation, revenge, or something like that. Obviously, for the evolution of culture, a fiction of personal identity was also necessary. Just think about responsibility and culpability in the context of evolving a legal system; or of the need to build a reputation in larger, growing groups of early human history. A self-model is not something in the brain or in philosophy, it is also something social and public. Personal websites and Facebook accounts are public self-models too—they have a function, and they make something happen.

 

So obviously in a biological or bodily context it may be good to have this experience that all of this, the reaping of the fruits, is going to happen to the same person. But again, strictly speaking, it’s never really happening to the same person, but it’s also not true that there is nobody there. Of course, there is a sufficient similarity over time, the organism survives, genes are copied, books are written. We don’t arbitrarily change and it’s kind of a flux. I like very much the image the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once used.

 

He said you could have a rope—a long rope made of very different strings of different color. And no string, neither the red string nor the blue nor the green one, would go through the whole length of the rope. Yet the rope could be very robust, strong, and stable, even though there is not one thread that goes through it from beginning to end. I think that’s a good image for how we are on the bodily level, as well as on a psychological level.

 

Despite this, we have robust experiences of autonomy and self-determination. We have the subjective experience of controlling our behavior, and we also have an experience of mental self- determination, controlling our attention, our mental state and all of these things. As modern science shows, some of these inner experiences may not be fully veridical, but just adaptive. Perhaps some of them are also efficient self-fulfilling prophecies. It may be functional to have the robust experience that you are in control, but from the thirdperson perspective of science, it seems that such experiences may not reflect the truth of our nature. What really happens is perhaps best described as an agent-free process of dynamical self-organization. This process has many layers – from the bodily to the social – and it manifests itself in itself, through conscious experience. Whenever we don’t understand something, we hallucinate a little man right into reality: a computer that suddenly “acts up”, weather gods causing thunder and throwing down lightning bolts, invisible demons causing diseases, Cartesian Egos that deliberately think their very own thoughts. It may work for a while, but it also causes considerable confusion. The self is not a thing, but a process.

 

 

 

http://www.beinghuman.org/article/interview-thomas-metzinger-what-self

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have read Metziner's book "The Ego Tunnel" and found it quite interesting so I am posting this small article.  I agree with him in some respects, but I don't think he (or anyone else) has a complete explanation for consciousness.

 

His position is that he is a naturalist and God does not enter into it.  It is still startling to realize that what we experience as the self is an illusion.

 

I think calling the self an illusion is a misunderstanding of what Metzinger says - illusions are things that genuinely don't exist, whereas Metzinger merely says it's an epiphenomenon - it exists as a result of loads of things interacting. There's quite a difference between those two stances, and if you genuinely read what he says it's quite clear he's closer to the epiphenomenal view than the illusion view.

 

Whenever any scientist says the consciousness or self is an epiphenomenon, loads of people report what they said as though they were saying that consciousness is an illusion. It's so widespread no one even notices that they're doing is distorting what the scientists say significantly. No wonder pseudoscience is such a successful venture.

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Agreed, it isn't an illusion.  It actually does exist, but just in not the way we think it does - is that better?

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Agreed, it isn't an illusion.  It actually does exist, but just in not the way we think it does - is that better?

I would say so, there's quite a difference in meaning to those two ways of putting it, don't you think? One is tantamount to saying no cars exist, they're just assemblies of metal parts - yet such a statement clearly disagrees with the meaning we ascribe to the verb 'exist'.

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I've been in agreement with Metzinger's ideas for a while, some years.  

Studying fire I made an important observation which I want to set up as analogy.  Fires made of sticks or any fuel start by sustaining a reaction which expands from a point, a non-physical "core."  People often like to pile up things on the core when building fires, but if you make a fire hollow you will see what I mean:  the core of the fire, if left empty of fuel while surrounded by lit fuel, creates a sphere which expands and equalizes until the fire goes out.  The core is a theoretical point inside the sphere and the physical fire and the nature of the reaction itself is defined by its circumference.  I took some measurements and to my surprise the core was not the hottest part.  The circumference is.  

I always think about the model of self when making fires like this, they compare in many ways.

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Thanks, Voice.  I am considering and pondering Metzinger's ideas. I don't know if I am totally on board, but I am thinking about these things.

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Pardon my ignorance, but I am having some difficulty over seeing a difference between the concept of self within the article quoted and saying that self/consciousness is an illusion.

 

I have a strong sense of the existence of a purple and pink spotted parrot that is bolted to my right shoulder and which constantly recites the words of "Jabberwocky" in reverse order.  It is "a very interesting and vivid and robust element of conscious experience...  This is a conscious experience ... and how this... subjectively appears... is entirely determined by local processes in the brain, at every instant, from moment to moment.  Ultimately, it’s a physical process".  I would presume it is also an illusion.

 

I have a strong sense of the existence of my "conscious self".  It is "a very interesting and vivid and robust element of conscious experience...  This is a conscious experience ... and how this... subjectively appears... is entirely determined by local processes in the brain, at every instant, from moment to moment.  Ultimately, it’s a physical process".  Yet apparently it exists.  It may be termed an "epiphenomenon".

 

What's the difference?

 

Basically, the position as I understand it is that consciousness and self are the result of biological processes and do not act upon those processes.  At best therefore, they are "appearances" for want of a better word.  And they change, mutate or disappear as the brain activity changes.

 

The article has to speak in terms of "conscious experience" because otherwise it would have to be asserted that we are not conscious of these things.  But that does not alter the position that consciousness and self are set out as mere by-products of our synapses (and I am not accepting in the use of the plural that consciousness and self are distinct; in fact I have not reached a settled view on that point).  As such, it seems to me to be asserted that "I" do not exist save as a construct of which my brain is somehow aware.  How is that not an illusion (bearing in mind that illusions must exist, otherwise no-one could be deluded)?

 

Or am I missing the point here...  (always a distinct possibility)

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I have read Metziner's book "The Ego Tunnel" and found it quite interesting so I am posting this small article.  I agree with him in some respects, but I don't think he (or anyone else) has a complete explanation for consciousness.

 

His position is that he is a naturalist and God does not enter into it.  It is still startling to realize that what we experience as the self is an illusion.

It's interesting that he is using science to come to the doorstep of what mystics have realized since time immemorial. I think he's trying to be technical to a fault about it to satisfy the scientific community, but there is a kernel truth to it that's obvious to anyone who has stepped outside that "process" as he called it to look at the "self" as a mental construct. That's frankly the first thing that smacks you upside the head when you enter into these states of consciousness that release you from that process, where you observe that "self", and it becomes overwhelmingly apparent the illusory nature of it. I find all he is doing is trying to translate this into science language to earn credibility in the academic world for something which is abundantly obvious to anyone who has looked within to see it.
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I have read Metziner's book "The Ego Tunnel" and found it quite interesting so I am posting this small article.  I agree with him in some respects, but I don't think he (or anyone else) has a complete explanation for consciousness.

 

His position is that he is a naturalist and God does not enter into it.  It is still startling to realize that what we experience as the self is an illusion.

It's interesting that he is using science to come to the doorstep of what mystics have realized since time immemorial. I think he's trying to be technical to a fault about it to satisfy the scientific community, but there is a kernel truth to it that's obvious to anyone who has stepped outside that "process" as he called it to look at the "self" as a mental construct. That's frankly the first thing that smacks you upside the head when you enter into these states of consciousness that release you from that process, where you observe that "self", and it becomes overwhelmingly apparent the illusory nature of it. I find all he is doing is trying to translate this into science language to earn credibility in the academic world for something which is abundantly obvious to anyone who has looked within to see it.

 

This makes him sound manipulative, and frankly unscientific.

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I find all he is doing is trying to translate this into science language to earn credibility in the academic world for something which is abundantly obvious to anyone who has looked within to see it.

This makes him sound manipulative, and frankly unscientific.

 

No. It is scientific, but it's no major new discovery to the countless mystics who have been aware of this for ages. All I am saying is that his audience is the scientific world, which would otherwise just dismiss insights that are not couched in their language as legitimate. It's no major revelation of insight that the has only recently been discovered.
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  • 2 weeks later...

Physically.. we are not the same being that we were a few years ago… all our cells are constantly being replaced and our bodies are in flux and forever trading molecules with our environment… even in quantum reality… matter switches on and off - existing, then not.. like a pulse. The only thing that stays constant.. sort of.. are the patterns created by DNA and quantum physics and electro-chemical reactions… what we think of as 'ourselves' is only that, a pattern… not a constant physical reality.

 

I don't know if I agree that it is a purely physical phenomenon… maybe.

 

I have conceived of the 'self' as a psychological construct to facilitate experience… a virtual 'common thread' for mental and emotional coordination and integration. In deep meditation the 'self' falls away.. and, for me anyway, an expansion occurs where ego boundaries melt and experience is all there is. This is the place where the oneness spoken of in Buddhism and Hinduism finally made sense.

 

A similar perception happened during an OBE… the sense that my 'self' was different.. I still had a point of view, but it was very detached from what I know of my personality, or sense of 'self', my identity or self-concept was… irrelevant. If I had tried to think about the 'self' during that experience I probably would have laughed at the absurdity of it.

 

From what I have seen the 'death' or non-existence of the personality/self frightens some people to the point where they can not even approach it. My experience with deep meditation (and it happens during sleep and anesthesia as well as trauma) is that it is an illusion - a virtual reality, albeit a very persistent and useful one, for life in the physical world.

 

However… my understanding of this is always under construction.

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The problem with th

 

Physically.. we are not the same being that we were a few years ago… all our cells are constantly being replaced and our bodies are in flux and forever trading molecules with our environment… even in quantum reality… matter switches on and off - existing, then not.. like a pulse. The only thing that stays constant.. sort of.. are the patterns created by DNA and quantum physics and electro-chemical reactions… what we think of as 'ourselves' is only that, a pattern… not a constant physical reality.

 

I don't know if I agree that it is a purely physical phenomenon… maybe.

 

I have conceived of the 'self' as a psychological construct to facilitate experience… a virtual 'common thread' for mental and emotional coordination and integration. In deep meditation the 'self' falls away.. and, for me anyway, an expansion occurs where ego boundaries melt and experience is all there is. This is the place where the oneness spoken of in Buddhism and Hinduism finally made sense.

 

A similar perception happened during an OBE… the sense that my 'self' was different.. I still had a point of view, but it was very detached from what I know of my personality, or sense of 'self', my identity or self-concept was… irrelevant. If I had tried to think about the 'self' during that experience I probably would have laughed at the absurdity of it.

 

From what I have seen the 'death' or non-existence of the personality/self frightens some people to the point where they can not even approach it. My experience with deep meditation (and it happens during sleep and anesthesia as well as trauma) is that it is an illusion - a virtual reality, albeit a very persistent and useful one, for life in the physical world.

 

However… my understanding of this is always under construction.

The problem seems to me to be that this defies explanation in ordinary language.

 

Bear in mind that I come from the standpoint that the physical is transcended.  Equally, bear in mind that such a standpoint is not one that I am prepared to defend dogmatically and is possibly irrelevant to this discussion anyway - in the end, your experiences are the same regardless of whether they are interpreted as purely the result of physical processes.

 

You seem to be suggesting (if I understand you correctly) a meditational state in which you came to be aware of the illusory nature of "self".

 

What self?  If your "self" is you (and I'm unsure what else it could be), then your illusory nature means you don't exist (save as an illusion with no "reality" behind it).  If you as a reality don't exist, how can "you" be aware of that illusion?

 

Is the problem that we so habitually speak in terms of "self" that it is ingrained in our language and we cannot express concepts of experience without reference to such terms? If so, how can we find a way to explain this?

 

Are you saying that you had a sense of transcending the current nature of "self" as it pertains to your current existence only?  Are you differentiating between your "self" and your consciousness?  If so, how?

 

There's no criticism implied in any of the above.  I genuinely do not know whether the idea of an illusory self is capable of explanation within a language structure that assumes experience as attributable to an individual self.

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Consciousness and the 'self' (identity) seem to be separate entities… in my experience. the self seems to act as a container or boundary for consciousness.

 

You are correct that language seems.. inadequate.

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So are you saying the same thing as I suggested earlier in this thread?  As follows:

 

"I also wonder if there is a valid distinction between "myself" and "the self" - the former my limited experiential thought processes, the latter the consciousness behind that (not the thoughts, but the awareness of the thoughts, so to speak)."

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The thing about lacking a sense of self, is that its called a personality disorder.

It is referring to not being wrapped up within your ego. The seat of your self identification moves beyond ego. It is still a self-sense, but it is the true Self not the illusion self of ego.
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Yes… the observer behind the thoughts and emotions.

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I've gained some insight from the writings of Stephen Wolinsky. The first book that I read by him is Trances People Live. In his writing, he puts forth the concept of quantum psychology and deals with the question of "I am." I think the most recent book of his I read (actually listened to the audio version, with him as the reader) is Breaking The Trance. His concepts are heavily based on Eastern philosophy.

 

I have read Wolinsky, including "Trances People Live" and watched some of his films. They are very interesting - he takes a more intellectual approach to the teachings than his guru, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Of course he also brings in his background in psychology and, as you say, "quantum psychology".

 

Have you read the writings of other disciples of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj?   Ranjit Maharaj, Sailor Bob Adamson, Robert Adams, Ramesh Balsakar, etc.  Reading all of these authors is really what led me to think that the "self" is not what we think it is, and then of course Buddhism as well.

 

It is all based on Advaita Vedanta, but every one has a different twist. 

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The Observer came up in the Meditation threads a few months back too, and has been a theme in these types of discussions.  It's the aspect of us which transcends personality and ego and exists only in the Moment.

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Thank you for your answer, Human. I very much appreciate it. I see a divide between the "I" and the "me". I suppose the me being the ego. When I say I saw it, I really mean it. The experience was very vivid and real. It happened over 30 years ago and I still remember it.

 

As far as quoting things - it used to be easier to just quote a portion of a post.  Now I tend to include all of it just because I don't have time to figure it out. Maybe someone else can address that issue that is more computer oriented than myself.

 

Now, I will have to take some time to think about your post. It has been a truly exhausting day at the office. I will get back to you, at least by the weekend, I promise.

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The Observer came up in the Meditation threads a few months back too, and has been a theme in these types of discussions.  It's the aspect of us which transcends personality and ego and exists only in the Moment.

 

I am curious what you would make of J. Krishnamurti's quote "The observer is the observed."

 

I am also thinking about something existing only in the Moment.  That brings in time, doesn't it? Or, is it stopping time, which is a succession of moments to us?

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AlwaysNow wrote a great paragraph in the Meditation thread about the moment.  The relationship between time and the Moment is, mathematically, like taking an equation (time) and dividing by zero (the moment).  Without dividing by zero we can't really describe the moment.  It's the core, the "self" of what we think of as time, the part of the fire that doesn't really exist but which is used to identify the fire as "the fire."

Models of time can take various form, but the moment is always now, as AlwaysNow put it.  Its characteristics are independent of time, much as division by zero can be thought of as independent of mathematics.

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