“Nevertheless, as I have repeatedly emphasized, there is no little man inside the head. In addition, weaker versions don’t take the phenomenology really serious. True, upon your awakening from deep sleep, the conscious experience of selfhood emerges. As I described in the chapter on out-of-body experiences, this may have to do with body image becoming available for self-directed attention. But there is no one doing the waking up, no one behind the scenes pushing the Reboot button, no transcendental technician of subjectivity. Today, the key phrase is “dynamical self-organization.” Strictly speaking, there is no essence within us that stays the same across time, nothing that could not in principle be divided into parts, no substantial self that could exist independently of the body. A “self” in any stronger or metaphysically interesting sense of the word just does not seem to exist. We must face this fact: We are selfless Ego Machines.”
The difficulty in coming to terms with not having a self is that our brain works in a way that makes the self appear. The process by which this occurs just happens to be hidden from consciousness as well. So we don’t get to view the creation of a self. The raw data is not available to our conscious considerations. What is available is a coherent picture. Parts of our brain putting together information that, itself, doesn’t make much sense. Electromagnetic radiation. Edges, movement, specifically oriented lines are all processed independently, but a complete image is all that’s available to consciousness. Same with hearing. Same with touch. Same with temporal information. You brain prevents you from realizing there’s a delay between your finger touching something and the sensational or phenomenological experience. And your brain prevents you from realizing there’s a delay between light reaching your eye and a full image put together and delivered to your consciousness. We feel we live in the Now but we literally can’t process information instantly and can’t exist in the present that we sense. And we can’t make ourselves feel that delay any more than we can make ourselves feel like we don’t have a self. The best solution to survive in the world seems to be to act as if we do live in the Now and do have a self.
How could one possibly describe what it would be like to not have a self? Our language alone makes it nearly impossible to talk about any “one” without implying a “one” we are talking about. At a core level I can say I don’t think there is an “I” that exists, but I can’t think of how to write this sentence about my understanding without repeatedly referring to myself as anything but a self.
It’s like trying to imagine what it will feel like after we die and lose our conscious selves that we so strongly feel we have. How can you describe what it’s like to not have a conscious thinking self? I can say it’s probably a lot like dreamless sleep or being under an anesthetic, but that doesn’t describe much. The problem is it will feel like nothing because we won’t be able to feel it. I can’t imagine my conscious self not existing because I’d need a conscious self to view and experience the lack of experience. In the same way, we can’t talk about not having a self without referring to a self that thinks this way.
As Metzinger says, our self-model is transparent. We cannot see it no matter how hard we try. It is not available to us. Even if we become aware of it, we may not be able to escape it.
Last note on the ivory tower and the dangers of the educated ignoring the general public.
“The current explosion of knowledge in the empirical mind sciences is completely uncontrolled, with the multilevel dynamic of its own, and it speed is increasing. It is also unfolding in the ethical vacuum, driven solely by individual career interests and uninfluenced by political considerations. In the developed countries, it is widening the gap between the academically educated and scientifically well-informed, who are open to the scientific worldview, and those who never even heard of notions such as “the neural correlates of consciousness” or “phenomenal self model.” There are many people who cling to metaphysical belief systems, fearing that their inner Lebenswelt, or life-world, will be colonized by the new mind sciences.”
*if you made it through this post, I applaude you. I’m not sure what I’m getting at, really. Well, I sort of do, but it’s not easy to explain. The quotes in this post are from The Ego Tunnel: The Science Of The Mind and The Myth of the Self. It was difficult for me to get through, but I thought it was great. If you did make it this far, I owe you something. Let me know how to thank you. I’ll read something you recommend or wrote or listen to your favorite band.
Oh and if you can sort out what I actually said then I owe you even more.