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The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (2009)

by Thomas Metzinger

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465953,651 (3.79)4
We're used to thinking about the self as an independent entity, something that we either have or are. In The Ego Tunnel, philosopher Thomas Metzinger claims otherwise: No such thing as a self exists. The conscious self is the content of a model created by our brain--an internal image, but one we cannot experience as an image. Everything we experience is "a virtual self in a virtual reality." But if the self is not "real," why and how did it evolve? How does the brain construct it? Do we still have souls, free will, personal autonomy, or moral accountability? In a time when the science of cognition is becoming as controversial as evolution, The Ego Tunnel provides a stunningly original take on the mystery of the mind.… (more)
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What is it with philosophers? Nine times out of ten it’s not their ideas (once you’ve understood what those actually are) which are hard, it’s the language they’re “explained” in.
    The Ego Tunnel is a good example. It’s about the nature of consciousness—“tunnel” being its central metaphor, based on the “reality tunnel” concept of virtual-reality research—and Metzinger first gives us his model of consciousness, contrasting the cut-down picture of the world each of us has inside our head with the actual world outside it. He discusses some of the features of this “tunnel”; he takes a closer look at what some of the brain’s more peculiar quirks, such as “out-of-body” experiences and lucid dreaming, might be telling us; then at empathy and social cognition; and, finally, he considers some of the ethical dilemmas posed by both the creation of artificial consciousness and the alteration and/or enhancement of our own
    Fair enough, and some of the book’s ideas are interesting too. But unfortunately, its author being a philosopher, one of its most impressive features is the sheer silliness of some of the half-strangulated language used. Other parts are so woolly it’s like flying through dense fog. Why do philosophers do this? Are they sadists who enjoy dangling juicy ideas forever just out of reach? Or is it an ever-present anxiety that what they’re saying is actually utter nonsense?
    Just to emphasise: I’m not giving this a one-star rating for its content (other reviewers have given it a three, four or five, and I might have done myself if it were written in plain English); my rating is for its unreadability. It’s time professional philosophers hired professional authors to write their books. ( )
  justlurking | Feb 9, 2023 |
Excellent book. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in what consciousness is. ( )
  Drunken-Otter | Aug 20, 2021 |
Becomes surprisingly preachy in the last chapters but it's thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
I have a psychology background, so I am deeply interested in neuroscience and AI research. I've even read Metzinger several times in the past, ranking him up there with Dennet and also a number of bleeding edge modern philosophers. :)

So I had to read this DESPITE that HORRIBLE TITLE. Ego Tunnel? Seriously? I mean, sure, he explains it as the outward connection after we've formulated our internal modality of consciousness, but STILL... EGO TUNNEL?

Enough bitching. And no crude jokes, please. This book is actually some pretty awesome philosophy, metaphysics, and neuroscience. He asks the big questions.

Such as, what is consciousness when it's being ignored by neuroscience or being butchered by quacks?

No laughter. He takes it seriously and it's well worth the effort to ask. We've all been asking it on one level or another, but everyone agrees: consciousness cannot and will not be reducible. No simple explanation will take away the quantity or the quality of anyone's experience. We all recognize our being conscious as highly subjective and reproducible. That's not an issue.

But what is an issue is HOW consciousness is formed. This is important for not only AI research or our damaged selves or any number of psychological needs-based therapy... but because of the fact of knowing causes a qualitative and quantifiable dimension to the nature of what we are. And from there, we have a lot more tools in our toolbox.

The book is a lot denser than I can give good treatment for a review, but let me explain some of my most exciting discoveries.

We are what we say we are. And by "say" I mean unconscious and conscious self-references. If we lose a leg, we might have a phantom limb, but we work around it because we have included our "body" in our reference frame. When we drive and get good at it, we often just "feel" if we'll make a tight parking space because we've included the car in our reference frame. It is our new "body". Pick up a baseball bat or a sword and make it an extension of you. Video games. You become your avatars if you're doing it right.

It is a meta-understanding of your surroundings that is infinitely adjustable. Reality itself is just a shadow, of course, in both physics and in the Platonic ideal, but our conscious and unconscious restructuring of our "body" field gives us better and better understanding of our surroundings. Connecting with other people with meta-narratives, models, modes, is an effort in sidestepping "reality" in order to fit the two models and narratives together. Hence... the tunnel. :)

Cool, right? Next comes the experiments and confirmation, but so much of this feels intuitively RIGHT.

We make up a meta-structure of reality inside our own heads, make our own body, and see if it conforms with everyone else's. The nature of Consciousness is just the self-awareness that springs up from having told a story and seeing whether it works with the observations or whether it needs to be thrown out.

So cool.

Mind you, that's just a minor feature of the whole book, but to me, it's pure gold. :)

( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Dieses Buch hab ich gedanklich in zu viele Einzelteile zerlegt, um zu wissen, wie es mir gefällt, Lesekreis ftw. – Spannend wird es im letzten Drittel. Neue Ideen konnte es mir immer wieder bieten. Und so. Recht lesenswert, denk ich wohl. [Elaborierte Meinungen zu Büchern auch ftw.] ( )
  kthxy | May 6, 2016 |
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To Anja and my family
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In this book, I will try to convince you that there is no such thing as a self.
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Consciousness is the appearance of a world.
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We're used to thinking about the self as an independent entity, something that we either have or are. In The Ego Tunnel, philosopher Thomas Metzinger claims otherwise: No such thing as a self exists. The conscious self is the content of a model created by our brain--an internal image, but one we cannot experience as an image. Everything we experience is "a virtual self in a virtual reality." But if the self is not "real," why and how did it evolve? How does the brain construct it? Do we still have souls, free will, personal autonomy, or moral accountability? In a time when the science of cognition is becoming as controversial as evolution, The Ego Tunnel provides a stunningly original take on the mystery of the mind.

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