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Old 06-04-2010   #1
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Book: Being No One




Just started reading it and have been impressed so far. It looks like the Buddhist's "Cosmic", "God", and "Unity" consciousness states are all well known psychiatric disorders related to one's internal self model - a neural center that simulates and integrates sensory data.

It's not hard to see how these disturbed states could be interpreted in mystical ways and spawn religions as the themes reflect truths about the hidden structure of our minds.

As Cosmic Consciousness is basically the depersonalization disorder described in Ligotti's fiction, this seems like a good place to discuss the book. Has anyone else here read it?

"The failed magician waves his wand, and in an instant the laughter is gone." - Martin Gore
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Old 06-04-2010   #2
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by With Strength I Burn View Post
Russell Nash's criticism was also erudite.
Wow! I have not read this book. Why not? For the same reason I didn't have read Dawkins. I know what Dawkins proposes. I'm against reading a book, when I know that from beginning to end, there is no debate, there is only a conclusion. Metzinger's book, I'm afraid, enters this category of books. A book that is finished even before one begins reading it. If I'm sure? Yes, I am. Metzinger surely proposes that identity, aka "I", aka "ego", aka "soul", aka "anima", aka many more words, does not exist. Therefore, reading his book would be like reading evidence that according to him supports his conclusion. What's the point in reading such book? I wonder whether Metzinger considers "identity" to be equal to "consciousness". Identity might not exist, but consciousness is not identity. Let's assume that he is right, "identity is an illusion", still "I'm conscious of myself", ergo, consciousness and identity are two different worlds. I'm more concerned with this elusive concept of "consciousness" than with a "transient" identity. If identity doesn't exist, so many religious people are going to be unhappy, and angry, but I couldn't care less. I would still enjoy my "identity-free" life as it is. The fact that "I have no soul", or "I do have" one, doesn't change anything while I live. It's only a viewpoint. I could still enjoy my cup of tea. True, it might be a little bit sad to know "for certain", whenever this certainty is proved, that "I" was an illusion. But I grew up. It was a big shock, when I was a kid, to know that spiderman was just a comic, and I'm still here.
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Old 06-23-2010   #3
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by With Strength I Burn View Post
Actually, he's not claiming the "self" doesn't exist.
I recently emailed another member a private message, part of which I'm going to post here,

The first question I ask myself (just by reading the title of the book) is: “If Thomas Metzinger is so convinced of what he claims on his book, Being No One, if he is convinced that the evidence he presents is absolute and definitive, Why is he publishing a second book about the same subject a few years later? More evidence, perhaps? But didn’t his first book have enough evidence already? Or like others before (Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, etc) is he translating hard to understand evidence into laymen terms, and in consequence is, “The Ego Tunnel, Being No One for Idiots”. That being apparently the case posits a very interesting question: Can evidence be reduced in such simple way for idiots to understand it? I’m more inclined to consider that the evidence was not so conclusive. Or either not to think that in those six years that spanned between both books no more evidence has been found or no different theories have been proposed.

If according to Thomas Metzinger, selves do not exist, I wonder why his book is not copyright free, available for everyone to see freely on the internet, or why is even Metzinger getting paid for the book or later in royalties, if he is (as he himself says) no one. I think that in case that someone wants to plagiarize him, he is not going to be happy with this fact, although being no one, and he is going to sue that person, although this other person is also no one. It reminds me of those nihilists (Emile Cioran, for example) that keep living till they are old, although life has no meaning for them. I sorry to disappoint all of them but if life is pointless, Why are you living? Finish with it now. Thomas Metzinger is claiming to be no one, but it looks to me that someone other than no one is getting paid.

The last question I might have is, When was Thomas Metzinger convinced that no self have ever existed. Was it a case of data (evidence) then theory, or first he had a theory and then he looked for the evidence to support precisely his theory? This doesn’t seem to be Science at all. Now we are spending billions of dollars (10 to 12) to find particles that have to exist to support our theories. What would Galileo say about this inversion of scientific method: evidence always precedes theory? For example, Do we have evidence that supports that the Universe is expanding? Yes, the redshift. But, How do we know that redshift is due to this expansion? Faith. Is that all proof we have? Thomas Metzinger proves that Science has become the new religion of mankind. If Metzinger already believed that no selves existed before he started with his studies, then his evidence is biased. How much evidence that doesn’t support his claim is mentioned in his book? There are many articles that seems to contradict his theory on the internet, How many of them are mentioned in his books? I suspect that he is just giving us the evidence that better fits his theory. Is that Science?

Quote Originally Posted by With Strength I Burn View Post
I guess you could criticize his actual representational account of the self (i.g., he sort of presupposes the ontology of representational theory of mind and claims the PSM is an inner representation of the system as a whole). There are many interesting reductionist explanations of the self, but they're all rooted in one main premise: a material basis. Soon, the neural correlates of the self or PSM will be determined.
Dear WSIB, I don't know much about new theories of the mind, I wish Metzinger writes a book a few pages long, that I could easily read. To me, not to be a self doesn't change much in my life.
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Old 06-23-2010   #4
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Re: Book: Being No One

Alberto, your previous post only ensures that you should really look into the book, or at least watch the lecture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mthDxnFXs9k#t=7m00s (skipped the introduction). You clearly do not understand the central Metzinger's claims and refer only to slogans from the back cover.

When Metzinger says that there is no such thing as a self, it is just a kind of a trick. He denies the existence of self as something known from folk psychology - an object or homunculus living in our heads, pulling the strings. He definitely does not deny the fact that our experience is centered, felt as 'our own' or that our personal history influence our future behavior, etc. It's just that our self is a virtual model created by our brains, a process which stops when you go for to sleep for example. And this model is labeled as "me" for very practical reasons. You can't see it as a model, otherwise you would be unable to continue to function (have a look at this -
Cotard_delusion Cotard_delusion
).

Is it really difficult to imagine why there is a considerable resistance to his ideas? They are simply a continuation of a Copernican revolution, which kicks mankind further and further away from the center of the cosmos.
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Old 06-23-2010   #5
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by Tsalal XIII View Post
When Metzinger says that there is no such thing as a self, it is just a kind of a trick. He denies the existence of self as something known from folk psychology - an object or homunculus living in our heads, pulling the strings. He definitely does not deny the fact that our experience is centered, felt as 'our own' or that our personal history influence our future behavior, etc. It's just that our self is a virtual model created by our brains, a process which stops when you go for to sleep for example. And this model is labeled as "me" for very practical reasons.
Yes, I understand that. Since early childhood I assumed that I just existed as a byproduct of my brain. That "I" wasn't nothing (no substance) after all without a brain. Just recently this explanation seems not to be enough.

How does Thomas Metzinger explain memory? Just now, while writing, I’m remembering “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney. I remember the whole song, I do remember Paul’s voice in my head, the sound of his guitar, as I were listening to it on the radio. Assuming that this “memory” is in my brain, How is it stored? Perhaps my brain has an MP3 filter to store this song? Or is it stored in binary terms like the modern CD technology? If my memories are not stored similarly to MP3 filters or CD data, How does it work? Yes, I know we have billions of neurons, and somehow they are interconnected, Does it explain anything? Is that a scientific explanation? Why is it that I remember certain unimportant events in my life, but not events linked to it, that happened just minutes later. Why do we dream? Why 40 % of the people (so they say) through hypnosis can retrieve what is called “past lives” events? Even if they are not past lives, What are they? Certain cases apparently show that memory could be stored in cells, and by transplanting organs, we also transplant memories. Or are memories imprinted in the brain? In the late 80’s, when I was studying engineering, I took a course in a promising new field: neural networks, some kind of programming. Although, with an arrange of sufficiently large array of programming neurons we can remember faces with just a few bits of information, the technique is useless to store other data such as music or video. Or even get information through these neural networks from surveillance videos. Is something missing? Two decades later, this promising field hasn’t explained much. I wonder if this is another case of “get enough evidence to support your claim (and reject evidence that doesn’t)”.
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Old 06-23-2010   #6
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by Russell Nash View Post
Two decades later, this promising field hasn’t explained much. I wonder if this is another case of “get enough evidence to support your claim (and reject evidence that doesn’t)”.
Albert, I see that either voluntarily or by chance you fell into a role of a big denier, which reminds me of a Monty Python sketch -


Actually, neural networks are nowadays commonly used in programming. For a most prominent example, take Google's new web indexing system - Caffeine, which is clearly build on neural networks' principles. Lot's of others to be found here.
This however is totally off topic and I really wouldn't like to continue this discussion in this thread. If you are seriously interested in learning how the memory works, I am sure there's a lot of serious reaserch available.
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Old 06-23-2010   #7
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by Tsalal XIII View Post
Quote Originally Posted by Russell Nash View Post
Two decades later, this promising field hasn’t explained much. I wonder if this is another case of “get enough evidence to support your claim (and reject evidence that doesn’t)”.
Albert, I see that either voluntarily or by chance you fell into a role of a big denier... Actually, neural networks are nowadays commonly used in programming.
I'm an engineer, this article recommended by you Technology Review: Blogs: Guest Blog: Using Neural Networks to Classify Music
explains that a neural network can be trained to music recognition. You think I don't know that?

Basically,

The students used a convolutional network to "learn" features, such as tempo and harmony, from a database of songs that spread across 10 genres. The result was a set of trained neural networks that could correctly identify the genre of a song, which in computer science is considered a very hard problem, with greater than 87 percent accuracy.

My question wasn't whether a neural network can learn patterns, which obviously they can. Has a neural neural network already stored 2Mbytes of music spread across neurons? Could you please tell where I should read that. One thing is pattern recognition, image, music, etc; a different thing is to store data in a neural network. And another different thing is to claim that "our brains" work the way this language programming was written. The fact that neural networks can find patterns, doesn't mean that our brain works the same way. Call this language something else other than neural programming and the similarity with our brains disappears. Our neurons do not work the same way that these other programmable neurons.

Is it off topic? I don't see why. You are after the self, and I'm after the memory that also defines this self. I might be a big denier but you cannot explain how memory is stored in our brains. As I said, Metzinger just collected data that best fits his theory.

By the way, never before in our entire history has Science assume so many suppositions as true.
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Old 06-23-2010   #8
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Re: Book: Being No One

Dear Tsalal XIII (strange name, by the way):

Is it off-topic?

I know someone, l..., who at the age of 12 had an accident. She was playing at a merry-go-round and fell. She hit her head against a bar and lost consciousness. After being taken to hospital, and waking up, l... had forgotten everything she remembered before that accident. She obviously knew how to eat, or talk. But she couldn't remember anything else. She is mother of three nice kids who have absolutely no problem, but l... has migraines that make her take tylenol-3 as normally as if one eats candies (I saw it). I know her, and I was able to ask her family questions about her, and I know the answers. This is a real case, not something that a "big denier" would make up to support lunatic ideas. This is a good example to understand the role of memory.

My question is, according to Metzinger's theory of self, is l... the same self before and after the accident? If his theory is right, based on his assumptions one would be able to predict whether the answer is yes or no. If we can't predict the answer, I wonder if his theory is anything but well educated assumptions. Now, this big denier knows the answer. Does Metzinger know? Does Tsalal XIII know the answer?
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Old 06-23-2010   #9
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Re: Book: Being No One

Quote Originally Posted by Tsalal XIII View Post
You can't see it as a model, otherwise you would be unable to continue to function .
I am reading the precis I got for free from his website.

I do not think I have a full understanding of what he is saying (to say the least).

His comments on lucid dreaming are interesting though and to some extent ring false to me at the moment.

transparency (invisibility) of the nuts and bolts generating the feeling of self is a requirement of the experience (according to the theory). He then says opaque phenomenom occur - which I think means we see exactly that they are generating the self experience - he cites lucid dreaming as an example. I have problems with this as I am not sure we ever do experience the "nuts and bolts" so to speak - even in lucid dreams.

He also says (perhaps addressing my problem above) that the transparency requirement in lucid dreams is fulfilled by the fact the self is still transparent (invisible ) in these dreams ... So effectively the phenomenal self is always fulfilling this requirement for its own existence - you could argue this under any circumstances it seems a complete tautology to me.

I will persevere though.

I would be interested in reading the dialogue in the "Ego tunnel" appendix with Alan Hobson (I looked at the contents), I read his recent Nature Reviews Neuroscience review on dreaming and it had an interesting reference where they got lucid dreamers to signal via eye movement during the dream to correlate brain activity occurring simultaneously. They proposed the brain is active in an intermediate state neither deep sleep nor waking - I thought this was cool.

No local library copies of the "ego tunnel" I have found yet though.
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Old 06-24-2010   #10
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Re: Book: Being No One

Ok, I'll try to answer posts both by Albert and Acutely Decayed.

Quote Originally Posted by Russell Nash View Post
My question is, according to Metzinger's theory of self, is l... the same self before and after the accident?
As far as I understand this theory, a single "self" can never be identical at any two moments in time, simply because there is no such thing as a static self. And I don't mean it just in Heraclitus' sense ("You cannot step twice into the same river.") - self model is a dynamic process, ever changing representation constanlty updated by all accessible input from various subsystems of the brian processing proprioception, vision (senses, generally), emotions, and yes, of course, memory.

Quote Originally Posted by Acutely decayed View Post
His comments on lucid dreaming are interesting though and to some extent ring false to me at the moment.
transparency (invisibility) of the nuts and bolts generating the feeling of self is a requirement of the experience (according to the theory).
Transparency is not invisbility - I admit that for a long time I was confused by the way Metzinger uses this term as well. Fenomenal representation is transparent when it does not contain the informaton that it is a only representation. In other words, things are transparent when you experience them as real, as "being out there". Of course transparency is just a depiction created by our brain. Things can be depicted as real, but can also be depictes as a simulation - as in lucid dreaming or pseudohalucinations, when you realize (not just intelectually - the very quality of your expereince tells you this) that what you experience is actually just a construct.
And so, the self being transparent simply means we cannot experience it as just a construct, a simulation. It does however become opaque at times - as in some deep meditative states, result of hallucinogens, or in some neurological syndromes as
Cotard_delusion Cotard_delusion
. (I also recommend this great essay by Metzinger - http://www.philosophie.uni-mainz.de/...-disorders.pdf).
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