The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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.
Mind you, that's just a minor feature of the whole book, but to me, it's pure gold. :)
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