At the meeting on October 24 ,2011 of the Neurosciences and the Humanities Workgroup at Kent State University, we discussed Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (2009). These are my notes from the meeting and the ensuing discussion.
“ego machines” (207) “arose from evolution on this planet” “world simulation built around a center” [this material might be useful for my chapter on Philip K. Dick]
ego machines without self
self as process > self stabilization > Asimov’s robots? [more notes on Asimov chapter]
limitation of metaphors > other ways of thinking about self, but cannot ignore the “illusion” that is not an illusion
no one and a self simultaneously
“it is what it is” > is there no way to conceptualize this emergent self-that-is-not-a-self?
“embodied simulation” [connects to the first point above]
this is not strictly a scientific book > ethics and philosophy
argues we should not create an ego machine [this would be useful for my chapter on Richard Powers and Galatea 2.2]
his position is that we should not create suffering. therefore, we should not create an ego machine.
chemical alterations to the brain > effect on society and individual > each consciousness is unique
analytic philosopher, not perspective on neuroscience
Out of body experience, OBE > not much money for research into this, not popular in the sciences as a field of study
humanities to Metzinger serves a middle ground, neutral, not vying for the same funding as other neurosciences
cognitive science > from the molecule on up, think about more fundamental sciences and forces: physics, etc.
is the Ego Tunnel too simple a metaphor for the brain
the brain is a galaxy of machines, more than a single machine [more metaphors]
how does Metzinger account for Freud?
are Metzinger’s models too computer-like or computer metaphor oriented?
does this build on the beginning of the modern era of cognitive science?
a dynamical system does not mean that it is computationalist in origin
are the ways that Metzinger aligns his view with robots and AI?
how does he argue that we should not build AI/ego machines to reduce suffering? Should we not have children any longer? Should we kill everyone to end all suffering?
what about absence of consciousness like going under anesthesia?
David Chalmers > “the hard problem”
the ego is an illusion, not consciousness
the ego is quite an achievement, evolutionarily
separate noise from signal
evolutionary advantage > if you knew that the ego is an illusion, then it doesn’t work > the advantage is based on sustaining the illusion
implications for education
self in process, absence of the self
Stanley Fish > sacrosanct soul that we dare not mess with
the self as entity does not exist, but as a process it does exist
phenomenon that arises from complex processes
every little thing has/can have effect on the self
constantly changing the self > ethical and practical considerations as educators
NYT’s article this past weekend > Israeli psychologist > difficulty changing people’s minds, opinions, paradigms > create enough experiences to transform a person’s opinion or approach
Stanley Fish’s attack on Professor Bracher > “character transplants” > Bracher teaching empathy through literary studies > taboo in the humanities to change opinions, improve character, etc. > Metzinger’s evidence seems to support Bracher’s position
Ego tunnel > narrowing and dark > superstitions on limitations on the self > sinfulness and darkness > resonate with the simple metaphor
suggestive as a metaphor > not the limitation of what it actually is
predictability > patterns and pattern recognition > eyes closed/blinking > blind spot in the center of vision > focus blindspot > compensating for what we do and do not see
prefontal cortex and the visual system > temperature, orientation, etc. > we cannot control our experience of these
computing process model > memory based model, active memory based model, top-down vs. bottom-up
causal reasoning, needed to explain a looped memory that is missing, ego seems to be involved in this
highly skilled readers > do they read words or images/pictures?
cognitive neuroscience, cognitive neuropsychology, etc. > neuroscience
neuroscience and cognitive science are not the same thing, many hard and fast divisions
neuropsychology > broader
cognitive psychology > focused on meaning > is this where the humanities can best engage the neurosciences?
overlap of philosophy and literary modernism
consider Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
discovery of a consciousness
self is not a soul, essential component that predates everything
Woolf also uses metaphor of “tunneling,” but in a different way
tunneled through consciousness to where all the other consciousnesses meet up > opposite kind of solipsism
humanities education > how can anyone say what is good and what is not good? how can any of this lead us to a good kind of consciousness to promote?
proposing states of consciousness > read this and think about that
what is it about humanities departments that we debate/think about ethics? musicians don’t debate ethics of what they do–or do they? they do want to get it “right”
humanities > not do we do philosophy or not, but whether we do it good or badly
produce practical results without scattershot method
how do you get in the tunnel and work within it?
Woolf and the neurosciences > what is it that enabled her to come to her insights? she didn’t read “brain books.” system or genre of the novel > Woolf refelecting back the very system of the novel > the novel itself has something to do with this reflection, introspection
do we want out of the tunnel? doesn’t this predispose that the tunnel is a bad thing? is the tunnel sustainable? should we get out of the tunnel?
reasoning with heuristics > bad probabilistic reasoners
David Chalmers > consciousness is irreducible entity, stop reducing it and figure out what we are going to do with it
ego and consciousness
scientists teaching literature > encroaching on other domains or interdisciplinarity?
issues of criticism, bad neuroscience, neuroscience writing, neuroscientific approaches for next time