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Friday, June 12, 2009

Consciousness: Is there no such thing as a self?

A friend draws my attention to this musing by Bradlaugh at "Secular Right: Reality & Reason" on Thomas Metzinger's new book, The Ego Tunnel, which I have not yet read. Bradlaugh quotes,
We may no longer be able to regard our own consciousness as a legitimate vehicle for our metaphysical hopes and desires. … Max Weber famously spoke of the “disenchantment of the world,” as rationalization and science led Europe and America into modern industrial society, pushing back religion and all “magical” theories about reality. Now we are witnessing the disenchantment of the self.

One of the many dangers in this process is that if we remove the magic from our image of ourselves, we may also remove it from our image of others. We could become disenchanted with one another …
Hmmm. I get disenchanted with other people all the time, as I assume they do with me. However, I am pretty sure that's not what the philosopher means. Here's Publishers Weekly:
Consciousness, mind, brain, self: the relations among these four entities are explored by German cognitive scientist and theoretical philosopher Metzinger, who argues that, in fact, there is no such thing as a self.
If so, Metzinger seems to be adopting the same strategy as Alva Noe, whom I have read and reviewed, noting,
Noë seems to want to move away from reductive explanations, but not away from the materialism that underlies them. So he ends up with non-reductive explanations that still don’t explain. By the time he ends up arguing that most human language is like dogs barking, he sounds like the people he critiques.
Given that there is no reductive way of understanding consciousness or self, the temptation to deny their existence beckons.

But what, then denies its existence? A self must exist in order to deny itself. I am told that Metzinger makes the intriguing suggestion that consciousness limits what we can experience, which is surely correct because we can only experience by focusing, and focusing excludes far more than it includes.

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