14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of science and philosophy that is both profound and 'spiritual'
'Profound' is a much overused word but, with reference to Thomas Metzinger's book, 'The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self', it is wholly appropriate. This is a book that extends far below the surface of things, beyond the external and the superficial, that penetrates to the depth of our being and which touches, as a result, on the very things...
Published on 8 Mar 2011 by C. Collins
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For me, disappointing
I was quite excited to receive this book having read both the reviews and the blurb. After reading it I'm sadly feeling thoroughly mis-sold. I've been mulling over what he says in his book for a few weeks and I can't help but wonder what he is introducing in this book that is radical or even new. Many examples he uses are fairly common choices for authors to use in...
Published on 9 Mar 2011 by Simon D
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of science and philosophy that is both profound and 'spiritual',
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)'Profound' is a much overused word but, with reference to Thomas Metzinger's book, 'The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self', it is wholly appropriate. This is a book that extends far below the surface of things, beyond the external and the superficial, that penetrates to the depth of our being and which touches, as a result, on the very things that many people hold to be the essence of what it is to be 'human'. Metzinger, in fact, does far more than merely touch on such things - he reaches right inside your guts, up to his shoulder and beyond, and roots about as though he's trying to turn you inside out; undoubtedly, many people won't appreciate having many of their most sacred notions challenged in quite this forceful a manner but this book encompasses both the sacred *and* the profane without being, I hasten to add, in the least bit contemptuous of those religious ideas, or mores, that it might appear to render utterly obsolete. If you're fired-up by the idea of discovering just how fantastically, mind-bogglingly, counter-intuitive reality 'really' is - or probably is - then this book is most certainly for you.
Metzinger succeeds, in my opinion, in two key respects: Firstly, in showing why the broad sweep of his own thinking, with regards to the reductionist 'science of mind', is most certainly both reasonable and plausible - given the evidence in front of us - and even quite probable. Secondly, he succeeds, brilliantly, in identifying and clarifying many of the implications, or perceived implications, of that thinking, should it turn out to be, in its essence, correct. For example, Metzinger writes (p.130):
"If one takes the scientific worldview seriously, no such things as goals exist, and there is nobody who selects or specifies an action. There is no process of "selection" at all; all we really have is dynamical self-organization. Moreover, the information-processing taking place in the human brain is not even a rule-based kind of processing. Ultimately, it follows the laws of physics. The brain is best described as a complex system continuously trying to settle into a stable state, generating order out of chaos."
So, whilst some might perceive this book, and the work that went into it, as an act of, quite literally, 'stripping away' our humanity, I suggest that this book is, in fact, a work of deep humanity since it amply exhibits much of what is best and greatest about humanity - superb intellect, tremendous critical thinking, a deep and abiding curiosity and last, but not least, a pervasive sense of empathy, warmth and humor. I, personally, was 'moved' as well as 'awed'; not bad for a work of science and philosophy, written by a mere academic.
Consider also the following (pp.130-131):
"According to the purely physical background assumptions of science, nothing in the universe possesses an inherent value or is a goal in itself; physical objects and processes are all there is. That seems to be the point of the rigorous reductionist approach - and exactly what beings with self-models like ours cannot bring themselves to believe. Of course, there can be goal representations in the brains of biological organisms, but ultimately - if neuroscience is to take its own background assumptions seriously - they refer to nothing."
In addition to the scientific theorizing, such as the above, Thomas Metzinger is clearly very interested in the reality of 'who we are', and is fully cognizant of the fact that reality may be such that "certain types of answers will not only be emotionally disturbing but ultimately impossible to integrate into our conscious self-models." Wrap your head around that, if you are willing and able. Some ideas, such as those under discussion, are (I suggest) difficult for all of us and profoundly (there's that word again) disturbing to many. This is precisely the direction, however, in which cutting edge science of mind seems, inexorably, to be leading us, yet Metzinger takes our questions and fears seriously and is never dismissive nor contemptuous.
Metzinger is both a professional 'scientist' and also a philosopher and, over this rocky terrain, he guides us with a sure hand, first as one and then as the other, to great overall effect. He is equally able when discussing with us both 'how' the world is - e.g. "The evening sky is colorless. The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all. It is just as your physics teacher in high school told you: Out there, in front of your eyes, there is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality." (p.20) - as when discussing with us why it is that we see things the way we do, because "...we were all born as naïve realists [and have] the robust illusion of being directly in touch with the outside world..." (p.44).
There is, of course, much more that I could say about this book, and more quotes that I could provide, but, to summarize, Metzinger builds the case that the 'Ego', and the concomitant sense of 'self', is a construct of the human brain, an outgrowth of the evolutionary process, which enables us to integrate the imagining of an action with the carrying-out of the action itself and he accomplishes this, and so much more, in a way that is lively, engaging, compulsively readable and - above all - humane.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Isn't it about time we started living our lives truthfully?,
This review is from: The EGO Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Hardcover)The self is a myth. Your brain is effectively an onboard computer creating a 'transparent' real time virtual reality of it's environment. Consciousness is the binding of various parallel brain processes. The self is actually the brain's plastic model itself, not an external non-physical entity. There is not doubt that these are big claims. Metzinger is primarily a philosopher but is well versed in neuroscience. Here he discusses the neural correlates of consciousness, out of body experiences, lucid dreaming, empathy and AI to back up his ideas. While he admits that we still do not have all the answers about the human mind, we are certainly well on the way. Whether we like it or not, all the evidence certainly seems to suggest that the mind does indeed emerge from the bottom up not the other way way as human has so long believed.
However, for Metzinger this is only the beginning. He goes further to ask what this apparent truth means to humanity. Taking away some of our most cherished beliefs is potentially dangerous. However, denial is equally ridden with peril; prohibition is doomed to failure. Therefore, we need to rethink our ethics in the face of this consciousness revolution. Would it be morally right to allow people to artificially induce any mental state on demand? What will happen to humanity if the global population were to face the truth about their mortality? He doesn't offer any answers but states that it's about time that we started asking ourselves these questions. The truth isn't going away and we need to be prepared to face it. This is entertaining and deeply thought provoking - essential reading.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force from a master,
This review is from: The EGO Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Hardcover)This is an excellent and penetrating analysis of the self in the light of the latest scientific findings. Not only that, it carries a philosophical resonance that bears comparison with Kant's classic Critique of Pure Reason. Thomas Metzinger wrote a big, heavy book a few years ago called Being No One, which I read dutifully. The ideas were brilliant but the exposition was hard work. I am delighted to find he has enlisted the stylistic help of a couple of English-speaking assistants to make this book a pleasure to read. I have known Thomas since 1997 and met him at several scientific conferences over the years, and I was always impressed by his intellect and his scientific knowledge. Both are in evidence in this book, which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants an authoritative and insightful review of the current status of our knowledge of the self and how our brain helps us sustain one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If I spoke about these ideas in public, they will throw a net over me!,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)I really enjoyed The Ego Tunnel and you can tell that Thomas Metzinger is a highly gifted and very imaginative 'neurophilosopher' (whatever that is). This book is a summary of his magnum opus, Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity, also highly recommended. However, because it is a long summary, the first part of The Ego Tunnel feels somewhat chopped down, like a pamphlet, for the general reader and the final part goes sci fi, with robots, singularities and watered-down Brave New World ethical dilemas that are not a patch on Aldous Huxley's little dialogue at the end of his masterpiece... You can forgive me for loosing interest towards the end then.
Metzinger's copernican revolution in thought (he doesn't compare himself to Copernicus, though he probably thinks he's a later day revolutionary) is predicated on the rubber hand illusion and its cousin, the hyped-up out of body illusion. You can see both illusions on You Tube.
For the uninitiated, both illusion are impressive but if you open any psychology text book, there are pages upon pages of illusions and party tricks, like the picture that looks like a duck and a rabbit at once, or the image that can either be a young lady or an old women. These days, people are putting impressive optical illusions on Facebook all the time and persective illusion have been known for years. So these illusions are well known but no one is going to build an ontology on a party trick, which, if we are honest, is what the rubber hand illusion is. So keep this in mind when reading this still readable book.
Ego Tunnel worth buying because it is up to date on consciousness research and Metzinger is smart and you will benefit from what he says. These are also interviews with his fellow academics that clarify the difficult bits and if you persevere and finish the book, you will benefit from the latest findings in the science of consciousness.
A word of warning. Even though Metzinger is not a naïve realist, he leaves little room for any existence outside of five sense reality, or brain reality, and if you absorbed his Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity, you will probably feel ontologically unhinged because Metzinger is not selling you enlightenment, rather, he is selling you The Matrix! Though Thomas Metzinger is convinced that the rubber hand pointed the way to his 'originality', others have said it better and without the use of rubber.
On page 22, Metzinger talks about the light in Plato's cave and how if we look at Plato's beautiful parable the other way round, then this is how the world is. In Plato's cave there is a fire burning, the fire is representing the eternal forms casting shadows onto the phenomenal world (our world). Metzinger says we should see the fire as neurons firing inside our heads. The fire is projecting the forms out of our head and making the model of reality: the Ego Tunnel. So we have Plato's cave turned inside out, with the brain (neurons) making the world of appearance. The self/world is an illusion!
This isn't an original insight. It is Emmanuel Kant's idea, though rather than talking about chemicals, Kant would talk about the structure of the brain making the phenomenological self model. Indeed, Kant is mentioned only once in the Ego Tunnel, but for another reason, and he is not in the index. Also, Kant's main disciple, Arthur Schopenhauer, talks about the world being a 'representation'. Metzinger uses the representation word several times but he doesn't acknowledge his fellow German guys and he's German too! The plot thickens. Personally, I would love to read Kant and Schopenhauer in the original German and I reckon that instead of being embarrassed by his fellow Teutons, Metzinger should have just said that he was improving on those fellows etc... Which he does beautifully. There is a good essay on the Net that talks about Kant and Metzinger. It is easily Googled.
There is also a You Tube clip of the LSD discoverer, Albert Hoffman, that is worth watching. Hoffman is talking about the brain being a receiver of outside signals, like a television, and that there can be no object without a subject and so the world is not 'outside', but a representation in the head. Metzinger also uses the television example. This is a very interesting avenue to look into. Also, the book The User Illusion is a classic and because it is written by a science journalist, is a hundred times more readable than the Ego Tunnel and so that is worth buying too.
I only mentioned Hoffman because you can tell that Thomas Metzinger is straining to talk about psychedelics but he just can't bring himself to do it, which is funny, and so he writes that a 'psychonaut' is a person who has lucid dreams (the word, psychonaut, was invented by another German, Ernst Junger and it meant psychonaut to be a guy flying on LSD!!). This isn't a problem though and I guess there is a career and position to think about.
One last moan. On the subject of mind-warping chemicals; chemicals that confuse the subjects 'ownership' of his or her body and making her thing that she is a coffee jar or, say, a teapot, (which is what the rubber-hand experiment is all about), there is a drug that does exactly the thing Metzinger and his friends are writing about. It's a drug extracted from the mint plant, Salvia Divinorun. It is a shame that this isn't mentioned when it obviously fits into Metzinger's Ego Tunnel idea handsomely. Instead of taboo chemicals, Thomas Metzinger sticks to out of body experiencers and lucid dreamers.
Overall, this is a startling and very imaginative introduction to consciousness and a fantastic critique of naïve realism. The critique of realism is one of the best I have come across. Highly recommended.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For me, disappointing,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)I was quite excited to receive this book having read both the reviews and the blurb. After reading it I'm sadly feeling thoroughly mis-sold. I've been mulling over what he says in his book for a few weeks and I can't help but wonder what he is introducing in this book that is radical or even new. Many examples he uses are fairly common choices for authors to use in popular neuroscience and consciousness publications. Many of conclusions drawn from these example are subject to pretty serious debate and questioning in the field at present, but I was unable to find any discussion in this book that acknowledges this might be the case.
As a result I think that he, unfortunately, closes down his inquiry almost immediately by sticking to a very narrow set of what he suggests are 'truths' we know about the brain/mind and which he suggests have been proven in neuroscience (although he does briefly acknowledge, but I feel brushes over, that in terms of studying brain, mind and consciousness we're still in the middle ages). I found this unfortunate because the foundation he uses to support his position therefore seems to me to be on very shaky ground and I can't help but wonder how scientific his initial conclusions really are. There is no doubt that neuroscience is taking us forwards in leaps and bounds in some areas of the study of our brains, consciousness, minds and cognition but in my view, some of the conclusion drawn from these studies are the result of mere induction.
With regards to his exploration of the experience of consciousness, the ego, and indeed lucid dreaming and empathy, it is certainly refreshing to see it presented in the way it is in, essentially, a neuroscience book. However, I cannot help but feel disappointed by the apparent lack of methodology used by him to explore these phenomena rigorously. There are many undeclared presuppositions about the quality of experience and the validity of first and third person reports. As a result I feel that he has lost the rich and deep texture of our consciousness experience, making it rather monotone. To study first and third person experience, I think one really needs to employ a formal methodology of data collection, analysis and validation, which he does not seem to do. To me that undermines his message and makes it lack a certain quality.
Regarding the way in which both our ego and states of consciousness can be manipulated; this is something that has been known about and studied for some time now (I don't mean to be glib, but millennia) and the ethics surrounding this are also in constant debate and consideration, particularly in the wider field of psychology.
Therefore, with regret, I have to admit that I'm left very uninspired and struggling to find what this book actually gave me. Perhaps there is something I have misunderstood, but I don't feel that this book goes anywhere new, nor does it represent a frontier of consciousness studies.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consciousness explored,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)Brilliant minds have laboured long and hard over the last two to three decades to arrive at the point where we have been able to plausibly deconstruct consciousness as an illusion. By this I mean not just dismiss it as an inconvenience as the behaviourists did, but to bite the bullet, square the circle and while acknowledging the overwhelmingly convincing character of subjective experience, accept that objectively nothing more was or could be going on than massively parallel signalling through the cross section of a neuronal network. Dennett's Consciousness Explained was arguably the manifesto for this position, giving philosophers and the interested public a vocabulary and set of metaphors with which to get to grips with this idea and its consequences. Dennett's arguments have since become integral to the framework of the consciousness debate . Where Metzinger takes us that, as far as I can tell, is new, is that by a careful analysis of the structure of consciousness, as experienced from the inside, he is able to build a picture of how such an illusion might arise at a new level of detail. Such phenomenological introspection has been taboo more or less since the time of William James, at the start of the last century, but with the arrival of the fMRI age, the time would seem ripe for a reinstatement of this venerable tradition. Metzinger is thus able to derive, or rather reverse engineer, a 'software' architecture in which a representation of the bodily state of the subject is embedded within a representation of its environmental state. However, both representations are virtual simulations, and both are part of the same piece of software. Thus he succeeds in describing, to what I believe is a new level of detail, what consciousness IS.
What he hasn't done, and what I suspect no one can as yet, is tell us HOW the illusion of subjectivity actually emerges within that software architecture. After all, computer games exist which are essentially programs that model a virtual environment and, in certain modes, are able to generate the illusion of virtual players embedded within that environment, yet we have no reason to ascribe consciousness to such virtual players.
The second, HOW, part of the puzzle, I suspect, will come down to the low level connectionist architecture by which the representations in the higher level model are connected. The best description of this of which I am aware is that of Edelman and Tononi in their Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, and in particular Tononi's mathematical modelling of information integration in connectionist networks, as found in Chapter 22 of The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. In fact it is my belief, as a humble lay reader with no other qualification than having been reading about this stuff for a couple of decades, that Metzinger + Tononi = at last, a foundation from which to construct a genuine model of consciousness. Any further progress beyond that, I believe, will have to wait for the emergence of a new empirical discipline; that of self organisation in hierarchical connectionist networks, that being after all, what brains actually are.
Having been convinced by this lucid and approachable little book that Metzinger has something genuinely new to bring to the debate, I've just placed my order for his grown up `for philosophers' book Being No One, which I gather has a rather formidable reputation.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy of Neuroscience for the Everyman,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)Towards the end of the book the author admits that he is a philosophical parasite and that he feels indebted to the public for having used their funds,and is therefore attempting to make amends by elucidating the most current theories in consciousness research.I would say he has redeemed himself fully by producing a clear and not too technical book that is readable and informative and enhances the understanding of what it means to experience consciousness,how it evolved and where it is going.
4.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener for anyone interested in consciousness,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)Thomas Metzinger obviously is one of those few people who can explain and describe complex topics in clear speech, making it all seem easy to understand. Remarkable to notice how he succeeds to mobilize many topics to illustrate and verify his philosophical propositions. I finally understand I am no one, and why this is the case ;)
I recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in consciousness studies.
4.0 out of 5 stars The myth of Thomas,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Kindle Edition)I remember reading a review of this or perhaps "being no one" in New Scientist" in which the reviewer complained that he merely offered hard won scientific ideas and data in a heroic introspective authorial philosophical format:. I was impressed by the reviewers' scientific veracity and intolerance toward such introspective musing. Now I've read this great short book I disagree; I can that metzinger's project is to transpose cognitive science into philosophical discourse. Science won't dispel wooly philosophy by keeping its ideas to itself, metzinger's wants the ideas in cognitive science to begin to redefine thinking itself and the place to start, for him, being a philosopher by 'trade', is in philosophical discourse. I think it's a great place to start and I'll be reading "being no one" next...
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Being a virtual self inside a virtual reality,
This review is from: The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (Paperback)According to Thomas Metzinger, we live in a sort of virtual reality. Everything that we experience is ''a virtual self in a virtual reality''......
Our brains are effectively onboard computers creating a ''transparent'' real time virtual reality of it's environment... In Metzingers words: ''Our brains create a world simulation, so perfect that we do not recognize it as an image in our minds.''
The colors of the setting sun is not a property of the evening sky. It is a property of the internal model for the evening sky, a model created by the brain.
And it gets worse:
We are not even in direct contact with our own bodies...What we feel is an illusion....not reality, but virtual reality. Strictly speaking, and on the level of conscious experience alone, you live live in a virtual body and not in a real one...
And certainly, in the future, understanding our minds in this light might lead to whole new experiences:
Metzingers envisions a future where people goes a little further with technology that just playing video games and experiment with virtual reality for fun.
Indeed, some might use new technology to explore the universe of altered states of consciousness in a quest for meaning. E.g. Have their temporal lobes ticled by
advanced technology, leadning to all sorts of new experiences.
Exciting times ahead !
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The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger (Paperback - 9 Sep 2010)
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