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If I spoke about these ideas in public, they will throw a net over me!,
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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.