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The Illusion of the Self, An Interview With Bruce Hood
Posted: 22 May 2012 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I’m afraid I have to disagree with Hood’s assessment of human consciousness. He says, “Most of us have an experience of a self. I certainly have one, and I do not doubt that others do as well – an autonomous individual with a coherent identity and sense of free will. But that experience is an illusion – it does not exist independently of the person having the experience . . .”

Here he is entirely missing an important point. It “does not exist independently of the person having the experience” because the experience and the person are one and the same thing. Consciousness is an electro-biochemical process occurring within the brain and entails both experience and the person experiencing that experience.

And, no, I’m not missing what he’s getting at. The thing is, far too much emphasis is given to the observable processes within the brain these days at the expense of the content of those processes, to the extent that many scientist-philosophers in this area can’t see the forest- the process within the working brain- for the trees- the brain itself. What’s really happening here, and what is entirely wrong-headed, in my estimation, is that Hood is giving observable brain function entire precedence over something that’s glaringly obvious- that the process within the brain is where the self resides, and not in the brain itself. Shut off the machine and that consciousness vanishes, obviously, and this is what scientist-philosophers like Hood refer to. However, to do this is to discount the process itself, which is us. The brain is not us. The process within the brain is us.

I do agree that the self is an illusion, but for other reasons. For example, when the technology one day will allow us to plug our brains together, the experience will not be the one predicted in old science-fiction stories, where two conscious entities will confront each other. Rather, the two consciousnesses will become one consciousness, with two sets of memory and experience at their disposal. Consciousness, after all, is a potential of existence itself, and as such, the workings of existence trumps individual everything. It would be like linking two computers, not through a modem or other device, but essentially taking two computers and putting them together as one machine. We do this as a matter of course when upgrading, often from multiple smaller hard-drives to a single very large hard-drive. Many of us feel a misguided sense of empathy to each hard-drive, in the sense that they were the brain of an entity that is about to lose its autonomy.

In other words, it is the autonomy of the conscious mind that is the illusion, not the conscious mind itself. Autonomous or not, its contents are no less relevant.

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Posted: 23 May 2012 12:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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It occurred to me some time after making this post (isn’t that the way?) that clarification is needed on a point or two.

In scientific terms, the electro-biochemical process seething inside the brain is the facilitator of aspects such as consciousness, not the receptacle, vehicle or essence of consciousness itself.

However . . .

In physical terms, where matter is concerned, causality is not so clear-cut. Matter itself is an effect, the underlying cause of which we are only just beginning to understand. This is why the electron winks in and out of existence. There is an underlying process at work, the outward expression of which is this tenuous thing we call “matter”. Matter is not the concrete thing we think it is. It is the effect of complex underlying processes.

Our brains consist of both matter and energy which are tied to these underlying processes, so any attempt to separate the two is glib, in light of the fact that a) we don’t really know what we’re dealing with, and b) that the electro-biochemical process is merely a facilitator of consciousness is an assumption at this point, so that building theories based solely upon brain activity and the brain itself may very well be the constructing of houses of cards, if it turns out that there is more to the story in terms of the role the electro-biochemical process plays where consciousness is concerned.

For example, much has been made of the manner in which brain-damage affects specific functions such as speech, perception, memory, and so on, and to the best of my knowledge, these aspects are always deemed parts of a conscious being. However, one thing that is NEVER discussed is that consciousness itself is never the subject of discussion.

In his book The Act Of Will, Dr Roberto Assagioli rightly pointed out that memory and the senses are things that can be accessed, but that they are not one and the same thing as the point of awareness. He pointed out that this is demonstrable by virtue of the fact that we can study these things, that there is a “viewer and object viewed” relationship between the two.

Further, no one studying the brain sciences at this time can tell you where consciousness resides within the brain. I think the answer to be obvious- that consciousness resides within the brain’s processes, not within the physical brain. A fact for doubters to consider is that we ourselves are as tenuous as self-aware soap-bubbles attempting to ascertain their physical reality. The answer is not as simple as soap, water and air. That IS an answer, but it’s only the starting point.

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Posted: 23 May 2012 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Sam’s interview with Hood is interesting but it seems to me that it’s too early to jump to the types of conclusions mentioned by Hood.  We are indeed baffled at this point and to name-drop a few mystical philosophers as having got it right based on intuition is just dangerously wrong and irrelevant.  I do think neuroscience will get closer to the truth but too many researchers are spewing out books claiming to have the ‘answer.’  If we are so clueless and deceived, how do these few scientist/authors know if they are being deceived by their own research or not?  Why are they not susceptible to the same factors and misdirected?

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Posted: 23 May 2012 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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mormovies - 23 May 2012 08:14 AM

Sam’s interview with Hood is interesting but it seems to me that it’s too early to jump to the types of conclusions mentioned by Hood.  We are indeed baffled at this point and to name-drop a few mystical philosophers as having got it right based on intuition is just dangerously wrong and irrelevant.  I do think neuroscience will get closer to the truth but too many researchers are spewing out books claiming to have the ‘answer.’  If we are so clueless and deceived, how do these few scientist/authors know if they are being deceived by their own research or not?  Why are they not susceptible to the same factors and misdirected?

People on the cutting edge of areas that are fraught with intangibles do have a nasty habit of indulging their “intuition” to the point of straying far off the garden path, taking their disciples along for the ride, and travelling on even further by virtue of all the false credibility their disciples lend them. This is indeed how so many scholars tend to wander off into la-la land.

Examples of this kind of nonsense taken to the extreme are Jung, Jaspers and Freud, who spun their elaborate fantasies utterly without the benefit of anything remotely resembling the scientific method. The 19th and early 20th century philosophers are equally guilty of spinning these elaborate, convoluted constructs that have little or no basis in fact. Many like Freud got away with what amounts to nothing more than their say-so, with the consequence that, even today, Freud clunkers are dropped left and right in certain circles, especially in places like New York where he’s still very popular with the quack “analyst” crowd. They don’t seem to realise that the term “Freudian psychologist” or “Freudian psychiatrist” is an oxymoron.

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Posted: 23 May 2012 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I agree.  We need deep thinkers like Hood and Harris who are usually excellent at interpreting data but they do ‘jump the gun’ often and need to be reigned in by reason occasionally.

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Posted: 23 May 2012 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Tautology and Tabularasa do not coexist. Why does no one consider this “What is the natural state of mind.”? A self is not necessary to function and do not confuse personal traits with having a self.  The notion of self is a powerful one (more synapses) ,and it arises through (thelts) meaning thoughts and feelings. Think of this, we do not have problems because we exist we have problems because there is a self. Here is something I find profound, the problem of “self” arises simultaneously with any effort to understand or control it, in other words the solution is still the disease. If you find this argument to be coherent then it suggest that a solution to our problems lies outside the field of thought.  Observation confirms this, in that our greatest insights can not be explained by the people that have had them

Bill

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Posted: 23 May 2012 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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“the problem of “self” arises simultaneously with any effort to understand or control it, in other words the solution is still the disease. If you find this argument to be coherent then it suggest that a solution to our problems lies outside the field of thought.  Observation confirms this, in that our greatest insights can not be explained by the people that have had them”

Sounds very mystical.  Why is it a ‘problem’ or a ‘disease.’  Name one great insight that can’t be forever explained?

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Posted: 23 May 2012 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Bill Rogan - 23 May 2012 09:52 AM

Tautology and Tabularasa do not coexist. Why does no one consider this “What is the natural state of mind.”? A self is not necessary to function and do not confuse personal traits with having a self.  The notion of self is a powerful one (more synapses) ,and it arises through (thelts) meaning thoughts and feelings. Think of this, we do not have problems because we exist we have problems because there is a self. Here is something I find profound, the problem of “self” arises simultaneously with any effort to understand or control it, in other words the solution is still the disease. If you find this argument to be coherent then it suggest that a solution to our problems lies outside the field of thought.  Observation confirms this, in that our greatest insights can not be explained by the people that have had them

Bill

No offence, Bill, but this is the sort of thing I was referring to- strings of ideas- none of which are verified- being presented as argument. Whole 19th century and early 20th century tomes are literally filled with such stuff.

It’s tabula rasa, by the way, not Tabularasa. It’s the theory that people are born a blank slate- something that was disproved a very long time ago. Tautology, on the other hand, is generally used to mean “repeating oneself”. I’m guessing that what you meant to say was that “self-evidence” and a “blank slate” can’t co-exist.

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Posted: 23 May 2012 08:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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The problem as I see it is we really literally don’t know what we’re talking about. There are huge unanswered questions about everything from matter and time to consciousness and “awareness”. For instance, why should awareness even exist?  Awareness -brain dependent or not - still seems to me to be a thing sui generis and even gratuitous. I can do all manner of calculations without it. This is a real problem we tend to gloss over. Marvin Minsky solves it though- he says that a thermostat- which does a kind of very primitive calculation has also a very primitive type of consciousness. It’s a totally daft idea that I don’t accept even for a second but, hey, it’s an honest answer to an honest problem.


At the other side of the science spectrum we have the persistent and annoying fact that no local phenomena can be completely accounted for using only a local frame of reference (Bell’s Theorem). This doesn’t just imply but actually means that what happens over “here” effects what happens “over there” and I mean ALL the way over there (that is everywhere) instantaneously, that is, faster than the speed of light.  That’s fucked and it has to mean (for my money) that our whole edifice of space and time and causality is just off in some really fundamental way. It’s not a “god in the gaps” argument since I’m not positing anything into the gap, merely observing the gap in our understanding and drawing out its ramifications for all other conceptual frameworks that we use to describe other things , one of those being of course our “selves” which are “here” and not certainly not “everywhere”  and which are not influenced by far flung, random minute phenomena which ever side of the freewill-illusion debate you come down on.


Really, who’s to say we’re even creatures capable of conceiving of reality? Maybe our brains and it are not meant for each other in some fundamental way. You’re completely familiar with this from interacting with animals and the more so the further along the animal kingdom you travel. Explain to a bird how what a nuclear bomb does and how it does it. The two things just not made for each other in a really basic way.


So we’re not possessed of the same type of limitation about eh ultimate nature of reality , including the topic at hand- what we are , why we have a feeling of self and what it’s ultimate existential status is ? Really? I mean, really?  Don’t be too sure…


This always makes me holster my (philosophical) weapon when I hear people speculating in a way I consider to be indulgent. Who knows what’s right and who knows what anyone is “intuiting” and what the ultimate worth of that intuition or apprehension about reality actually is? The truth is, no one does. Proselytizing revealed religions are a horror, a lie and a blight on civilization but that’s an Easy Piece for One Hand. isn’t it?  In a world with more than infinite possibilities , that is more possibilities than humans can even know about, merely enumerating all known falsehoods gets you less than infinitesimally closer to the truth .


Yikes!

[ Edited: 23 May 2012 08:11 PM by softwarevisualization]
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Posted: 24 May 2012 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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I maintain on the most basic level that there is an objective reality and that all living things can perceive some aspect(s) of it, enough to survive and thrive.  The fact that we went back and forth to the moon proves this without a doubt.  That was done via mathematics not chanting or praying.  Yes, we may never understand everything about everything but doesn’t give us license to ‘believe’ that quantum nonsense that Deepak Chopra and more and more so-called scientists are spewing.  Science has existed for less than a blink of an eye, in the big scheme of things, give it time.

[ Edited: 24 May 2012 12:23 PM by mormovies]
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Posted: 26 May 2012 12:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Getting back to the nuts ‘n’ bolts of human consciousness, I’d like to reiterate an important fact: that the location of consciousness within the human brain has yet to be located.
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There are a number of theories, from “we haven’t found it yet”, to the “consciousness resides within the whole brain” theory, to “it is thought to reside in the prefrontal cortex”, to “within the medial temporal lobe” (according to Qui­an Qui­roga and his research team at the Uni­ver­s­ity of Leices­ter in the U.K.), and the hits just keep on coming.
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However, people lacking any of the aforementioned brain-matter are able to function normally. Seemingly forgotten in this discussion is people who suffer from hydrocephalus who has little or no brain matter.
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Here is an article on the subject, to refresh everyone’s memory:
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http://flatrock.org.nz/topics/science/is_the_brain_really_necessary.htm
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This is one of the many reasons I keep coming back to the “field of consciousness” theory, wherein it is thought that consciousness resides in the process, not in the brain-matter. Consciousness is the light when the bulb is on, for example.

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Posted: 26 May 2012 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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The self is an illusion and it can end: Here’s how! Can the mind be quiet? Of course it can. Can the mind be aware that it is quiet? No it can not, because in having that awareness it is no longer quiet. When you see this intellectually you will have an understanding, when the mind is this, that is an insight. I am afraid it is all very simple. It is the self that says there is awareness. Just look at it, for this mind it is quite factual.

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Posted: 26 May 2012 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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An aphorism. How quaint.

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Posted: 26 May 2012 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Bill Rogan - 26 May 2012 05:30 AM

The self is an illusion and it can end: Here’s how! Can the mind be quiet? Of course it can. Can the mind be aware that it is quiet? No it can not, because in having that awareness it is no longer quiet. When you see this intellectually you will have an understanding, when the mind is this, that is an insight. I am afraid it is all very simple. It is the self that says there is awareness. Just look at it, for this mind it is quite factual.

I agree the ego-self is an illusion and it can end, indeed does end in an enlightenment experience it is already absent. However this is not something that we, as personal self can do. All intellectual thinking and all activity and ceasation of mental activity that you can do, does not arrive at the “no-self” experience. However I do agree that you can, in meditation arrive at a place where this experiencing happens, albeit trivially.

It is not enough to say that the self says there is awareness because there is awareness as self and then there is as well as, the awareness of being aware!

softwarevisualization - 31 July 2014 08:53 PM

That’s fucked and it has to mean (for my money) that our whole edifice of space and time and causality is just off in some really fundamental way. It’s not a “god in the gaps” argument since I’m not positing anything into the gap, merely observing the gap in our understanding and drawing out its ramifications for all other conceptual frameworks that we use to describe other things , one of those being of course our “selves” which are “here” and not certainly not “everywhere”  and which are not influenced by far flung, random minute phenomena which ever side of the freewill-illusion debate you come down on.

certainly personal self is experienced as being “in here” and not “everywhere” or “out there” but it can be influenced. Not by far flung, random minute phenomena, but by other personal self/ thoughts. The evidence for that is in ESP. The experiments that are done are all double and triple blinded, which means relationship is taken out of the equation. However within close relationship ESP can be dramatically demonstrated and is independent of any and all spatial considerations, ie a person can under certain conditions be on the other side of the planet and still be able to perceive/ present ideas that can influence, another person with whom they are closely related. Thus can affect or be affected by another’s will an not realize it owing to the medical /neuroscience opinion that says all ideas are generated in your brain.


Thus material reality is not all that there is. There is a lot more to reality that is non-physical and we cannot begin to investigate this with the old scientific paradigm.

Gsmonks - 31 July 2014 08:53 PM

  .....that consciousness resides within the brain’s processes

In my own observations, using insight meditation, I have found that the self is associated with the identify of brain activity and which of course sets forth processes in the body. Thus the self is associated with ideas and the emotional responses (ie bodily responses) and not consciousness as such. However with this erroneous identify it appears that the self has consciousnes or in a sense is lent consciousness. With mystical experience, where awareness is unbroken (ie personal self is gone) there is the realization that awareness is associated with everything in creation. In looking at everything and everyone around it is as if you are looking in the mirror and identifying with the reflection that you see as yourself.

 

 

 

 

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Posted: 26 May 2012 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Okay, we’ve strayed from the world of science to the world of hocus-pocus.
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Meditation may be useful for coping with life, but it’s absolutely useless when it comes to analysis. The term “insight meditation” is an oxymoron.
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This is something I was warning about earlier- strings of ideas, none of which has been tested and verified. The “self” is not “associated with ideas and emotional responses”. The point of awareness that is the self can access these things, but exists independently from them, to the point where brain damage can remove sight, sound, emotion, memory, everything but the self, or the point of awareness.
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To say that “there is the realization that awareness is associated with everything in creation” is nothing more than hyperbole. In scientific term you can theorise that awareness is a facet of existence itself, because that much is demonstrable. But to say that “awareness is associated with everything in creation” is something else entirely. You can’t demonstrate that association.

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Posted: 26 May 2012 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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gsmonks - 26 May 2012 03:00 PM

Okay, we’ve strayed from the world of science to the world of hocus-pocus.
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Meditation may be useful for coping with life, but it’s absolutely useless when it comes to analysis. The term “insight meditation” is an oxymoron.
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This is something I was warning about earlier- strings of ideas, none of which has been tested and verified. The “self” is not “associated with ideas and emotional responses”. The point of awareness that is the self can access these things, but exists independently from them, to the point where brain damage can remove sight, sound, emotion, memory, everything but the self, or the point of awareness.
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To say that “there is the realization that awareness is associated with everything in creation” is nothing more than hyperbole. In scientific term you can theorise that awareness is a facet of existence itself, because that much is demonstrable. But to say that “awareness is associated with everything in creation” is something else entirely. You can’t demonstrate that association.


Firstly you appreciate the world of science, so do I. However I also see limitation in the scientific method that cause me to be cautious. I also see value in other areas too. You can’t prove love and hate etc scientifically. You might be able to examine the biochemistry associated with them but that is not what they are. So the world of hocus pocus as you call it is not hocus pocus. It’s just what you don’t like that you call hocus pocus. And yes I do appreciate that things like organized religion is hocus pocus.


insight meditation is not an oxymoron. It is the use of contemplation or reflection to gain perceptions or insights and maybe cannot be proved directly but can be shown indirectly because you can gain insights about something, within the body or remotely that can be shown to be true. I have used it to examine my body AND used the results to formulate mental prescriptions to make my body well again.. without medical intervention of whatever sort.


You are defining the self as the point of awareness and you can do what scientists do and that is to say “by definition” but that is just an opinion, it doesn’t make it self. There is more to us than the physical and awareness is from a non-physical source. We might call it “higher self” but whatever you call it, it is not the personal or ego-self.

 

[ Edited: 26 May 2012 03:36 PM by kyrani99]
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