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Consciousness and the Illusion of the Self

 
JayPerna007
 
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JayPerna007
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12 July 2017 21:25
 

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

 
burt
 
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burt
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12 July 2017 22:39
 
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

Read the essay On Having No Head.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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13 July 2017 18:23
 
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

I think you’re right. Even if the “self” is an illusion, it’s necessary for consciousness to occur. Where the definition of consciousness to which I’m referring is, at the risk of oversimplifying, the process by which human beings construct a model of reality in their imagination. This model of reality, which can only be constructed from the perspective of the model of “self,” is the only thing of which we’re aware. Without the illusion/model of self, there can be no illusion/model of reality; hence no awareness. If you ever did transcend the illusion of self, you would be unaware of having done so.

If you’re aware of having achieved nirvana, then what you’ve actually achieved is the illusion of transcending the illusion of self.

 
 
Poldano
 
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Poldano
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13 July 2017 20:12
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 06:23 PM
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

I think you’re right. Even if the “self” is an illusion, it’s necessary for consciousness to occur. Where the definition of consciousness to which I’m referring is, at the risk of oversimplifying, the process by which human beings construct a model of reality in their imagination. This model of reality, which can only be constructed from the perspective of the model of “self,” is the only thing of which we’re aware. Without the illusion/model of self, there can be no illusion/model of reality; hence no awareness. If you ever did transcend the illusion of self, you would be unaware of having done so.

If you’re aware of having achieved nirvana, then what you’ve actually achieved is the illusion of transcending the illusion of self.

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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13 July 2017 20:40
 
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 06:23 PM
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

I think you’re right. Even if the “self” is an illusion, it’s necessary for consciousness to occur. Where the definition of consciousness to which I’m referring is, at the risk of oversimplifying, the process by which human beings construct a model of reality in their imagination. This model of reality, which can only be constructed from the perspective of the model of “self,” is the only thing of which we’re aware. Without the illusion/model of self, there can be no illusion/model of reality; hence no awareness. If you ever did transcend the illusion of self, you would be unaware of having done so.

If you’re aware of having achieved nirvana, then what you’ve actually achieved is the illusion of transcending the illusion of self.

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Not a “necessity” unless you consider consciousness necessary—just another useful illusion like free will, life has meaning or purpose, anyone can grow up to be president (although maybe Trump proved that’s not an illusion after all), all men are created equal, God, Santa Claus, etc.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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13 July 2017 21:18
 
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 06:23 PM
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

I think you’re right. Even if the “self” is an illusion, it’s necessary for consciousness to occur. Where the definition of consciousness to which I’m referring is, at the risk of oversimplifying, the process by which human beings construct a model of reality in their imagination. This model of reality, which can only be constructed from the perspective of the model of “self,” is the only thing of which we’re aware. Without the illusion/model of self, there can be no illusion/model of reality; hence no awareness. If you ever did transcend the illusion of self, you would be unaware of having done so.

If you’re aware of having achieved nirvana, then what you’ve actually achieved is the illusion of transcending the illusion of self.

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Suggest getting a copy of the book Reality by Peter Kingsley.

 
Poldano
 
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Poldano
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15 July 2017 01:54
 
burt - 13 July 2017 09:18 PM
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM

...

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Suggest getting a copy of the book Reality by Peter Kingsley.

Been there, done that, on your prior advice. I was attempting humor, and I guess I didn’t succeed.

 
 
Poldano
 
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Poldano
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15 July 2017 02:17
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 08:40 PM
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM

...

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Not a “necessity” unless you consider consciousness necessary—just another useful illusion like free will, life has meaning or purpose, anyone can grow up to be president (although maybe Trump proved that’s not an illusion after all), all men are created equal, God, Santa Claus, etc.

I was attempting to poke fun, forgive my ineptitude. I largely agree with you, but I’m going to turn what you said on its head.

Necessity is contingent upon an agenda, set of priorities, preference, etc. By that view, even physical reality is not necessary in and of itself, it just happens to be. “I”, meaning localized experience, necessitates interaction with that which is outside of local experience for its continuation. The necessity is present even when there is no self-concept or consciousness as we understand it within a local experience. In other words, the existence of any experience whatsoever necessitates the existence of something that is beyond that experience. That’s my speculation, anyway. It is one way of stating anti-solipsism.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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15 July 2017 09:56
 
Poldano - 15 July 2017 02:17 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 08:40 PM
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM

...

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Not a “necessity” unless you consider consciousness necessary—just another useful illusion like free will, life has meaning or purpose, anyone can grow up to be president (although maybe Trump proved that’s not an illusion after all), all men are created equal, God, Santa Claus, etc.

I was attempting to poke fun, forgive my ineptitude. I largely agree with you, but I’m going to turn what you said on its head.

Necessity is contingent upon an agenda, set of priorities, preference, etc. By that view, even physical reality is not necessary in and of itself, it just happens to be. “I”, meaning localized experience, necessitates interaction with that which is outside of local experience for its continuation. The necessity is present even when there is no self-concept or consciousness as we understand it within a local experience. In other words, the existence of any experience whatsoever necessitates the existence of something that is beyond that experience. That’s my speculation, anyway. It is one way of stating anti-solipsism.

That’s like the ancient skeptical argument against the possibility of complete self knowledge: the self that knows must be outside the self that is known (shades of Zeno).

 
Poldano
 
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Poldano
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15 July 2017 18:12
 
burt - 15 July 2017 09:56 AM
Poldano - 15 July 2017 02:17 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 08:40 PM
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM

...

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Not a “necessity” unless you consider consciousness necessary—just another useful illusion like free will, life has meaning or purpose, anyone can grow up to be president (although maybe Trump proved that’s not an illusion after all), all men are created equal, God, Santa Claus, etc.

I was attempting to poke fun, forgive my ineptitude. I largely agree with you, but I’m going to turn what you said on its head.

Necessity is contingent upon an agenda, set of priorities, preference, etc. By that view, even physical reality is not necessary in and of itself, it just happens to be. “I”, meaning localized experience, necessitates interaction with that which is outside of local experience for its continuation. The necessity is present even when there is no self-concept or consciousness as we understand it within a local experience. In other words, the existence of any experience whatsoever necessitates the existence of something that is beyond that experience. That’s my speculation, anyway. It is one way of stating anti-solipsism.

That’s like the ancient skeptical argument against the possibility of complete self knowledge: the self that knows must be outside the self that is known (shades of Zeno).

I think so too, although there may be some hair-splitting over details, such as exactly what “outside” entails.

If self is an illusion, then it cannot be identical to that which knows, although it can refer to that which knows and even characterize that which knows in terms of other illusions.

 
 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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16 July 2017 16:50
 

I am not an expert in Buddhism and my understanding of Buddhism comes largely from what would be considered pop treatments of the subject but I think there might be some confusion about the notion of the “illusion of the self.” If I walk into a room and I think I see a snake there are a few possibilities. There might really be a snake there, there might be something that just looks like a snake, or there might be just empty space. In the latter two cases we would say the snake is an illusion but what we would mean would be slightly different in the two cases.

In the first case we would mean something like, I saw the object (rope say) for what it truly was and no longer viewed it as a snake. In the second case we would mean something like, I suddenly realized that there was nothing there at all. When Buddhists talk about seeing through the illusion of the self I think their meaning is closer to the first case. It is not that we suddenly realize there was nothing there at all which, in the case of the self, would be equivalent to annihilation.

Rather, we see that the self is really something different than what we took it to be. Saying “we could not operate in the world or be aware at all if we did not have a model of the self” is not the same as saying “we could not operate in the world or be aware at all if we did not take the self to be something it is not.” I think only the latter statement would fall under the “necessary illusion” category. In the first case, it is possible to see the self as what it truly is while correcting the illusion of what we took it to be.

Someone who knows more about Buddhism than I could probably correct me or fill in the details a bit but my understanding is that Buddhism does not deny that the self exists at all. They simply point out that our usual mode of understanding the self is based on the notion of an unchanging core of self-identity that we feel we need to protect. and no such core identity exists. Seeing through the illusion of the self is not a sudden realization that we have never been conscious or self-aware or there is no such thing as first-person experience. I think it is more about an existential realization that the energy and effort we spend trying to convince ourselves that we have such a core identity is wasted effort.

We are already spending a great deal of energy telling ourselves, and trying to trick ourselves, into thinking we are something we are not. Seeing through the illusion of the self is nothing more than putting a stop to that effort. It is not a sudden realization that we are nothing but empty space even though we have to go on thinking we are something more than empty space.

[ Edited: 16 July 2017 16:53 by no_profundia]
 
 
Ground
 
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Ground
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16 July 2017 21:52
 
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion.

It is not an illusion but ‘like an illusion’, i.e. the self exists but does not truly exist.

JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention?

‘Paying attention’ is a factor of consciousness itself.

JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved?

There are two different uses of ‘self’. the 1st is the ‘self’ of persons that is felt by every conscious individual and appears like an illusion and the 2nd use of ‘self’ is to indicate a reference of an object to itself and not to another object. “self-aware” is the 2nd use.

JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism?

Of course. ‘Existence’ from the outset means only ‘conventional existence’.

JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

There are different approaches to the ultimate mode of existence of self. I only rely on rational analysis as expounded in prasangika madhyamaka philosophy. you seem to be following the theravada approach which is different.

 
burt
 
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burt
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16 July 2017 22:11
 
Poldano - 15 July 2017 06:12 PM
burt - 15 July 2017 09:56 AM
Poldano - 15 July 2017 02:17 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 July 2017 08:40 PM
Poldano - 13 July 2017 08:12 PM

...

[sarcasm]

Great. Now even confirmed skeptics are believing in the necessity of an illusion. This notion once coincided with the onset of a deep depression for me.

[/sarcasm]

wink

Not a “necessity” unless you consider consciousness necessary—just another useful illusion like free will, life has meaning or purpose, anyone can grow up to be president (although maybe Trump proved that’s not an illusion after all), all men are created equal, God, Santa Claus, etc.

I was attempting to poke fun, forgive my ineptitude. I largely agree with you, but I’m going to turn what you said on its head.

Necessity is contingent upon an agenda, set of priorities, preference, etc. By that view, even physical reality is not necessary in and of itself, it just happens to be. “I”, meaning localized experience, necessitates interaction with that which is outside of local experience for its continuation. The necessity is present even when there is no self-concept or consciousness as we understand it within a local experience. In other words, the existence of any experience whatsoever necessitates the existence of something that is beyond that experience. That’s my speculation, anyway. It is one way of stating anti-solipsism.

That’s like the ancient skeptical argument against the possibility of complete self knowledge: the self that knows must be outside the self that is known (shades of Zeno).

I think so too, although there may be some hair-splitting over details, such as exactly what “outside” entails.

If self is an illusion, then it cannot be identical to that which knows, although it can refer to that which knows and even characterize that which knows in terms of other illusions.

I looked inside and saw a multitude
And each and every one demanding food.
Where’s the Unity,
The One truly Me
In all this swirling, madly hungry brood?

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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17 July 2017 08:58
 
JayPerna007 - 12 July 2017 09:25 PM

As a regular Vipassana meditator, I have consistently struggled with the idea of the sense of self being an illusion. I can really sense the impersonal and impermanent nature of my body and my experiences and sensations, but the place I get stuck is when I contemplate on consciousness and awareness. What is consciousness without something or someone paying attention? How can something or someone be “self-aware” without any “self” involved? In mindfulness teachings, we are told that we only have control over how we relate to experience, aka our awareness. Can the concept of consciousness coexist with the selfless nature of the universe discussed in Buddhism? Somewhere I am getting either vocabulary confused or just a lack of information. I haven’t had any profound sense of self disillusionment in my meditation practice. Maybe that is the missing piece. Hopefully, this leads to an interesting conversation.

I’ve always struggled with the term ‘illusion’ in this context. If we are laboring under an illusion then there must be some genuine article… and since that article is human subjectivity itself it must be available.

Instead of an illusion I’d rather say that the self is one organizing narrative among many for the ground of human perception. I don’t know how one would begin to objectively quantify these things.

My personal experience doesn’t strongly affirm a self… I feel like I move through a collection of discrete perspectives on any given circumstance. The nominal ‘I’ is an artifact of language rather than some essential qualia. I can often modulate my qualitative investment in a given circumstance deliberately…. is this psychotic? I don’t know.

Point is, I feel like any method we use to organize our attention is just a choice. I don’t know to evaluate the options except to say that something resonates with me personally or it does not.

Do you feel there is a strong case for naming one thing an illusion and another thing the counterpart of illusion? I don’t know.

 

 
Ground
 
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18 July 2017 01:16
 
Brick Bungalow - 17 July 2017 08:58 AM

Do you feel there is a strong case for naming one thing an illusion and another thing the counterpart of illusion? I don’t know.

The illusion is that ‘thinginess’ due to reification. But then to say or feel it to be true that this is an illusion is exactly another case of reification, i.e. reification of this realization. That is why it is said that all things are empty [of true existence] and that this emptiness itself is empty [of true existence]. But that actually is just an abbreviated expression of what actually amounts to an infinite regress.

 
burt
 
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burt
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18 July 2017 07:38
 
Ground - 18 July 2017 01:16 AM
Brick Bungalow - 17 July 2017 08:58 AM

Do you feel there is a strong case for naming one thing an illusion and another thing the counterpart of illusion? I don’t know.

The illusion is that ‘thinginess’ due to reification. But then to say or feel it to be true that this is an illusion is exactly another case of reification, i.e. reification of this realization. That is why it is said that all things are empty [of true existence] and that this emptiness itself is empty [of true existence]. But that actually is just an abbreviated expression of what actually amounts to an infinite regress.

One of the resolutions of the Achilles paradox is that with each step Achilles takes he becomes more tenuous so that at the point where he would catch the tortoise he has also vanished.

 
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