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Metzinger's Phenomenal Self

  1. Apr 29, 2006 #1


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    Over at the PSYCHE online journal they are having a discussion of Metzinger's theory of phenomenal consciousness and selfhood. Here is a link to his precis of this theory:


    I am going to copy a couple of paragraphs from this precis to indicate its radical, and to me persuasive, content. Here they are:

    Last edited: Apr 29, 2006
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  3. Apr 30, 2006 #2

    Les Sleeth

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    That's pretty close to what the Buddha taught about the how people typically relate to as and see their "self."

    But here we have the statement of a person who simply doesn't know his "true" self. Do you conclude there is no ocean if you have always lived in the desert, and refuse to go look to see if there is an ocean? Or, if someone tells you that to see the ocean look south, but you insist on looking north . . . should you conclude you've "looked," seen nothing, and therefore there is no ocean?

    If Metzinger only looks at what the Buddha called the "acquired self," he will only find PSM; if he learns how to become intimate with the part that resides behind all that composite stuff he will find the enduring thing.

    Recently I had an event shook my being to the core. I can't elaborate but the event was a couple of years coming, and then the day it occurred it got to me so bad I was emotionally torn up. Alone at night after the event, I started sobbing uncontrollably, I'm sure my system was purging since after a couple of hours of that I felt better. But while it went on something interesting was part of it, and that was the part that I connect with in meditation. It was watching my body, emotions and mind . . . the "composite self" . . . go through all that angst, and just sat there perfectly fine waiting for it to pass. Once when I was in a car wreck that happened too, where I just sort of joined with that still thing through it all.

    I realize anecdotal evidence doesn't prove anything, but as I've argued many times, I don't think there ever will be evidence of it that can be grasped using empirical epistemology precisely because it is "one" and not composite. Science can get at things that have parts, but something that is one doesn't lend itself to reductionist or intellectual understanding.

    So I say all Metzinger is doing is looking at what he can. But since he lacks the skill needed to know his own essential being, he is absent facts and therefore his theory is flawed.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2006
  4. Apr 30, 2006 #3
    Thank you for the reference to Metzinger's paper, selfAdjoint. I am always interested in new ideas concerning consciousness and the self.
    This is exactly what those of us who doubt that consciousness can emerge from matter are waiting to hear. We want someone to say precisely what properties will give rise to consciousness.
    As I read Metzinger's proposal, I was simultaneously doing a thought experiment. I was imagining how I would program a computerized robot according to his specifications so that the end result would be conscious. After reading the descriptions of these three constraints, it was clear to me that any competent programmer would have no trouble implementing these in a computer program. In fact, they are all quite easy. The first is a simple matter of programming (SMOP), the second comes almost for free by virtue of the Von Neumann architecture used by most digital computers, and the third is another SMOP.
    Yes! That is exactly the question. I'm on the edge of my chair.
    This is hardly persuasive. By concealing some of the information in the computer from the putative conscious, or "subjective experience", function, it isn't clear at all how that will cause awareness to suddenly dawn on the machine.
    The computer program can clearly and easily have an area of memory designated to contain the contents of whatever information is desired to be representative of the portion of the world known at the moment of now, but this will hardly cause the experience of the moment to be anything close to what conscious humans experience. Since the rest of the paper builds on this claim of emergent consciousness, it is hard to take the rest of it seriously.

    Thanks anyway.

  5. May 1, 2006 #4
    Well I took time to read this and have made a copy of some of the things he has said that highlight his theory. There is a lot that I have copied cause they all are important statements to argue his point. I hope they fit and I will comment below.

    To some up Metzinger's theory, the self is a figment of imagination. Selves come to exist due to the fact that they emerge from a clusters of neurons in the brain.

    Well he could be right, and then we can for sure build A U2 D2 that you could have a romance with. On the other hand he is bias in the sense that he mentions only a number of phenomenal state-classes - for instance, spiritual and religious experiences of a certain kind or fully depersonalized states during severe psychiatric disorders. I just sat down 10 minutes ago and had a 30 minute chat with someone that has had an OBE. This is what he has told me. When I am in my head that is, I know that I am I, but also fully conscious that I am not in my body, I have this experience of OBE. Due to the fact that my eyes can move in any direction and view the room, I can see perspectives not seen before and remember them later. They can be in any coordinate of the room on a x y axis. I do not leave the room. I can not see my body from where the apparent thought of my vision comes from. I can see my body though, down there, it does not move, although, it’s not always lying down it could be sitting but it is always in a frozen now at that moment. So this is one example of why I do not buy emergent consciousness or selves. How can the mental state of what a brain is suppose to produce, the self know it’s not in its body and later know that it was not in it.?

    Well if there is any veracity to all of this. Something can experience brain states inside or outside of a body. It apparently can only do it when the bodies, NOW is frozen in time. I have had the chance to personally interrogate a number of people on this issue and they always see there body frozen in a fixed position.
  6. May 5, 2006 #5
    I would like to report that I am a 'self' and I exist in the world. DESCARTES RULES.
  7. May 5, 2006 #6


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    If your friend can do this then his experincxes should be susceptible to objective testing. Just arrange something that is not in view of his physical eyes but can be seen by an altered perspective, say from the ceiling, and find out if he can describe it when or after he has his OBE. You can do any kind of double blind test of this sort you want. Why are no such tests being done?
  8. May 7, 2006 #7
    I have considered your idea of testing already. The problem is that OBE and NDE are spontaneous, we can not control when they happen. We have to relay on the memory recall of the patient. At least the ten cases that I have had personal contact with cannot conjure them up whenever they want to. You do not think that the very fact that they can see there body in another place from where they think there eyes are, is sufficient evidence? How could there memory have recorded there experience? Remember what I said about the OBE case, they see there body in a fixed position yet there memory records other positions, that there body with its eyes could not have seen.

    Yes they could all be liars. Why would they all lie? Could they have all learned to lie because of knowledge of other people’s experience? We would then have groups of liars. Some have NDE some OBE. We would then have to explain why people lie in groups and why they pick that particular thing to lie about? That’s a possibility, why entangled minds would tell the same story and why that particular story. We do not know enough about entangled particles much less entangled minds. Maybe this is all a fabrication of mind and they really believe it do to hormonal changes.

    They say it’s not like normal experience nor totally like a dream, now since I have never had one of these I can not tell you what its like. What I can tell you is something about each case. If I was to ask a question it would be, could hormones cause these things, but then we would have to answer the question how radical hormonal change in the body could record in memory, things we could not possibly see with our eyes in a body.

    Of all the cases I know of personally, all have health problems but don’t we all? How come we do not all have these experiences?

    Notwithstanding two years ago there was a case that I mentioned on this forum and was burned at the stake. Your experiment was carried out and while it was not mine, I will tell you the results. This was an NDE case where they did brain surgery and a team of experts on this subject were present to control and anticipate a possible NDE. The patient had bad chances of coming out of the operation. The patient did not know that she was under surveillance. When the patient was questioned later she could relate very precise information about the surgical team that operated on her for example specific clock times on different critical moments of the operation and new the names of the team by reading there name tags.

    There is too much evidence of all these things. I think there is no question that they happen. The question is why and how do they happen to these particular people and why at the moment that they happen?

    I would hope to do someday, personally, the testing that you have suggested.

    You might want to read this article clip from CNN.

    You will like this site it even has a theory that would suite your taste, excellent reading.
    http://www.web-us.com/oobe/oobe.htm#What theories have been put forward to account for the OBE?

    How to induce altered states of consciousness.
    Last edited: May 7, 2006
  9. May 7, 2006 #8
    Rader, do you have any kind of source material on this experiment that was carried out? I searched the board but couldn't find your original mentioning. I would be highly interested!
  10. May 7, 2006 #9
    We discussed this in one of the consciousness threads. It was a Spanish documentary that filmed the episode. I pretty much summed it up in my last post.

    Here is a interesting NDE. There is a book on two year research of blind NDE cases.

    If you want an interesting read. NDE of only blind people, who can see when they have them and never could before. Its interesting there description of what its like seeing for the first time.

  11. May 7, 2006 #10


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    Rader, I am not at all seeking to deny these experiences. Some of what you say suggest that OBE (I am more interested in that than in NDE) could be treated the way blindsight is. You know how that goes, subjects with certain brain lesions cannot see things in one half of their visual fiel, but if the experimenter asks them careful questions about the scene being presented there, they get much better than random results in describing it!
  12. May 8, 2006 #11
    Look at this a little closer: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2320/is_1_64/ai_65076875/pg_2

    Are you aware that blind people who have blindsight also have had OBE NDE or both? Granted you could make the assumption that blind people can see they just do not know it, do to the fact some of the machinery is malfunctioning. Blind before birth and blind after birth have OBE and NDE. So if they can see subconsciously they could record visual data in memory to be used later in these states. But wait a minute, lots of the studies show that what they see in OBE or NDE is new data memory, things that they have not experienced before.

    What about this! From the article above.

    So what is it about blindsight that has any connection to OBE or NDE? They seem to me to be very different experiences although one could have all of them or individually.
  13. May 17, 2006 #12
    I'm not so convinced that programming these steps would be easy. It is easy to say “it’s a simple matter of programming”, but in reality I think it is also very easy to underestimate the complexity involved. Have you really thought in detail, for example, what would be involved in programming an integrated world-model, such that all individual phenomenal events are bound into a global situation context – it requires that each and every neurophysiological state which is to contribute to the overall conscious experience be integrated into a comprehensive “world-model”. The enormity of this task is easy to underestimate.

    I don't think Metzinger is suggesting that "awareness suddenly dawns on the machine" simply by virtue of having an "inner darkness" (to use Metzinger's phrase). What he is saying is that any system which is continuously co-representing the representational relation (between it’s presumed self and the “rest of the world”), and which then becomes caught in this naïve-realistic self-misunderstanding, generates in turn a system which seems to experience itself as being not only part of the world, but also of being fully immersed in it through a dense network of causal, perceptive, cognitive, attentional and agentive relations.

    I do disagree with Metzinger on one issue – and that is the idea that there can be any kind of consciousness (what he refers to as minimal consciousness) in absence of the phenomenal self just so long as his three necessary conditions of gloablity, presentationality and transparency are satisfied. It seems to me that these three conditions alone are not sufficient to generate consciousness of any kind – I cannot see how consciousness can exist in absence of some form of phenomenal self.

    Best Regards

    Last edited: May 17, 2006
  14. May 17, 2006 #13


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    Here for the easy of survey are Metzinger's definitions of his three constraints that determine his minimal consciousness.

    Movingfinger, I am unsure why you require a phenomenal self. Metzinger shows how to construct what seem to me to be plausible accounts of experiencing phenomena. Why do we need an additional being?
  15. May 17, 2006 #14
    What I cannot see is how it is possible to be in a state of "experiencing phenomena" (your own words) in absence of some "subjective centre of experience" (ie the phenomenal self). It seems to me that both subject and object (the self as well as the experienced phenomena) are created together as the output of consciousness. I don't see how one can have "experienced phenomena" without at the same time having "something doing the experiencing".

    Note that I am NOT saying that subject and object really exist as physical entities. I agree with Metzinger in this. Both subject and object are illusions, they are virtual subjects and objects, created by the conscious processing.

    Best Regards

  16. May 18, 2006 #15


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    I don't agree that we need a "subjective centre of experience", but do agree that there is "something doing the experiencing". The difference is that the something might have no constant instantiation but could shift among brain modules as the thing being experienced varies. Somewhat in the way the internet has no central post office to direct packages.

    Yes, this is my idea too, and I think Metzinger would say that such an idea is reasonable but rather than just asserting it he wants to define it more sharply using his constraint methodology.
  17. May 18, 2006 #16
    Agreed. When I said "centre of experience" I did not actually mean a physical centre in terms of location in space - I meant a logical centre (which could be distributed in space). One clear property of conscious experience is that there is a unity or (logical) singularity of consciousness, we never (except in certain brain disorders) have two logical centres of consciousness within a normal individual.

    Dennett refers to something similar in his concept of a centre of narrative gravity - which is supposed to reflect the fact that there is a logical centre created by consciousness (the phenomenal self) in the process of the mind "telling a story to itself".

    The point is, that I don't see how one could have a "consciousness" without this logical centre (the phenomenal self or centre of narrative gravity).

    Best Regards


    Humans put constraints on what they can achieve more often by their limited imaginations than by any limitations in the laws of physics (Alex Christie)
  18. May 21, 2006 #17
    I find Metzinger’s Theory interesting, and it corresponds with what Susan Blackmore suggests in the book “The Meme Machine” inspired by Richard Dawkin’s theory on memes as something like evolving ideas. She suggests that various ideas/notions cluster together to survive, and that way creates a homogeneous notion of a personality.
    But, I would say, as a theory on how the basic notions/experience of the moment/qualia arise, both theories fail.
  19. May 22, 2006 #18
    It's nice of you to say this. But can we ask why you say this?
    What are the reasons for your belief that these theories fail?

    Best Regards

  20. May 22, 2006 #19
    Simply because all though selves might emerge from clusters of neurons in the brain (through cooperating memes), the possibility for experience has to be there in the first place. Memes, as well as the simplest forms of notions, needs to be experienced for a consciousness to arise; much like a computer game can't enjoy itself without a basic form of experience. What experience is exactly, is yet to be answered.
  21. May 23, 2006 #20
    I believe Metzinger provides a very good answer in his paper.
    Conscious experience arises within the information processing activities of an agent when those information processing activities are sufficiently complex to able to satisfy his three minimal conditions of globality, presentationality and transparency plus (to my mind) the additional condition of phenomenal self (ie a virtual logical centre of narrative gravity).

    "Memes", "notions" and "concepts" are simply subsets of the information being processed.

    It's not clear to me just why you think this explanation "fails".

    Best Regards

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