Thursday, December 28, 2006

There is Nothing that Transcends

"There is nothing that transcends, no person or soul to be liberated, just as there is nothing to transcend from; because what had been was only the churning of an illusion foolishly grasped at with tendencies of consciousness, learned habits and a memory. There is nowhere to transcend to, only being here now, with a mind that is clear and free of illusion. The unfolding process is known, the burden of the false has been abandoned, gone is the ownerless desire that tended it, becoming is no more."

Wikipedia on egolessness

"But sire, this is no time for philosophy!"

"It is not the body, nor the personality that is the true self.
The true self is eternal.
Even on the point of death we can say to ourselves,
'my true self is free. I cannot be contained.' "

- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The True Appearance of Santa

Saint Nicholas' skull was preserved as a relic til the present, so it has been possible for forensic scientists to reconstruct his real appearance!

Christmas time is a time truly thick with racial irony. Many people of 'European appearance' who normally shun people of 'Middle-Eastern appearance', go about merrily worshipping a Judean (Jesus) and venerating a Turk (Santa Claus), without the slightest inkling that there might be an inconsistency in their attitude. Yep, that's right; Santa (Ni-)Claus was Turkish (well not exactly; but he was from the part of the world now known as Turkey). Nicholas was an early Christian Bishop in Asia Minor who came from a wealthy background and liked to give out gifts. Of course, the Santas in the shop windows are always very Nordic looking, and his place of origin was conveniently shifted above the arctic circle.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Boundaries of Self

With the ever increasing modularity of the body and the growing permeability of its boundary, "the idea of the body as an exclusive physical sanctuary of the self is coming under mounting pressure, in part due to the spectacular rise in the two-way commerce between the body and other objects." As external objects (implants, artificial or transplanted organs) are increasingly incorporated into the body, or form accessories to it (eg. earpieces and PDAs accessing wireless internet), it becomes more and more difficult to accept the significance of a rigid boundary, between self and other, along the body's surface.

Adapted from
"The Value of Ownership"
Meir Dan-Cohen
University of California, Berkeley.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Non-ownership of Creativity

“The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist.”
- Novalis (Friedrich Von Hardenberg)

Novalis transformed Fichte’s Nicht-Ich ("not I") to a Du ("you"), an equal subject to the Ich ("I"). This was the starting point for his Liebesreligion ("religion of love").

Perhaps the reason artists live to paint is because they feel that the Self,
in the form of Art, is - in a way - painting them, rather than the other way around.

Solaris Still

Still and dialogue from SOLARIS
(the original Tarkovsky version)

Some have interpreted the mysterious planet
in Solaris to be a symbol of the Self.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

If there is no 'me'...

“If there is no ‘me,’ then who is the person thinking, doing, feeling, etc?”

"Since there’s a duality at play in that question, there can be a subject-object at play in regards to witnessing or observing. To be free of the limited identification with the body and the "mind roles" it plays, You must find who or what subject knows that false object. Who or what is the witness of that body and those roles and personas and false identities? Who or what is that You which can observe you (the “me” in the question) and is far enough removed from it to be able to make an inquiry into what that “me” might be? Who or what is that You that knows its presence? Who is that I which, in the case of some persons, can reach a point when it can say, “I realize that I am as phony as a three-dollar bill”? Who are the two “I’s” used to generate that statement of duality? Do You see that two different versions of “you,” that two different “I’s,” are at play in that revelation? Do You see—since all dualities are always lies—that only one of those “I’s” can refer to the Real You and that the other has to be referring to something that is not real? Who is that You which can know ItSelf and can come to know that the false roles are false? Only You can do that witnessing and and only You can come to know the “not you.”

[From the Blogger blog: Advaita Vedanta]

"The Mind is not Real at all"

The Courage and the Composure of Mind, in the face of death, of the Zen Monk, and of the Samurai, is illustrated by this anecdote about Tsu Yuen (So-gen), who came over to Japan in 1280. The event happened when he was in China, where the invading army of Yuen spread terror all over the country. Some of the barbarians, who crossed the border of the State of Wan, broke into the monastery of Tsu Yuen, and threatened to behead him. Then calmly sitting down, ready to meet his fate, he composed the following verses:
"The heaven and earth afford me no shelter at all;
I'm glad, unreal are body and soul.
Welcome thy weapon, O warrior of Yuen!
Thy trusty steel, That flashes lightning,
cuts the wind of Spring, I feel."

This reminds us of Sang Chao (So-jo), who, on the verge of death by the vagabond's sword, expressed his feelings in the follow lines:
"In body there exists no soul.
The mind is not real at all.
Now try on me thy flashing steel,
As if it cuts the wind of Spring, I feel."
The barbarians, moved by this calm resolution and dignified air of Tsu Yuen, rightly supposed him to be no ordinary personage, and left the monastery, doing no harm to him.

"The Mind is not Real"

"To the universal one the mind is not real.
The mind of the past cannot be kept,
the mind of the present cannot be held
and the mind of the future cannot be caught.
Yet people are attached to such delusions
and label them as mind."
-Lao Tse
(sometime in the middle of the first millenium BCE)

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Scroll of Heaven

The Scroll of Heaven
Church of Chora,

3 & 1/2 coils with sun and Moon

Self-ownership and Morality

It is commonly recognised in the West that the basis of human rights is the principle of self-ownership. (If we do not own ourselves then there is no basis for doing unto others as we would have them do unto us). In contast, Vedanta and Buddhist scriptures state that immorality has its root in the idea of self-ownership or egoism. Morality springs from dissolving the individual self in the universal Self.

Socialism began as a movement to abolish regimes in which serfs were literally owned by the rich, but Stalinist and Maoist totalitarianism removed the people's newly won self-ownership. Marx's 'Property is theft' was extended to even ownership of self. Except for the leader, of course.
The deluded belief in an imaginary ego, bolstered by yes men living in fear of being sent to the Gulag or worse, led the atheist Stalin to perpetrate some of the worst immorality ever known.
A prevailing atheist view is that morality should come from the self-owning individual, not from a sense of being owned by an omnipresent self (God). Morality should come from an individual's personal responsiblity - it should not be imposed from 'above'. The well-known
spokesman for atheism Richard Dawkins writes:
"We're much better off when we're answerable to ourselves, and the principle that everyone owns his or her self - no slavery to dogma, or philosophy. No domination, no war, no harm, no theft. But lots of voluntary mutual consent."
Dawkins is a logical positivist yet he believes in something there is no scientific evidence for: individual selves. He is right to try to abolish conditioning even conditioning in the form of religion. Conditioning is a terrible basis for morality - but there is a basic inconsistency in the view that morality should be based on an imaginary ego.

Who Are You?

Only once was I made mute.
It was when a man asked me,
"Who are you?"

-Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Radiant River Valley

This image looks like the cover of a New Age book but reminds one that serendipity is a real factor in photography, and one should allow oneself to go with the flow of cosmic being so as to be at the right place at the right time.

The other possibility is that someone has just done a really good photoshop job on a relatively boring travel snap.

Poisonous Positivism

David Deutsch, professor of physics at the University of Oxford's Centre for Quantum Computation, pioneered the field of quantum information science by describing a universal quantum computer. He is critical of the
toxic effect logical positivism has had on science. Logical Positivism (also called Logical Empiricism) is a philosophical doctrine formulated in Vienna in the 1920s, according to which scientific knowledge is the only kind of factual knowledge and all traditional metaphysical doctrines are to be rejected as meaningless. Deutsch believes that, though it was intended to be a retreat from metaphysics, it was really a retreat from reality and explanation."In physics", he says, "it took the form of deciding as a matter of principle that science is not about discovering how the world really is, but instead must confine itself to predicting the outcomes of observations. When quantum mechanics came along it required a drastic revision of people's conception of the world. Many physicists responded by denying that physics is about the world at all, only about what we see."

"Logical positivism is a form of solipsism", states Deutsch, "If you say physics is only about predicting the outcomes of experiments, you can only really say it's about experiments that you personally do, because to you any other person is just another thing you're observing. But solipsism is a dead-end philosophy and when it comes to science it's a poison. It doesn't allow further progress from existing theories, and that's why I think applications of quantum theory, particularly quantum computation, were overlooked for decades. You could say people didn't really think the theory was true because they had rejected the idea of truth in science. Truth in science must mean correspondence to reality, or it means nothing."

The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics can explain how a quantum computer could perform, in a few seconds or minutes, a computation of such magnitude that a classical computer, even if it consisted of all the matter in the universe and ran as long as the age of the universe, could not even come close to; for example, the factorisation of a 10,000-digit integer, the product of two very large primes. The quantum computer must use some process beyond the perceivable universe to arrive at the answer. "At that point logically, we have already accepted the many-worlds structure. The way the quantum computer works is: the universe differentiates itself into multiple universes and each one performs a different sub-computation. The number of sub-computations is vastly more than the number of atoms in the visible universe. Then they pool their results to get the answer. Anyone who denies the existence of parallel universes has to explain how the factorisation process works."

It used to be the case that many physicists were completely sceptical that quantum computing could ever be a possibility. Now the consensus is that it is possible, but will probably take decades, to build a quantum computer.

The Mythical Mind

"The mind is a myth."

-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Apparent Solipsism in The Diamond Sutra

From the Diamond Sutra:
Then the Lord Buddha addressed the assembley...
Though the sentient beings thus to be delivered by me are innumerable and without limit yet, in reality, there are no sentient beings to be delivered. And why, Subhuti? Because, should there exist in the minds of Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas such arbitrary conceptions of phenomena as the existence of one's own ego-selfness. The ego-selfness of another, self-ness as divided into an infinite number of living and dying beings, or selfness as unified into one Universal Self existing eternally, they would be unworthy to be called Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas....
The Lord Buddha continued:- Do not think, Subhuti, that the Tathagata would consider within himself:- I will deliver human beings. That would be a degrading thought. Why? Because really there are no sentient beings to be delivered by the Tathagata. Should there be any sentient beings to be delivered by the Tatagatha, it would mean that the Tathagata was cherishing within his mind arbitrary conceptions of phenomena such as one's own self, other selves, living beings and an universal self. Even when the Tathagata refers to himself, he is not holding in his mind any such arbitrary thought. Only terrestrial human beings think of selfhood as being a personal possession. Subhuti, even the expression "terrestrial beings" as used by the Tathagata does not mean that there are any such beings. It is used only as a figure of speech....

It seems solipsistic to suggest that there are no other beings; however, the Diamond Sutra also refutes the notion of a single self. It therefore repudiates solipsism. If there is no such thing as ego, there is no solipsism. It seems pointless, even mocking, on the part of the sutra, to conjure such paradoxes: the Universe is thoughtless, concept-less and ego-less...yet awareness exists...something is aware of this....Who or what? To realise that unknowable Self - that is the point.

The Atomistic Model of consciousness
We tend to have an atomistic model of awareness: each human body has it's own separate field of awareness loosely located in the neurological structure of the brain and possibly extending to extremities of the body because of the integrity of the brain and the entire nervous system. However; at a subatomic level, it is probably meaningless to speak of a boundary between the senses and what is sensed.
Awareness can be directed outwards to the world or inwards to itself, to the viewer. In both directions the extent of the field of awareness is utterly indefinable. The point of view is impossible to pinpoint and the outer extremity of the field could be said to include all that is sensed. In the visual sense, the boundary of consciousness is the extent of what can be seen. Looking at the sky, trying to locate such a boundary, gives a sense of how nebulous the field of awareness is.

Buddhist Metaphysics

The Buddha’s statements about Nirvana (the state of unwavering pure Selfhood beyond the illusory world of Samsara) are usually described as ‘metaphysical’ because they seem to be describing something that transcends the physical world. The word 'Metaphysics' means literally “after” (not "beyond" or “above”) “physics", and refers to the arrangement of Aristotle's writings, in which his books on “first philosophy” were placed after the books on “physics”. This is quite distinct to the popular definition of 'beyond or above the physical reality'. The term should be defined thus: ‘pertaining to questions that cannot be answered by any empirical evidence or criteria’.
As Walter Stace observes:
"On this basis most modern thinkers would doubtless class the Buddha’s Nirvana as metaphysical. But it would not be so to Buddha, because he would not, like most modern empiricists, identify experience with sense-experience. The Buddhist adept claims to have direct experience of Nirvana in this life and without waiting for another life. Therefore for Buddha the conception of Nirvana is not metaphysical but empirical"

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Consciousness is Indivisible

Time and space are basic properties of the Universe.
Consciousness is clearly another.
Time and space are indivisible. We speak of segments: minutes, miles -
but we know that they are not real divisions of time and space - they do not actually have any effect on these basic properties at all. They are convenient units of measurement existing only in the human mind.
Divisions of consciousness are the same. One speaks of 'you and me', 'them and us', but these are words which do not refer to actual things. Consciousness is coextensive with time and space; and, like them, is an indivisible, curved, curlicued, continuum.
'Individuals' seem to have their 'own' thoughts, and act independently; however, action and thought are not what is meant by consciousness. One is conscious of thoughts and actions.
There is nothing wrong with using terms of measurement: 'this millisecond', 'that cubic lightyear', 'me' - as long as one remembers that these terms do not actually divide anything, or cause anything.

The Nature of Self

What is the nature of the Self?

"What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul, and God are appearances in it. like silver in mother-of-pearl, these three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self is that where there is absolutely no "I" thought. That is called "Silence". The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is "I"; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self."

- Sri Ramana Maharshi

Friday, November 24, 2006

Beam me up Scotty - or maybe not

Some speculations about consciousness from Paul Broks, published in the latest New Scientist:

Mind-body, spirit-substance are false dichotomies.
The ghost in the machine will eventually be exorcised.
Mind transposition - the uploading, downloading, and extension
of the human mind, via AI directly connected to the brain- will lead, in the future, to a transformed concept of what consciousness/selfhood is.
The brain will be 'reverse engineered' by future cognitive science.
Its subtle cognitive architecture will be precisely modelled through high res neuroimaging. Eventually hardware and software will be available for the implementation of human intelligence in a non-biological substrate.
"Consciousness" will go the way of phlogiston, the theoretical substance that scientists once used to explain fire.
The idea that there is a 'hard problem' of consciousness [explaining how
neurons can give rise to a subject] will be considered a red herring.
"but as our post-millenial neuroscientists marvelled at the sparkling, dare I say spectral, patterns cascading from their high-resolution brain scanners, they were nagged by a mischievous question: who is running the show? How does the the brain, with its diverse and distributed functions, come to arrive at a unified sense of identity? 'Soul' doesn't figure in the lexicon of neuroscience, but what about the soul's secular cousin, 'self'? Could we speak of a person's brain without speaking of the person? Was the self merely the sum of its cerebral parts? The Illusion of the ghost in the machine was compelling - the natural intuition that somewhere in the brain there lurks an observing 'I', an experiencer of experiences, thinking of thoughts and controller of actions."

"Belief in an inner essence, or central core, of personhood, was called 'ego theory'. The alternative, 'bundle theory', made more neurological sense but offended our deepest intuitions. Too bad, I thought. We should learn to face facts. The philosopher Derek Parfit put it starkly: we are not what we believe ourselves to be. Actions and experiences are interconnected but ownerless. A human life consists of enmeshed mental states rolling like tumbleweed down the days and years, but with no one (no thing) at the centre."

Parfit's famous thought experiment: Imagine your body is teleported by
a process that destroys it, converts it to information, sends the information, then reconstructs it perfectly at a destination. All the contents of your mind arrive intact. You go about your life as if nothing has happened.
If you are comfortable with this scenario then you should be comfortable with bundle theory - the observing "I" is no more than patterns of energy and information, which can be disrupted and reconstituted without destroying the self - because there is no self to destroy.
An ego theorist would believe that the reconstituted body is not 'you' but a replica. 'You' have been destroyed during teleportation. This is a problem
that could have been explored in more depth in by Iain M Banks, in his SF novel 'Ilium', in which people 'fax' themselves around. Good read though.

"Incidentally" writes Broks, "we see here an inversion of conventional thinking. Those who believe in an essence, or soul, suddenly become materialists, dreading the loss if the 'original' body. But those of us who don't hold such beliefs are prepared to countenance a life after bodily death."

"These words that you are now reading, whose are they? Yours or mine? The point of writing is to take charge of the voice in someone else's head. This is what I am doing. My words have taken possession of the language circuits of your brain. I have become, if only transiently, your inner voice. Doesn't that mean, in a certain sense, that I have become you (or you me)?"

With inevitable future AI brain-extension/mind-interconnectivity (netmind), knowledge and experience will be shared directly by increasingly collective minds. The sense of separate selves will eventually disappear. The sense of self will disperse... perhaps infinitely.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Crazy Old Aunt

From the photo in the New Scientist article covering the recent symposium in California on science and religion, which debated whether or not the scientific community should try to abolish religion entirely, it appeared as if there was only one female in an audience entirely populated by greying and balding men. I wonder what this lone woman made of cosmologist Steven Weinberg's personification of religion as a "crazy old aunt" who tells lies and stirs up mischief, but who has been around for a long time and will probably be missed when she goes. Considering that religion (at least since the ancient priestess cults died out) has been run by men, it's an odd comparison.

Perhaps if women had been in charge of religion, we would not be having this religion-v-science debate; religion would probably have developed as a natural collective affirmation/celebration of human ideals and ethics that are probably innate, in the sense that they evolved naturally in human societies, but need to be identified, nurtured and maintained by men and women alike. We might have had religious organisations that, instead of instilling fear of the supernatural, promoted deep reverence for the natural world; a reverence not antithetical to science.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Adaptation of Shri Shankaracharya's Six Stanzas on Nirvana

It is not mind,
thought or emotion,
attention, memory
sense impressions, the senses,
phenomena, the body, the physical world,
desires or aversions, pleasure or pain,
self-importance, conditioning,
virtue or vice, sacred or profane,
agent or acted upon, dead or living,
it is deathless and birthless,
it is has no properties or qualities
It is without an other,
it is without relatives, friends, teachers,
it is even without the state of being alone.
It is formless and unimaginable.
It is coextensive with all that is,
yet it is imperceptible.
It is not the experience of nirvana or liberation;
it cannot be experienced or known.
It does not exist,
yet it is even without the quality of being non-existent.
I am that.


Generally what we understand by 'reality' is the world of 'physical' objects, but also abstract-seeming notions such as space and time. Mind is not 'real' in the same sense. It is considered by many to be a secondary kind of reality, probably an emergent property of matter, similar to information. Consciousness may be epiphenomenal, that is, having no influence on the way that our bodies behave beyond what physical laws demand, having no additional 'reality' to the matter generating it. Some philosophers, argue to the contrary, that the mental world is primary, and the material world secondary and emergent. They claim primacy for the mental by virtue of the fact that we primarily inhabit the mental. To avoid an unpleasant solipsism they do not usually deny the reality of other selves. Roger Penrose (Prof of Maths at Oxford Uni) sees the notion of the primacy of mental reality, and the emergence of the physical from consciousness, as lopsided.
"Even if such a solipsistic basis is not adopted, so that the totality of all conscious experience is taken as the primary reality, I still have great difficulty. This would seem to demand that 'external reality' is merely something that emerges from some kind of majority-wins voting amongst all of us taken together. I cannot see that such an emergent picture could have anything like the robustness and precision that we seem to see outside ourselves, stretching away seemingly endlessly in all directions in space and time, and inwards to minutest levels that we do not directly perceive with our senses."
Penrose recognises that the emergence of consiousness (by which I guess he is talking about subjective, personal experience) from the "seemingly purely calculational, unfeeling and utterly impersonal laws of physics that appear to govern the behaviour of all material things" is problematic and mysterious. But he also points out that these laws are incredibly precise and intricate.
The 'physical' objects that we think of as most real (say a table) are composed of atoms, which are composed of more elementary particles which have an indeterminate reality. They seem to exist only as solutions to mathematical equations. One of the things that makes quantum mechanics really strange is the notion that all electrons, for example, are indistinguishable from one another: we cannot talk of 'this electron' and 'that electron', but only of the system they inhabit. At its most elemental level, perhaps, the physical may be mathematical information - similar in its reality to consciousness. Of course, it may turn out that there is something not quite right with present-day quantum theory, and a notion that is more in accordance with our experiences may emerge. There is no sign of this yet however.
Penrose writes that "many philosophers would argue that mathematics consists merely of idealised mental concepts, and if the world of mathematics is to be regarded as arising ultimately from our minds, then we have reached a circularity: our minds arise from the functioning of our physical brains, and the very precise physical laws that underlie that functioning are grounded in the mathematics that requires our brains for its existence." Penrose seeks to avoid this immediate paradox by allowing the Platonic mathematical world its own timeless and locationless existence. while allowing it to be accessible to us through mental activity.
Penrose allows for three different kinds of reality: the physical, the mental and the Platonic mathematical, with something, (as yet) profoundly mysterious in the relations between the three. Penrose concludes that we cannot properly address the question of the reality of the physical until we understand its connection with the other two realities.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Inestimable Self

The individual 'self' is an emergent property of the neurological activity of the brain, a make-sense-of-the-world neurotool similar to that used to construct a sense of future and past. Patricia Churchland, from the University of California, insists that this does not imply that "my self" is not real (it is as real as the brain that generates it, and the world that forms brains). Quite naturally she uses the word 'my' when referring to this self. Episteme correctly does not admit to possessive pronouns being more than convenient labels - 'I' and 'my' do not refer to anything other than the compass of a simulation. A simulation of the future is real, in the sense that it can be perceived, but there is no 'director' of the simulation other than the world itself. Likewise a simulated self can be perceived, and is real, in that sense, but not in the sense of being an entity distinct from the world. The mistake is to believe that there is more than one director (more than one world). If there is a self, it is the world. When it is said that the individual self is an 'illusion' it is not necessarily a denial of the fact that simulated selves exist but a denial of the existence of a 'director' of these simulations other than the world. Churchland argues that 'we' are not 'cheapened' by the fact that 'we' are neurological constructs, because the brain is a wonderful work of art. I would add that a sense of self coextensive with all space and time should be a pretty good source of self-esteem.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wittgenstein and Buddhism

Uma Thurman's Dad writes:
"One major obstacle to appreciation of the richness of the Buddhist nonegocentrist tradition by modern philosophers, who would therein find so much of interest and use, is the unwarranted prejudice that Buddhist thought is "mysticism", that is, antiphilosophical or aphilosophical. This prejudice has only been intensified by those contemporary 'mystics' who have pointed to the young Wittgenstein's famous statement about silence in the Tractatus as evidence of his similarity to the imagined "silent sages of the East". In actuality, the vast majority of 'mystics', or nonrationalists, both Eastern and Western, have usually belonged to the egocentrist camp, at least tacitly if not formally. Recourse to mysticism is a typical aspect of being stuck in the egocentric predicament. The mature Wittgenstein clearly exposes the tremendous amount of mysticism involved in the uncritical use of ordinary language, especially by the egocentrist philosophers. He humorously points to our predilection to reify things by constructing realities out of concepts, substances out of substantives, revealing the common notion of "naming as, so to speak, an occult process and when the philosopher tries to bring out the relation between name and thing by staring at an object in front of him and repeating a name or even the word 'this'. And here we may fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object..." An egocentrist philosopher, when yet unwilling to surrender the notion as a mere mental construction, quite typically resorts to 'ineffability', 'inexpressibility', and so forth, making a virtue of his inability to find either a nonentity or its absence."

Can all Buddhist nonegocentrist philosophy be described as metaphysics?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Well stone me witless!

‘The first issue for Wittgenstein in dealing with sensations was the issue of possession. "How do we know who owns particular sensations? This is also Edelman’s first move "only through direct possession by an individual of the appropriate morphology and experience do qualia [sensations that something is conscious of?] arise.
I do not, Wittgenstein points out, either possess or require behavioural or other criterial evidence to justify my utterance of first person, present tense psychological statements such as 'I have toothache', which involve the use of 'I' as subject.
It is a mistake to assume from this that 'I' used as subject refers to an immaterial ego or self seated in my body - on the contrary, Wittgenstein argues, the truth is that 'I' in its subject use is not a referring expression at all - it does not function as the name of anything.
Wittgenstein realised that if we examine carefully what we think we are refering to, when we refer to ourselves, ultimately we cannot find anything. The individual self is illusory.


The Feeling of Mattering to Oneself

We are still unable to say what consciousness is. It is a mysterious phenomenon, but according to Nicholas Humphrey it is precisely this elusive quality that is the whole point of consciousness. "It has to be like that, he says, because it evolved to give its possessors a sense of owning a ‘self worth having’." If something is worth having, it is worth preserving.
Yet consciousness is not actually necessary for self-preservation; indeed, it has no obvious function. A hypothetical robot could be programmed to react to threats and preserve itself, without having a sense of self-ownership or even consciousness. In primitive creatures there is no consciouness of self, merely perception of sensory data. Unconscious, automatic reflex responses preserve the organism from harm. Unconscious self-maintainance still occurs in humans. In the phenomenon known as ‘blindsight’ human test subjects perceive objects, and may react to them, without registering them consciously.
As organisms evolved through natural selection, and became better and better at self-preservation, they began to develop forethought and the ability to project an imaginary self into future hypothetical situations, the better to prepare for them and avoid threats. They began to identify with this imaginary self. Ego, or the sense of owning oneself, of mattering to oneself, is a byproduct of projection into the future which does not exist.
Is this identification with a fictional self necessary in order to function in a complex human environment, or is it just a vestigial institution to be discarded in the evolutionary process? Would a superfunctional, supersophisticated artificial intelligence understand the human need for the sense of self to be considered real or meaningful? Chris Nunn, in ‘New Scientist’, speculates that "even if consciousness evolved because it provided a sense that individuals matter, it could be the case that they do matter in some non-illusory sense. Maybe their mattering was a truth that provided the basis for evolution to work on."
Humphrey - along with other figures in consciousness studies, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet - holds the reductionist view that consciousness should probably seen as an illusionary property. Interestingly, the idea of an illusory human subject is also favoured by many theologians.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ownership of Self in Consciousness

Like Locke, Antonio Damasio stresses quality of ownership, of self, of self-awareness in consciousness.
Damasio holds that the neurobiology of consciousness faces two fundamental general problems: ‘the problem of how the movie-in-the-brain is generated, and the problem of how the brain also generates the sense that there is an owner and observer for that movie.’ Extended consciousness, as he calls it, ‘provides the organism with an elaborate sense of self’. Analogously to Locke, Damasio believes that besides the ‘images of what we perceive externally’, there is also ‘this other presence that signifies you, as observer of the things imaged, potential actor on the things imaged. There is a presence of you in a particular relationship with some object. If there were no such presence, how would your thoughts belong to you?’ And like William James, he holds that the self is a feeling: ‘the simplest form of such a presence is also an image, actually the kind of image that constitutes a feeling. In that perspective, the presence of you is the feeling of what happens when your being is modified by the acts of apprehending something. The presence never quits, from the moment of awakening to the moment sleep begins. The presence must be there or there is no you.’

Monday, October 16, 2006


The Australian Prime Minister recently praised Thatcher, Reagan and John Paul II for being the three main figures who dismantled soviet communism, the enemy of western liberal democracy - I thought it sort of rotted from within, but that's another story - Yet JP II described liberal democracy as a "culture of death" in his encyclical ‘Gospel of Life’.

John Milbank, in support of the papal view, wrote:
"recent events" [does he mean the War in Iraq?]"demonstrate that liberal democracy can itself devolve into a mode of tyranny. This occurs for a variety of reasons. An intrinsic indifference to truth, as opposed to majority opinion, means in practice that the manipulation of opinion will usually carry the day. Governments then typically discover that the manipulation of fear is more effective than the manipulation of promise. This is in keeping with the central premises of liberalism, which, as Pierre Manent says, are based in Manichean fashion upon the ontological primacy of evil and violence: at the beginning is a threatened individual, piece of property, or racial terrain."

Milbank needs to clarify what he means by ‘liberalism’.
"In the US, the word ‘liberalism’ belongs above all to the left of the political spectrum, while on the European continent it belongs to the right. In one case, liberalism is the opposite of conservatism, while in the other it could in fact be confused with it. For most Europeans, the most typical ‘liberal’ politicians of the second half of the twentieth century are Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. In Europe, liberalism is defined above all by individualism, belief in free exchange and the omnipotence of the market, and the critique of the large state."
-Alain de Benoist, ‘Reply to Milbank’, Telos Spring 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Richard Dawkins

In her review of Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion', Mary Midgley points out that Dawkins is labouring under the same flawed ideology he is attacking.

Correctly linking fundamentalist religion with atrocities throughout history, he proposes that science should replace religion entirely. ("Imagine there's no religion too").
This is rather like saying that because American and Nazi social Darwinist scientists misappropriated Darwin's ideas for racist ends, ultimately leading to the Holocaust, all science should be done away with.

By redefining Pantheism and Buddhism as non-religions, Dawkins tries to steer around the fact that many of the greatest scientists, such as Einstein, had pantheistic religious attitudes, and that Buddhism has not been credited with much in the way of atrocities. A religion with a ubiquitous god (Pantheism), or one without the concept of god(Buddhism), can still be a religion in the proper sense of the word. Pantheism does not even entail a belief in the supernatural or metaphysical, since god and world are seen as coextensive.
It could be argued in fact that the removal of religion by Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, aided their horrendous crimes, by removing all vestiges of moral conscience in the perpetrators. When it comes to mindless violence, atheist dictatorships do not have a much better record than theocracies.

Midgley is to be commended for pointing out the pressing need to find the causes of fundamentalist religious thinking rather than simply reacting against it. If scientists react, they fall in to the same trap as religious opponents of evolution reacting to the misuse of Darwin's ideas.
Religion - particularly in its more introspective forms: Sufism, Zen, Gnosticism - is concerned mainly with self-knowledge (or should be), while science is concerned with knowledge of the world. The false rivalry between Science and Religion largely disappears when, like Einstein, one experiences self and world as a continuum.

The Buddha recognised that bodha (Self-knowledge) and dharma (religion) are codependent. Ultimately, however, the realisation of the Self supersedes human religious mores.

Self-knowledge is of great advantage to scientists, helping them to see when their prejudices and desires are distorting their objectivity, as was the case with social Darwinism.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Parallax Thinking and the Problem of Personal Identity

"[Heisenberg asserted that] the object can never be known, owing to the interference of our own observational system, the insertion of our own point of view and related equipment between ourselves and the reality in question. Heisenberg is then truly 'postmodern' in the assertion of an absolute indeterminacy of the real or the object, which withdraws into the status of a Kantian noumenon. In parallax thinking, however, the object can certainly be determined, but only indirectly, by way of a triangulation based on the incommensurability of the observations. The object thus is unrepresentable: it constitutes precisely that gap or inner distance which Lacan theorised for the psyche, and which renders personal identity forever problematic...The great binary oppositions - subject v. object, materialism v. idealism, economics v. politics - are all ways of naming this fundamental gap..."
-Frederic Jameson

Monday, September 18, 2006


Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One
and, after an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side.
As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One:
"Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?" (i.e. Realism)
When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.
"Then is there no self?" (i.e. Idealism or Nihilism) said Vacchagotta.
A second time, the Blessed One was silent...

Eventually the Blessed One said this:
"If I were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of Eternalism, the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul.
If I were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of Annihilationism, the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness.
If I were to answer that there is a self (Realism), would that be in keeping with the doctrine that all phenomena are not-self?"
"No, lord", answered Vachagotta.
"And if I were to answer that there is no self (Idealism or Nihilism), the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self I used to have now not exist?'"

Only if you think you had it. Only if you have a sense of ownership of self.

-After Nagarjuna

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Psychiatric View of Self-ownership

The everyday language of internal cohabitation

The experience of an ‘other mind’ speaking with its own ‘inner voice’ seems to be so universal and troublesome that it is not surprising that it has many representatives in aphorisms and saying in common speech. These sayings are worthy of study since they incorporate a wealth of common knowledge about these phenomena. For example the phrase "single minded dedication" includes both a recognition that the state of being single minded is unusual and that it can be useful if you want to get a single job done. On the other hand there is also a recognition that the state of being single minded includes a narrowing of the field of attention so that important phenomena or alternative approaches will not be seen and it is therefore a potential risk to have entered into the state of being "single minded". However, emancipation from the restricted state of being single minded is not straightforward since the phrase "being in two minds" indicates a state of irresolvable paralysis where two minds are opposing each other rather than siding with each other. These phrases indicate a clear recognition that one body does not mean one mind and that ownership of mind is a much more elusive and problematic matter than having a body. These phrases represent the daily grammar with which we try and keep track of which mind we are in and represents an acknowledgement that the body is cohabited by more than one mind, whatever it says on the birth certificate. There are further phrases illustrating that there can be problems associated with which mind adequately represents the named owner of the body. In connection with a future plan a person can say that they "have a mind" to implement it or that they have "half a mind" to implement it which in fact means that they are in trouble about it. Another example comes when something is said or done which is abusive or damaging and out of character with the persons usual approach to life and this is often acknowledged by saying that they were "not in their right mind" when they behaved that way. As an extension of this, if there has been some profoundly damaging violent action this is commonly referred to as "mindless violence" because I think that there is recognition that even if the person perpetrating the violence claims that it was their choice to do it, it is nevertheless known that this is a false claim and it is in fact a delusion of choice in an out of control mind.

The Capitalist Libertarian View of Self-ownership

9/17/99: The US Supreme Court finds that laws against voluntary euthanasia are unconstitutional since they violate the right of self-ownership. The Court’s decision asks "If the individual does not own his or her own life, what can they own?"

from a US Libertarian political website:
Property - specifically ownership of the self

Of all the rights afforded man, both those we possess by virtue of our humanity and those superfluous rights granted us by governmental authority (the second type being very few and inessential indeed, such as licensing, when compared with our natural rights), there is none of greater import than property. It is from this singular right which all other rights of humanity sprout, for one has seen that, in its absence, the human condition degenerates rapidly into the most base and servile forms of existence.Let us first reference the Communist experiment of Soviet Russia, in which the effort was made to totally and completely eradicate the concept of private, personal property. For reasons which will be brought to light momentarily, this is in reality an impossible effort, but one worth consideration nonetheless. From the Communist experiment it has been shown that, without the incentive of private, personal property, there is little incentive to produce. Indeed, short of government coercion, there is little impetus to perform any act which will not directly ensure your own survival. Subsistence through illicit means becomes the way of life, otherwise one experiences the full brunt of shortage and deprivation which is the common result of a society in which there is no incentive to produce in the form of personal belongings.There are those that would suggest that the incentive to produce is a love for one’s fellow man, that goodwill and an altruistic spirit will urge an individual to action as a replacement for personal property and private ownership. While a concept worth lauding, this argument is ultimately a utopian ideal, which, real world example has verified, is not sufficient to carry production and progress into the future.The destruction of private property is additionally a utopian ideal in that it is in reality an impossible act. The reason for this is simple: short of murder, it is impossible to remove from a person every semblance of personal property, even if they have been deprived ownership of every physical thing around them. Our first and most precious piece of property is ourselves: our bodies and our minds. This is a piece of property which can only be denied us in death, perhaps not even then if one subscribes to the concept of an afterlife in which we continue as individual beings.This ultimate piece of property is the conduit from which all rights flow. As one example, take the concept of free speech: this is a natural right, born innately from the fact that we own our bodies and minds. It is the mind that produces the thought, and our vocal chords that put that thought into audible speech. Even if free speech is infringed upon by a government-aggressor, there remains the spark from which it is born. To be censored and forced into silence is not the destruction of free speech, but the suppression of it. You remain capable of free thought and your vocal chords capable of putting those thoughts into audible form, by virtue of the ownership of your ultimate property, your mind and body.Additionally, it is from this initial, ultimate property that all other properties flow. Inherent in the concept of ownership is the idea that YOU own the item in question. How would it be possible, then, for one to speak in terms of ownership of other things if you are not first the owner of yourself? The mind and body are your own unique properties, without which the concept of external property would be nonexistent. Individualism is the conceptual manifestation of this most intimate form of property: you are your own being, owned by no one else and forced into action by no motive but your own, even if your motive is the avoidance of a pain by performing an act which would otherwise be against your will.Without the concept of the individual, and the self’s ownership of mind and body, it would be impossible to say, "I own this device." Without first an innate conception of the individual, "I" would be a term foreign to humanity. This concept is indeed so innate that it seems obvious, which indeed it is by our very nature. There exists no communal mind, no communal body, and therefore no communal ownership of body and mind. Hence personal ownership of your mind and body is a natural right, as innately existent as the ability of the heart to beat and the lungs to draw and expel air.

"I" am online

"Our new intimacies with our machines create a world where it makes sense to speak of a new state of the self. When someone says, "I am on my cell, "online","on instant messaging" or "on the web", these phrases suggest a new placement of the subject, a subject wired into a social existence through technology, a tethered self. I think of tethering as the way we connect to always-on communication devices and to the people and things we reach through them."

-Sherry Turkle, sociologist.

Online Social Networking Sites

Thoughts from an Ownerless Mind
What strikes you most about these sites [online social networking sites]
"They are all about real estate. You set out your stall, stake your territory. The whole World Wide Web is about a sense of ownership, starting from those company web addresses. But what I envisioned and built is about sharing media and acknowledging sources, without walls or boundaries."
-Ted Nelson, who in the 1960s invented hypertext.

Non-ownership of mind

'The word "I" is just a convenient term for something that has no actual existence'.
- After Virginia Woolf

Max More is an apologist for individualism and egoism. He has read Ann Rand’s "The Virtue of Selfishness"
and abhors totalitarian states, fundamentalist churches and cults which take psychological control of members. He correctly identifies these as major problems but does not seem to understand that the individualistic egotists he champions are to be found at the helm of these organisations, and that they are just as big a problem.
The ideal is to be owned by neither ego nor superego (the tendency to absorption in, domination by, controlling collective ego).
The capitalist system has it's merits but, on the downside, moves ever towards increasing commodification. Utimately there is even the commodification of self.
The problem with the kind of individualism promoted by More is that many so-called individuals have multiple personalities.
People who are not diagnosed, or in denial about a diagnosis of mental pathology, can convince themselves and others that they are acting from a position of self-ownership when they are really acting out their pathological impulses.