Brain Science and the Self
Edited by Andy Ross
The Ego Tunnel: The science of the mind and the myth of the self
In 1690, the philosopher John Locke argued that a person's identity over
time resides in their consciousness (he coined this term) of being the same
self at a later time as at an earlier, and that the mechanism that makes
this possible is memory. A person is only the same through time if he or she
is self-aware of being so. Memory loss interrupts identity, and complete
loss of memory is therefore loss of the self.
By Owen Flanagan
Edited by Andy Ross
What is the self? One answer is that it is the diamond in the rough that is
you, the unique, immutable and indestructible jewel that makes each person
who they are, the being amidst the becoming, the unfluxable within the flux.
Kant called it the Transcendental Ego, which stands behind experience as the
condition of its possibility. An alternative view endorsed by Buddha,
Heraclitus, John Locke, David Hume, and William James is that the self does
The phenomenal Ego is not some mysterious thing or little man inside the head but the content of an inner image. ... By placing the self-model within the world-model, a center is created. That center is what we experience as ourselves, the Ego. ... What we see and hear, or what we feel and smell and taste, is only a small fraction of what actually exists out there. ... The ongoing process of conscious experience is not so much an image of reality as a tunnel through reality.
Metzinger argues that coming to terms with the non-existence of
the self is required if we are to solve the philosophical problem of
consciousness. But even if there are people who still believe in the
existence of a self, I doubt they believe in the dopey idea that the self is
an actual homunculus. More widespread than the self illusion is the view
that humans have souls, but Metzinger does nothing to explain how belief in
personal immortality may or may not be tied to views about the self.
Finally Some One
Review edited by Andy Ross
Being No One. The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity
I am pleased to see a first rate philosopher so carefully reading the
neurobiological literature. Metzinger is comprehensive and comprehending. I
have never read such a complete and penetrating analysis of my own
scientific field: the cognitive neuroscience of sleep and dreaming. In this,
as in other parts of the book that I understand well enough to comment,
Metzinger cuts to the heart of the matter.
"Being No One is Kantian in its scope, intelligence and depth. Steeped in
contemporary neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, the book gives the
unsolved Kantian problems of inner self and outer world a new look, a new
life, and a new route to solution. Metzinger's story is understandable,
compelling, and, quite simply, very very smart."
"Being No One is a superb and indispensable book. Thomas Metzinger's
intelligence, open-minded honesty, and knowledge combine to produce the most
complete and satisfying discussion of the problem of self currently
AR I first met Thomas Metzinger at the Brain and Self Workshop in Elsinore, Denmark, in 1997. I was immediately struck by the quality of his philosophical intellect and by his mastery of the relevant scientific work. I met him again several times over the years. I loved his big book Being No One but found it heavy going, so I suggested he should write a shorter, more popular book on the same subject. I am delighted to report that he has now done so.