• DingoJones
    1.6k


    There might be some semantics to it ya. Its very difficult to explain to someone whose never experienced it. Imagine a room with a bunch of machines (turned on, active) in it, and your in the room watching. Then you leave the room but the machines still continue working. When you return to the room you can check the security cams to see what you missed and you will see what happened while you were away and you will notice you weren't there. Like that. So now imagine when youre in the room you are the one working the machines, and when you return after leaving, you are surprised to find on the security cams that the machines work fine without you and the machines being worked/controlled by you was an illusion.
    Its like that, if any of that makes sense.
  • praxis
    2k


    Yes, psychedelics deactivate the DMN (Default Mode Network) which is the neural network that’s responsible for our sense of self, personal narrative, etc. This deactivation is the experience of what Buddhists refer to as no-self, though I doubt any Buddhist would be willing to reduce it to such a mundane event.

    There may be a deeper or more primal sense of self, like with the physiology that has to do with alien hand syndrome.

    I’m not sure if philosophizing about emptiness has much actual value. The experience, on the other hand, is known to reduce existential anxiety. That does have value. Also, religious beliefs can have value for those who require that level of structure and guidance to experience meaning in their life.
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    What the Buddhists will say is that we become "attached" to the "I," the "self," and that this is a cause of suffering.Xtrix

    I would guess they mean in more metaphorical terms. If I am attached to the idea of my own greatness type of thing. Otherwise, it sounds equally plausible to reincarnation.

    I think that's a possibility. One watches a Buddhist monk burn himself alive and not move, and one has to wonder if there's something to this practice of "non-self."Xtrix

    I am less convinced. Soldiers and athletes block out pain regularly. Many women cry like babies when they bump their leg on a table and yet somehow give birth without going into shock. Mental strength? No question. Some sort of "loss of self"? Possibly, I just have no reason to believe it.

    in the sense of recognizing a concept that isn't what we normally think it isXtrix

    I can see some value here, but more along the lines of remaining agnostic to the possibilities, vs actually making a claim (there is no self) that would require evidence.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    I think that there is a fundamental problem in claiming something doesn't exist that people have direct access to.

    For example pain. If you are in pain you know you are and no theorizing is going stop you being in pain.

    But as I outlined this is not the only problem with self because it is required for concepts, mental representations and knowledge etc.

    It maybe true that an external reality exists but how can we describe it? Once we start to describe it we rely on individual perceivers.

    But once you invoke this perspective you have selves. For example there have been many models of the atom. But if the atom exists independent of these models then they are mind dependent.

    Where else can false beliefs exist?
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    Its very difficult to explain to someone whose never experienced it.DingoJones

    Well I have experienced psychedelics. But no matter how far down the rabbit hole I go, there is always a nagging little "I' that never leaves. What the "I" is saying is "you are on drugs, don't get carried away here." I would think drugs would make it easier to identify a partial loss of self...the first step in losing the self would be forgetting you are on drugs. If I know I am on drugs, then "I' has not gone anywhere. If "I" am not on drugs, who or what is?

    To be fair, I have never done...is it called DMT? I think that is the one that is supposed to be directly tied to the loss of self...maybe?

    So now imagine when youre in the room you are the one working the machines, and when you return after leaving, you are surprised to find on the security cams that the machines work fine without you and the machines being worked/controlled by you was an illusion.
    Its like that, if any of that makes sense.
    DingoJones

    Can't you have this experience just by drinking too much? You wake up the next day to find video of yourself dancing on a table that you don't remember? How were the machines operating if you don't remember operating them? Heck, even entirely sober, have you ever got in your car and backed out of your driveway, then paused and thought, how did I get here? Or any other thing that just happens on auto pilot while we are thinking about something else? Our brain can do a lot with minimal to no intention.

    I can't say you are wrong. But a loss of self seems to fail as the simplest explanation. It feels like claiming there is a god. A HUGE claim, with very limited evidence.
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    It maybe true that an external reality exists but how can we describe it? Once we start to describe it we rely on individual perceivers.Andrew4Handel

    I entirely agree. I am glad you got this thread going. I have always wondered what "loss of self" even means. At least here (the philosophy forum), I know the people will have put some thought into their position...so it is interesting to see their reasoning...maybe I can at least understand their perspective, even if I still disagree.
  • DingoJones
    1.6k
    Well I have experienced psychedelics. But no matter how far down the rabbit hole I go, there is always a nagging little "I' that never leaves. What the "I" is saying is "you are on drugs, don't get carried away here." I would think drugs would make it easier to identify a partial loss of self...the first step in losing the self would be forgetting you are on drugs. If I know I am on drugs, then "I' has not gone anywhere. If "I" am not on drugs, who or what is?

    To be fair, I have never done...is it called DMT? I think that is the one that is supposed to be directly tied to the loss of self...maybe?
    ZhouBoTong

    Correct, DMT will have that result. Other psychedelics can in the right settings, but DMT is a very reliable means of producing this effect.

    Can't you have this experience just by drinking too much? You wake up the next day to find video of yourself dancing on a table that you don't remember? How were the machines operating if you don't remember operating them? Heck, even entirely sober, have you ever got in your car and backed out of your driveway, then paused and thought, how did I get here? Or any other thing that just happens on auto pilot while we are thinking about something else? Our brain can do a lot with minimal to no intention.ZhouBoTong

    Id call that loss of memory and attention, not self. Also, in the “auto pilot” example, you reference yourself as part of denying your “self” was present. “...while we are thinking of something else”. That implies the self is present but otherwise focused. So I would say its not the same thing we are talking about.

    I can't say you are wrong. But a loss of self seems to fail as the simplest explanation. It feels like claiming there is a god. A HUGE claim, with very limited evidence.ZhouBoTong

    Interesting, please elaborate.
  • Pfhorrest
    1.6k
    It’s important to distinguish between the self as some separate ontological thing that endures despite changes, the self as a first-person perspective or general awareness, and the self as reflexive awareness (self-awareness). If you distinguish between these things all the problems go away.

    On my account there is no separate ontological thing that endures despite changes, there is just an ever-changing pattern of functionality that (like a everything) only has diachronic identity because of continuity of its function, including in the case of people general awareness, which does not necessarily always include reflexive awareness. So there “is no self”, there is just “the self” that may not always have a “sense of self”.
  • Cabbage Farmer
    242
    I think the idea that the self is an illusion does not make sense. The obvious first complaint is who is having this illusion?Andrew4Handel
    I'm not inclined to say the self is an illusion. But the notion of a self as an "entity" somehow distinct or distinguishable from an "entity" like a sentient animal does tend to strike me as something like a fiction or conceptual confusion.

    The notion seems perhaps historically related to traditional conceptions of a soul that survives the body after death. I suppose the modern notion of a Cartesian ego mediates between ancient and medieval talk of souls and more recent talk of selves.

    I concur with Gassendi in characterizing the Cartesians as inept skeptics who confuse uncertainty with ignorance and conflate doubt with denial, who affirm what is merely conceivable, whose arguments proceed by pretense and fiction as well as by "artifice, sleight of hand, and circumlocution".

    I expect much overinflated talk of selves is subject to the same sort of criticism.


    I treat the word "self" as a bit of reflexive grammar in my discourse. It does the same job in the phrase "I myself" as in the phrase "the chair itself". I don't call the chair a self and I don't call myself a self. I call myself an animal, a person, a human being, a discursive sentient thing.

    I say a thing like me "has a mind", "has mental activity", "has consciousness", "is aware". I don't say a thing like me "is a mind", "is mental activity", "is consciousness", "is awareness".

    I say a thing like me "is conscious of itself", "is aware of itself", and "has a conception of itself". I don't say a thing like me "is self-consciousness", "is self-awareness", or "is its own conception" -- neither its own conception of itself nor of anything else.

    What, if anything, is talk of "a self" supposed to add to my conception of a sentient animal, on your account?

    It is obvious to me that perception requires a perceiver likewise experience needs an experiencer and I think these things are indispensable.Andrew4Handel
    This makes good sense.

    We have plenty of ways of characterizing the perceiver that perceives and the agent that acts. A sentient being perceives and acts. A sentient animal perceives and acts. A person perceives and acts...


    I agree with Thomas Nagel that Objectivity is a view from nowhere. I do not see how it is possible to have knowledge without a self or language and other mental representations, concepts and symbols or painAndrew4Handel
    I'm inclined to agree that it's only genuine sentient things that have genuine knowledge.

    I don't object to a use of words according to which some artificial intelligence, construed as a simulation of a sentient thing, has artificial knowledge or a simulation of knowledge. Such simulated knowledge would be transformable into genuine knowledge when it is successfully shared with a genuine sentient thing.

    I'm inclined to disagree that language is required for knowledge. It seems to me that at least some nonspeaking animals, like monkeys and dolphins and dogs, have knowledge. I also say they have concepts or conceptual capacities, they are conceptual creatures. I might perhaps say conceptual capacities are required for knowledge.

    I'm wary of using the term "representation" to characterize experience, and tend to prefer "presentation" in some contexts.


    What does any of this have to do with the concept of objectivity? It seems to me there is subjectivity and objectivity in all our experience.

    Our capacity for introspection seems primarily to depend on a special exercise of conceptual capacities. It does not seem to depend on a special channel of awareness, like a distinct "sensory modality".

    The same instance of exteroception may be conceptualized in various ways. Is it the Sun I see, or only a snatch of its light? Do I see the sunlight reflected off a mountain, or do I see the mountain? There is no fact of the matter in general with respect to such questions. Our conceptualization of the "object of perception" depends in part on our habits of conceptualization, in part on our purposes in each particular occasion, in part on objective features of the perceptual "presentation" or "appearance".

    Our capacity to conceptualize "the object" of visual perception does not stop where light strikes the eye. The same perceptual presentation, the same appearance, may be taken as the activity of a perceiver.

    What thing is the perceiver? What thing is the source of the light by virtue of which we see the mountain?

    Some answers to such questions are suggested immediately by the flow of integrated appearances. Such answers may be corrected, refined, or extended by careful investigation in keeping with the balance of appearances.

    And such answers may be embellished, disfigured, or displaced by fictions and unwarranted conjectures.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    Have you tried any psychedelics or achieved a deep meditative state? In other words, have you actually done anything that would result in the loss of your sense of self?DingoJones

    I do not refer to the self as "a sense of self" for reasons I have outlined such as its necessity in understanding sentences and perceiving etc.

    I have done some mediation and I have been unconscious. In meditation I kept my self knowledge as the person trying to meditate, in unconsciousness I temporarily ceased to exist.

    I don't see the point in trying to undermine the self. If you want to avoid negative thoughts and mental states you could try shifting your attention, medication, distraction and so on (even sedation/unconsciousness) but I see no reason to attack the self as if it were the main villain.

    I don't think someone could be very functional having their self identity undermined as we see in cases of amnesia and dementia. It is useful to keep track of who you are and exhibit a consistent personality.
  • praxis
    2k
    It’s important to distinguish between the self as some separate ontological thing that endures despite changes, the self as a first-person perspective or general awareness, and the self as reflexive awareness (self-awareness). If you distinguish between these things all the problems go away.Pfhorrest

    Buddhists believe that discernment is an essential aspect of practice, however, that itself can’t resolve the problem of suffering (attachment to self or ignorance of our true nature).
  • sime
    491
    I don't think someone could be very functional having their self identity undermined as we see in cases of amnesia and dementia. It is useful to keep track of who you are and exhibit a consistent personality.Andrew4Handel

    In other words, the "self" is a useful idea with practical utility. But does that warrant the promotion of the "self" to the status of ontological primacy?
  • Pfhorrest
    1.6k
    Attachment to self is much like awareness of self. It’s a thing oneself does, but not doing it doesn’t make oneself not exist, though one may if course in the process lose awareness of oneself’s existence.

    Losing self-attachment may well be the way to avoid suffering, but there is still oneself that is the thing no longer suffering.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    In other words, the "self" is a useful idea with practical utility. But does that warrant the promotion of the "self" to the status of ontological primacy?sime

    I have given my reasons for the necessity of the self for perception, language and experience and memory.

    My example of amnesia and dementia is is responding to the idea we should try and minimize the self. And these are examples of the confusion caused by having one's identity compromised.

    Meditation may help someone deal with pain (likewise hypnosis) but it is not a permanent state to function in.

    Ironically Buddhists have been accused of being selfish for sitting around meditating and even begging to support this lifestyle whilst lots of people need help.
  • praxis
    2k
    Meditation may help someone deal with pain (likewise hypnosis) but it is not a permanent state to function in.Andrew4Handel

    Perhaps arguably, the deactivation of the DMN (neuological Buddhist ideal) can result in more efficient functioning, particularly of an overactive DMN.
  • DingoJones
    1.6k


    I agree, I do not see much point in living in that state all the time, or much time at all. That doesnt mean it isnt useful at all though.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k


    I do not know what causes me to have a self but I know it exists for various reasons. You can know something exists without being able to give an account of its constituents.

    I think it has the same status as consciousness which we know exists but can't explain or model.

    Saying the self is fractured or a composite is not the same as saying no self. But I have compelling evidence for my self about it's continuance.

    For example every time I meet family they recognize me and reaffirm that I am the same person.
    The genes in my body and my finger prints are unique.

    There are photo albums with me in at different stages in my life. When I wake up after sleeping I have no confusion about who I am I can validate my memories by things like visiting the house I grew up and looking at examination statistics. And I can't swap bodies and become someone else.

    So this level of continuity is sufficient for me to believe I am a continuous entity.

    But as I have been saying the main issue is who has experiences and perceptions. Consciousness is solipsistic in a sense that we can't get outside of what to be truly objective.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    I agree, I do not see much point in living in that state all the time, or much time at all. That doesn't mean it isn't useful at all though.DingoJones

    Yes but the point is that if we really had no self or a fractured self we would be less functional. And If I am right then that makes the self indispensable.

    This is a general point. The self unifies perceptions and this is related to the so called "Binding Problem. The brain processes input from the nervous system in different places but we have a coherent unified perception. Somehow brain processes and inputs (or something else) interact in such a way as to create a coherent gestalt (whole). This also lead to the problem of homunculi.

    I think some people are motivated to and illusionist or reductive explanation to preserve materialism but I don't see the need to deny things existence to preserve an ideology and I am not defending the self for ideological reasons.
  • Xtrix
    532
    I think that's a possibility. One watches a Buddhist monk burn himself alive and not move, and one has to wonder if there's something to this practice of "non-self."
    — Xtrix

    I am less convinced. Soldiers and athletes block out pain regularly. Many women cry like babies when they bump their leg on a table and yet somehow give birth without going into shock. Mental strength? No question. Some sort of "loss of self"? Possibly, I just have no reason to believe it.
    ZhouBoTong

    Believe what, exactly? When looking at it closely, it's obvious there's no such thing as "self." Are you your thoughts, feelings, actions? Where are "you"? Where is this "self"?

    A useful, common-usage term we all use? Sure. But in the same way as speaking of the "meaning of life" or something like that. I know what you mean, but there's no way to pin it down in any naturalistic sense. Likewise for "soul," likewise for "spirit," "subject," "mind" for that matter.

    If you're defining "self" within a certain theory, and giving it a technical definition I'm not aware of, then that's different. I don't see you doing so. In fact you've given no definition, and so it's hard to say whether or not we "believe" in something when we don't know what it is.

    I can see some value here, but more along the lines of remaining agnostic to the possibilities, vs actually making a claim (there is no self) that would require evidence.ZhouBoTong

    What "evidence" is there that there IS a self? Well, first we have to define what we mean by "self," and then provide the supporting evidence. But none of that has been done and, in fact, when you go to do it you find it evaporates. Is your liver a part of your self? Is it your brain? Your thoughts? Your sensations? Your memory? Etc.

    Like the concept of "God," people will often say similar things: "Well you can't PROVE there is no God!" I hope you see the flawed reasoning in that sense. I think you're doing something like that here.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    I was recently thinking about the issue of whether two things can exist in exactly the same place at the same time (and even found a thread on here about it).

    It seems to me it must be a fundamental fact or constraint and the law of identity that at some stage, such as even the atomic level, that there are individual things.
    Just in order to identify any entity and to have any structure. For example a bike has several distinct structures which allow it to function. And so I have no problem with the concept of distinct entities. And therefore why shouldn't the self work like this?

    So I don't think we all merge into one universal consciousness.
  • Xtrix
    532
    I think that there is a fundamental problem in claiming something doesn't exist that people have direct access to.

    For example pain. If you are in pain you know you are and no theorizing is going stop you being in pain.
    Andrew4Handel

    There is pain, yes. There are sensations. There are thoughts. There are sights and sounds. There are all kinds of phenomena in the world. To attach a "I," "me," mine," "you," etc., to it is tricky. It's fine for everyday use, but when you analyze it philosophically or scientifically, or even introspect for a while (or meditate, as in the Buddhist case) you find that it's not really defined at all. This is why it's sad to be an "illusion." It's not that you or I don't "exist," but that those very terms (when referring to individual "selves") are actually quite vague and, in the end, meaningless.
  • Xtrix
    532
    It maybe true that an external reality exists but how can we describe it? Once we start to describe it we rely on individual perceivers.Andrew4Handel

    I think the whole "inner/outer" or "external/internal world" debate is a mistake. In fact I started an entire thread about this in the "Notion of Subject/Object" a couple months ago. It's taken us down blind alleys and dead ends.

    The very question, the problem itself (about the self or the subject or the external world), is based on a set of beliefs and assumptions about the world which have their origins in the thinking of Descartes, the Scholastics, and the Greeks. I think this is precisely the reason claims that are made about the "self" being an illusion is particularly hard to grasp to us Westerners, whereas in the East it's much easier -- due to their very different traditional ontologies.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    There is pain, yes. There are sensations. There are thoughts. There are sights and sounds. There are all kinds of phenomena in the world. To attach a "I," "me," mine," "you," etc., to it is tricky.Xtrix

    I am not attaching anything to these things I am saying they don't make sense without an experiencer to be subject to them.

    It is quite easy to imagine a tree continuing to exist without being observed but I don't see how things like pain and language and dreams can continue to exist with out someone to have them as experiences. I have also recently mentioned the binding problem and the issue of unified perceptions.

    Either one person combines sensory input and ideas to see an object or scene, or several people communicate with each other to build up a picture. But then in the latter scenario each individual still needs to unify all the information for a coherent perception.
  • Andrew4Handel
    1.4k
    whereas in the East it's much easier -- due to their very different traditional ontologies.Xtrix

    Apparently Hindus believe in the soul/self but Buddhists don't but the issue is constantly debated in their histories. I don't see it as a resolved issue in those cultures.
  • Xtrix
    532
    I can't say you are wrong. But a loss of self seems to fail as the simplest explanation. It feels like claiming there is a god. A HUGE claim, with very limited evidence.ZhouBoTong

    I think you have it exactly backwards. The huge claim being made is that there IS a self. Tell us what it is and what evidence there is for it, and then we can tell you whether we believe in it or not. But that's either not been done, or when it has -- e.g., as some "entity" residing somewhere behind your eyes -- it can be shown to be not that. All we know -- whether on drugs or in deep meditation -- is that there is phenomena happening and changing -- both "in" our minds and "in" our bodies, as well as "outside" of "us," and that none of it is really "me." It's not an easy thing to grasp, especially growing up in the West, but it can be experienced. If you haven't experienced it yet but are truly interested in seeing it, then yes either take harder drugs or my recommendation would be to go to a meditation retreat for a week.
  • Xtrix
    532
    There is pain, yes. There are sensations. There are thoughts. There are sights and sounds. There are all kinds of phenomena in the world. To attach a "I," "me," mine," "you," etc., to it is tricky.
    — Xtrix

    I am not attaching anything to these things I am saying they don't make sense without an experiencer to be subject to them.
    Andrew4Handel

    OK, but where is this "experiencer"? Where is awareness? Is that the "self"?
  • Xtrix
    532
    whereas in the East it's much easier -- due to their very different traditional ontologies.
    — Xtrix

    Apparently Hindus believe in the soul/self but Buddhists don't but the issue is constantly debated in their histories. I don't see it as a resolved issue in those cultures.
    Andrew4Handel

    They're actually quite similar. Remember that it's claimed the Buddha himself was a Hindu prince (at least according to legend, I'm not sure how historically valid this is but it's the best we have), which seems at least plausible. The Hindus believe in Atman, the "true self" which is supposedly something different from what we normally identify with. In realizing this, one sees that one is actually part of Brahman.

    This is all very different from the concepts we've grown up in, especially handed down in our sciences and since Descartes, Kant, etc.
  • Shawn
    10.3k
    I really don't think there's a way of doing away with the self. Nor, do I see any apparent reason to do away with the self.

    Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa... didn't they all have selves?
  • bongo fury
    287
    Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa... didn't they all have selves?Shawn

    Hence the joke of the original title of Life of Brian: "Jesus: Lust for Glory".
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