A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Raised in another thread, here is Thomas Metzinger's short TEDTalk (edit x1: adding hyperlink)

First statement:
Good afternoon. Today I want to show you why it is literally true that there is no such thing as a self.
He re-caps studies on how identification with own-thoughts and own-forms (e.g., own body) have been done and how personal consciousness can have itself displaced in space and to objects resembling it, but which were moments before not itself.

And here is a transcription of the last third of the talk:
@ 12:27
So the philosopher who came up with this, George Edward Moore, was, like us, very much interested in conscious experience and he was fascinated by this phenomenon that you always only see the content. But you never see the consciousness itself.
And that is what he meant by this metaphor of transparency: Conscious states are transparent. Unconscious states in your brain are neither transparent nor opaque.
So this is more about the structure of experience. It’s not about knowledge so much. And the idea is that you don’t have access to the construction process in your brain. You just see the final result.
So the idea is that consciousness is like a high-dimensional window into the world, but we never see this window itself, we just see the bird flying by. That is one way to understand the transparency metaphor as a property of conscious representation.
Our brains, your brains right now, they create a conscious model of reality. You live with this conscious model of reality and you live through it, but you don’t see it. You don’t see the neurons firing in your brain; you just see what they represent for you.
You don’t see a model of a lectern here; you have the naïve realistic illusion of being directly and immediately in contact with the content of that model, which is now active in your brain.
So transparency creates something a philosopher colleague of mine might call the phenomenology of direct realism. The idea that you are directly in contact with the world and that what you experience is real. It is simply because you cannot look at the construction process. It’s too fast, too reliable, too robust.
So transparency also means that we are unaware of the medium through which information reaches us, through which information about the world penetrates our minds.
And because this is so, conscious experience is an invisible interface. Do you still remember these head-mounted displays from the last example?
One of the things I’m saying in this talk is that you are all wearing head-mounted displays right now, but they are in your heads. Your brains are reality engines --- virtual-reality-generating devices and they have been mounted in the brains of your ancestors millions of years ago and this is one of the best inventions of Mother Nature today.
We have this invisible interface just like the window with the bird, we live with it and we live through it, but we are unaware of this interface itself.
So now I come to the one point I wanted to make. Let us imagine a certain kind of information processing system, a certain kind of creature --- they would not have selves or souls, but they were conscious and they would have conscious self models.
But these self models were transparent in the sense just explained. Then these beings by necessity would have the experience of being directly in contact  with themselves. They would by necessity have the experience of being infinity close with themselves. They would by necessity have the experience that whatever is the content of their self model right now is real.
Metaphorically-speaking these systems would be confusing themselves with the content of their conscious self model. It would be a wonderful, naturally evolved window-- a two-way window connecting their inner life with the social world around them, but it would be an invisible interface to themselves as well.
Such beings would, so to speak, be glued to the content of their self model. They would therefore by necessity have the absolute robust experience of being someone.
I believe that all of you as you’ve been listening to me during this short talk have been beings like that.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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Metzinger's written work was referred to me also by a scholar-practitioner monk.

Here are numerous excerpts from his book, "The Ego Tunnel". If I've excerpted so much as to violate copyright law, someone please let me know. Else maybe you will buy the book by seeing his research and conclusions.

I have bolded one paragraph on sex since loss of sex drive is a real concern raised by numerous male meditative practitioners, in case there is an unconscious aversion to reading about meditation and any threat it may have to sex drive.

Many people here on this site are also dads and moms so I've tried to excerpt some sections relevant to children and the benefits of this dignified consciousness model, which model is awakened to the "transparency of consciousness" (see the above TED talk where Metzinger accredits George Edward Moore, 4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958, with the transparency idea).
In ordinary states of consciousness, there is always someone having the experience—someone consciously experiencing himself as directed toward the world, as a self in the act of attending, knowing, desiring, willing, and acting. There are two major reasons for this. First, we possess an integrated inner image of ourselves that is firmly anchored in our feelings and bodily sensations; the world-simulation created by our brains includes the experience of a point of view. Second, we are unable to experience and introspectively recognize our self-models as models; much of the self-model is, as
 philosophers might say, transparent.3 Transparency simply means that we are unaware of the medium through which information reaches us. We do not see the window but only the bird flying by. We do not see neurons firing away in our brain but only what they represent for us. A conscious world-model active in the brain is transparent if the brain has no chance of discovering that it is a model—we look right through it, directly onto the world, as it were. The central claim of this book—and the theory behind it, the self-model theory of subjectivity4—is that the

 conscious experience of being a self emerges because a large part of the PSM in your brain is transparent.

Of course, there is an old shamanic tradition of exploring altered states of consciousness. More-or-less systematic experimental consciousness research has been conducted for millennia—by the yogi and the dervish, by the magician, the monk, and the mystic. At all times and in all cultures, human beings have explored the potential of their conscious

 minds—through rhythmic drumming and trance techniques, through fasting and sleep deprivation, through meditation and the cultivation of lucid dreaming, or through the use of psychoactive substances from herbal teas to sacred mushrooms. The new feature today is that we are slowly beginning to understand the neural underpinnings of all such alternate-reality tunnels. As soon as we have discovered the neural correlate of consciousness for specific forms of content, we will be able, at least in principle, to manipulate these contents in many new ways—to

amplify or inhibit them, to change their quality, to generate new types of content. Brain prostheses and medical neural technology are already under way. Neurotechnology will inevitably turn into consciousness technology. Phenomenal experience will gradually become technologically available, and we will be able to manipulate it in ever more systematic and effective ways. We will learn to make use of these discoveries to overcome the limitations of our biologically evolved Ego Tunnels.


Chapter: What is a good state of consciousness?

In traditional ethics, we ask, “What is a good action?” Now we must also ask, “What is a good state of consciousness?” I am fully aware that a host of theoretical complications arises. I will present no extended discussion here, but my intuition is that a desirable state of consciousness should satisfy at least three conditions: It should minimize suffering, in humans and all other beings capable of suffering; it should ideally possess an epistemic potential (that is, it should have a component of insight and expanding knowledge); and it should have behavioral consequences that increase the probability of the occurrence of future valuable types of experience. Consciousness ethics is not about phenomenal experience alone. There is a wider context.


A related problem we face is the management of our attention. The ability to attend to our environment, to our own feelings, and to those of others is a naturally evolved feature of the human brain. Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. We need attention in order to truly listen to others—and even to ourselves. We need attention to truly enjoy sensory pleasures, as well as for efficient learning. We need it in order to be truly present during sex or to be in love or when we are simply contemplating nature. Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day.

Today, the advertisement and entertainment industries are attacking the very foundations of our capacity for experience, drawing us into the vast and confusing media jungle. They are trying to rob us of as much of our scarce resource as possible, and they are doing so in ever more persistent and intelligent ways. Of course, they are increasingly making use of the new insights into the human mind offered by cognitive and brain science to achieve their goals (“neuromarketing” is one of the ugly new buzzwords). We can see the probable result in the epidemic of attention-deficit disorder in children and young adults, in midlife burnout, in rising levels of anxiety in large parts of the population. If I am right that consciousness is the space of attentional agency, and if (as discussed in chapter 4) it is also true that the experience of controlling and sustaining your focus of attention is one of the deeper layers of phenomenal selfhood, then we are currently witnessing not only an organized attack on the space of consciousness per se but a mild form of depersonalization. New medial environments may create a new form of waking consciousness that resembles weakly subjective states—a mixture of dreaming, dementia, intoxication, and infantilization.

My proposal for countering this attack on our reserves of attention is to introduce classes in meditation in our high schools. The young should be made aware of the limited nature of their capacity for attention, and they need to learn techniques to enhance their mindfulness and maximize their ability to sustain it—techniques that will be of help in the battle against the commercial robbers of our attention (and that will not incidentally undercut the temptations to indulge in mind-altering drugs). These meditation lessons should of course be free of any religious tinge—no candles, no incense, no bells.

They might be a part of gym classes; the brain, too, is a part of the body—a part that can be trained and must be tended to with care. In the new era of neuropedagogy, now that we know more about the critical formative phases of the human brain, shouldn’t we make use of this knowledge to maximize the autonomy of future adults? In particular, shouldn’t we introduce our children to those states of consciousness we believe to be valuable and teach them how to access and cultivate them at an early age? Education is not only about academic achievement. Recall that one positive aspect of the new image of Homo sapiens is its recognition of the vastness of our phenomenal-state space. Why not teach our children to make use of this vastness in a better way than their parents did—a way that guarantees and stabilizes their mental health, enriches their subjective lives and grants them new insights?

For instance, the sorts of happiness associated with intense experiences of nature or with bodily exercise and physical exertion are generally regarded as positive states of consciousness, as is the more subtle inner perception of ethical coherence. If modern neuroscience tells us that access to these types of subjective experience is best acquired during certain critical periods in child development, we should systematically make use of this knowledge—both in school and at home. Likewise, if mindfulness and attention management are desiderata, we should ask what neuroscience can contribute to their implementation in the educational system. Every child has a right to be provided with a “neurophenomenological toolbox” in school; at minimum this should include

 two meditation techniques, one silent and one in motion; two standard techniques for deep relaxation, such as autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation; two techniques for improving dream recall and inducing lucidity; and perhaps a course in what one might call “media hygiene.” If new possibilities for manipulation threaten our children’s mental health, we must equip them with efficient instruments to defend themselves against new dangers, increasing their autonomy.

We may well develop better meditative techniques than the Tibetan monks discussed in chapter 2. If dream research comes up with risk-free ways of improving dream recall and mastering the art of lucid dreaming, shouldn’t we make this knowledge available to our children? What about controlled out-of-body experiences?

Some general points can already be made. First, we must admit that the prospects for open and free democratic discussion on a global scale are dim. The populations of authoritarian societies with poor educational systems are growing much faster than
Developing a consciousness culture has nothing to do with establishing a religion or a particular political agenda. On the contrary, a true consciousness culture will always be subversive, by encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. The current lack of a genuine consciousness culture is a social expression of the fact that the philosophical project of enlightenment has become stuck: What we lack is not faith but

knowledge. (…)If we demystify consciousness, do we automatically lose our sense of human solidarity at the same time?

It is also clear how we could lose our dignity: by clinging to the past, by developing a culture of denial, and by sliding back into the various forms of irrationalism and fundamentalism. The working concepts of “consciousness ethics” and “consciousness culture” are exactly about not losing our dignity—by taking it to new levels of autonomy in dealing with our conscious minds.

Metzinger, Thomas (2009-03-17). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (a link to the book, which ranges from USD 8.59 to USD 40). 

Edit: I would not shoehorn Buddhist science of mind and the above model together and nor do I position them apart. 
This winter I took the chance to attend a retreat wherein the monastics stated no talks nor interviews would be given; only eight precepts taken for the well-being of the community and mental attention. I hope more such will be given. This campus offered it to people they knew had a practice and would not need teaching supports. I hope they continue to offer this truly silent retreat in the future as so many people are getting experience and can use a silent, structured retreat to study effects of consciousness.
Psi, modified 9 Years ago at 2/14/15 10:52 AM
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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Hi Katy, 

Metzinger's work is so......  Anatta

Anyway wanted to add this link, have not read it yet, have his book, The Ego Tunnel, have not read the whole book yet either, but got the gist of it.
It is wonderful to see what the Buddha taught, and to see it backed up by science.  One supports the other.

Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty


Actualy saw this in mentioned in Sawfoot's thread, to be intellectually honest, but then again, this I , is just a parroting bundle of memetic neurons....


Metta to you Katy, always

katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 9 Years ago at 2/14/15 1:34 PM
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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Scientists never talk how it is actually experienced. They skip the issue altogether. Brain generate consciousness somewhere and that is it. Not very extensive...

I fully agree with you, Pawel. Even in the thirty-three sermons on nibbana by 
Katukurunde Nyanananda Thero he presents "I" as arising as a vortex arising between name-and-form and consciousness:
The most outstanding contribution made by the law of Dependent Origination to the ethical, psychological and philosophical enquiries of all times is the revelation that there is a vortex hidden behind the flux and turbulence of mental life. In any vortex, whether made of air like a tornado, of water like a whirlpool, or of storm clouds like a hurricane, the center is empty. The stages of ‘consciousness’ and ‘name-and-form’25 are the axis, the empty hub of the vortex of Dependent Origination. They perpetually support and revitalize each other in mutual rotation, an emptiness like the eye of a hurricane, around which orbits all existence. (page 28/82, with pages following in suttic support)

And with conciousness defined as something illusory and non-extant, "The Magic Show" Phena Sutta (Saṃyutta Nikāya III 142). Nyanananda Thero's definition is, to me, quite similar to Metzinger's use of Moore's transcendent label: that in this sutta the "man with good eyesight" is  "yoniso manasikāra—literally, ‘refection by way of source or matrix’. This means being aware not only of the object of contemplation but also of the network of meaning and intentions through which we view it. This ‘ontological contemplation’ is the theme of this work."

And during a cessation event for myself in 2012 (just about three years ago exactly) I cannot explain what brought on the moment of consciousness, an apresonal 'touching' or contacting of object, which consciousness was preceded by something I'd call in hindsight object-consciosness and before that a perception without gradients and before that unconciousness-- I don't want to digress there, so I'm skating over that a bit. But I just cannot say what brought on a sense of "pure consciousness"-- a type that is objects, but 'contacts' or touches objects in its purview.

At the same time having directly experienced other forms of consciousness, including one that I called "being drawn into godhood' I could not say, "this experience is more real than the other experiences of consciousness." They are experiences of consciousness like typing.

So I don't tell people which practice they should do or how. And for anyone's awakening or teaching I can just look at their conduct and whether it helps reduce/prevent suffering and enjoy the play.

I am looking at surfers today and one legendary surfer says,
"You know in Hawaiian, if you are Hawaiian you have to learn how to appreciate what you have and everybody else, too. This is not a surf meet where you just come here and 'Okay, the meet is gonna start in about a minute <buzzer!> Let the meet start [ph?].' No, it's not like that. We thank God for this day. We thank God for taking care of us. First, is God. And then second is play. If you know God, He teach you how to love people and to respect people, and if you don't have that inside of you, then it's gonna be really hard for you to learn anything, to respect one another."

Also, a dignified model of consciousness which can have helpful conduct outcomes without being other-derogating or inviting in/out violence dynamics.
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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This is also why Werner Herzog's documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is still my favorite movie to-date.

It shows beautifully, to me, a long human history in self-identify (the wall of handprints!), wonder, reverence, attention-study and the cave itself, dark, deep, unknown. 

It is availble for streaming.
katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 9 Years ago at 2/14/15 1:59 PM
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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Thank you, Psi. I am definitely going to read that link this week. 
chris mc, modified 9 Years ago at 2/14/15 7:27 PM
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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I fully agree with you, Pawel. Even in the thirty-three sermons on nibbana by Katukurunde Nyanananda Thero he presents "I" as arising as a vortex arising between name-and-form and consciousness:

Some of you people, you in particular katy, spend a seemingly large amount of time getting into these heavy conversations that don't really lead to anything practical. I'm assuming that your actual, on-cushion, meditation practice is on point, nothing much to do there, so you have this time to spare.

Are the thirty-three sermons on nibbana by Katukurunde Nyanananda Thero helping you find liberation?
katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 9 Years ago at 2/14/15 9:01 PM
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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Hi Chris,

It's okay if you don't find this thread practical. It's evident that somehow you're attracted to the thread or me or you wouldn't post here. 

I do shinkantaza (if you can really say "I do shikantaza") and ānāpānasati, retreat when I can. If you have questions on those practices please open another thread and people will probably respond to you helpfully.

As to Katukurunde Nyanananda's lectures. They are very interesting. Consider threads and readings like these as musicians who talk after a jam: people basically fluent in music, for example, as well as conversant.

edit: Ooo! And by no means do we need to be fluent or proficient to be convesant! When learning a new instrument as a complete beginner, sometimes it's nice to talk about interviews and recordings with those who inspire us!
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RE: A dignified consciousness model of 'awakening': Thomas Metzinger

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I've really enjoyed what I've read from Metzinger. I especially appreciate his commitment to the notion that any satisfactory explanation of consciousness must by necessity include all the peculiar things it can get up to.

Scientists never talk how it is actually experienced. They skip the issue altogether. Brain generate consciousness somewhere and that is it. Not very extensive...

Metzinger is by his own description a neutral monist, stating that "the distinction between physical and psychological states is actually quite superficial and rather uninteresting." (pp. 150-151, The Ego Tunnel) Whether or not one agrees, the context is helpful.

Neuron inside them have in-out device that connects them to quantum field of consciousness or something like that. Imho those are probably micro-tubules. It is done by nature (evolution) because of its efficiency. I am implying we are quantum computers inside neuron computers]

Victor Stenger wrote the following in criticism of the technical claims of quantum consciousness (source):

Here’s the main argument and Stenger’s explanation for why it is wrong. Inside our neurons are tiny hollow microtubules that act like structural scaffolding. Proponents of quantum consciousness suggest that something inside the microtubules may initiate a wave function collapse that leads to the quantum coherence of atoms, causing neurotransmitters to be released into the synapses between neurons and thus triggering them to fire in a uniform pattern, thereby creating thought and consciousness. Since a wave function collapse can only come about when an atom is “observed” (i.e., affected in any way by something else), the belief is that “mind” may be the observer in a recursive loop from atoms to molecules to neurons to thought to consciousness to mind to atoms. Vic explained to me that for a system to be described quantum mechanically the system’s typical mass m, speed v, and distance d must be on the order of Planck’s constant h. “If mvd is much greater than h, then the system probably can be treated classically.” According to Vic, the mass of neural transmitter molecules and their speed across the distance of the synapse are about three orders of magnitude too large for quantum effects to be influential. As he said, “the notion that we can control reality by merely thinking about it is nowhere implied by quantum mechanics and nowhere indicated by any scientific data.”