Is the human self nonexistent?

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In this sub-forum we've been in part and inherently discussing the nature of the human self. In this the general common-sense assumption has been that it truly exists. Here, a post-modern academic "answer" to the question of what is the self reveals just how irrelevant this source has become. It appears at least from this glimpse of their thinking that we'd better not ask the "pros" in academia.

Modern philosophy of mind seems to be in a heated contest to become as absurd and irrelevant to rational discourse as possible. It's truly amazing what utter rubbish is expounded and written about in papers by these academic mini-achievers. The nadir of this trend is in the "expert philosophers" who advocate that the human self does not really exist. They are akin to the post-modernist philosophy of mind people who claim that consciousness itself is an illusion and doesn't really exist, ignoring the obvious resulting question of what is doing the imagining and entertaining the illusion. We (the public) support with our tax money institutions that promote such stuff?

Derived from an interview covered with commentary by neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at https://mindmatters.ai/2022/08/philosoph...nterviews/ (interview itself at https://deconstructingyourself.com/what-...inger.html ):

Secular meditation teacher Michael W. Taft interviewed leading theoretical philosopher Thomas Metzinger. Metzinger is a German philosopher. As of 2011 he has held the position of director of the theoretical philosophy group at the department of philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. Here is just a snippet from the interview, one set of Taft’s questions and Metzinger’s answers, and some observations of this interview:

Quote:"Michael W. Taft: You’ve written at great length about the experience of selfhood in human beings. So let’s start off by asking, What is the self?

"Thomas Metzinger: The first thing to understand, I believe, is that there is no thing like “the self.” Nobody ever had or was a self. Selves are not part of reality. Selves are not something that endures over time. The first person pronoun “I” doesn’t refer to an object like a football or a bicycle, it just points to the speaker of the current sentence. There is no thing in the brain or outside in the world, which is us. We are processes… the self is not a thing but a process."

............................................................

Comments: What could Metzinger possibly mean by “there is no thing like ‘the self’”? Myself is the term I use to refer to me. I (and my self) are very much a part of reality, and I most certainly endure over time. I am an object like a football — in a sense — in that I exist in the world, I have mass and shape, and I have come into existence and will someday go out of existence in this world. Obviously, I have many abilities that a football doesn’t have — I have a sum of powers (physiological, sensory, motor, emotional, mnemonic, and rational) that comprise my soul. I am a composite of matter and soul, just as all things in the world are composites of matter and form.

And Metzinger’s claim that we are not selves (“things”) but processes is unintelligible. A process is a state of change, and change presupposes a being that exists continuously through the process of changing."

Another side of this: How could Metzinger “hold” any position (academic or otherwise) if he is an evanescent process without substantial enduring reality? I noted same gaffe in the theories of noted paranormal pseudo-skeptic Susan Blackmore, who also denies the reality of the self.

Note: and what is it that is regularly paid a salary by his university?
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As I mentioned yesterday in another thread, I was watching Rick Archer's interview with "pre-birther" Christian Sundberg. There's a point in the interview where they talk about the self, and this "you" (or "I'') at the common-sense level is what persists through all incarnations. Rick brings up how that contradicts the non-self frequently conceptualized or described in (some) Buddhist traditions, which is very much like what this guy Metzinger seems to be describing. Rick contrasts it with the Vedic notion of a substantive self.

In my view there may be some psychological or phenomenological insights in what those Buddhist understandings provide, but nevertheless the data consistently does point to a self, a you or I.

This discussion starts at around 55:30 in terms of the contradiction with the Buddhist non-self, but you may want to back up a few minutes to hear them discuss in more general terms the persistence of the self across the different "characters" we inhabit throughout the cosmic play.

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(2022-09-02, 07:09 PM)Ninshub Wrote: As I mentioned yesterday in another thread, I was watching Rick Archer's interview with "pre-birther" Christian Sundberg. There's a point in the interview where they talk about the self, and this "you" (or "I'') at the common-sense level is what persists through all incarnations. Rick brings up how that contradicts the non-self frequently conceptualized or described in (some) Buddhist traditions, which is very much like what this guy Metzinger seems to be describing. Rick contrasts it with the Vedic notion of a substantive self.

In my view there may be some psychological or phenomenological insights in what those Buddhist understandings provide, but nevertheless the data consistently does point to a self, a you or I.

This discussion starts at around 55:30 in terms of the contradiction with the Buddhist non-self, but you may want to back up a few minutes to hear them discuss in more general terms the persistence of the self across the different "characters" we inhabit throughout the cosmic play.


As I have said previously, I agree that there is a persistent "self" that transfers from life to life. But it at least appears due to simple logic, to not be anything we can identify with as meaningfully encompassing what is important to us in ourselves. The simple sense of "I am me" would seem to be undifferentiated and identical to all the other "I am me's". They all seem to be "one" in the mystical sense.  

What is most important to us as human beings is our unique human individuality, which is very much more than the simple sense that "I am me". It encompasses our unique human personality, memories and body identity. 

What this perhaps fallible chain of reasoning leads to is that when reincarnation is involved, as far as human beings are concerned there is no meaningful persistent self from life to life. Therefore, no meaningful (in the long term) survival of physical death, since the previous human individuality is snuffed out (except for some buried memories) with each reincarnation. In this interpretation, there is a being with continuity - but it is the soul, which accumulates all the collective memories and wisdom derived from the multiple physical lives, but it at least appears according to this chain of reasoning to be a separate being from the human.

By implication this would not apply to souls that are able to choose not to reincarnate. If such a soul has just one human physical life, the unique individuality of this life would be preserved and continue to be a key part of the unique soul personality, and there would be true afterlife survival. 

Following this train of thought, the different beliefs regarding the truth or not of reincarnation taught by different religions would be seen as all being at least partially true - that is, they differently focus on the different available choices of the souls. For instance the Bahai belief that there is no reincarnation and that the unique human individuality persists in some form forever, would be true for those souls who choose that (not to reincarnate). Eastern religions believing that it is the transcendental "I" that persists forever would also be right, for those souls that choose that existence. 

If this reasoning is faulty I would certainly like to find out where the mistakes lie. It occurs to me that perhaps the key problematic area is my assumption that the simple sense of "I am me" does not encompass my human individuality.
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(2022-09-02, 04:38 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: Note: and what is it that is regularly paid a salary by his university?

I recall reading the argument that for all these people who don't believe in a self, just deduct a massive chunk of their pay and they will suddenly find their self and demand it be paid "fairly".
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2022-09-02, 08:43 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: What this perhaps fallible chain of reasoning leads to is that when reincarnation is involved, as far as human beings are concerned there is no meaningful persistent self from life to life. Therefore, no meaningful (in the long term) survival of physical death, since the previous human individuality is snuffed out (except for some buried memories) with each reincarnation. In this interpretation, there is a being with continuity - but it is the soul, which accumulates all the collective memories and wisdom derived from the multiple physical lives, but it at least appears according to this chain of reasoning to be a separate being from the human.

By implication this would not apply to souls that are able to choose not to reincarnate. If such a soul has just one human physical life, the unique individuality of this life would be preserved and continue to be a key part of the unique soul personality, and there would be true afterlife survival. 

I'm not 100% sure I'm following everything you've written in this post. However, I'll go with what I think I understand you mean.

I think in one sense you're correct to say that (experientially at least), at the human being perspective, there is no meaningful persistent self from life to life.

I'm not seeing that that means however that the previous human individuality is snuffed out for the soul. (Maybe that's what you're saying.) 

I see a potential fault in what your last statement seems to imply from my reading. You seem to be saying that the soul who has just one physical (human) life preserves that individuality and that that is not the case for the soul that has multiples "individualities" (multiple physical human lives). But my understanding of the soul who has multiple lives is that all of those lives/characteristics/identities are contained within the soul.

My understanding is that my soul as it is incarnated in my physical body at this "moment" is not the entirety of my soul. For one thing this part or aspect is veiled from the rest of the complete "me". But at the same time the complete me is not "lost" or temporarily disappeared as mere buried memories inside the physical incarnation, but is right now "on the other side" so to speak and being enriched with the experience of this current incarnation as it's happening and contributing to the accumulated experiential knowledge through the previous incarnations.

When my current physical incarnation ends, Ninshub Wink will be integrated into the larger, complete me. Ninshub won't be "snuffed out". However in "future" or parallel physical incarnations, they won't be identical to Ninshub in all their particularities or carry all of his particularities (maybe some?). The particularities of Ninshub will be still fully residing into the now Ninshub-enriched Self. (I'm still talking of a personal Self here, not Source.)

Hopefully I'm clear. I'm thinking it through as I'm writing it.
(This post was last modified: 2022-09-03, 12:27 AM by Ninshub. Edited 1 time in total.)
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(2022-09-02, 08:43 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: The simple sense of "I am me" would seem to be undifferentiated and identical to all the other "I am me's". They all seem to be "one" in the mystical sense.


That would only be true if you assume that all those "I am mes" would be impersonal, and even then it would not support the oneness doctrine. I believe, and I think the evidence supports this view, that every self has a core personality. Thus those "I am mes" are not impersonal, and different parts of this core personality are displayed during the multiple incarnations.


(2022-09-02, 08:43 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: In this interpretation, there is a being with continuity - but it is the soul, which accumulates all the collective memories and wisdom derived from the multiple physical lives, but it at least appears according to this chain of reasoning to be a separate being from the human.


I believe that these memories, experiences and wisdom derived from the multiple physical lives are stored in the subconscious. These life experiences differentiate the self from other selves. I also disagree with the view that the soul is a separate being from the human. I have changed a lot since I was 5, but I don't consider myself a separate being from that child.

(2022-09-02, 08:43 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: What is most important to us as human beings is our unique human individuality, which is very much more than the simple sense that "I am me". It encompasses our unique human personality, memories and body identity.


I agree with you regarding the unique human personality and memories, but I'd exclude the body identity. In my view the human personality is never snuffed out. Instead the self manifests different parts of the core personality during multiple lives. The memories are stored in the subconscious and can be accessed, for example, through dreams. There are also other ways how previous lives can affect our present lives. For example, our likes and dislikes may have their origins in previous lives and they may affect our decisions. There are probably lots of other kind of influences from the previous lives which affect our present lives but we just don't realize that.
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(2022-09-03, 12:37 AM)Raimo Wrote: That would only be true if you assume that all those "I am mes" would be impersonal, and even then it would not support the oneness doctrine. I believe, and I think the evidence supports this view, that every self has a core personality. Thus those "I am mes" are not impersonal, and different parts of this core personality are displayed during the multiple incarnations.

When you say the "oneness doctrine" Raimo, does that refer to the idea that there are no individual souls but only one Self (or a non-self even? a ground of being?), or to something that says there are individual souls but they're really the same soul, so they have no distinct personalities?
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(2022-09-03, 12:25 AM)Ninshub Wrote: I'm not 100% sure I'm following everything you've written in this post. However, I'll go with what I think I understand you mean.

I think in one sense you're correct to say that (experientially at least), at the human being perspective, there is no meaningful persistent self from life to life.

I'm not seeing that that means however that the previous human individuality is snuffed out for the soul. (Maybe that's what you're saying.) 

I see a potential fault in what your last statement seems to imply from my reading. You seem to be saying that the soul who has just one physical (human) life preserves that individuality and that that is not the case for the soul that has multiples "individualities" (multiple physical human lives). But my understanding of the soul who has multiple lives is that all of those lives/characteristics/identities are contained within the soul.

My understanding is that my soul as it is incarnated in my physical body at this "moment" is not the entirety of my soul. For one thing this part or aspect is veiled from the rest of the complete "me". But at the same time the complete me is not "lost" or temporarily disappeared as mere buried memories inside the physical incarnation, but is right now "on the other side" so to speak and being enriched with the experience of this current incarnation as it's happening and contributing to the accumulated experiential knowledge through the previous incarnations.

When my current physical incarnation ends, Ninshub Wink will be integrated into the larger, complete me. Ninshub won't be "snuffed out". However in "future" or parallel physical incarnations, they won't be identical to Ninshub in all their particularities or carry all of his particularities (maybe some?). The particularities of Ninshub will be still fully residing into the now Ninshub-enriched Self. (I'm still talking of a personal Self here, not Source.)

Hopefully I'm clear. I'm thinking it through as I'm writing it.

I agree with your (bolded) interpretation. I think the best way to attempt to justify this is through analogy. Take a simple Lego block, which is colored yellow with a bright red X marked on it on all faces. Though simple, this object has a certain individuality. Then build up a Ford Model T with this block along with a multitude of other Lego blocks all in different colors, brown, purple, ochre, blue, etc. etc., and with a great number of other symbols marked on them in all different colors. The result will have the individuality of the Ford Model T with a composite color and a multitude of different small symbols. This resulting structure will not have the individuality of the starting yellow Lego block marked with red X's. This new structure will have the new individuality of a much more complex Model T of some composite color. 

I agree that the original yellow Lego block marked with the X's isn't totally lost - it still exists there somewhere in the total new structure, but my point is that the large new structure of the Model T formed from all the different blocks has an entirely different individuality only marginally contributed to by the original yellow block. The original  yellow block is submerged in another entity.

And if it could speak, the original yellow block would observe that "the Ford Model T isn't me - I am me".

I think your (violet highlighted) statement is a beautiful expression of the best way to interpret all this so as to preserve our peace of mind. I just am very uncomfortable with the notion of losing my present unique human individuality.
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That's a very appropriate (and also beautiful) analogy for the model we're describing.

Tell me if this isn't very similar to what Nanci Danison writes in the following, describing what she was experienced and remembered during her NDE. (She identifies our discarnate souls as Light Beings.)

And so she writes (which includes a response to a reader who had asked if she would keep what she had learned and experienced during her human life after the "human" dies):

Quote:Light Beings by definition are personalities (...) We Light Beings have lots of "lumps and crevices" to our personalities. Nearly all of what we think of as our human personality is actually Light Being personality. (...)

When the body dies, the Energy that was the body's soul goes back to the Light and recombines with the rest of its Light Being Energy. This is what happened to me. Everything we experience in human life stays in our eternal personality and memory. So this reader's personality and memories will always include playing the guitar and bass, knowing homeopathy and TM, awareness of what it's like to have a human baby, etc.

My reader is correct that the small part of her eternal personality that shines through her human host is not much like the rest of her Energy still in the Light. Our eternal Light Being personalities are far more complex, can express far more innate abilities, and have learned and experienced a zillion times more than the humans we currently inhabit will ever know. The part of the Light Being inhabiting the human is the limited personality, not the part still in the Light.

Nanci Danison, Answers from the Afterlife, 2016, Columbia, OH: A. P. Lee & Co., Ltd, p. 55.
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(2022-09-02, 04:38 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: Modern philosophy of mind seems to be in a heated contest to become as absurd and irrelevant to rational discourse as possible. It's truly amazing what utter rubbish is expounded and written about in papers by these academic mini-achievers. The nadir of this trend is in the "expert philosophers" who advocate that the human self does not really exist. They are akin to the post-modernist philosophy of mind people who claim that consciousness itself is an illusion and doesn't really exist, ignoring the obvious resulting question of what is doing the imagining and entertaining the illusion. We (the public) support with our tax money institutions that promote such stuff?

Utterly absurd, isn't it (denying that there is a self).  It's nothing less than a sacrament of their religion. No less irrational than the sacraments of other religions. Based on zero evidence, the evidence to the contrary is actually enormous but Metzinger has taken his vows and now has to preach accordingly. 

Outside of the clergy or at least beyond the walls of their 'holy institutions', no one believes this crap or I should say (in order to be polite), irrational fairy tale (that there is no self) no more than they would believe in 'father christmas' or the 'tooth fairy'. It's a superstition that arose out of the fervour and hubris of scientism a couple of hundred years ago and these curious beliefs do not die easily.
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