UKC

Can you lose your self?

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021

Continued from the Spirituality thread.

>> This is an interesting philosophical problem to untangle. If we use a mish-mash of language which confuses third person descriptions with first person description, then we end up in a mess. Here's a serious attempt to try to clarify - I think this is fascinating so it would be good to try genuinely to see what's going on.

>> Let's call the things that have conscious experiences "persons". Persons exist objectively, anyone can point to a person and label it "person A", and they're all talking about a real thing in the outside objective reality we share. Hopefully you're on board with there being an objective reality and you're not going to disagree with that for the sake of it.

> With you so far.

Good

> Then we have the content of each person's conscious experiences. Things in this category don't exist in the outside objective reality, stuff like colours, thoughts, intentions, etc. They only exist to the subject who experiences them (first person ontology) - and can only have first person descriptions. My memories only exists in my consciousness there is no third-person description of it (a third person would just see neurons and synapses - no good!). My sense of sense, my ego, my perception of being an autonomous agent situated behind my eyes, is in this category. It has first person ontology, and only first person descriptions are available for it.

> Nearly with you, but I'm discounting colour, we might interpret colours differently but there is an objective reality there.

You'd have thought so, but actually there isn't. You'd think that colours correspond to different wavelengths of light, but that's not the case. Colour is entirely subjective - you can perceive two objects that are reflecting completely different spectra as the same colour, and completely the same spectra as different colours. Colour is a psychological construct, created by the brain, that exists in consciousness (it has first person ontology). The correlate in the external word, light spectrum (actually the nearest thing is the reflectivity profile of a surface) doesn't map to it, because the brain does loads of esoteric processing tricks to create the entirely subjective experience of colour that literally doesn't match to anything in the external world.

The classic kid's philosophy question of the "inverted spectrum" (is my red the same as your red) has more to it than is first apparent.

> You think there's a problem with saying "I lost my sense of self", and there is, as Michael Pollan says and I highlighted at the start of our discussion. But this problem is a quirk of all our first person descriptions of what goes on in our heads. Have you ever "given yourself a talking to"? Were there two selves, one talking and one being talked to? In normal waking consciousness, where we "stop ourselves" hitting someone, or "are pleased with ourselves", there do seem to be spare selves in there, so maybe one of them can be dispensed with and we can still remain in existence and conscious? The problem you  highlight doesn't show that people who speak of ego loss are talking bollocks, it highlights that the whole notion of a self who experiences consciousness, is in some way, bollocks.

> Actually I'd highlighted it to Tim before you joined in. And it's still a problem. What you're describing is called an internal monologue, we all do it but it doesn't mean we're talking to another party (you know that? Support lines are available). But now you're saying the self doesn't experience consciousness, so does the self experience ego (and therefore ego loss)? 

I think we are, satisfyingly, getting somewhere towards the nub of this.

The problem highlighted by the "internal monologue" (or "internal dialogue" as it is often called, tellingly) is that the language we use to describe what's going on in our consciousness is confusing. Language developed so we could communicate between each other, from Person A to Person B. It does a great job of this. But when we try to describe the internal experience, the first person of experience of what's going within Person A, it doesn't do a great job. The language we use makes it sound like there are multiple selves, a speaker and listener. Obviously I know that internal monologue/dialogue doesn't really feel like there are two selves in there, but our language is inadequate to describe what we experience the whole time, without creating this confusion.

> No, it's true from my first person experience. There is no boundary between me and the world. But you might feel differently and I shouldn't have assumed you also had no boundary.

So you're in a state of permanent ego loss, and you don't feel like a discreet self, located behind your eyes, looking out at the external world, and controlling your body, acting as an autonomous agent? You feel (not know, intellectually) that you are part of everything in the universe, there is no boundary between you and the ground you stand on, and the person you're with, and the atoms that make up the air, and the cosmic microwave background radiation?

Did you ever come back from that mushroom trip down the cave? How's work going?

This is the opposite of what you said before, when you agreed that the experience of being a self (synonymous with having an ego), being the autonomous agent looking out at the world. This is the normal state of consciousness and it takes some nudging to go from here to ego loss.

You want it both ways, and I can't make any sense of that at all. 

>> The thing that experiences anything in consciousness is the person. That's a third person description of what experiences both the self (when it's there), and the loss of self (when it's disappeared). You seem to want a third person description (an experiencer having an experience) and a first person description (I felt...) to be identical. There is no reason this should be the case because objective reality and subjective experiences are ontologically different. They are different categories of things, things that exist from the first person perspective simply do not exist in the objective world, and if you don't appreciate that, we'll just talk past each other.

> The person? Ok, so the person (let's call him Jon) experiences consciousness, but it isn't Jon's self that experiences consciousness because Jon's person can experience consciousness without there being any self?

Yes exactly.

> Is Jon still conscious of being Jon when he has lost his self?

Would be easier to say if I could give you a first hand account (but the language would remain confusing as discussed above), but I think the answer is no. There are probably degrees of how much of your concept of personal identity dissolves, from literally no perception that you are a person with a name and body, to just a very different sense of self that feels much more part of the world and less discreet and autonomous than normal. To answer this interesting question, you'd have to sift through people's accounts, in all of their non-sensical confusing language.

> Can Jon decide that it's time to find his self again? And if the self can be consciously switched back on by Jon was it ever actually lost?

These are fleeting experiences which I gather can't be turned on and off at will. In the midst of deep meditation or a psychedelic trip, there are moments that occur when one loses all sense of sense. Having the desire to switch your sense of self back on is not compatible with having lost it. Desire, and volitional action, come from the self. So no, I reckon it just pops back into existence after it's temporarily gone awol; creating the sense of self is what the brain does routinely when you're awake, so ego-loss is a short disruption to normal function.

> I thought I'd have a go at removing stimuli, so I went down a cave and took a high dose of psychedelic drugs, no light, very little sound. Unfortunately it appeared that I'd taken my self into the cave with me.

Hardcore! My attempts at losing the self have been similar. I've been floating in a landscape of colours which *are* the music (that's a first person description, I was lying on the sofa with my eyes shut; also another example of how the only language I can find to describe a first person perspective makes no sense), but it was still me that was listening to the music. I didn't feel like I'd merged with universal consciousness, or that I had seen that ultimate reality was an abstract concept like god or love. However, I didn't conclude that just because I didn't experience ego loss, no one else has. The literature is clear that it really is a thing. But I certainly didn't feel like the same self as I do when I'm at work talking to someone about their cataracts. The self is not just one consistent, unmovable thing that is always there, experiencing consciousness from a vantage point behind the eyes.

The self is a trick conjured by the brain (for good reasons). Ask Bruce Hood:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bruce+hood+the+self+illusion

The self is part of the contents of consciousness. It is not necessary to have the self up and running in order to have consciousness. Meditation and psychedelics are the ways that this self-free, altered state of consciousness can be accessed, but even then, it's really hard to get a look. But, as you can see from all the research, and all the eastern philosophy and meditative practice that describes the same psychological phenomenon, it honestly is a thing.

Post edited at 12:17
7
 Lankyman 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I left my heart in San Francisco

 Cobra_Head 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Lankyman:

> I left my heart in San Francisco


I left my harp in Sam Plank's Disco.

 Cobra_Head 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> The self is a trick conjured by the brain (for good reasons). Ask Bruce Hood:

Life's an illusion, and love is a dream.

But to b serious, we all live in a constructed world, which may or may not be the same for most people.

This was a brilliant series which explored this in detail youtube.com/watch?v=cTl2Odxgr54&

Unfortunately I can't find it anywhere to watch again.

Post edited at 12:56
 wercat 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Cobra_Head:

> I left my harp in Sam Plank's Disco.


Flashing lights in Hyperspace

 wercat 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

the self goes down deep below the conscious level so it can be there without self consciousness being apparent to.

A child can be conscious of someone familiar coming into a bedroom and smile without waking.  Seen that many times.

I have some evidence that unconscious eye opening and reading information can make its way into somewhat mischevious dreams.  I suspect that unconscious clock watching may play a role in my ability to wake at a wished for time, or slightly before.

In reply to Jon Stewart:

Eminem is an advocate.

 Yanis Nayu 08 Jun 2021
In reply to dabble:

Only get one chance though. 

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Cobra_Head:

> But to b serious, we all live in a constructed world, which may or may not be the same for most people.

> This was a brilliant series which explored this in detail youtube.com/watch?v=cTl2Odxgr54&

Yeah it's great that, I've got the book too. Eagleman is one of those charismatic scientists who's media work is much more impressive than his research. I like him, but I don't agree with his wishy-washy "possibilianism" philosophy.

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to wercat:

> the self goes down deep below the conscious level so it can be there without self consciousness being apparent to.

> A child can be conscious of someone familiar coming into a bedroom and smile without waking.  Seen that many times.

> I have some evidence that unconscious eye opening and reading information can make its way into somewhat mischevious dreams.  I suspect that unconscious clock watching may play a role in my ability to wake at a wished for time, or slightly before.

These interesting things happening without consciousness don't require that a "self" is present. I think they sound more like data going into the brain and behaviour coming out (child smiling) - you'll never know whether the child was conscious. |The familiar sound of footsteps/smell could have generated a smile-inducing experienced in a dream too. Or in the second example, some data that went in without consciousness was later used by the brain in some conscious state (e.g. a dream). Interesting stuff!

 Cobra_Head 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> I like him, but I don't agree with his wishy-washy "possibilianism" philosophy.

I'm not sure about "possibilianism", the first in the series looked at how, sight and sound are processed in the brain.

The example was of a runner in starting blocks, they tried sound (starting pistol), sight ( a light changing colour) and touch ( a vibration on the starting blocks ), hearing was quickest, followed by sight, followed by touch. Based on reaction times.

Since there is obviously a measurable time difference between the signals being processed, proved by the above experiment. It therefore follows the brain puts our senses "together" as when we're talking to someone we sync their lips with the sound, there's no lag.

From this it's but a small step to conclude ALL of our experiences are made up constructs, otherwise the processing time for each sense wouldn't allow for syncing.

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Cobra_Head:

> Since there is obviously a measurable time difference between the signals being processed, proved by the above experiment. It therefore follows the brain puts our senses "together" as when we're talking to someone we sync their lips with the sound, there's no lag.

My undergrad project was on exactly this "sensory binding" problem. I was looking at how out of synch you could make sound and visual stimuli before the brain didn't "bind" them into a simultaneous perception. It was fascinating, but while we got a good reproducible effect, the research team couldn't come up with any compelling explanation of the findings and all the work was binned and not published. Which kind of put me off doing a phd with them, looks like a horribly frustrating process!

 Myfyr Tomos 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Cobra_Head:

Haven't heard that in years. Great, thanks.

 wercat 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

the second example is quite interesting and definitely included "mischief" in the information that was supplied to whatever level of consciousness exists in a dream.  It was used in an incredibly clever way that actually took into account the fact that the clock displayed time about 7 minutes early.   The dream included someone warning me that in the dimly lit factory something terrible was going to happen at a particular time ("the devil " was going to form out of thin air if we stayed in there too long and ignored the warning)  When this began to happen I woke in a hell of a state shouting out so my wife woke up.  I told her the dream and she told me to check the clock against the time said manifestation was to occur.  "That's OK" I sighed, "the time has passed so I'm safe".  However my wife pointed out that the clock was 7 minutes fast so we both had a momentary horror when we realized the time as still to come moments in the future!

I interpret this as a component of self that tries to play a horrible mischievous joke on the dreaming self.

And it has happened before several times, (eg waking from a dream where some horror is about to happen and finding myself safe only for something else terrible to happen - the bad joke being played there is clearly supplying false information that "you are now awake, the dream is over, all is well" just before a shock joke horror is played on the still dreaming self.

Plus, I rather think a goal seeking self is concerned in processing information and highly complex problem analysis and solving well below the conscious level.  I find my conscious self very shallow at complex tasks and one thing it has learned is "consciously" to submit a complex task for background processing, results to be returned on completion of the "job" that was submitted.

 wercat 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I wonder if this is related to a phenomenon I observed on a train passing through a landscape with walled field boundaries.  I looked at the scene passing in a state of passive observation, taking in the whole scene without focusing on anything specific, for a period of time - my brain was taking into account that walls and other linear features were not moving - a kind of signal adjustment being applied if you like.

When I turned my eyes to my book after a while, I perceived that, quite oddly, alternate lines in the book were sliding in opposite directions until my brain caught up with reality.

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to wercat:

It's a good illusion, that one. To understand it, you need to know about 'opponent coding' in the brain. It's exactly the same principle that gives you a green afterimage when you look at a red spot and then onto white background.

Post edited at 16:04
 Andy Gamisou 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Lankyman:

> I left my heart in San Francisco

I once left a tub of margarine in a colleague's hire car in San Francisco (don't ask).  When, after a week, he opened his car boot (or should I say trunk) he saw said tub of margarine (which, this being the US was about the size of a bucket) and picked it up.  Because it had been in a hot car boot (definitely think I should say trunk) it exploded covering him in hot gunk (oo-err missus).  He didn't seem to see the funny side when I caught up with him a few weeks later.  Slippery customer.

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to wercat:

> I interpret this as a component of self that tries to play a horrible mischievous joke on the dreaming self.

That's one interpretation I guess

> Plus, I rather think a goal seeking self is concerned in processing information and highly complex problem analysis and solving well below the conscious level.  I find my conscious self very shallow at complex tasks and one thing it has learned is "consciously" to submit a complex task for background processing, results to be returned on completion of the "job" that was submitted.

Consciousness is clearly only a "GUI" type function for the brain (bad metaphor of course, who is the "user"?). A more mundane example is trying to remember something, then unconsciously someone goes down into the files in the basement of your brain and rummages around, then a few hours later they come back upstairs with the information and "drop it on your desk" (your consciousness) while you're in the middle of something else.

I'd go a step further, I think that consciousness is 'epiphenomenal' - it's produced by the brain, but it doesn't have any causal efficacy. So this answers the free will question in line with the science, and doesn't try to eliminate consciousness like the physicalists (or eliminative materialists, same thing usually) do. There's a very difficult question here about why we evolved it if it doesn't do anything - my hunch is that it's actually a very efficient way of controlling your behaviour such that you propagate genes. Consciousness doesn't do anything *in itself* but it's an amazingly elegant solution that evolution came up with to control complex social behaviour.

John Searle is brilliant on this topic:

youtube.com/watch?v=ehdZAY0Zr6A&

(He's adamant here that consciousness functions causally, but I think that's an illusion. He's right that consciousness can't be an illusion, but the causal efficacy of it can be.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rZfSTpjGl8&ab_channel=CloserToTruthCloserToTruth

Post edited at 17:05
 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Andy Gamisou:

That's exactly the type of thing I was talking about

 Ciro 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Hardcore! My attempts at losing the self have been similar. I've been floating in a landscape of colours which *are* the music (that's a first person description, I was lying on the sofa with my eyes shut; also another example of how the only language I can find to describe a first person perspective makes no sense), but it was still me that was listening to the music. I didn't feel like I'd merged with universal consciousness, or that I had seen that ultimate reality was an abstract concept like god or love. However, I didn't conclude that just because I didn't experience ego loss, no one else has. The literature is clear that it really is a thing. 

I wasn't consciously attempting to lose my self, just have a good time, but in my teens I did lose all knowledge that I was an entity, that I had a body, that this world existed, and that the past or future existed one night on the shores of Loch Katrine.

I was simply a collection of thoughts floating through a sort of cartoonish void.

I didn't take mushrooms again for quite a long time - I was glad I'd had the experience but wasn't sure I wanted to go that far again. 

 Jon Stewart 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Ciro:

Sounds heavy, and definitely like an ego-loss experience! There's a certainly a sweet spot with mushrooms - too much is too much, but too little isn't very fun either, you can just feel weird and on edge with no sense of the 'other worldliness' of tripping properly. Although any amount without the correct set and setting is likely to end in tears too. A night on the side of the Loch sounds like a good setting at least, maybe the dose was a bit on the heavy side!

 Ciro 08 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Funnily enough, I had only had 50 liberty cap, which was a fair bit less than I was used to at the time.

I smoked a pure grass joint on the walk round the loch, and by the time we parked ourselves down I was flying... Went from zero to massive trip in no time, excused myself and went for a lie down on the grass a few feet away from the rest of the guys.

I became totaly absorbed with the Meat Beat Manifesto on the ghetto blaster for a few minutes and then I was gone.

I actually quite liked small doses of mushrooms at the time - I found 10 or 15 and one can of beer would put me in a lovely euphoric state for the evening without the craziness, and definitely lifted my depression for the next few weeks (although I didn't actually realise it was depression until many years later)

 Cobra_Head 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> My undergrad project was on exactly this "sensory binding" problem. I was looking at how out of synch you could make sound and visual stimuli before the brain didn't "bind" them into a simultaneous perception. It was fascinating, but while we got a good reproducible effect, the research team couldn't come up with any compelling explanation of the findings and all the work was binned and not published. Which kind of put me off doing a phd with them, looks like a horribly frustrating process!


Strangely I was recently doing some experiments with the kids, using two music sources and varying the gap between them being synchronous. At small delays it simply sounds like a "larger room", reverb I presume, and is quite plesent, but there comes a point where it just sounds shit. Unfortunately, we had no way of measuring what this cut off point was.

 lithos 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Cobra_Head:

> Since there is obviously a measurable time difference between the signals being processed, proved by the above experiment. It therefore follows the brain puts our senses "together" as when we're talking to someone we sync their lips with the sound, there's no lag.

a good example of the construction/integration and non congruence is the well known McGurk effect -plenty of Youtube examples this is simplest, watch with eyes open and then closed   youtube.com/watch?v=aFPtc8BVdJk&

 Bezz 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

You will not be able to lose yourself on scag and skip out for beer during commercial breaks
The revolution will not be televised

 Offwidth 09 Jun 2021
In reply to lithos:

The phantom hand trick is also good fun (where you trick a volunteer's brain to think an artificial hand is their hand before you bash it with a hammer).

Having taught all this I'm not convinced most student actually believe in the inner model we form of the world in our brain, despite the mass of evidence.

I discovered a very clear demonstration I'd not seen before...if you show RGB colour bars on a projector screen in a room without dimmed lights the colours usually look like red green and blue primaries when seen together but if you isolate an area and measure the CIE colour and then look through a tube, so you only see that small section of one bar, the 'actual' heavily desaturated colour matches. Our inner model clearly routinely adds saturation to colour images seen in such circumstances, otherwise any colour image would appear desaturated. 

Another interesting example is how people can see super vivid colours for a while after a cataract operation (as the brain has adjusted apparent saturation).

 Jon Stewart 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Offwidth:

> The phantom hand trick is also good fun (where you trick a volunteer's brain to think an artificial hand is their hand before you bash it with a hammer).

It's a corker!

> Having taught all this I'm not convinced most student actually believe in the inner model we form of the world in our brain, despite the mass of evidence.

Interesting, but I don't quite get you? Do you mean students believe they perceive the world as it really is (Kant's things in themselves)?

 Duncan Bourne 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Interesting debate.

I would argue our sense of self, and for that matter our sense of profundity (ie that external things have a significance that is more than there parts) is a construct or emergent property of our thinking.

An example of profundity would be the Mona Lisa. From an abstract point of view it is coloured pigment splashed all over a canvas but our brain interprets it as a glorious illusion of a person, and the fact that it is an illusion created by hand rather than a photograph gives it added weight. Our brain will add extra stuff onto this, if it reminds us of a visit to Paris, the person we were with, an art programme we saw, an episode of Dr Who, etc.

I think that sometime when non-religious people talk of spirituality they mean a highened sense of profundity. A “Wow! We are the world and the world is us and it’s all one thing man!!” moment that does not necessarily require a supernatural element.

Losing this sense of self though is, at best, a temporary thing and that is no bad thing. I remember talking with a psychiatrist some years back who spoke of the trouble some patients had who believed limbs they had weren’t their own, or who believed they were dead, or didn’t exist. Their sense of self being missing or damaged.

 lithos 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Offwidth:

or black, how do you get a really black bit on your image/movie, it can't be darker than the surround on a projector screen that isn't being illuminated.

 Offwidth 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Yes I think a minority in my class still believed they see the world as it is, despite the science. Another great example that spooked them was the simple hands trick. Hold the palm of one hand facing towards your face at full arm length and the second at half that distance. The laws of perspective tell us the more distant hand should appear noticably smaller!

On a similar subject (for fun) if we finished a seminar sequence early, we sometimes did a bit about visual witness evidence (including the famous basketball video) and some still maintained witness evidence was nearly always reliable despite admitting they were fooled in the examples.

 Offwidth 09 Jun 2021
In reply to lithos:

Yes similar tricks work with projected monochome test cards in normal room light levels. We showed that a chequerboard still 'looked black and white' when the actual contrast was very low ('white' brightness as low as double that of the projected 'black')..... Then to think on the consequences of that for the contrast sales pitch for some TVs!

Post edited at 17:46
 wercat 09 Jun 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I think the self comes from emotion.  From emotion comes a feeling of me, hurt, happy, afraid - displaced from emotilibrium either by an external stimulus or recall of the effect of a stimulus or in analysing a situation and feeling the result of the analysis as something displacing from the centre.

I'm not sure that this "feeling" has anything to do with logical thinking at all - it would emerge from being able to "feel". 

Laid on top of that is the logical ability of the subconscious to analyse, to learn, draw inferences and make deductions and it isn't hard to see an idea of self emerge from the feeling of self.

I don't think that anything other than a simulation of self awareness could arise from pure analytical mental processes without the underlying emotion based feeling that there  is a little me that has been, is being or will be affected by something nice, horrible, frightening, interesting (a form of nice?).

Loss or distancing of self in the face of possible immediate death is something I have experienced.  It was necessary for this state to endure for an hour or more for me to continue to operate at all and not just become a gibbering wreck as stuff whined past my head.  (It was not possible to hide or get out of the way ).  I felt the panic rise to a threshold of terror and then passed as cold logic told me that any chance of survival depended on not acting in panic.

Post edited at 18:16

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
Loading Notifications...