The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger

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Summary

The Ego is an extremely useful instrument that has enabled us to form complex societies. In fact, the Ego is ultimately a tool for controlling and planning your behavior and for understanding the behavior of others. What we really are is gene-copying biorobots and it’s important to integrate this knowledge into our self understanding if we want to better meet the future challenges.

Book notes

→ The Ego is an extremely useful instrument—one that has helped us understand one another through empathy and mind-reading. By allowing us to externalize our minds through cooperation and culture, the Ego has enabled us to form complex societies.

→ What we see and hear, or what we feel and smell and taste, is only a small fraction of what actually exists ‘out there’. It is unsettling to discover that there are no colors in front of your eyes. There is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality.

→ We live in a two-way simulation: first, our brains generate a world-simulation, so perfect that we do not recognize it as an image in our minds. Then, they generate an inner image of ourselves as a whole. This image includes not only our body and our psychological states but also our relationship to the past and the future, as well as to other conscious beings.

→ The Ego is a transparent mental image: You—the physical person as a whole—look right through it. You do not see it. But you see with it. The Ego is a tool for controlling and planning your behavior and for understanding the behavior of others. By placing the self-model within the world-model, a center is created. That center is what we experience as ourselves, the Ego.

→ Consciousness is the appearance of a world. [The ability of the brain to simulate the external world]

→ Synchronous firing may be exactly what differentiates an assembly of neurons that gains access to consciousness from one that also fires away but in an uncoordinated manner and thus does not. Synchrony is a powerful causal force.

→ Conscious information is that subset of active information in the brain that requires monitoring because it’s not clear which of your mental capacities you will need to access this information next. You become conscious of something only when you don’t know which of the tools in your mental toolbox you’ll have to use next. Whenever the system is confronted with a novel or challenging stimulus, its global workspace is activated and represented in consciousness. This is also the point when you become aware of the process.

→ The cat is out of the bag: We are gene-copying biorobots.

→ The Ego Tunnel evolved as a biological system of representation and information-processing that is part of a social network of communicating Ego Tunnels.

→ Perhaps our body perception will change as we learn to control multiple avatars in multiple virtual realities. A growing number of social interactions may be avatar-to-avatar and we may finally come to understand what a lot of our conscious social life has been all along—an interaction between images, a highly mediated process in which mental models of persons begin to causally influence one another. We may come to see communication as a process of estimating and controlling dynamical internal models in other people’s brains.

→ Currently we are seeing an epidemic of attention-deficit disorder in children and young adults, in midlife burnout, in rising levels of anxiety in large parts of the population.

→ Preserving your attention is key: the experience of controlling and sustaining your focus of attention is one of the deeper layers of phenomenal selfhood.

→ Dignity is the refusal to humiliate oneself by simply looking the other way or escaping to some metaphysical Disneyland. If we do have something like dignity, we can demonstrate this fact by the way we confront the challenges to come. The chances for successfully riding the tiger, at least on a large scale, are not very high.

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