Natasha Mitchell of ABC Radio National and Radio Australia had another interesting guest on All in the mind show – German philosopher of mind Thomas Metzinge spoke about his research of the self as well as the first hand accounts of out of body experiences and lucid dreaming. Metzinge published his conclusions in the book “The Ego tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self” and needless to say I am quite eager to engage my brain cells with it. As I understood from the interview, not only it brings the light on the mechanics of the process of selfing (right, Metzinger views the self as not a thing, something solid that exists somewhere – where? – but the ongoing process, the construct) but also discusses how and why it evolved. Why do I so badly need to believe into my self ?
Glad to hear more scientists are catching up on what Buddhism saw already two thousand years ago – there is no self, but rather a set of experiences and our memory that connects them. (Metzinger is actually a long time meditator himself).
Well, it doesn’t take a rocket science to see how hard it could be for us to survive if we didn’t think the self existed. When it’ s getting colder outside it might be a good idea to listen to this voice in my head saying I probably need a warmer jacket and get one. Yet when I am in the store facing those jackets, how will I be choosing? As a believer in the self, I’d probably make a choice taking into account my self-image and what I want to communicate to people by wearing this or that brand. (Of course, people have different ways of conforming to a particular self-image.) If I don’t believe in the self, the brand (status) will not matter as the only consideration I have in mind now is that of protecting the integrity of the body, shielding it form cold, or? On the other hand, I can also appreciate how at some point this information we tried to communicate to the others by wearing certain attributes of power was important as well. Only we seem to associate our selves very quickly with those attributes – clothes, jobs, careers and even ideas – and this is where our brilliant mind gets us into trouble. Emphasising the self shields us from the world (and the true self that is no-self or non-self! 🙂 ) and leads to the idea of the other; it makes us all into strangers, it makes it easier to be indifferent to the suffering of others , to gossip, to steal, to kill… It makes it possible to have bad self-esteem – what is it if not a belief into the existance of a self that also is not enough something – and get depressed!
Also, if I believe into a self, I make my every day choices based on this assumption; I believe to what that perceived self is telling me at the moment. Right now it is telling me to skip that extra sitting I planned on doing today and go get some sleep instead: after all sleep is very important for how we function and I deserve those extra 30 min after the crazy week I had. Very tempting! This self of mine certainly has a different take on the sitting commitment from the one it had yesterday night! 🙂 Can it be that it is not the same self I am receiving right now? 🙂
I can see how the concept of the solid self plays into the hands of politicians and marketers: they want me to believe that “I are worth it” because it will sell more. In many cases we are not looking for ways to meet our needs, we are buying the self-image. Questioning the existence of the self makes the whole notion of “worthiness” obsolete. Now, that is a tempting thought to explore but guess what… I am going to take my precious self that is no-self onto the cushion and sit an extra 30 min as planned. Zazen gives a wonderful opportunity to observe how the idea of the self is being created from moment to moment as well as the whole process of experiencing the world and relating to it through the process of selfing.