… because we aren’t really anyone anyway, says neuroscientist.
From Cody Delistraty, interviewing neurocientist Thomas Metzinger (Being No One, 2003) at Nautilus:
We know there is a robust experience of self-consciousness; I don’t doubt this. The question is how could something like that emerge in evolution in an information-processing system like the human brain? Can we at all conceive of that being possible? Many philosophers would have said no, that’s something irreducibly subjective. In Being No One I tried to show how the sense of self, the robust experience of being someone, could emerge in a natural way in the course of many millions of years of evolution.
The question was how to arrive at a novel theory of self-consciousness, what a first-person perspective is, that, on the one hand, takes the self really seriously as a target phenomenon and, on the other hand, is empirically grounded. If we open skulls and brains we don’t find any entity that could be the self. It seems there are no arguments that there should be a thing like a substance, a self, either in this world or outside of this world.
Animals self-deceive, and they motivate by self-deceiving. They have optimism bias; just like human beings, different cognitive biases emerge. So we have to efficiently self-deceive. The self becomes a platform for cultural forms of symbolic immortality, the different ways human beings tackle the fear of death. The most primitive and simple, down-to-the-ground way is they become religious, a Catholic Christian, for instance, and say, “It is just not true, I believe in something else,” and form a community and socially reinforce self-deception. That gives you comfort; it makes you healthier; it is good at fighting against other groups of disbelievers. But as we see in the long run, it creates horrible military catastrophes, for instance. There are higher levels, like, for instance, trying to write a book that will survive you.
Maybe we could create very different forms of selfhood and offer them for augmentation, but for a number of reasons I think that the whole idea of actually “jumping” out of the biological brain and into virtual reality completely has probably insurmountable technical problems. It also has a philosophical problem because the deeper question is, of course, what would jump over into the avatars if there is no self? More.
Funny how overdosing on “evolution” leads so many people to deny the self or deny that we can perceive reality. This won’t end well.
See also: Psychology Today: Latest new theory of consciousness So consciousness is irreducibly complex but we can’t admit that? How does calling it “phi” help?
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