Thomas Metzinger (Being Human) | Being human: Being selfless

You are not your self. What if our experience of having or being a self is actually the result of a kind of full-body, virtual reality simulation?

Thomas Metzinger proposes that what we experience as a sense of selfhood is the result of having a “transparent self-model”. The self-model is an internalized representation of the body we “use for coordinating [our] behavior and [our] actions” in the world. Yet, because they are transparent, we do not perceive our self models directly, but rather we feel as if we directly experience the bodily sensations that we perceive through them.

It is a fascinating proposition. Metzinger isn’t simply debating whether the physical self is separate from the psychological self. His argument goes beyond the traditional mind-body arguments to focus on the nature of conscious self-awareness. The idea he presents redefines the relationship of consciousness to concepts of the body, the mind, and the soul, while simultaneously distinguishing consciousness from all three.

We do not see the neurons firing away in our brain. All we get is the robust final result…only what they represent for us… We have the feeling of being directly and immediately in contact with reality. And that is one of the greatest neuro-computational inventions of Mother Nature. So consciousness is something like an invisible interface…

Imagine a certain kind of creature, a class of systems, who would operate under a transparent self-model. For example, imagine biologically evolved robots, which were conscious. And they would control their behavior by an internal avatar, but that internal avatar in these biological robots was transparent. Then these systems would constantly confuse themselves with the content of their own inner self model… So these systems would have something like a naive realistic understanding of themselves by constantly being fully identified with the content of their own self model.

 metzinger - being human


Thomas Metzinger (Being Human) | Being human: Being selfless