Thomas Metzinger is one of my heroes, a philosopher and polymath who has a deep understanding also of neurobiology and cognitive psychology and neuroscience. His model of the mind is one that I find most sane and accessible. I strongly recommend that you read his recent book, "The Ego Tunnel," which casts the arguments in his much longer and more technical book - "Being No One" - in layman's terms. I have decided to pass on to you my own (quite imprecise and idiosyncratic) abstracting of Part I (The Consciousness Problem) and a bit of Part III (The Consciousness Revolution) of "The Ego Tunnel" book in a series of daily posts, today starting with the Introduction to the book. I am not dealing with Part II on the actual science, which relates many of the same experiments I have covered in this blog (on body image, agency and ownership, dreaming, empathy, etc.)
Why is there always someone having the experience? Who is the the feeler of your feelings and the dreamer of your dreams?
Metzinger's phenomenal self-model (PSM) is the conscious model of the organisms as a whole that is activated by the brain. It is, for example, shifted in the rubber hand illusion and in out of body experiences (OBEs). The content of PSM is the ego. Our PSM is unique among animals in that we mentally represent ourselves as representational systems in real time. Whatever is part of PSM has the feeling of “mineness”
The central metaphor of “The Ego Tunnel” is that: “Conscious experience is like a tunnel. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that the content of our conscious experience is not only an internal construct but also and extremely selective way of representing information. This is why it is a tunnel: What we see and hear, or what we feel and smell and taste, is only a small fraction of what actually exists out there. Our conscious model of reality is a low-dimensional projection of the inconceivably richer physical reality surrounding and sustaining us...our brains generate a world-simulation and an inner image of ourselves as a whole so perfect that we do not recognize it as an image in our minds...We are not in direct contact with outside reality or with ourselves, but we do have an inner perspective. We can use the word “I.” We lives our conscious lives in the ego tunnel.
Our PSM can become the Ego only because you are constitutionally unable to realize that all this is just the content of a simulation in your brain...the Ego is a transparent mental image: You - the physical person as a whole - look right through it. Transparency means that we are unaware of the medium through which information reaches us. We do not see the window but only the bird flying by. We do not see neurons firing away in our brain but only what they represent for us. The central claim of this book - and the theory behind it, the self-model theory of subjectivity- is that the conscious experience of being a self emerges because a large part of the PSM in your brain is transparent.
Yes, there is an outside world, and yes, there is an objective reality, but in moving through this world, we constantly apply unconscious filter mechanisms, and in doing so, we unknowingly construct our own individual world, which is our “reality tunnel.”
One way of looking at the Ego Tunnel is as a complex property of the global neural correlate of consciousness (NCC).