Metzinger's "The Ego Tunnel" - Chapter 9 - A new kind of ethics
In principle, we can design our own Ego Tunnels by tinkering with the hardware responsible for the relevant information-processing: Phenotechnology. (I do not extract at this point a fairly extended section on drugs and altered states of consciousness), which ends with: we must decide which of these altered states can be integrated into our culture and which are to be avoided at all cost.
What is a good state of consciousness?
Metzinger’s intuition is that it should satisfy at least three conditions. It should minimize suffering, in humans and other beings capable of suffering; it should possess an epistemic potential (have component of insight and expanding knowledge; and, should have consequences that increase the probability of future valuable types of experience.
The ego tunnel evolved as a biological system of representation and information processing that is part of a social network of communicating ego tunnels...now embedded in a global data cloud characterized by rapid growth, increasing speed, and an autonomous dynamic of its own....it has begun to reconfigure our brains..perhaps body perception will change as we learn to control multiple avatars in multiple virtual realities, embedding our conscious self into entirely new kinds of sensorimotor loops... we will understand what our social life has been all along - an interaction between images, a highly mediated process in which mental model of persons begin to causally influence one another... communication viewed as estimating and controlling dynamical internal models in other people’s brains.
For those of us intensively working with it, the Internet has already become a part of our self-model. We use it for external memory storage, as a cognitive prosthesis, and for emotional autoregulation...We are learning to multitask, our attention span is becoming shorter, and many of our social relationships are taking on a strangely disembodied character... The integration of hundreds of millions of human brains (and the Ego Tunnels those brains create) into ever new medial environments has already begun to change the structure of conscious experience itself. Where this will lead is unforeseeable.
The new media are also consciousness technologies, and we should ask ourselves again what a good state of consciousness would be.
The ability to attend to our environment, to our own feelings, and to those of others is a naturally evolved feature of the human brain. Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. We need attention in order to truly listen to others - and even to ourselves. We need attention to truly enjoy sensory pleasures, as well as for efficient learning. We need it in order to be truly present during sex or to be in love or when we are simply contemplating nature. Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day.
Today, the advertisement and entertainment industries are attacking the very foundations of our capacity for experience, drawing us into the vast and confusing media jungle. They are trying to rob us of as much of our scarce resource as possible, and they are doing so in every more persistent and intelligent ways. Of course, they are increasingly making use of the new insights in the human mind offered by cognitive and brain science to achieve their goals ("neuromarketing" is one of the ugly new buzzwords). We can see the probable result in the epidemic of attention-deficit disorder in children and young adults, in midlife burnout, in rising levels of anxiety in large parts of the population. If I am right that consciousness is the space of attentional agency, and if (as discussed in chapter 4) it is also true that the experience of controlling and sustaining your focus of attention is one of the deeper layers of phenomenal selfhood, then we are currently witnessing not only an organized attack on the space of consciousness per se, but a mild form of depersonalization. New medial environments many create a new form of waking consciousness that resembles weakly subjective states - a mixture of dreaming, dementia, intoxication, and infantilization.
Metzinger suggests we counter the attacks on our reserves of attention by introducing classes in meditation in our high schools, by making the young aware of our limited capacity for attention, and the need to learn techniques to sustain it and enhance mindfulness. ]
Riding the tiger: A new cultural context
On normative issues, there is no such thing as expert knowledge.. we must all do this together. Prospects for open and free democratic discussion on global scale are dim. Authoritarian societies growing more rapidly than democratic ones. To protect open societies from irrationalism and fundamentalism, we might try to create a ‘consciousness culture” in which people are free to explore their own minds and design their own conscious reality models, unless the interests of others are directly threatened. How can we increase the autonomy of the individual and protect it from the increasing possibilities of manipulation. If we demystify consciousness, do we automatically lose our sense of human solidarity at the same time?
The interplay of virtual-reality technology, new psychoactive substances, ancient psychological techniques such as meditation, and future neurotechnology will introduce us to a universe of self-exploration barely imaginable today.
Through the naturalistic turn in the image of mind, do we lose our “dignity?” Dignity can be seen in the refusal to humiliate oneself by simply looking the other way or escaping to some metaphysical Disneyland, sliding back into various forms of irrationalism and fundamentalism. We could face the historical transition in our image of ourselves creatively and with a will to clarity.