Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Metzinger: The appearance of a world

Continuing the abstracting begun yesterday, this is Chapter One of Metzinger's "The Ego Tunnel" - The appearance of a world.

Consciousness is the appearance of a world. Mammals, birds, and probably octopi have appropriate brain structures (for color vision, for example) and a primitive transparent PSM. “Higher -order” levels of the PSM in humans may be only a couple of thousand years old, higher levels attending to lower ones.

Human beings in other historical epochs - during the Vedic period of ancient India, say, or during the European Middle Ages, when God was still perceived as a real and constant presence - likely knew kinds of subjective experience almost inaccessible to us today. Theories change social practice, and practice eventually changes brains, the way we perceive the world.

The conscious brain is a biological machine - a reality engine - that purports to tell us what exists and what doesn’t. It is unsettling to discover that there are no colors out there in front of your eyes...they are models created by your brain...The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all..there is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality. ...the visual system is your brain is drilling a tunnel through this inconceivably rich physical environment and in the process is painting the tunnel walls in various shades of color. Phenomenal color. Appearance. For your conscious eyes only...cognitive neuroscience has shown that the process of conscious experience is just an idiosyncratic path through a physical reality so unimaginably complex and rich in information that it will always be hard to grasp just how reduced our subjective experience is.

Shadows do not have an independent existence. And the book you are holding right just a shadow, a low-dimensional projection of a higher-dimensional object ‘out there’...What is the fire that causes the projection of flickering shadows of consciousness, dancing as activation patterns on the walls of your neural cave? The fire is neural dynamics.”

The idea is that the content of consciousness is the content of a simulated world in our brains, and the sense of “being there” is itself a simulation...the conscious experience of knowing, acting, and being connected is an exclusively internal affair.

Any convincing theory of consciousness will have to explain why this does not seem so to us.


  1. Your theory starts with the mental models our brain makes.
    you can read the following about that:

    Maybe we do not understand the process that starts the fire produces the projection of flickering shadows of consciousness, that activates
    patterns in your neurons because, we are trying to understand this mechanism using a lower dimensionality than the real one, this reduction is probably
    failing, or maybe the behaviour is so complex that we need all the dimensions to understand the whole process.

    The content of consciousness information is based on the model in our minds that we use to represent reality.
    And you end up saying that our sense of self, is an internal affair produced by the consciousness content.

    Now what will be interesting is to know how the consciousness with the information it has can produce such a powefull phenomenom (the sense of being oneself).

    Do you have any theory about that?

  2. This is wonderful. I wanted to quote from it and link to it, but I'm not clear on whether this is your summary or you are quoting directly from Chapter 1.

  3. Much of the text is direct quote, plus a bit of summary and paraphrase.