Astronauts in space frequently get the following problem: they cannot feel where up and down is in their body anymore. It’s like a radical version of motion sickness…Every astronaut knows how to help his body if he has that problem. You just hit very hard on the heel from below, on the sole of the shoe, and instantly the body image locks in again and there is a conscious experience of down and up.
What that shows is that the human self-model is just a virtual model. It depicts a possibility, philosophically very interestingly, as a reality. It’s just the best hypothesis the system has about its own current state; and if it’s under constraint by input, which it is in a spaceship, then it can become highly context sensitive…So the self-model is a simulation, a virtual model.
The conscious self-model is that part of the mental self-model, which is currently embedded into the highest-order, integrated representational structure: the global model of the world…Human beings have an integrated self-model in their brain, not much of it is conscious, but of course it is clear that part of your unconscious self-model can have causal properties…So there’s a conscious and an unconscious layer, and what is conscious is variable..
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According to Thomas Metzinger, no such things as selves exist in the world: nobody ever had or was a self. All that exists are phenomenal selves, as they appear in conscious experience. The phenomenal self, however, is not a thing but an ongoing process; it is the content of a “transparent self-model.”
In Being No One, Metzinger, a German philosopher, draws strongly on neuroscientific research to present a representationalist and functional analysis of what a consciously experienced first-person perspective actually is. Building a bridge between the humanities and the empirical sciences of the mind, he develops new conceptual toolkits and metaphors; uses case studies of unusual states of mind such as agnosia, neglect, blindsight, and hallucinations; and offers new sets of multilevel constraints for the concept of consciousness.
Metzinger’s central question is: How exactly does strong, consciously experienced subjectivity emerge out of objective events in the natural world? His epistemic goal is to determine whether conscious experience, in particular the experience of being someone that results from the emergence of a phenomenal self, can be analyzed on subpersonal levels of description.
He also asks if and how our Cartesian intuitions that subjective experiences as such can never be reductively explained are themselves ultimately rooted in the deeper representational structure of our conscious minds.
Thomas Metzinger is the Director of the Philosophy Group at the Department of Philosophy at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz. His research focuses on philosophy of mind, especially on consciousness and the nature of the self. In this lecture he develops a representationalist theory of phenomenal self-consciousness. A Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul presented by the UC Berkeley Graudate Council. Series: UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures
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