Phenomenal Self & First Person Perspective: Metzinger Vi


I just watched the lecture in the link above on my Nintendo Wii using Google Video last night.
I was a bit tired but enjoyed just sitting back and soaking up what I could.

I think the concept that we are constantly testing our body for identity and ‘ownership’ is a very interesting one. A description of waking consciousness could be when this ‘system’ is ‘turned on’ or running. We are constantly asking our body if it is ours. We have a mental model or emulator or simulator (even perhaps an Avatar!) of our body in our mind that is constantly updating itself. (Like in The Matrix when morpheus says that we have a “residual self image”. A mental projection of our physical body.) Numerous problems can happen, with examples like phantom limbs, where the mental image of ‘self’ is drastically different from actuality and a person struggles. It’s all very interesting stuff! The lecture is concluded with the following quote:

“If it is true that the self is not a thing, but a process…
then it is also true that the tragedy of the ego dissolves because
strictly speaking, nobody is ever born and nobody ever dies.”

Comments and thoughts on the lecture or the topic are welcome!

Good post! Um, the music’s on the intro track’s a little ridiculous, but besides the fact that the goofy introducer guy blabbered on for ten minutes before letting Metzinger talk, this was a pretty good video.

Do I have to keep hearing this from every analytic as though they’ve discovered it for the first time?

/Our students know they’re de-centered subjects.
//Done with this whole anti-intellectual American culture
///Yes, I know this guy’s not American-born

From the introduction of Metzinger’s book Conscious Experience:


From the video:

So if Mary acquires new factual knowledge, then there are non-physical facts about human color vision that can only be grasped by phenomenally experiencing them… Therefore physicalism is false.

But I actually agree with Metzinger on this: physicalism is actually the right answer, but in a different sense than was previously thought. Reality is, after all, mediated by scientific truth-procedures which interpret the universe in such a way as to construct an imaginary third-person perspective which is functionally incapable of grasping a first-person persepctive. But just what is a “first-person” perspective? If there is no subject, how can he have a perspective?
It seems to me that subject-perspectives are entirely related to subjugated-perspectives–the dirty little facts that are left out, swept under the carpet, deemed negligible… but it again these facts which leave a gaping hole in science’s knowledge of the human world. Since the ‘third-person’ narrative style cannot account for the simple everyday human experience as such, a social-desiring power forces knowledge to become truth, forcing the subject OUT of the system through the hole he or she burns in the map of the universe…

If there IS no objective viewpoint, how can we have science? This is maybe THE postmodern question: when all our meta-narratives decline, what happens to truth? Well, it degrades into knowledge and becomes a circulating commodity as information. And we all become cyborgs hooked into the system. Great.

/ f*#$ing analytics

Nice post Joe! I thought it was interesting when he said something along the lines of “We all know we don’t see with our eyes…” It’s true that it takes a brain to do something with the image that the eye “sees”. But I get the same feeling about some of this as I do when an artist criticizes an analytical scientist. Or how Nagel tries to talk of a quality (qualia) of experience rather than just quantity. Some would say that it is one thing to analyse and quantify the pedals, stem, chemicals, and components of a flower… but this is all different than actually smelling it or experiencing it.

It makes me think of a robot. This robot has two components. Component A that takes input (like an eye) and has a component B (the brain) that processes or manipulates that information that A gave it. Component A isn’t “seeing” without component B, but component B isn’t anything without input, it is dead…

I don’t know really know where I was going with that except in that it captures my general feelings about consciousness, self, ego, etc. I don’t think there is something magical about the ‘self’ or even consciousness. It is incredible indeed, but it is a process or system nonetheless (as Metzinger and many others state). I generally agree with this sentiment.

Sure. But I certainly don’t think science is objective! If no one observer or person can be objective (because they are limited to their perspective), then if we add a whole bunch of people together that all perfectly agree on the same observation… we still haven’t reached objectivity.
To rephrase: adding 2 or 2 million relative observers will never ‘add up’ to objectivity.

And as long as we are observers… we never will have objectivity. :sunglasses:

What of truth? There never was any… :wink:

Now, of course, ‘objectivity’ only results from some kind of tautology. But objectivity only relates to knowledge, that is, to judgment, which doesn’t amount to truth. But I don’t know if I agree that truth doesn’t exist! I feel like this is what sophists of every generation have tried to tell us, and that the logic has always been just as shaky. The argument always revolves on some kind of critical amnesia regarding ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth.’ Where, for example, in these categories, shall we place the idea of infinity, which escapes past any set conceptual limit we might set for it?

At any rate, shouldn’t we tie ‘truth’ to ‘events’? In the sense, of course, that every event can be spoken of or related by any of an effectively infinite quantity of descriptions. But there is yet another, qualitative decision we must make. We must distinguish between truth-procedures (explanations) based on a faithfulness to the event and those which betray the event in some way: we must wager on events. The question then comes down to an existential one of authenticity, as we must have faith in the event of our own existence as subjects, and furthermore–as subjects to truths, our existence is dependent on our faithfulness to the truth-events which define us more completely than any explanation could–because truths have the power to change us, truths are indifferent in a way that knowledge isn’t.

Knowledge always relates to systems of control and communication, whereas truths pierce a hole in knowledge and force a reorganization. But we can’t force our knowledges to be truths, even though we have no transcendent connection to truth (we must approach events faithfully, in the context of a subjective truth-procedure.)

Notes on the video "Being No One: Consciousness, "The Phenomenal Self, and the First Person Perspective” by Thomas Metzinger.

“The Story of Mary” is a thought experiment by Frank Jackson upon which he bases a knowledge argument. It goes like this: Before leaving her achromatic prison Mary knows everything that can be known physically or neuro-scientifically about the conscious color of human beings. When first viewing a colored object she acquires new knowledge. This knowledge is factual knowledge. Ergo Mary, before having her first conscious color experience, did not know all the facts one can know with regard to color experience. Thus, there are non-physical facts –for instance about conscious human color vision–that can only be grasped by phenomenal knowledge. Therefore, physicalism is false.

From this we see the notion of a first person perspective and the notion of a self from which this first person perspective originates. This raises the question: What is a first person perspective? It has three phenomenological target properties:

“Mineness”: --a higher-order property of particular forms of phenomenal content.
Examples: I experience my leg as belonging to me; I always experience my thought and my emotions as part of my own consciousness; voluntary acts are initiated by my self.

Example: The rubber hand illusion:
[size=75]Touching a Rubber Hand: Feeling of Body Ownership Is Associated with Activity in Multi-sensory Brain Areas
H. Henrik Ehrsson,1 Nicholas P. Holmes,2 and Richard E. Passingham1,2
1Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom, and 2Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, United Kingdom
In the “rubber-hand illusion,” the sight of brushing of a rubber hand at the same time as brushing of the person’s own hidden hand is sufficient to produce a feeling of ownership of the fake hand. We have shown previously that this illusion is associated with activity in the multi-sensory areas, most notably the ventral pre-motor cortex (Ehrsson et al., 2004). However, it remains to be demonstrated that this illusion does not simply reflect the dominant role of vision and that the pre-motor activity does not reflect a visual representation of an object near the hand. To address these issues, we introduce a somatic rubber-hand illusion. The experimenter moved the blindfolded participant’s left index finger so that it touched the fake hand, and simultaneously, he touched the participant’s real right hand, synchronizing the touches as perfectly as possible. After 9.7 s, this stimulation elicited an illusion that one was touching one’s own hand. We scanned brain activity during this illusion and two control conditions, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Activity in the ventral pre-motor cortices, intra-parietal cortices, and the cerebellum was associated with the illusion of touching one’s own hand. Furthermore, the rated strength of the illusion correlated with the degree of pre-motor and cerebellar activity. This finding suggests that the activity in these areas reflects the detection of congruent multi-sensory signals from one’s own body, rather than of visual representations. We propose that this could be the mechanism for the feeling of body ownership. [/size]

Selfhood: --pre-reflexive self-intimacy: the phenomenal target property.
Example: I am someone, I experience myself as being identical through time; the contents of my phenomenological self-consciousness form a coherent whole; before initiating and independently of any intellectual operations I am already directly acquainted with the contents of my self-consciousness.

“Perceptivalness”: --a global, structural property of phenomenal space as a whole. It possesses an immovable center.
Problem: I am this center myself. To be phenomenally aware means to possess an inward perspective, and to take on this perspective in the subjective experience of the world and of one’s own mental states.

Representational analysis of the three target properties introduces a new theoretical entity: The phenomenal self-model (PSM) which forms the representational instantiation-basis of the phenomenal properties to be explained.

What is a self-model? It is an episodically active representational entity, the content of which is formed by the properties of the system itself. It does this through processes of simulation, emulation i.e. self-modeling. The background assumption is that the self model possesses a true neurobiological description, for instance as a complex activation pattern in the human brain.

The phenomenal 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 (cf. Yates 1975, Baars, 1988, 1997). The phenomenal content of the self-model supervenes locally. It is a plastic, multi-modal structure, possibly evolving from a partially innate and hard-wired model of the spatial properties of the system (e.g. from a long term body image; O’Shaughnessy 1995; May 28, 2007Amasio 1994, Melzack 1989, 1992, 1997, Kinsbourne 1995, Metzinger 1993).
An active self-model is a sub-personal functional state. It plays a specific causal role, i.e. from am analytical perspective it is a discrete set of causal relations.

Example: Under a classical-cognitive description it is a transient computational module, which is episodically activated by the system in order to regulate its interaction with the environment (cf. Conant & Ashby 1970).

A “teleo-functionalist” background assumption behind the self-model is that the development and the activation of this computational module plays a role for the system. The functional self-model possesses a true evolutionary description, i.e. it was a weapon, which was invented and optimized in the course of a cognitive arms race [cf. Clark 1989, p61; Millikan 1989; Dennett 1987, Lycam 1987].

The functional instantiation-basis of the phenomenal first-person perspective is a specific cognitive achievement: The capacity to open and employ centered representational spaces.

Mineness–All representational states which are embedded into the currently active self-model gain the additional higher-order property of phenomenal mineness [non-conceptual sense of ownership]. If this integrational process is disturbed, different neuropsychological syndromes or altered states of conscious result:


Consciously experienced thoughts are not my own thoughts any more: florid schizophrenia.

My leg is not my leg any more: unilateral hemi-neglect.

My arm performs goal-directed actions without my own control: alien hand syndrome.