Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Discuss the November 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes.

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Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes »

This is a discussion forum topic for the November 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All.


I wouldn't say that I believe in "two selves".

In other words, in terms of the infamous Mind-Body Problem, I am not a dualist.

Nonetheless, I do believe, as I pointed out in the book, that the English word 'you' (and by extension the English word 'me') is equivocal.

One of the things to which the word 'you' is often used to refer is something that I believe is an illusion. It doesn't really exist. In the book, I sometimes refer to it as "the false self" or "the unreal you".

It is an illusion. It's an illusion in the same sense that Newtonian time and Newtonian space are illusions, as disprovable by science as Flat Earth Theory. It's an illusion in the same way that objective simultaneity is an illusion, again as disprovable by science as Flat Earth Theory. It's an illusion in the same way that the Newtonian present is an illusion, meaning in the same way it's an illusion that there is a singular objective now spanning all of space, which again is as scientifically disprovable as Flat Earth Theory. Like any number of frustrating optical illusions, it seems so real, even when you know the truth with certainty. You can know what you are seeing is absurd, contradictory, and impossible, and know what the reality is, and yet not be able to get your eyes to see the reality as you know it to be. Sometimes such optical illusions are fun. Sometimes they are annoying.


These two lines are the same size:

two-lines-same-size.jpg



The box labeled A and the box labeled B are the same exact color and shade:

same-color.png


Much like the color(s) and shade(s) of the two same-colored boxes above, space and time--seemingly two very different things--are actually the same one thing: timeless spaceless spacetime.

We can know it with certainty, but can we ever see it? Perhaps not.

Science has demonstrated very convincingly that what the book calls "the false self" or ego doesn't really exist. In other words, one of the things to which we most commonly refer with the word "me" and the word "you" is something that demonstrably doesn't really exist. The ego is a fictional character, living in a fictional video game world with fictional ridiculously oversimplified Newtonian physics. What many people simply call "the self" is a fictional character, which is precisely why the book refers to it as "the false self".

It's to that point that I believe many scientists and philosophers refer when they say things like "the self is an illusion". Realizing or learning that it doesn't exist is what many people call "self-transcendence" or sometimes "ego death", the latter being more often associated with a sudden realization or revelation, sometimes called sudden enlightenment or sudden awakening. The most sudden ones are often but not always associated with psychedelic use. As an aside on that subject, interestingly, the Eleusinian Mysteries and similar suspected psychedelic use is thought by many to have played a major role in culture and philosophy in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as potentially by Jesus in his time. For more on those theories, I recommend this After Skool video featuring Brian C. Muraresku, who is an alumnus of Georgetown Law, and who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University with a degree in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit.

What I call "the real you"--meaning consciousnesses or spirit--definitely does exist. It is absolutely real, hence the name.

By definition, the illusionary self isn't the real you. It can't be. When people talk about "self-transcendence", the self that is transcended is what the book calls "the false self", not "the real you". If the word 'you' is equivocal, then by extension the word 'yourself', the words your 'self', and the word 'self' itself are all equally equivocal.

Insofar as there are two yous (the real you and the unreal you), then there are two selves too: the false self and the real self. But one of them is false. One of them isn't real. So really there is only one.

One of them is a dreamy avatar in a dreamy oversimplified Newtonian video game world conjured up by a brain in a dark quiet skull as a way to model electrical signals. It is as fictional as any video game character in a literal video game you play. In a way, it is as fictional as any characters you would meet and talk to--or argue with--while having a sleeping dream at night. Did you have a dream while in bed last night? Did you argue with someone in your dream? If so, the person with which you argued was a fictional character, and so too was the person arguing with them, which is the one you would typically call you. But that you is not "the real you". Because it's not real.

We think of the world to which we wake as being so real. It feels real, but don't your sleeping dreams feel so real too? The science is in. Even when you are awake you are still dreaming. To call the Newtonian world you see around you right now a video game is a bit of a metaphor; to call it a virtual reality world (VR) is not. On that subject, neuroscientist Anil Seth gave a great Ted Talk that I love, entitled Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality.

In regard to the topics of "ego death", "dying before you die", and "self-transcendence", as well as common assertions like "the self is an illusion" and "continuous personal identity is a fiction", here is a quote from the neuroscientist Sam Harris that I love, which is transcribed from the Big Think video, entitled The Self is an Illusion:


Sam Harris, from the video: The Self is an Illusion' wrote:I’m not arguing that consciousness is a reality beyond science or beyond the brain or that it floats free of the brain at death. I’m not making any spooky claims about its metaphysics. What I am saying, however, is that the self is an illusion. The sense of being an ego, an I, a thinker of thoughts in addition to the thoughts. An experiencer in addition to the experience. The sense that we all have of riding around inside our heads as a kind of a passenger in the vehicle of the body.

That’s where most people start when they think about any of these questions. Most people don’t feel identical to their bodies. They feel like they have bodies. They feel like they’re inside the body. And most people feel like they’re inside their heads. Now that sense of being a subject, a locus of consciousness inside the head is an illusion. It makes no neuro-anatomical sense. There’s no place in the brain for your ego to be hiding.

We know that everything you experience – your conscious emotions and thoughts and moods and the impulses that initiate behavior – all of these things are delivered by a myriad of different processes in the brain that are spread out over the whole of the brain. They can be independently erupted. We have a changing system. We are a process and there’s not one unitary self that’s carried through from one moment to the next unchanging.

And yet we feel that we have this self that’s just this center of experience.

Now it’s possible I claim and people have claimed for thousands of years to lose this feeling, to actually have the center drop out of the experience so that... you can just be identical to this sphere of experience that is all of the color and light and feeling and energy of consciousness. But there’s no sense of center there. So this is classically described as self-transcendence or ego transcendence in spiritual, mystical, new age religious literature. It is in large measure the baby in the bathwater that religious people are afraid to throw out. If you want to take seriously the project of being like Jesus or Buddha or, you know, whatever your favorite contemplative is, self-transcendence really is at the core of the phenomenology that is described there. And what I’m saying is that it’s a real experience.

I also recently saw and enjoyed this video from BBC Earth. I love the whole video, but the following excerpt is especially relevant:
BBC Earth wrote:According to neuroscientist Michael Graziano, this me is an illusion. Primate brains simply began to run a simulation of an observer, creating the model of a mind so they could understand other minds. In this way, self-awareness isn't a higher form of consciousness. It's just another trick of your own machine brain drawing its own ridiculous self caricature. This sense of self, evolved over millennia, is just an illusion. There is no unified you. When you have that sense of self, you're just becoming conscious of a simulation. Confused yet? I am a constant state of simulation produced and ran by my evolutionary brain as a means of understanding primate brains so I can have sex and stay alive better.

Using phrasing like self-transcendence or ego transcendence might be a literal way to go. But there is a special beauty in talking about it as "ego death" or "dying before you die", and that special beauty is that doing so is actually an understatement. How often do you use death as a metaphor and doing so is an understatement? Well, this is one of those cases. We define death as ceasing to exist, particularly in the sense of you ceasing to exist. But to "die before you die" is to realize that the you that would cease to exist never existed in the first place. It's an illusion and always was. It's not just for it to die, but also for its birth and life to become revealed as illusions too, for it to be wiped from real existence entirely. It's not just to stop being, but to never have been. Even Thanos can't snap his fingers that hard.


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My entire political philosophy summed up in one tweet.

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I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Surabhi Rani »

The concepts of self-transcendence, ego, life, and death have become clearer in my mind through the above discussion. I find various general philosophical terms, such as the universal self, our multidimensional existence, and the relationship between our physical body and consciousness explained through the use of different words in the above discussion. This is the same truth explained from a different angle.
I loved the point explained in the video from BBC Earth that if we have real knowledge about the ego, we will be able to face the tensions and the traumas in our lives by simply witnessing the situations of pain.
I appreciate that Brian C. Muraresku mentioned in this post is a Sanskrit scholar. I am sure the terms used in our discussion are enlightening and well-defined from the point of view of Sanskrit scriptures.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes »

Surabhi Rani wrote: January 28th, 2023, 7:45 am The concepts of self-transcendence, ego, life, and death have become clearer in my mind through the above discussion. I find various general philosophical terms, such as the universal self, our multidimensional existence, and the relationship between our physical body and consciousness explained through the use of different words in the above discussion. This is the same truth explained from a different angle.
I loved the point explained in the video from BBC Earth that if we have real knowledge about the ego, we will be able to face the tensions and the traumas in our lives by simply witnessing the situations of pain.
I appreciate that Brian C. Muraresku mentioned in this post is a Sanskrit scholar. I am sure the terms used in our discussion are enlightening and well-defined from the point of view of Sanskrit scriptures.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Surabhi Rani! :D

There are some other great videos from that same BBC Earth channel. If you liked that one, I do recommend you check out their other videos. :)


Thank you,
Scott
My entire political philosophy summed up in one tweet.

"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes »

Eckhart Aurelius Hughes wrote: January 26th, 2023, 11:16 pm

One of the things to which the word 'you' is often used to refer is something that I believe is an illusion. It doesn't really exist. In the book, I sometimes refer to it as "the false self" or "the unreal you".

[...]

We define death as ceasing to exist, particularly in the sense of you ceasing to exist. But to "die before you die" is to realize that the you that would cease to exist never existed in the first place. It's an illusion and always was. It's not just for it to die, but also for its birth and life to become revealed as illusions too, for it to be wiped from real existence entirely. It's not just to stop being, but to never have been. Even Thanos can't snap his fingers that hard.
To summarize the above more succinctly: Death is an illusion. Likewise, destruction is an illusion.

Destruction (e.g. when a house stops existing) and death (e.g. when a human stops existing) are at the deepest level simply and clearly an illusion resulting from abstraction (i.e. conceptualization), amplified by the illusion of time.

At that deep level in that context, in reality, there are no beginnings and no ends.

At that level in that context, there are not really any 'things'. Thinghood itself entails a type of fictionality. It's like the borders on a map that itself only exists in your head; they borders that aren't really there on the land representing by then map. In reality, there's just the one singular timeless thingless everything, a timeless unchanging whole with infinitely complex gradiants. It is eternal, without change, without creation or destruction, without birth or death.

At that deep level in that context, there is no creation or destruction of anything because there are no 'things', not really.

At that deep level in that context, there is no birth or death of anything because there is no things.

The border between this and not this, and that and not that, and between pre-birth and post-birth of this and so on and so forth are just imaginary arbitrary oversimplifying borders projected onto an otherwise singular unchanging eternal reality, all based on a made-up mapping by a tiny little human brain.

It's all just a useful fiction.
My entire political philosophy summed up in one tweet.

"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Nicky Rita »

This potent metaphor alludes to ego death, a spiritual phenomenon transcending death itself, offering liberation from limiting self-identities.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Carolyne Ochola »

This conceptual framework prompts reflection on the intricacies of personal identity, encouraging a deeper exploration of what constitutes an authentic sense of self in the face of linguistic and existential uncertainties.
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Re: Commentary on self-transcendence, ego death, and dying before you die; with a finger snap more brutal than Thanos

Post by Kemunto Nyatundo »

The notion of ego death, while sounding drastic, is a philosophical and psychological concept emphasizing the dissolution of the ego's dominance. The ego, as a construct representing the individual's self-perception, attachments, and desires, undergoes a transformative unraveling. This process isn't about erasing the self but transcending its limitations, allowing a more authentic, expansive self to emerge.
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