Consciousness does not require a self

The self is a prediction of the brain

The idea that consciousness requires a self has been around since at least Descartes. But problems of infinite regress, neuroscientific studies, and psychedelic experiences point to a different reality. 'You' may not be what you seem to be, writes James Cooke. 


We typically feel like we are the conscious subject, the one who has experiences. Look around you in this moment and direct your attention to different objects. It can feel like we exist in our heads, behind our eyes, directing a spotlight of attention in order to wilfully make things conscious. This intuitive model of the mind has often been imported into the science and philosophy of consciousness, leading to confusion in our understanding of the true nature of experience. This subject is not the bodily organism, it is something that is felt to live inside us, the possessor of the body, the “you” that is reading these words now. Consciousness is very much a property of the bodily subject, but no

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TiborZ Koos 29 April 2024

The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize that the "observing self" is not only a cognitive (conceptual, abstract etc.c) construct. It is inseparable from out perceptual world because our perceptions themselves are perspectival. The mentally represented "self" is not just a thought, it is part of what and how I see. Consider trying to rearrange in mental imagination the appearance of visible objects to make them seen in a view-point independent way. All we can do is things like generating images of the objects seen from above or as if they were transparent, but of course neither of these get rid of the perspectival framework of the representation: they are still in a spatial order relative to the viewpoint, have different degrees of visibility etc. Our perception of objects inseparably incorporates aspects of the process of perceiving them - be it the viewpoint from which they are seen, the attention they receive or the goal of looking at them. It's not possible to see objects without the perceiver being part of the representation that is generated. What this means is that even at the pre-conceptual level "that, which perceives" is inseparably (albeit it implicitly) present in what we see. This is probably the form in which animals that do not use symbolic thought are conscious: form them being conscious is something that is seen (heard, felt etc.) not something that is thought. And ultimately the same is true about us.

krisko111 30 December 2023

Although incomplete, this explanation is very much accurate. The fundamental error of Descartes – the error that is very much alive today, even among neuroscientists – was to mistake cognition for consciousness. In his famous "cogito, ergo sum" this error is self-evident in the mere use of the word "cogito" which has no relation whatsoever to the term consciousness but only to cognition. Moreover, "I'm thinking, therefore I am" – which is a more accurate translation than "I think, therefore I am" – implies that "if I'm not thinking, I'm not / I don't exist" should be true. However, such statement is nonsensical. ...Overall, well done! James Cooke!

Joseph Brennan 27 December 2023

A nice college try, unfortunately wrong. Consciousness is sequential or linear thought over time. It's how we are aware we exist and gives us humans the ability to perform complex tasks that other animals cannot do. It also makes us self critical and is responsible for all evil ever done by man. Time does not exist without consciousness. Humans are the only animals that are conscious, all other creatures on earth live in the present. I can prove all this of course but no academic will ever be interested. Acknowledging the simple truth about what consciousness is would upend most of the garbage taught about consciousness. All the added complexity would be for naught. All the 500 page books would be irrelevant. The grift is always more important than the truth in academia.

Fu Yuan Yang 19 December 2023

thank you for this. i really like it.