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  • What one of the problems we have in discussing consciousness scientifically is that consciousness

  • is irreducibly subjective. This is a point that many philosophers have madeThomas

  • Nagel, John Sorrell, David Chalmers. While I don’t agree with everything theyve

  • said about consciousness I agree with them on this point that consciousness is what it’s

  • like to be you. If there’s an experiential internal qualitative dimension to any physical

  • system then that is consciousness. And we can’t reduce the experiential side to talk

  • of information processing and neurotransmitters and states of the brain in our case because

  • and people want to do this. Someone like Francis Crick said famously youre nothing

  • but a pack of neurons. And that misses the fact that half of the reality were talking

  • about is the qualitative experiential side. So when youre trying to study human consciousness,

  • for instance, by looking at states of the brain, all you can do is correlate experiential

  • changes with changes in brain states. But no matter how tight these correlations become

  • that never gives you license to throw out the first person experiential side. That would

  • be analogous to saying that if you just flipped a coin long enough you would realize it had

  • only one side. And now it’s true you can be committed to talking about just one side.

  • You can say that heads being up is just a case of tails being down. But that doesn’t

  • actually reduce one side of reality to the other.

  • And to give you a more precise example, we have very strong third personobjective

  • measuresof things like anxiety and fear at this moment. You bring someone into the

  • lab, they say theyre feeling fear. You can scan their brains with FMRI and see that

  • their amygdala response is heightened. You can measure the sweat on their palms and see

  • that there’s an increased galvanic skin response. You can check their blood cortisol

  • and see that its spiking. So these now are considered objective third person measures

  • of fear. But if half the people came into the lab tomorrow and said they were feeling

  • fear and showed none of these signs and they said they were completely calm when their

  • cortisol spiked and when their palms started to sweat, these objective measures would no

  • longer be reliable measures of fear. So the cash value of a change in physiology is still

  • a change in the first person conscious side of things. And were inevitably going to

  • rely on people’s subjective reports to understand whether our correlations are accurate. So

  • the hope that we are going to talk about consciousness shorn of any kind of qualitative internal

  • experiential language, I think, is a false one. So we have to understand both sides of

  • it subjectiveclassically subjective and objective.

  • 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 theyre inside the body. And most

  • people feel like theyre 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 experienceyour

  • conscious emotions and thoughts and moods and the impulses that initiate behaviorall

  • 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 just rather than feeling like

  • youre on this side of things looking in as though youre almost looking over your

  • own shoulder appropriating experience in each moment, 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. It’s – if

  • you want to take seriously the project of being like Jesus or Buddha or some, 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.

  • It’s clearly an experience that people can have. And while it tells you nothing about

  • the cosmos, it tells you nothing about what happened before the Big Bang. It tells you

  • nothing about the divine origin of certain books. It doesn’t make religious dogmas

  • any more plausible. It does tell you something about the nature of human consciousness. It

  • tells you something about the possibilities of experience but then again any experience

  • does. You canthere’s justpeople have extraordinary experiences. And the problem

  • with religion is that they extrapolatepeople extrapolate from those experiences and make

  • grandiose claims about the nature of the universe. But these experiences do entitle you to talk

  • about the nature of human consciousness and it just so happens that this experience of

  • self-transcendence does link up with what we know about the mind through neuroscience

  • to form a plausible connection between science and classic mysticism, classic spirituality.

  • Because if you lose your sense of a unitary selfif you lose your sense that there’s

  • a permanent unchanging center to consciousness, your experience of the world actually becomes

  • more faithful to the facts. It’s not a distortion of the way we think things are at the level

  • of the brain. It’s actuallyit brings your experience into closer register with

  • how we think things are.

What one of the problems we have in discussing consciousness scientifically is that consciousness

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サム・ハリス:自己は幻想 (Sam Harris: The Self is an Illusion)

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