Picture: Infallible. I was pondering the question of my own infallibility recently.  Not as the result of a sudden descent into megalomaniacal delusion – I was thinking only of the kinds of infallibility which, if they exist, are shared by all of us conscious beings.

Of course, I am only infallible on certain points: the question is, which? One prime candidate is my own existence. Quite a few people these days contend that the ‘self’ is an illusion, perhaps a fading shadow of the idea of the soul, or kind of trick with smoke and mirrors.  If we are to believe Descartes and his cogito, however, my own existence is the one thing I can’t doubt. Non-existent people don’t doubt anything, so to doubt my own existence is to prove it – though some would be quick to point out that a momentary doubt doesn’t amount to all that much in the way of a self, and that everything else remains to be argued for.

There are, in any case, some other issues on which I may be infallible.  I might be infallible about certain aspects of my current experience.  I could certainly be mistaken (dreaming, deluded, illuded) about the fact that this is a dagger I see before me, but I couldn’t be wrong about the fact that it seems to me there’s a dagger before me, could I? The world might be an illusion, but even illusions are things.

Or to make it even less debatable, I could be wrong about having stubbed my toe just now, but I couldn’t be wrong about the sensation of pain I’m currently feeling, surely? Perhaps I never stubbed my toe; perhaps I don’t have toes and am just a brain in a vat somewhere; perhaps none of the world really exists at all and this current thought, with all its implied memories and feelings,  is just a weird metaphysical wrinkle on the surface of universal nothingness; but that experience of pain is finally undeniable. The sheer immediacy of pain seems to mean that there just is no gap between me and it into which any misunderstanding could creep.

And yet… We’re familiar these days with the strange deformations of awareness which can result from brain injury; people who no longer recognise their arm as belonging to them; people who feel pain in an arm they haven’t got any more; people who are blind but insist, in the teeth of the evidence, that they can see.  Isn’t it possible we could have people who believe themselves to be in pain when they aren’t? A competent hypnotist produces false and even absurd beliefs in subjects all the time and could probably induce such a state without the least difficulty?

Well, a hypnotist could certainly induce someone to say they were in pain, and behave as if they were in pain; but would the subject be in real pain? Unfortunately, the only way we can get at people’s real, inner, subjective states is through their reports, so if a hypnotist has interfered with their ability to report, we’re a bit stuck. These days, it’s true, we could put someone in a scanner and have a look at their brain activity; but that would still beg some philosophical questions.

It’s tempting to say, look, I have real pain in my toe right this minute and that – that – can’t be a mistake. I grant you could fool some person into declaring themselves in pain falsely, and even believing it. We could imagine Mary the Pain Scientist, who has lived since birth in a state of analgesia; then we tickle her toes and tell her that that’s pain. Of course she believes it. But these cases of error somehow just don’t touch the infallibility of the real cases, like mine. Mary, and the other deluded pain-claimants, are simply using the wrong words – they’re calling something pain which isn’t really pain. But let’s put words aside; that thing I’m feeling now – that’s what I’m feeling, and I can’t be wrong.

If that argument succeeds, it seems to do so only by descending to a level where the concepts of truth and falsity no longer apply: of course there’s a sense in which a mere wordless sensation can’t be false. It can still be real, but if the reality of my feelings is all we’ve established, we don’t seem to have added anything of substance to the cogito. And indeed if we put ourselves back into Descartes shoes, it seems impossible to deny that some wicked demon could have convinced us that we were in pain when we aren’t – that’s more or less what happened to Pain Mary.

This is murky territory, but my own guess is that while we can’t feel pain without feeling pain, we can believe we’re in pain without feeling real pain, and for that matter we can feel pain while holding at some level the erroneous belief that we’re not feeling pain. The feeling itself may be veridical in some loose sense, but it can coexist with a higher-order belief about it which happens to be false.

I feel reasonably happy about that because it is clearly the case that we can have false beliefs about our own beliefs;  indeed, it’s pretty common.  I absolutely believe that bungee jumping is safe, until I step onto the platform, when I find that some part of my brain, or perhaps just my legs and stomach, hold other views entirely.

But the mention of believing something with one’s legs reveals that beliefs are slippery and polymorphous. To believe something I don’t need to do anything; I can have beliefs about things I never thought of  (yesterday I believed that Kubla Khan’s smallest horse never used the St Malo ferry, and would have said so confidently and without hesitation if asked, though I never thought of the beast until now), and I can go on believing things while unconscious, perhaps indeed when dead (did Galileo stop believing that the Earth goes round the Sun when he died?) .

But what about good old straightforward thoughts? Surely my thought that I am thinking that A, is much less vulnerable than a belief that I believe that A? How could I be thinking about a nice cup of tea while thinking that I’m thinking about the ferry to St Malo? It’s certainly possible for the attention to wander from one topic to another by insensible degrees – but could I really be mistaken about what I’m thinking now? There seems a real problem in that to me.

Now of course introspection is systematically unreliable in dealing with questions of this sort. Since introspective thoughts are pretty much by definition second order – ie, they’re thoughts about thoughts – introspection only gives me access to half of the comparison. I can only think about thoughts I’m thinking about. If my real thoughts were not what I thought I was thinking, how would I know any different?

It’s a fair point, but if my thoughts could be different from what I thought I was thinking, it would surely give rise to some very odd discrepancies between my behaviour and my expectations. In the case of beliefs, we’ve already noticed that discrepancies of a sort can arise, causing some minor inconsistencies in my behaviour over bungee-jumping, for example, as I stride confidently to the platform and then subside into panicky paralysis – but current thoughts seem a different and more difficult case to me.

How could that be so, though? Thoughts about my thoughts are second-order thoughts, and there is no magic connection between a thought and its target which guarantees accuracy.  It follows that there is simply no way of guaranteeing that second-order thoughts are not erroneous, and so there seems to be no way the infallibility I’m attributing to my own thoughts could arise.

The only answer I can see is that we must be wrong to assume that my knowledge of my own thoughts comes from second-order thoughts. The reason I know what I’m thinking is not that I have another true thought about what I’m thinking; instead, my knowledge just comes with the fact that this is what I’m thinking.

That radically contradicts the theory championed by some that conscious thoughts are exactly those for which there is a second order thought about the first thought. The error here, perhaps, has been to construct a model for our knowledge of our own thoughts which resembles our knowledge of the contents of a book. We know what that sentence says because we have a correct thought about it. But books have only derived intentionality (they only mean anything because someone has interpreted them as meaning something) whereas our thoughts have original intentionality (they mean stuff irrespective of what anyone thinks about it). It seems, then, that  the distinguishing property of a conscious thought is actually that the having of content and the knowing of content are inseparably the same.

I feel we’re frustratingly close to a new insight into the nature of intrinsic intentionality here. But I could be wrong.

16 Comments

  1. 1. Michaelpj says:

    It’s worth noting that even Descartes’ cogito can’t give us infallibility. The deduction follows provided that we know that a non-existent person can’t doubt; but couldn’t we be wrong about that?

    The whole second-order model seems dangerously wrong-headed to me. I am just as conscious of my introspective thoughts as I am of my first-order thoughts; and so by this model I would need another level, and then perhaps another, ad infinitum. Even if we can halt the regress, it seems bizarre that second-order thoughts are just magic in some way. Why second-order, not fifteenth-order? Would we be “more” conscious if we had even higher level thoughts?

    I do think that there is a close relationship between having a thought and knowing you are having the thought, or being “conscious” of it, whatever we take that to mean; but I think it is more to do with our criteria for thought-hood. There was presumably some kind of mental process that resulted in me scratching my leg a moment ago, but I wasn’t conscious of it, so I would not call it a thought. Hence, if what is required for something to be a thought is that it be a mental process we are conscious of, then of course we are conscious of all our thoughts! Given human fallibility, it seems that the only kind of infallibility we can get is this kind of verbal/definitional infallibility, which isn’t really very interesting.

  2. 2. Peter says:

    Good points.

    …provided we know that a non-existent person can’t doubt…

    Now that’s what I call metaphysics!

  3. 3. Gary Williams says:

    While interesting, I think conversations such as these illustrate perfectly why we need to update the “thoughts and beliefs” model of psychology, wherein one could have a mental life “irrespective of what anyone thinks about it.” For example, one facet of human experience overlooked in these sterile accounts of second-order thoughts and what not, is our capacity for reflexive self-interpretation. In the conscious, subjective experience of shamefulness, the experience is constituted precisely by what other people are thinking about it. Other examples include honor, loyalty, dignity, depravity, etc. Human experience is fundamentally rooted in what Charles Taylor calls “subject referring” properties, which are involved with being a subject *qua* subject. Belief-desire psychology does nothing to account for the powerful hermeneutic frameworks e.g. Christians might have “beliefs” or “thoughts” about God, but more fundamentally, they have a God-oriented phenomenal field wherein their conscious life is structured in terms of religiosity.

    “Conscious” introspective thought is the tip of the iceberg concerning what it means to be a fully mature human being. As McDowell argues, our basic perception and cognition in general is infused with conceptual and linguistic structure. When alert and awake, a normal humans very perception is “conscious” insofar as it is intentional and “of” something. Cups are cups. People are people. The floor is the floor. Etc. I see this as a basic Heideggerian point. If we are going to overcome Descartes, we need to relinquish belief-desire psychology from its dominant role in the exculpation of what “conscious” experience consists of.

  4. 4. steve esser says:

    It’s slippery: it seems that for us to evaluate the nature of primary consciousness we can’t reflect on it, because then errors creep in. Despite this challenge, we should be able to get some purchase on it (and I think the contintental phenomenologists are helpful on this) — it is something like the immediately felt intentional engagement with the world. Good discussion.

  5. 5. Peter says:

    Gary,

    Sorry to see from your blog that I put you off reading Julian Jaynes – I suppose with this piece - or perhaps it was this. I’m not convinced by his theory, but the book is a good read.

    You might be right that we need to move beyond beliefs and desires, but I’m not sure about the experience of shame being constituted by what others think. After all, I can feel shame about things no-one knows about. I expect I’m missing the point there, however – I haven’t read Charles Taylor.

  6. 6. John says:

    “The reason I know what I’m thinking is not that I have another true thought about what I’m thinking; instead, my knowledge just comes with the fact that this is what I’m thinking.”

    Yes, you know things whilst they are happening, in other words dimensional time must be involved in experience because you couldn’t know anything in no time at all. It is disturbing that philosophers such as James and Whitehead are virtually ignored in the modern Philosophy of Mind. See Time and conscious experience.

  7. 7. VS Bandaneer says:

    I see a problem with one idea of consciousness. If consciousness is and independent entity separate fromthe content of consciousness —if content appears in consciousness or to consciousness but is not part of it then it seems that even the notion that there is such a thing as consciousness—is content. So it can’t be known if there is any such thing as consciousness—-since anything which states such is always content and not consciousness itself. A reply could be that consciousness recognizes itself—but would
    not this recognition also be content? And any time you try to describe or qualify consciousness–it will be content and not consciousness.
    So —no way to say there is or is not consciousness—the entity just dissolves.
    Better I think, not to posit the entity or any such. Better just to say that things arise.
    Consciousness as an entity is compelling only because people want to preserve the individual human ego in all this,an individual consciousness.
    But the scheme–just leads me to think there is no such thing as
    consciousness—rather,all there is,is things showing up–including the notion of consciousness –But no consciousness to be conscious of it.
    If consciousness is inferred from the arising of a thought and then another thought commenting on it—–thus: “there is a small mammal in that corn crib” and then ” I am aware of just having thought that ‘there is a small mammal in that corn crib’” —well
    why would this need a separate entity called consciousness,to occur? —–just as
    one could say “I am aware that I just saw a host of golden daffodils”—why would this need another entity to occur? If the universe produces a passing thunderstorm without
    such an entity—why would it need such an entity to produce a thought? Where is the necessity? I say Ockham needs to be invoked.
    Again, I can’t help but think that the notion of consciousness–that there is something
    separate from things that things appear to or in—is just an attempt to shore up the notion of some kind of self–separate from all else–an agent on a cosmic island all its own–apart. I don’t buy it.
    If there is no consciousness–then what is the import of “I am conscious of
    being conscious?—there is a sense of I.”?
    The import in my view is that these are what is–these are part of creation showing up.
    The basic condition is that stuff shows up—-even the belief in a personal self shows up. But all these things only serve to illustrate being —-they are simply species of being. In fact my words should be seen in the same way.
    Words and concepts —the content of words and concepts –are not the truth—rather the fact of their showing up, is the truth. The basic fact of being is right in your face–being—-in all its forms. To think that one must find the correct concepts to get this basic truth would be like a swimming fish searching for water. Words and concepts can serve as antidotes to clinging to way of thinking that keep the mind from expanding into appreciation of being generally—–remedial.
    There is not use denying that there is a sense of personal self
    or even consciousness, that arises in most folk—there is such a sense, just as there is a sense of true and false.
    But its import is that it is an example of being —as all things are being—It is being that goes beyond the personal. The individual sense that arises will die, the body will die, the mind will die. These things are fated—-but being is not subject to gain and loss—being is always being –form going out of existence is being as is form arising.
    The forms may be in dispute–the arguments may fly–but being is everpresent—amd
    forever. Man’s ultimate fate is to release the hold on the narrow self and identify with
    the being —that is always present and always complete–needing nothing.

  8. 8. Peter says:

    Abstraction is an automatic and independent (and therefore involuntary) function of consciousness. This type of abstraction is a seamless dynamic fluidity, there are no “discrete states,” no interrupts. It is this “doing” of the seamless, continuous, fluid and dynamic abstraction that is at the root of the conscious “experience.” The doing of the abstraction is a physical phenomenon (which seems like a contradiction).

    Consciousness, therefore, is not a “state” because consciousness does not depend on any a priori context, definitions or reference points. In other words, consciousness is the one thing in the universe which can never be placed into a “box.” It will always escape (unlike algorithms attempting to pass the Turing Test). In this sense, consciousness is beyond even quantum physics: there are no “quantums” of consciousness. The seamlessness is perfect. The fluidity does not merely approach infinity, it is an actual and real infinity (despised by mathematicians).

    The easiest way to understand it is to visualize temporary immortality. Again, a contradiction. But think, why must (reality dictates that)”complex numbers” be both “real” and “imaginary?” Is this not what consciousness is? Both? Is other words, consciousness is and is not at the same time, it is physical and abstract, but how?

    The starting point must be information theory and whether discrete states are the only expressable “reality,” that is, whether a real possibility does exist that consciousness is truly a seamless “expression” and, therefore, non-digital (analog, non capable of being brought into existence (programmed) with digital language). DNA is a sequence of information carrying codons (a digital language) from which “something” which is greater than the sum of its parts emerges: the ability to “do” uninterrupted abstraction with full knowledge, full conscious awareness, of the experience.

  9. 9. John says:

    Interesting comment Peter. However, there is no information without representation, indeed information IS representation, it is an ordered state of a physical system. The way that systems can have many ordered states is a result of the existence of many directions for arranging things (what mathematicians and physicists call dimensions).

    You seem to be expressing the way that the universe has several different directions for arranging things in terms of information rather than vice versa. Information is a property of the dimensional structure of the universe but is not the same as this dimensional structure.

    In physical terms information is a state relative to a particular observation point, both because states can only be expressed in terms of the coordinates of their component parts and because relativity and qm show that different observation points are surrounded by different states with different surfaces of simultaneity, different frequencies of de Broglie waves etc.. Remember, even a picosecond of temporal displacement results in the near complete isolation of two adjacent observational manifolds and you can get a picosecond of displacement at everyday velocities.. So conscious experience is related to the physical problem of how an observational manifold around a particular point can occur (ie: how our own information can exist).

  10. 10. Peter says:

    Just to clarify – ‘Peter’ above is not me.

  11. 11. Karim says:

    An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Thanks,
    Karim –
    Positive thinking

  12. 12. nobody says:

    ‘Is Peter Hankins the Doer of Any Action, the Thinker of any Thought, the Feeler of any Emotion?’

    Dear Peter Hankins,
    Next time you are sitting in a room with friends, notice what is happening. Legs are moving—crossing and uncrossing. Arms are moving to pick up a cup, to adjust the position in a chair, to tap a friend on the knee. Heads are turning sideways to speak to others or looking down to the floor in contemplation. Smiles are happening. Frowns are happening. Standing is happening. Sitting is happening. Thoughts are arising. Emotions are arising. When you notice a leg move, ask the person whether she moved the leg. Was she conscious of the leg moving when it happened? When a head turns, ask the person whether she turned her head consciously or whether it just happened. When you notice some part of your body moving, notice whether you consciously brought that movement about. Even if there was a decision to move an arm, did you bring the decision about? Before the thought arose, “I’m going to move my arm,” were you consciously planning to move your arm? Didn’t the thought, “I’m going to move my arm,” spontaneously and involuntarily arise?

    Isn’t it true in your direct experience that everything is just happening spontaneously and involuntarily? When life is fully living itself through you in this moment, without the false idea that you are in control, it is realized that you are not pumping blood through your body, beating your heart, digesting food, moving arms and legs, turning the head, or breathing air.

    You are also not ‘doing’ thinking or ‘doing’ emotions, are you? Thoughts and emotions are also arising spontaneously and involuntarily. When the word “spontaneously” is used in this book, it means “out of nowhere, all of a sudden.” When the word “involuntarily” is used, it means “beyond your control” and “in a way that you cannot predict until the thought, emotion, action or other thing is already happening.”

    Are you the doer of action? Are you a person who is in control of life and who can bring about a future? Within the mental story of time called “self,” there is the belief that you are your past and that you are moving through time and becoming something better or worse in the future. As a result of that story, you believe you are in control, that you have taken action in the past that led you to this moment and that you will take action now and in the future to bring about some later moment, event, relationship, happiness, awakening, job promotion or something else in the horizon. Thought references back in time and claims, “I did this” or “I failed to do that.” Thought references forward into future and claims, “I am going to do this” or “I won’t be able to become that.” Thought is telling a story of a self that is in control of life. Is this story absolutely true?

    Do you see that past and future are merely thoughts arising spontaneously and involuntarily now in an empty awareness within the body and mind? The self you take yourself to be is nothing more than a thought stream. Where is the self beyond thought? In looking for it, you cannot find it. All you will find are thoughts arising spontaneously and involuntarily and the awareness in which they arise and fall. You cannot even find a definable entity that is looking. No matter how you try to define yourself—whether it’s as a “human being,” “Peter Hankins ,” or “spiritual being”—the words are merely thoughts, little images temporarily arising and falling in awareness. To even use the word “you” is false. It makes it appear that there is a solid entity there that is looking or being. In looking inward, all that is found is awareness and the word “you” arising and falling in that awareness. So where are you? Who are you? What are you? If you answer with thought, that thought is simply another image arising and falling in awareness. Even if you say that you are that awareness, the word “awareness” is arising and falling in the actual awareness to which the word points.

    If there is a “you,” it cannot be a concept. If you believe you are some concept, you are admitting that you come and go in the blink of an eye. Concepts come and go. They are thought forms and all forms are fleeting. You are a fleeting concept? Is that true? Don’t answer. Just look.
    In response to what is being said here, there may be a tendency to say, “I’m the one who is bringing about these thoughts.” The mind is trying desperately to be in control. That is its game. There is nothing wrong with that game. That is what the mind does. It plays in the illusion of control. But is it true that there is a separate you that is ‘doing’ the thinking? Isn’t that just another story? Watch the mind for five seconds as you would watch a mouse hole, waiting for a mouse to run out. As you watch the mind, can you know what thought is going to pop up before it actually pops up? If you cannot know what thought is going to pop up next, how can you claim to be ‘doing’ the thinking? When you look in this way, you see that thought simply arises spontaneously and involuntarily. You cannot know what particular thought is going to arise until it has already arisen. Thought arises suddenly, sometimes in response to another thought or to something that is seen or heard or encountered. You don’t think. Thinking happens. Don’t believe a word that is being said here. Just look. If it is true that you are not bringing about thoughts, is it true that you are in control of life? Is it true that there is a separate “you” that can bring about happiness, love, or spiritual enlightenment?

    Are you ‘doing’ emotions? Emotions spontaneously and involuntarily arise in this moment out of nowhere also, don’t they? Anger arises before there is a conscious awareness that it is there. Great joy, total despair, and paralyzing fear all happen spontaneously and involuntarily. Please do not believe what this book is saying. See for yourself. When your attention is in your inner body, can you know what emotion is going to pop up next? If you cannot know what emotion is going to pop up, how can you claim to be ‘doing’ emotions? How can you claim to be able to employ some method to change your emotional makeup or to “feel better.”

    From within this thought-based dream of self, there appears to be control. The doer believes he is choosing to act and therefore controlling outcomes. When liberation is realized, the self is seen to be illusion. Control is seen to be illusion. In liberation, there is no way to know what is going to happen next. That is why it is liberating.

    Isn’t even the idea of “you”—the story of the doer—just part of that conditioning? You do not even have control of that idea, do you? “You” are just another idea spontaneously and involuntarily arising now. When the mind stops referencing a “self” in past and future, awakening happens. It is realized that Oneness, God, or whatever you like to call this inexpressible truth, is living life through your body and mind. Only thought creates the story that you are the doer of action. That story references past and future in some attempt to take credit for actions over which the story has no control. In the moment the belief arises that you are in control, there is ignorance. Isn’t the entire notion of a self only a belief? It may be a deeply-held belief, but if it is nothing more than a belief, then it must not be absolutely true. Belief, by its very nature, is something less than absolute truth. If spirituality is not about what is absolutely true, it’s about fairy tales. You might as well believe in Santa Claus.

    If “you” are merely a belief, is this “you” the doer of action? Notice this idea of “you” is not doing the laundry, going to work, playing with your children, thinking or feeling. All of that arises spontaneously and involuntarily in this moment out of nowhere. When you are about to extend your arm into the washing machine to grab clothes, do you say to yourself, “I, Peter Hankins, am going to extend my arm now into the washing machine to grab these clothes?” Do you give a conscious command to your arm? Of course you do not. That would be silly. Reaching the arm into the washing machine simply happens spontaneously and involuntarily. Even the thought, “I am going to grab these clothes,” that arises before you extend your arm arises spontaneously and involuntarily out of nowhere, does it not?

    It appears that you have choice, right? The apparent choice is that you can either grab the clothes or not. But look to see whether even the experience of choice arises spontaneously and involuntarily right now. Out of nothing comes an apparent choice between two or more options. Did you bring those options about or did they also just spontaneously and involuntarily arise? An apparent decision is made to pick one or the other option. Did you bring about the decision or did it arise and awareness noticed it after it arose? Within the dream of thought, it appears as if you are bringing about both the options and the choosing of one option over the other. Are you ‘doing’ the choosing and deciding or are the choosing and deciding also arising spontaneously and involuntarily? Do not answer that with thought. Simply look.

    The experience of apparent choice happens. Do not deny the experience of apparent choice. See it for what it truly is. Allow that experience to show you the truth. When apparent choice arises, notice how it plays into the story of self that lives in time. The idea is that, “I will choose to do something now in order to bring about some later future event, state, experience, or understanding.” Choice almost always implies future. We choose for a reason, right? We choose because a story of time is operating: “If I choose to do this, then a particular outcome will happen.” That story of time is a story of control. So the illusory story of self dreams up the idea that it can take action now to bring about something later. Cause and effect arise solely from thought. The whole notion that one needs to choose or that one has choice arises from the dream of self, does it not? It arises from the dream of time, which is a dream of mind. When that dream of time is seen to be an illusion, there is only the timeless. Do not argue with what is being said here. Just look. But do not look to achieve some later state of clarity. Do not look to achieve a result later. Simply look at what is arising now. Instead of doing, notice what is already being done. Little choices are being made within the dream of self. Those choices imply a future that is better than what is happening now. Isn’t choosing the same as seeking? The experience of choice is a perfectly valid experience. Do not seek to get rid of choice. Just notice it when it arises. Notice whether you actually bring it about. Allow the experience of choice to wake you up out of the thought-based, time-bound story that you are a person who is in control.

    As you are noticing whether thought and emotion happen spontaneously and involuntarily, notice something even more subtle. You are not ‘doing’ the noticing, are you? Are you ‘doing’ or ‘bringing about’ noticing? Noticing is just happening. The very fact that you are alive means that there is noticing. You have been noticing since you were a baby. There was no story when you were a baby that you were in control of noticing. Noticing was just happening. It is still just happening. When it is realized that you are not the doer of any action including thinking, feeling, noticing, walking, breathing, or any other action, a sense of liberation naturally arises.

    So the question arises along the search for enlightenment, “If I am not the doer of action, is there nothing I can do to realize enlightenment?” In some mysterious way, the noticing is a portal to enlightenment. Although it is true that there is nothing “you” can do to find enlightenment because there is no doer, there can be a noticing of what is already being done. A story of self is already being told. This story falsely believes it is in control. The reality is that, beyond that story, life is being done. It is living itself through you with or without your consent. Life is not asking for your effort, resistance, belief systems, philosophies, and stories. It is functioning on a level much deeper and more intelligent than that of any mind-made story of self.

    The story of self is made up of thoughts of past, thoughts of future, and thoughts that resist this moment. In this story, thoughts of past shape who you believe you are and thoughts of future shape who you believe you are going to become. Thoughts that resist this moment include blaming, complaining, comparing, analyzing, labeling, categorizing and judging. It is falsely believed that you took action in the past and will take action in the future. This is the thought-based illusory “me.” To effort to try to get rid of these thoughts or to destroy the mind-made “me” is itself just more ignorance and delusion. It is the “me” falsely believing that it has control and that it can somehow exercise control over life to bring about a spiritual awakening. Enlightenment is realized only when the doer—the story of self—is seen to be a dream spontaneously and involuntarily arising out of nothing. It is realized when control itself is seen to be illusory.

    This question, “Are you the doer?” is not an invitation to think philosophically. It is not really a philosophical question. It is an invitation to look. It is an experiential seeing in this moment. I am not asking you to take a position either for or against what is being said here. I am inviting you to look in this moment at what is actually arising and to see whether you—the thought-based, time-bound story you take yourself to be—are doing anything or whether life is simply being done. As you read these words, are you arguing with what is being said? If so, didn’t the thought that is arguing with this book spontaneously and involuntarily arise out of nowhere also? You did not bring it about, did you? It just popped into your head. Philosophical conclusions merely pop into the head also. You do not know what argument or conclusion is going to pop into your head until it is already there. Isn’t that true? Aren’t arguments and philosophies just conditioning—ideas to which there is attachment? Aren’t all ideas merely conditioning that spontaneously and involuntarily arises beyond your control? If so, are these ideas yours? If you cannot control whether they arise or not, do these ideas really belong to you?

    The question, “Are you the doer of any action?,” cannot truly be answered through thought. Thought will merely pick one of the dualistic opposite answers and say, “I am not the doer,” or “I am the doer.” It then likes to create a philosophy out of its findings and write books and create websites to tell the others about its brilliant findings and conclusions. Do not read this book as if you are reading about some philosophy regarding free will or choice. Do not believe a word that is said here. This book is an invitation to see whether you are the doer of any action.

    This question, “Are you the doer?” is an experiential question. In the vibrancy and aliveness of this very moment, I mean right now only, it is revealed that you are not the doer. That is not some rigid new belief system for you to identify with. If there is an attachment to some philosophical conclusion that “there is no doer” you have created a new version of yourself. The self is nothing more than a belief system, a fixed idea. It is holding onto dualistic, conceptual knowledge in some attempt to create a “me” where there isn’t one. So attachment to any ideas in this book, or to any other spiritual ideas, is actually ignorance. It is attachment to thought without the seeing that even the philosophical conclusion or belief is a result of mere conditioning arising spontaneously and involuntarily.

    This is why thought cannot truly answer the question, “Are you the doer?” The very question and answer arises spontaneously out of nowhere. They simply pop in and out of your head. In other words, the revelation that you are not the doer is not anything that thought can grasp because the very thought that would try to grasp it is also arising spontaneously right now. Thought merely philosophizes about whether you are the doer. This is why these words may appear to be presenting a philosophy, when in fact they are merely an invitation to see the possibility of waking up from the dream that you are the doer of action. This is an invitation to wake up from the dream that you are a philosophy including the idea that “there is no doer.” You are much more than a philosophy or set of ideas, no matter how spiritual the ideas are. Spiritual liberation is not about finding a grand new philosophy to end all philosophies. That would just be another conclusion arising now—conditioning reappearing. Liberation cannot truly be put into words but it can be pointed to by saying that, in liberation, there is nothing to hold onto. There is nowhere to land. No conclusion is the truth. Yet all conclusions are relatively true. Once that is seen fully, all attachment dies. All fixed ideas are released. The idea of a separate self is gone.

    When a shift happens from the personal will trying to “do” things to a noticing of what is already being done, a possibility for true spiritual liberation arises. When there is a seeing that this whole movement of self is a dream of thought, including all the ways it is grasping for control by maintaining a false sense of separateness, replaying the past and attaching to conclusions about past insights, resisting what is in this moment, and searching for future release or happiness, there is a natural relaxation that happens. No person is doing the relaxation. No person could ever completely relax. You are not the doer of spiritual awakening. Awakening is like an act of grace revealed when the dream of self is seen to be an illusion.

    Liberation is a completely natural way of being, totally untouched by the belief that you either are or are not the doer of action. Whether you believe you are the doer of action or not doesn’t matter. “No doer” is a pointer, not a belief. It is an invitation to experientially see whether you are doing anything or whether life is simply being done, with or without your consent. This is about the truth as it reveals itself to you freshly in each moment.

    ***

    I am the vessel, the ideas pass through me.
    Nathaniel Dorsky, ‘Devotional Cinema’

    Perhaps the “I,” the ego, is simply the window through which the world looks at the world.
    Italo Calvino, ‘Mr. Palomar’.

    If we do relinquish control, we suddenly see a hidden world, one that has existed all along right in front of us. In a flash, the uncanny presence of this poetic and vibrant world, ripe with mistery, stands before us. Everything is expressing itself as what it is. Everything is alive and talking to us.
    Nathaniel Dorsky, ‘Devotional Cinema’.

    All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.
    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

    Maybe the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills, shining and flowing waters, the skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, maybe these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and the real something has yet to be known.
    Walt Whitman, ‘Leaves of Grass’ (1891)

    There is so much beyond all that has ever yet been imagined. As I write these words, in the very moment, I feel that the whole air, the sunshine out yonder lighting up theploughed earth, the distant sky, the circumambient ether, and that far space, is full of soul-secrets, soul-life, things outside the experience of all the ages. The fact of my own existence as I write, as I exist at this second, is so marvellous, so miracle-like, strange, and supernatural to me, that I unhesitatingly conclude I am always on the margin of life illimitable, and that there are higher conditions than existence. Everything around is supernatural; everything so full of unexplained meaning…
    Richard Jefferies, ’The Story of my Heart’ (1883)

    The simple thing about the ‘sense of self’ is that it may be an hallucination. The brain parts that support it are also the ones behind hallucinations. And, in looking for the human ‘self,’ science is coming up empty-handed. Cognitive science understands quite a lot about the modalities in which it operates, but not much about what holds them together. There is some understanding about the brain’s activity keeping consciousness ‘bound’ together, but the mechanism that makes us feel we are real to ourselves is still something of a mystery. What we can talk about this area is the sense of self. We experience ourselves as real the same way we experience anything else. Through our senses. But which sense do we use to perceive our “self”? The answer I suggest is that there is a sense, that uses all the neural substrates of the other senses as it’s organs, and that has no ‘percept’. Instead, it only hallucinates. And it has only one hallucination. The self.
    Todd Murphy, ‘Enlightenment as a Neural process – A forensic look at the Buddha’s transformation’.

    “Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 per cent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself -and there isn’t one!”
    Terence Gray.

    The very first step in understanding is in giving up the false concept of ‘I’ as a separate entity. It is also the last step.
    Nisargadatta Maharaj

    I would define the ego as a concept originating from the “I am” experience, pure being without attributes, the absolute certitude we have that we exist. When I conceptualize this experience, I name it “I” or “I am”. There is nothing wrong with the pure concept “I am”. The ego comes in the moment I say “I am this or that”. The “this or that” superimposes a limitation onto something that, up until now, was limitless.
    Francis Lucille

    A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
    Albert Einstein

    “Enlightenment is the disappearance of the one who wants it”
    Sally Ann Hughes

    The gravitational centre is in the individual ‘me’, but this ‘me’ is not a unit in the logical or the physical sense. That is only our subjective illusion! A hoax!
    Stanislaw Lem, ‘A Perfect Vacuum”

    When you are dreaming you appear to be a character within the dream. But this is only your ‘apparent identity’. It is not who you really are. Actually you are awareness which is dreaming the dream. That is your ‘essential identity’. I am suggesting that life is like a dream. Right now you appear to be a person in the life-dream. But this is only your apparent identity, it is not who you really are. Your essential identity is much less concrete and much more mysterious. You are awareness which is witnessing the life-dream.
    Timothy Freke, “Lucid Living”

    In September 1998 an event arose. I was gardening and the rain was drizzling down. I looked up, and there was a subtle sense of ‘me’ not being there. I got on my bike and cycled around the lanes and it seemed as though there was a movie going on, without any effort necessary on my part to be taking part in it. With this sudden dropping of the ‘I’, all need for understanding fell away as knowing was revealed.
    Nathan Gill, ‘Clarity’

    -Paradox-
    You will never achieve spiritual enlightenment.
    The you that you think of as you is not you.
    The you that thinks of you as you is not you.
    There is no you, so who wishes to become enlightened?
    Who is not enlightened?
    Who will become enlightened?
    Who will be enlightened?
    Enlightenment is your destiny-more certain than sunrise.
    You cannot fail to achieve enlightenment.
    Were you told otherwise?
    Irresistible forces compel you. The universe insists.
    It is not within your power to fail.
    There is no path to enlightenment:
    It lies in all directions at all times.
    On the journey to enlightenment, you create and
    destroy your own path with every step.
    No one can follow another’s path.
    No one can step off the path.
    No one can lead another.
    No one can turn back.
    No one can stop.
    Enlightenment is closer than your skin,
    more immediate than your next breath,
    forever beyond your reach.
    It need not be sought because it cannot be found.
    It cannot be found because it cannot be lost.
    It cannot be lost because it is
    not other than that which seeks.
    The paradox is that there is no paradox.
    Is that not the damnedest thing?
    Jed McKenna, ‘Spiritual Incorrect Enlightenment’

    “The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a thought or emotion or event occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words. This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event, which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous. Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to maintain and enhance this solid self. We try to feed it pleasures and shield it from pain. This struggle to maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of ego.” “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego.”– Chogyam Trungpa

    In simple terms, all that happens is that when we are very
    young children, there is simply being, without a knowing of being;
    there is simply being. And then someone comes along and says
    ‘You’re Bill’ or ‘You’re Mary’ – ‘You’re a person’. And in some way
    or other, the mind – the ‘I’ thought, the identity, the idea that ‘I am
    a person’ – takes over the energy of being and identifies it as Bill or
    Mary or whatever. It takes over being and gives it a name. Words
    begin, labels begin, and the whole idea of ‘me’ becomes the main
    investment of living.
    If you look at the apparent world we live in today, it’s all about
    ‘me’ – it’s all about ‘the person’ being successful or being a failure.
    We grow up believing and reinforcing the idea that there is
    someone, and that that someone lives a life that’s going to last so
    many years. We’re in a journey called ‘my life’, and the thing to do
    - we are told – is to make that life work. The whole investment is
    in ‘I am a person and I’ve got to make my life work’.
    (…)
    But the idea of ‘you’ is being reinforced all the time. The
    emphasis is that there is someone there; everything in the world
    goes on emphasising that there is someone there. The pretence of
    ‘me’ goes on being reinforced even in the search for
    enlightenment, because what a so-called master will say to you is,
    ‘I have become enlightened – I am an enlightened person and you
    can become an enlightened person’. You – this pretend ‘you’! It’s a
    total, utter fallacy, because awakening is the realisation that there
    is no one – it’s as simple as that. It’s totally and utterly simple, and
    also very difficult.
    Awakening is the realisation that all that’s been happening – the
    whole idea of there being a ‘me’ – is a pretence. You’re actually
    pretending to sit there and look at me. You’re pretending that
    you’re sitting there looking at me and trying to get something.
    Actually, there is no one sitting there and there is nothing to get.
    You can close your eyes, if you want to, and sense the energy
    that you think is ‘you’. It’s like an aliveness . . . For some people
    it’s a sense ‘I exist’ . . .
    But that energy, that sense of ‘you’ being there, is actually not
    you. That sense of who you think you are – that sense of aliveness
    and energy – is being; it’s just being. It never came and it never
    went away – it’s never left you; it’s always been there. You thought it
    was you – it’s just pure being. It isn’t who you are – it’s what you
    are. What you are is simply being, presence, life. You are life, life
    happening, but it doesn’t happen to anyone. Sitting on that chair
    isn’t happening to you – sitting on that chair is what’s happening,
    to no one. There’s just being. You are being – you are divine being.
    And it’s so amazing because wherever you go, there is being.
    Whatever you apparently do, there is being. Whatever you
    apparently don’t do, there is being. There always has been being,
    whatever you’ve apparently done or not done, however unworthy
    or neurotic or ignorant or selfish you think you are. All of those
    qualities arise in what you are, which is being. All there is is being.
    And what arises in that being is the idea that ‘you’ exist. It’s just
    an idea, it’s just a thought, that there is someone.
    Tony Parsons, “All there is”

    So who are you? In every moment there are different thoughts arising and forming your idea of who you are. You might insist that you have a lifetime history, b ut as you recall it right now, you’ll only be recalling tiny glimpses of it, flashes, distorted memories. The stored “history of you,” even if it did exist as a whole somewhere in the brain (and it does not – those memories go through changes as they recede in time), you can only be recalling any tiny portion of it at a time, a few brushstrokes, like an impressionist painting. So where is this solid story of you? Is it really real?
    So what is being pointed to is this – that you do not exist as a solid, discrete entity as you believe, and ALL your questioning and suffering and problems refer to this NON-EXISTENT entity.
    That’s all I have. I have right now. That’s all you have. You have right now. This is an equal opportunity understanding. No one is excluded. It is now. It is not something I “got” and you will “get.” It is only ever THIS, right now, being, being aware, this knowingness right now. I have no secret knowledge – there is nothing other than this.
    Annette Nibley

    Because of that erroneous belief (in a ‘me’) there is this so-called human suffering. It is only a ‘me’ that can be fearful. It is only a ‘me’ that can be anxious. It is only this ‘me’ that can be angry or full of self-pity or anxiety or stressed out. The constant belief in that builds it up and snowballs it until it seemingly becomes overwhelming. But it is not necessary for that suffering to be there. See that the ‘me’ is the cause of all my problems. The effects are the stress, the anxiety, the fear, the self-pity, the remorse, the guilt, the shame. And we try for years to overcome them, to do something about them, to get rid of them some way or another. But if you just realize that the cause is a fiction—and there cannot be an effect without a cause—then the energy of belief can no longer go into it as being real or having any substance or any independent nature. If all of this manifestation is energy and the energy is no longer going into some pattern, what must happen to the pattern? Must not the pattern drop off by itself?
    Sailor Bob Adamson

    Disease and conflict in our lives. We really don’t know. Another thing I want to emphasize is that what we call identity, the ‘I’, the ‘me’, the ‘you’, the ‘center’, the ‘psyche’, is artificially created. It does not exist at all. You want to reassure yourself that you are there. The “I” is nothing but this word. There is no “I” independent of this word.
    U. G. Krishnamurti

    Cualesquiera preguntas acerca de la naturaleza o las actividades de esta bestia puramente mítica llamada ‘yo’ se revelan, por tanto, carentes de sentido. Por ejemplo, ante la simple pregunta de “¿Qué estás haciendo?”, sólo cabe reírse y encogerse de hombros, a menos que se sienta que el interpelante está de veras abierto a escuchar la auténtica respuesta: “¿Hacer? ¿Yo? No hay ningún ‘yo’ que ‘haga’ nada, jamás lo ha habido. Y si te fuera posible, también tú verías que tampoco hay ningún ‘tú’ que ‘haga’ ninguna ‘cosa’, no hay cosa alguna que ‘nosotros’ podamos hacer”. Todos lo que hay es Conciencia, fluyendo, discurriendo a través de todos estos instrumentos de manera tal que, en concordancia con el perfecto despliegue de la totalidad, se percibe como si hubiera entidades individuales discretas que ejecutan acciones autónomamente, pero en verdad ese no es el caso. No hay individuo, entidad o yo separado que haga nada o que sea nada, ni siquiera que pueda estar despierto o iluminado.
    David Carse. “Perfecta Brillante Quietud” (Perfect Brilliant Stillness).

    Look, it’s all so incredibly simple. There is no one here. This is not a figure of speech. I mean there is truly no one here, no person, no individual speaking to you. You look at me and think there is a person here talking to you, trying to tell you something. I assure you, there is not. Look at me. If there were not Consciousness streaming through this body, what would be here? What would this body be if Consciousness were not here? A corpse, of course! Dead matter. There is nothing else here. There is only the appearance of a body, and Consciousness which animates it. You, along with the rest of the world, have assumed that there is a discreet individual person here: that the Consciousness which is the animating force here is an individual consciousness, unique to this body and separate from the consciousness in other bodies.
    This is based on appearances: there appear to be separate bodies, so the assumption is that there are separate consciousness-es. The belief in this assumption blinds you to seeing What Is, and is also the cause of your experience of this life as disquieting, confusing, unhappy, and generally full of fear and suffering. But it is not the case. There is in no way an individual sitting here talking to you. This body is nothing, an appearance in the dream. All there is is Consciousness, and it is Consciousness which is streaming through this appearance.
    There is nothing here that exists in and of itself. What we call the human being is not an independent being, not an originating mechanism, not a transmitter. It is a relay station, a pass-through mechanism for Consciousness, the One Consciousness, All That Is. That is what I am, talking to you. And it is the same One Consciousness listening to this, looking back at me out of those eyes you call your own. What I am when I say ‘I Am’ is exactly the same as what you are when you say ‘I Am.’
    Once seen, the irony of the situation is staggering. Look: what you think of as your’self,’ what you perceive as an individual person, this idea of being a separate entity, a body-mind-personality-soul-intellect: this is a subsequent by-product, an artifact, an almost accidental side effect of this streaming, this flowing of Consciousness. It is the streaming of Consciousness in this organism which the organism inaccurately perceives as a ‘mind’ which it thinks is its own: it is the very Consciousness streaming in this organism which allows this perception at all, which makes it possible for this organism to think it is other than that same Consciousness. A simple, innocent misperception. And a silly one, because the very One who appears to be thinking this, who appears not to see, not to understand that it is not as a separate individual and is only as All That Is, is Itself the very I-ness that is the only Is-ness of all seeing, of all understanding.
    Look into what is behind this perception. Investigate what you think of as your’self.’ This is the purpose, the meaning of all spirituality, of all seeking, of your very being: to understand this amazing intricate play of Consciousness by seeing what is this illusion, this mistaken perception, and what is its source which makes it possible. What you are, you always already are. It is by seeing what you are notthat there is a stepping away from it, stepping out of the misconceived role of a separate fearful individual.
    When you step out of what you are not, what remains is not something you have to become, but what you always already are. That is why there is nothing you have to do, or become, or learn, or practice, or work at, or purify. It is completely effortless to be in your natural state. What is full of difficult, constant effort is maintaining this false and unnatural idea of being somebody, of being an individual, a separate something. You are a non-entity! Let it go! When it is let go of, you rest in the effortlessness of All That Is, of what could be called your natural state.
    Effortlessness is not something that can be attained by effort. No-mind is not a state that can be achieved by the mind. Peace cannot be achieved by striving. Trying to be aware of ‘just being in the present moment’ is a contradiction in terms; being ‘self-consciously’ aware of it takes you out of it. Trying to be awareof “I Am’ is a similar contradiction, and for the same reason. You can’t try to be happy any more than you can try to go to sleep or try to act naturally. You only act naturally when you’re not trying, not thinking, but simply going about life. People would come from all over India and the whole world to see Ramana Maharshi and ask him for advice on the spiritual path. His advice? “Just be yourself.”
    This is what Nisargadatta Maharaj said of your natural state, of what you are naturally, spontaneously, without effort:
    “This state is before the appearance of beingness.
    It is prior to or beyond beingness
    and non-beingness.
    Am, in that state which existed before the arrival
    of beingness and non-beingness.
    With the arrival of the waking state, all the world
    becomes manifest;
    because of my beingness, my world is manifest.
    That also is observed by that state which is prior
    to beingness,
    and you are That!”
    David Carse, “Perfect Brilliant Stillness”

    I set the book down and stared at a paper that was sitting on the table in front of me, after about a minute or two an exciting and frightening thing happened, I disappeared! By that I mean the middle fell right out of the equation. Normally there would be Steve over here looking at the paper on the desk over there, now there was only the experience, “paper” but no Steve over here seeing it. It was clear that the middle that normally separated the paper from Steve did not really exist, there was only the experience, “paper.”
    “What is enlightenment, no, I mean really, like what is it?”
    by Steven Norquist

    THE ILLUSORY SELF
    The word “I” embodies the greatest error and the deepest truth, depending on how it is used. In conventional usage, it is not only one of the most frequently used words in the language (together with the related words: “me,” “my,” “mine,” and “myself”) but also one of the most misleading. In normal everyday usage, “I” embodies the primordial error, a misperception of who you are, an illusory sense of identity. This is the ego. This illusory sense of self is what Albert Einstein, who had deep insights not only in to the reality of space and time but also into human nature, referred to as “an optical illusion of consciousness.” That illusory self then becomes the basis for all further interpretations, or rather misinterpretations of reality, all thought processes, interactions, and relationships. Your reality becomes a reflection of the original illusion.
    Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth”

    Take a look inside your head. Ask yourself: am I there, towards the middle, an inch behind the forehead? or lower, over by the left ear? or all the way back?… Obviously, you’re nowhere. And quickly it gets terribly strange, to be nowhere. And what seems still more bloody strange is that not being there changes nothing, that in the vacant half-light of your skull, thoughts continue to circulate—yours, a life, welling up, a mysterious vision, seen—yours, as if the little man who wasn’t there, whom you’ve identified with, weren’t in reality all the time in on it! as if, from the beginning, a vulgar self-passenger had not (by assuming the badge, of course) usurped the conductor’s identity! as if acquaintance could still be made with the aforesaid person, with the real subject of this thought, of this life, of this vision!
    Stephen Jourdain

    You have never done anything! Because the mind has conceived itself to be an individual it also conceives of itself as the Thinker and also the ‘Actor’ or ‘Doer’. Yet it is not anyone. The mind is not a ‘thing’ or entity but a process. The thinking process. Simply a process that is happening automatically, the same as the heart is beating automatically. This is why we cannot live the perfect life even though we have been taught how a ‘good’ person should act. We know we shouldn’t get angry at our spouse or our children whom we love, but despite the greatest resolve, we still do. Why? Because we are not the thinker of our thoughts nor the doer of our actions. Because they are not our thoughts or our actions. We are not even the experiencer of the experience. What are we? We are what is perceiving the mind and that is not anyone.
    We are what is perceiving the doing, but we are not the doer. We never were. We have never done the bad things and we have never done the good things either. Thoughts are affected by the environment (such as this article), inner habits and tendencies, and by the mind’s concept of a ‘me’, but not by any actual ‘me’. We are incapable of interfering with the mind. Why? Because there is no one to interfere. We aren’t anyone. Thus, we absolutely cannot have any volition. The concept of being an individual is an invention of the mind itself. It is an artifact of the way the mind works. The feeling of volition is an illusion spawned by this concept of ‘me’.
    We can never find our own will (volition) in any action. Every so called action is actually an automatic reaction of the mind with an accompanying feeling of volition. It is not ‘me’, it is the mind automatically going its own way! Simply watch the mind. Be aware of it. That’s all that can be done because that is all we are doing right now. That is all we ever do. That is all we have ever done. It is the mind that thinks and feels otherwise and we are what is aware of what the mind thinks and feels. We are perfectly open, empty and still. We are not in space or time. We can never be affected in any way. We have no needs or desires whatever. We just shine brilliantly, effortlessly.
    Galen Sharp

    “Likewise, the solid “I” which seems to exist somewhere within the body and mind is merely an imputation. The body and mind are no more represented by the sense of ‘I’ than is the protruding rock represented by the word “human.” This ‘I’ cannot be located anywhere within any individual piece of the body and mind, nor is it found within the body and mind as a collection, nor is there a place outside of these that could be considered to be a substantial basis of the object referred to by the name ‘I’.”
    the 2nd Dalai Lama (1475 – 1541)

    “The personal self or “me” imagines itself to be limited and confined to a particular body. Self-enquiry seeks the source of this spurious “me” by focusing on it the spotlight of attention or awareness, whereupon the “me” vanishes because it does not have any independent existence. It is revealed as being merely an illusion. What remains is that same universal Consciousness that was always already there as the true nature or very BEING of the artificial “me.”
    Ramesh Balsekar

    a. The “I”-object is an assumed entity that results from identification of Awareness, which is real, with the “I”-concept, which is unreal. The “I”-object seems to exist, but clear seeing shows that it does not.
    b. You are not an object and You do not exist–You are Reality (Awareness).
    a. Whenever the “I”-object appears to arise, the non-”I” object also appears to arise. Then the dualism of desire for, and fear of, the non-”I” object appears to arise also.
    b. Thus, the non-”I” object seems real.
    c. Further conceptualization then splits the apparent non-”I” object into a multitude of objects, and fear/desire makes them also seem real.
    a. The illusory “I”-object carries with it the illusory personal sense of doership.
    b. However, since the “I”-object does not exist, there is no doer, no thinker, no chooser, and no observer.
    c. Therefore, you have no control. Thus, if something is supposed to happen, it will. If not, it won’t.
    a. Doership is a concept that assumes that both the doer and causality exist (“’I’ can cause this to happen”).
    b. However, since there is no doer, causality is nothing but a concept and is not real.
    c. Since all objects are nothing but concepts and do not exist, everything that appears to happen is also nothing but a concept and does not exist.
    d. Everything that appears to happen happens causelessly (spontaneously).
    e. Even if objects existed, it is easily seen that no putative cause could ever be isolated from the rest of the universe, so it could never act alone. Therefore, the entire universe would have to be the cause.
    f. Because the “I”-object and causality are nothing but concepts, so is free will. It too does not exist.
    Stanley Sobottka, ‘A Course in Consciousness’

    The simple thing about the ‘sense of self’ is that it may be an hallucination. The brain parts that support it are also the ones behind hallucinations. And, in looking for the human ‘self,’ science is coming up empty-handed. Cognitive science understands quite a lot about the modalities in which it operates, but not much about what holds them together. There is some understanding about the brain’s activity keeping consciousness ‘bound’ together, but the mechanism that makes us feel we are real to ourselves is still something of a mystery. What we can talk about this area is the sense of self. We experience ourselves as real the same way we experience anything else. Through our senses. But which sense do we use to perceive our “self”? The answer I suggest is that there is a sense, that uses all the neural substrates of the other senses as it’s organs, and that has no ‘percept’. Instead, it only hallucinates. And it has only one hallucination. The self.

    Todd Murphy, ‘Forgetting About Enlightenment / Enlightenment as a Neural process / A forensic look at the Buddha’s transformation’.

    ***

  13. 13. Peter says:

    A stupendous comment, nobody – I don’t think I can provide an adequate response (although perhaps no response is the appropriate response). Thanks.

  14. 14. kaj says:

    Hi Peter,
    This is no comment. I would rather be happy to know who has written number 12 above, “Is Peter Hankins the Doer of Any Action, the Thinker of any Thought, the Feeler or any Emotion?” I liked it a lot and some formulations point at its being part of a book. But I cannot find a name of the author on the site. Your e-mailadress did not work, so I try this way.

    Kindly and in the hope of getting an answer

    Kaj

  15. 15. Peter says:

    Kaj,

    Alas, I’m afraid I don’t know. I don’t require an email for comments here and in this case the commenter didn’t provide one. When you say my email address didn’t work, what actually happened?

    Peter

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