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Consciousness, Spirituality, and Intellectual Honesty – with Thomas Metzinger

thomas metzinger

Thomas Metzinger and Michael W. Taft discuss having moral integrity with yourself, intellectual honesty in the pursuit of spirituality, the overlapping goals of science and spirituality, the possibility of a fully secularized spirituality, neurofeedback and virtual reality, mortality denial, the simulation hypothesis, and a whole bunch more.

Thomas Metzinger is full professor and director of the theoretical philosophy group and the research group on neuroethics/neurophilosophy at the department of philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. He is the founder and director of the MIND group and Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies, Germany. His research centers on analytic philosophy of mind, applied ethics, philosophy of cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. He is the editor of Neural Correlates of Consciousness and the author of Being No One and The Ego Tunnel.

Thomas Metzinger’s website.

A video of Metzinger’s Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty talk.

Read an interview with Thomas Metzinger, entitled “What Is the Self?

Show Notes

0:25 – Introduction
2:53 – Interesting times in the world
4:12 – Summary of Thomas’ talk, “Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty”
7:46 – Impact and divided reactions to “Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty”
12:43 – Internal moral integrity: belief formation & authority
17:05 – Needing a teacher, master or guru
21:10 – Surrender, Western enlightenment and the “crazy corner”
24:13 – Getting science to say something interesting about human experience
26:08 – Neurofeedback glasses for walking meditation; taking meditation into life
30:00 – Virtuality and nothingness, consciousness as virtual reality
34:03 – Suchness; spirituality as de-immersion from conscious experience, meditating on artifacts
36:20 – The feeling of being real, transparently and opacity
38:55 – Hyperreality & derealization: hallucinogens, religious ecstasy and seizures
40:42 – VR meditation, getting in touch with virtuality
42:28 – Reaching earlier brain processing stages through meditation or hallucinogens
45:43 – The Ruining Innocence podcast: a half-serious criticism of taxonomies and discussing meditation
49:33 – Thomas’ thoughts on the Arrow of Attention; correlates in neuroscience
53:20 – Mindfulness of inattention and avoidance, pitfalls of mindfulness
56:07 – Discussing Douglas Harding: the Headless Way and immersion; more discussion of the Arrow of Attention
1:00:14 – The self as a visual metaphor; the pre-3D lump of sensations and motor babbling
1:03:23 – Thomas’ recent studies of subjectivity: the epistemic agent model of self
1:09:48 – How it transpires that the Self is not conscious
1:11:34 – Questioning science’s value for practice; the moral imperative of trying to improve contemplative practice
1:15:12 – Thomas’ critique of the perennial philosophy; strategies of mortality denial
1:22:07 – The simulation hypothesis; thoughts in the mind of god
1:25:41 – Is suffering real, and how deep does reality go?
1:29:05 – A hypothetical merging of science and subjectivity
1:31:29 – Outro

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5 thoughts on “Consciousness, Spirituality, and Intellectual Honesty – with Thomas Metzinger”

  1. Another fantastic episode. I have so much gratitude that you take the time and energy to expose your listeners to such rare and valuable thinkers and thoughts.

    There is alot I want to ask but I will limit myself to what struck me most: how unsettling the realization is that exploring consciousness is largely a process of recognizing its flaws at all levels, sensory, perceptual and metaphysical. If our perception of self is a profoundly deep and erroneous construction, when we ‘learn’ this through meditation, what do we become to our loved ones and friends that relate to us in terms of that construction? Would it be disingenuous to continue to portray ourselves in these terms? It seems as though most or all of our preferences and values are informed by labels not consistent with a perspective of Buddhist enlightenment. To lose these understandings upon which we built our lives seems like an all-encompassing loss of cohearance and very threatening. What is the benefit of seeing the rips and cracks in our reality? Does an ‘enlightened’ person spend more of their lives in positive emotional states?

    1. Thanks, Nathan. You are correct that the initial contact with the constructed nature of self and world can be profoundly disorienting. In the long run, however, most people consider the outcome to be incredibly positive.

  2. Great episode. Between you, Thomas, and Kenneth I can feel myself being deconstructed as I ride my exercise bike, listening to the podcast and The Ego Tunnel over and over. It would be wonderful if you could follow up on the headless way discussion with an episode with Richard Lang. Another idea for an episode is Jeffery Martin to talk about the Finders Course. I am sure that Professor Metzinger is very busy, but if possible please have him back to talk about mind wondering and regret. Thanks again.

  3. One thing I want to point out: Not remembering being conscious doesn’t automatically imply that there was no conscious experience. It means that the brain wasn’t able to make memories of that experience or can’t access that memory. If consciousness or some part of it is something that gets plugged into to a simulation, one could still have a conscious experience, but there is no input/output between consciousness and the brain. Also this simulation hypothesis would prompt the question if there could be states where one has flow of information only in one direction.
    From what my understanding of different dissociative conditions is that it is possible to have conscious experience but being unable to record any memory’s of it.
    So that’s my little loophole that I use to cheer me up because I see no point in living but I’m most of the time not suicidal enough to end this conscious experience.

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