Consciousness & (Self) Transcendence

We are enveloped in a world of inner experience that shades every perception and thought we have. However, our understanding of consciousness is still in its infancy. I am exploring the work of neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, and artists to gain insight into the phenomenology of human experience.

Projects & Essays

Varieties of (Self) Transcendence

A presentation of my research into self-transcendence, told through a collection of text, images and video.

Aug 2018–present

Confronting the burden of consciousness

In response to Zapffe’s famous essay, ‘The Last Messiah’, I offer two perspectives which confront the darkest parts of consciousness while still affirming the possibility of a life well-lived.29 Nov 2018

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect

Wabi-sabi can be summarized as three simple realities: ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’03 Nov 2013

Recommended Books

Making up the Mind

Chris Frith

This book covers similar ground to Metzinger’s, highlighting the many ways that our sense of reality is a highly developed illusion of the brain. I particularly liked the chapter where Frith uses a Bayesian perspective to discuss how our brains constantly filter new information in light of our prior experiences and beliefs. In addition, Frith emphasizes the importance of comparing our (highly fallible) mental models against those of other people in order to not be fooled by ourselves.

The Ego Tunnel

Thomas Metzinger

‘Ego tunnel’ is Metzinger’s term for the narrow, highly filtered subjective experience that individuals mistake for the stable and true ultimate reality. The book is an interesting discussion of how modern neuroscience is finding the ‘neural correlates’ for any number of subjective states of experience. Much like modern discussions of free will, the explanation of highly personal experiences (such as dreams) as involuntary physical process further calls into question the traditional Western idea of the self.

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan

Highly recommended

Pollan has written a deep and important book. He does an excellent job telling the history of psychedelics, giving an overview of the science of consciousness they are being used to study, and most importantly, giving an inside look at the experience of using them.

Things That Bother Me

Galen Strawson

I discovered Strawson’s work through his writing on free will. This collection of essays covers that topic as well as others, all with a dry wit that I enjoyed. The essay that some readers seem to have had the hardest time with was the one I most enjoyed, where he argues that it’s philosophically simpler to assume all matter has some form of consciousness, since we know for certain that we are a form of matter with consciousness.

Strangers to Ourselves

Timothy D. Wilson

This book came highly recommended by Nassim Taleb. The main thrust is this: our unconscious mind plays a larger role in our lives than we suspect and is often at odds with our conscious thoughts. Wilson recommends ways of bringing the conscious and unconscious into greater alignment.

On the Shortness of Life

Seneca

Highly recommended

This collection of three essays is one of the best places to start with the writing of Seneca as well as the Stoic tradition. The classic themes are all here: avoid wasting your time on superficial endeavors, seek after wisdom and moral clarity, protect your happiness from the unpredictable turns of chance.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Julian Jaynes

A very strange book, but one that has become a cult classic since its publication in 1976. Jaynes’ theory is that up until several thousand years ago, humans did not possess a form of self-consciousness that we would recognize as our own. Instead, they heard the ‘voice of the gods’ in their heads and felt compelled to obey their commandments.

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Highly recommended

An incredibly moving story about Paul’s diagnosis of cancer and his struggle to confront the meaning of his life and the prospect of his death.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl

Highly recommended

Frankl tells the harrowing story of his time in a concentration camp and his discovery of how one can still retain a sense of the beauty and meaning of life even in the face of this experience.

Further Reading

Are.na / Consciousness

My main collection of articles about the study of consciousness, from integrated information theory to Anil Seth’s work on how consciousness is very much like a hallucination.

Are.na / Consciousness as fundamental property of matter

This idea, whether called ‘panpsychism’ or something else, has continued to attract attention from both philosophers and scientists, despite how strange is sounds to common sense.

Are.na / Psychedelic Therapy

The use of psychedelics in therapeutic settings has experienced a renaissance in the past few decades. Their effectiveness in treating depression, alcoholism and end-of-life anxiety has put them on the brink of mainstream medical acceptance.

Are.na / Life Under Hard Determinism

After studying the debate around free will, I have been persuaded by the position of those who see free will as a psychological illusion. If we work from this rather unsettling insight, what changes does it suggest in our conception of ourselves?

Are.na / Humorous Nihilism

Humorous Nihilism is a position that takes seriously Seneca’s advice that it is better to respond to life with laughter rather than tears. The gap between the reality of life and how we would wish it to be is humorous rather than tragic.

Are.na / Mind & Body

The division between mind and body is another fiction that is being exposed by modern insights. There are complex feedback loops between our body and mind that determine our thoughts and behaviors far more than we would like to admit.