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Of Metzinger’s Ego Tunnels, Lanza’s Biocentrism, Panic Attacks and Belly Laughs

October 24, 2010

When I woke up this morning, I had the kernel of an idea on a post about Thomas Metzinger’s book The Ego Tunnel, which I’ve been working on reading for the last two weeks. It’s my take-to-bed book, and I keep getting stuck on the intro and first chapter, rereading the passages as I try to take it in (perhaps as I’m drifting off into the land of nod is not the best time for weighty reading). 

This post isn’t going where I initially intended it to (how like life, right?); almost immediately, instead of writing about how I’d been putting myself into panic attacks, which often dissolved into giggle attacks, over the whole idea of ego tunnels collapsing and losing oneself (really, who thinks about these things and then sets oneself straight into full blown panic attacks?), all at three in the morning, it occurred to me that putting Metzinger up against Robert Lanza, supposedlyone of the leading scientists in the world,” would be way more fun than laughing solely at myself and the shit I dream up as I lie awake in the wee small hours of the morning.

First up is a nearly hour long lecture given in 2005 by Metzinger (start about six minutes in and watch for a few minutes to get a taste).

Now want to have your head spin in a different fashion? Listen to Lanza (forward to about 5 minutes in on the Lanza); you’ll quickly grasp the difference in someone coming from a scientific perspective and someone who’s so deeply woo woo he’s got his head up Deepak Chopra’s backside.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s nine parts of this radio interview. Go ahead, listen to them all! Oh boy, I’ll pass, if that’s okay (and I suspect you will, too).

Maybe you’ll enjoy this video, though, at a short four minutes and some change, from The Biocentric University (hah, arrogance, anyone?), which serves as a clear illustration of how off into the land of woo Lanza is:

Perhaps you’re not a visual fan, though. Words work well.

From Metzinger’s book:

and this:

Now let us look at how Lanza strings his words together. From Lanza’s latest Huffington Post article:

“Is there a higher level of being? Or are we merely a collection of atoms — more dust spinning around the center of the galaxy?”

“According to biocentrism, the mind transcends space and time in that they’re its tools, and not the other way around. This conception of reality dissolves away human individuality. “Sometimes,” said Thoreau, “as I drift idly on Walden Pond, I cease to live and begin to be.” The walls of space and time are illusory. We’re all ephemeral forms of an individuality greater than ourselves, eternal even when we die. This is the indispensable prelude to immortality, and its highest form; we’re forced to recall the words of the English poet John Donne, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,” and to understand them in a more scientific way.”

Now, back to Metzinger:

Lanza conceives of the mind as the first thing, the primary thing, the only thing. In this, he attempts to create a poetical view of the universe in which there are as many realities as one can imagine, in which there is no death because of the endless plurality of universes in which we exist, and because, to him, we control space and time. It is woo beyond woo. Does it give him comfort, ease his mind, prevent those three-in-the-morning panic attacks? I suspect it does not; I imagine this kind of cockamamie “theory” arises directly from those existential crises that find no ready resolution. We have all, no doubt, experienced these moments that leave us breathless and shaking. What we do about it, the kinds of answers we seek, determines what our particular tunnel through reality will be.

I don’t think Lanza’s tunnel is working for him; it takes him further from reality. For someone who professes to be a leading scientist, to turn so far away from empiricism is to divorce himself from the attempt to understand the true nature of the universe. Forget waxing lyrical. Perhaps it works as a pick up line, but is it a satisfying way in which to live? 

Metzinger’s conceptualization of the self is not an easy thing to face, but it is an honest attempt to tunnel through towards objective reality, regardless of how daunting a reality it is, and it is based on actual scientific reasoning backed by evidence, unlike Lanza’s answer to everything. 

Metzinger’s ego tunnels may invoke those panic attacks in the wee small hours of the morning, but any real examination of what makes us who we are, what our place is in this universe, and how we find meaning and purpose in such a stark landscape requires the experience of awe and panic. And then, if we embrace that for what it’s worth, it requires a deep-throated laugh at our own expense. This may be all I am, this may be all there is, and it may be an ego tunnel that I constantly fear is tunneling off in the wrong direction (a worse fate to me than a total tunnel collapse), but it’s a hell of a ride, and for that, I will shake my fist and belly laugh in hopes that my ego tunnel will expand to allow me to see more of what really is rather than what I wish would be.

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