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Hi all, hope you’re all as well and safe as possible.
I was cleaning out some files on my comp and came across this doc with some notes in it. Quite interesting stuff which I totally forgot about . Kind of uncanny as well since I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the concepts of “ego” and “ego death” that get thrown around a lot on the internet. This is quite a down-to-earth take on it I felt, and just thought to share it here in case someone else might get something from it as well. The first part is from an article in aeon magazine I think, and I don’t remember where the other paragraphs come from:
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“The self is a sort of meta-filter for the signals you get from the functioning of your whole organism. Our encounters with the world – actual, imagined or recalled – make us feel hot, cold, happy, sad, anxious or calm, and every gradation and combination of experience in between. Any time that the mind encounters such a flow of feelings and perceptions, it irresistibly attributes them to some underlying entity that accounts for what’s going on. Just like the play of colours and shapes makes us see a bus careening towards us on the street, when happiness gives way to sadness, the mind infers that ‘someone’ (me) must have experienced a loss. The result is a model of a unified entity that allows us to act, think and interact – especially with other people – coherently and effectively. Self-modelling is simply an optimising strategy that allows us to bind together certain properties of the world so that they’re easier to grasp. By striving to maximise predictive success, the mind irresistibly succumbs to the substantialist temptation.
Theoretically we should be able to re-engineer the mechanisms of our self-model, and so change the way we organise and interpret our experience. The problem is that the self-model functions in a way that’s quite similar to the lenses of our eyes. We see with them and through them, but it’s almost impossible to see the lenses themselves, to really appreciate how they affect the signals that reach us, let alone take them off if they are unhelpful. In general, the mind presents us with the finished product in the form of images, not the modelling processes themselves. So too with the self: for better or worse, we feel like unified entities, not complicated and precarious hierarchical models that track and predict our organismic responses to what’s happening. That’s a big part of why psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety are so hard to shake. It’s almost impossible for the person to access an alternative way of being in the world. They might know intellectually that certain experiences are accessible, possible and beneficial, but they can’t really identify with those alternative selves. Their invisible self-model has been rigidly constructed to parse the world negatively, and to make them feel accordingly.
Psychedelics put a spanner in the works of maladaptive self-models, because they affect the neural mechanisms that self-awareness springs from. At the point of ego dissolution, two things seem to happen. One, the integrity of the self-model degrades. And two, we no longer take it for granted that our experience must be interpreted by that model. The self drops away as the filter on the world. It becomes ‘unbound’ as the unit through which we understand our experience. Psychedelics allow you briefly to hear your personal language of subjectivity as sound, not meaning. Whether you want to learn another language of selfhood is up to you.
When the self falls apart and is subsequently rebuilt, the role of the self-model seems to become visible to its possessor. Yes, this offers a psychological reprieve – but more importantly, it draws attention to the difference between a world seen with and without the self. For an anxious or depressed person, psychedelics make it possible to appreciate the intermediate, representational role of the self-model. Ego dissolution offers vivid experiential proof, not only that things can be different, but that the self that conditions experience is just a heuristic, not an unchangeable, persisting thing.
That the self is a model, not a thing, doesn’t mean it’s completely fluid and arbitrary. Quite the opposite: it is constructed from birth over many decades. Particularly at lower levels, the cognitive processes that the self-model binds together – perception, interoception, basic regulatory mechanisms – are not especially flexible. That’s why chaotic developmental environments are so damaging - in its formative years the mind has no stable patterns of experience on which to model a self.”
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“I would like to add that ego death can also be a prolonged experience. Lasting years sometimes. It can be sometimes be a slow experience which is usually called the “Dark Night of the Soul”. It will be a phase where you will be subject to fear, anxiety, confusion, depression etc. In the middle of it you would have experienced ego-death, but that is only half the process. After the ego has died, you will go through a processes of depersonalization and would like to just withdraw from life. This is when one should pull oneself together and resurrect the ego, but this time with all the knowledge and experience it has gained from its own death. The ego should be made aware of its fleeting existence but nonetheless you should cherish your ego. Assert it. That is the only way you can feel strong. But this time the feeling of pride in you will also be combined with the virtue of humility. Cherish this duality.”
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“A phrase that says “I have conquered the ego” is an oxymoron. The I is the ego and it always talks first and loud, trying to convince you that you are what you are not. There are no questions without an ego as there is nothing else to know because all is known with absolute certainty. So anytime a question arises, and the ego always questions and in a world of duality the questioning which is based on doubting would go on forever.”
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“As long as you believe that the world you think you live in is real, as long as you think you are a human being that actually sees with the eyes and hears with the ears, so long are you trapped in the ego, not realizing that you are actually dreaming. The process of awakening to reality is as long as you want it to be. Most are too afraid to look at it because the ego (in itself not real), invented a concept called “sin” which keeps you in mental chains. We are dreaming of exile when in truth we are at home and are at peace. This state requires practice to still the voice which tells you it is you.”
Interesting stuff. Insightful. Some of the speakers need to extend their vocabulary though. Reprieve? Maybe they just liked what they typed though, which is okay.
-------------------- After hours alone in the supernal bliss of the Reality, Reality no longer becomes something you rely upon. Instead, Reality becomes something you have to contend with, and not just in waves of unalloyed happiness, but as visionary states of the whole that are a factor above the concept of lucidity.