where the writers are
Thursday Prompt: The Ultimate Illusion


I'm reallyreallyreally tired but just in case anybody's looking forward to Thursday prompts - here it goes.

The Ultimate Illusion.

For me, it's the "ego", the ultimate illusion that when I'm using the word "I", it actually means something instead of being a placeholder for initial emptiness. I more or less believe in physical world and genes and stuff, but I do not believe that there is something distinct that can be called "me". Or "you", for that matter. It's an invention to keep our bodies and minds moving even when we're exhausted and hopeless. E.g., if I didn't trust in "me" as something special that matters, I wouldn't bother to overcome myself and make this Thursday prompt which is my promise to myself. Or play nice with the people who expect me to play nice with them. With whom I expect myself to play it nice.

And why the ultimate illusion? Because I know it's an illusion and I still can't shake it.

What about yours?

8 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Gleefully disagree

Here's an analogy : if you examine a running computer program (e.g. Firefox) at the binary level, you won't see cute windows and buttons - instead, there will only be a seemingly random mess of zeros and ones. However, that doesn't make the program an "illusion". 

Assuming a materialistic interpretation, the "me" thing is probably an emergent property of this neural network that we call the brain. It's not easy to pinpoint (there's no "self-gland" or whatever), but it's there as a running process.

Of course, that doesn't invalidate the rest of your comment. I would expect a process to shift and change over time.


Comment Bubble Tip

Unconvinced :)

By your definition, even an illusion in its purest form is not an illusion because it exists as a perception in one's mind, it can be described, and it has an effect on one's mind too. That kinda defeats the whole purpose of naming anything "an illusion".

I define something as an "illusion" based on Okama's (sp.?) Razor principle: if you do not need to take something for "real" in order to explain why things happen, then don't.

Firefox is actually a good example. It is a set of functions and plug-ins, and "skins", and cookies that make each Firefox browser unique in some way, but actually what Firefox *is* is just a basic program for browsing web. Similarly, I can agree that "I" exist as a set of basic functions which appears unique (because I have my plug-in of being a female Latvian mother of two and a skin of curtness, thoughtfullness and seclusiveness) but actually what "I" am is a set of basic functions, capabilities etc which enable me to live and, among other things, install plug-ins. My "I" is in essence exactly the same as yours, and it can be "downloaded" (and is "downloaded" in every child born),  it can be erased, upgraded (if you happen to believe in afterlife) and reinstalled if necessary. At my death, although a specific set of plug-ins, cookies and skins will be lost, "I" will neither continue to exist as some individual entity nor stop existing, just as Firefox the  program is unaffected in any way by whatever I do with my copy of it, even if I crack it open, mess up the code and go insane.

So, I still state that while there could be a generic "I" as a common name for "human persona", "I" as an individuality is an illusion - the differences we have are all subject to change, they do not affect the main program and are not crucial to existence of Internet.

Comment Bubble Tip

Individuality matters

Occam's razor is a very good argument. However, I think this particular "illusion" does have a significant effect [on reality], so it can't be simply discarded by invoking Occam's razor. 

The "I" - the individuality that you call "plugins and skins" - matters. The decisions of individual humans (each influenced by their unique "I") can have far reaching consequences. I think this is obvious - just think about governments, scientists, artists, terrorists. Individual beliefs can be a matter of life and death (of millions). Fictional example : A clever researcher decides he/she hates humankind and engineers a genetically modified plague. Everybody dies. By the way, this is very nearly doable now.

[some stuff deleted] [more ranting deleted] [damn, this is a horribly complicated topic]

...surely you've noticed that when you're trying to predict somebody's (re)actions, it's useful to consider what you know about their past behaviour and goals/preferences/desires. You don't just ignore their personality and knowledge, as you can get better results by taking them into account. From a practical standpoint of a modern human, "individuality" obviously exists and is significant (though it may be ambiguous, fleeting and very complicated). Regarding change : whether you consider someone to be the "same" person today as they were yesterday depends entirely on what you value in people. 

Does "I" matter/exist from a more general, objective standpoint? I don't know. I think it matters at least at the level of our home galaxy (assuming the Singularity happens), but beyond that - there's just not enough data to decide. 

As I said, this is a horribly complicated topic. I've already managed to confuse myself, so I'll stop writing now :)

Comment Bubble Tip

Well, other people's egos

Well, other people's egos can exist, for all I care ;) I suspect that my "ego" was invented just for this purpose, to make me predictable and easier to deal with. It's a social thing. If there would be just one sentient being in the universe, this being wouldn't need ego because there would be nobody to watch and judge it. (Unless the poor being decided to torture itself instead of having fun.)

For society, of course, it's easier if we all have egos. My ego makes me afraid of things, my ego makes me want things, my ego makes me scared to lose my job, my ego makes me proud of my accomplishments, etcetera. If I don't care about this stuff as much as I'm supposed to (and remembering it's all made up helps) I cannot be easily manipulated into doing the same thing over and over again because "this is me". I cannot be easily manipulated into doing something I don't want to because "oh, you always act in this irresponsible way".

Not saying that I'm immune to manipulation and stuff. The world is full of mindgames. It is the part of the fun, but only as long as it has the underlying sense of adventure instead of despair.

Comment Bubble Tip

I wonder if you'll see this one...

Ah, the fun theory. 

Personally I would prefer a world where individuals are having fun to a world where a single, unfied, self-less entity is also having fun. The latter case may or may not be better from a theoretical PoV, but it's an "over-my-dead-body" proposition for me because of how my self-identity (ego?) is tied up with the survival instinct.

And really, it sounds like you are artifically externalizing the personal qualities/motivations you dislike and calling them "ego". And in the process you somehow decided to throw out all the other personal qualities, too. Lame :P

Comment Bubble Tip

P.S. O hai!


O hai!

Comment Bubble Tip

The whole argument is pointless

Arguing to an ego that it doesn't exist is a bit like telling a man who fishes for a living that he can't actually catch fish.

Unless a person has experienced a state of non-ego that person cannot know what lies beyond his or her ego.

Telling us that our egos aren't real is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

The simple fact is: we do exist. We exist in a construct of our own mind and must approach life from that pragmatic state until such time as we achieve independence from mind and drop the ego baggage that the machinery of the mind causes through its own innate intelligence.

Until it's experienced, it's all just philosophy.

Discussing the ego is just an ego's trick to further its own cause, to distract us from consciousness, the true stuff that we are made of.

Knowing that makes me want to delete this response, but I won't just for the fun of it.

*evil grin*

Comment Bubble Tip

sorry for getting to this so late,

I think that you got it with the "Unless a person has experienced a state of non-ego that person cannot know what lies beyond his or her ego."

Since I have experienced it - very briefly, in a very non-romantic way - that brief flash of non-ego changed lots about how I think about stuff. Just like, if at that moment I had a vision of God, I'd be a believer from that point on and I wouldn't care about anybody telling me God didn't exist. Because if I returned to my earlier state of perception, perception that I learned from others instead of realized on my own, I'd lose more than I lose now by playing it on my own rules.

Conciousness, unconciousness, true stuff, false stuff, it all changes if you take the ego out of the equation, even if theoretically/philosophically only. It gives a note of playfullness, a touch of daring, and ultimate belief that I can be anything I wish to be (and dedicate my time to be) because there's no such thing as "true me" with its limitations.