12 June 2009

Reprogramme self now, ask me how

A neuroscientist had a massive stroke which pretty much wrecked the entire verbal/cognitive part of her brain, and then over the course of the decade she put her entire personality back together from scratch. The best bit is how she did so while specifically not re-activating the bits she didn't like.

I've read the full interview, which isn't online anywhere I can see, but she does go on to say that this is basically mindfulness, "remembering yourself", realising that you are not identical with your ego, your personality, or whatever thoughts or images are running through your head, like all those Buddhists and Sufis and Gurdjieff fanboys and Robert Anton Wilson and now the CBT crowd have been talking about since Adam was a cowboy. Dig her full website.

I am always shocked and pleased when science confirms the insights of theory/philosophy/religion that stepping up to RAW's "sixth circuit" - metaprogramming, learning the difference between You and Your Ego and learning to get the latter to do what it's told - is not only possible but there are recognised and predictable ways to get there. In other news, Terry Pratchett is questioning his atheism because of some personal gnosis, although I'm sure the hardcore atheists will say something uncharitable about his illness.

I suppose where all our paths diverge is the question of what exactly is the real you under all that ego crap which can do the reprogramming. Mystics would say it's God his/her own self. Buddhists (I believe, please correct me if I'm wrong) would say it's the essential nothingness at the heart of everything. Gurdjieff called it a new type of Man. Perhaps a scientistic way of putting it would be pre-conscious neural circuits. Chaos Marxism says it's the seed of a new world.


  1. I'm going to comment here, since this is running in line with the other place I commented, and it seems like it would be fruitful to move the discussion along with your thoughts.

    While I agree that it's important to understand that you aren't your ego (alone), and that you aren't the thoughts and images that run through your mind (alone), I'm not sure where you're going with this "getting the ego to do what it's told." It seems to me that a healthy ego, like a healthy heart, doesn't really require a great deal of conscious monitoring to do its job correctly.

    I hope this isn't just a confusion of terminology. I'm not talking about Freud's ego, and from context it doesn't seem like you are either-- I'm talking about the great "I AM" of our minds, if you will, that soul with the freedom of will to impose its will on others-- indeed, the sort of active, often blundering, consciousness that identifies itself with all action even when it had little to no part in the execution of said action.

    I know that we both believe the ego to be manipulated and often inflated by our current Western culture, but it really does seem to me that unmanipulating the ego, untwisting it, doesn't involve the submission of the ego to the other faculties and souls of the mind unless the ego is so damaged that it can no longer be repaired-- as with the heart, perhaps a pacemaker would be a good analogy. You don't use a pacemaker unless you have to, right?

    I guess I just wonder-- I mean, there's that sort of dancing nascent insight on this blog that really does seem to come from a stream of consciousness singing about a great deal of interconnected ideas that haven't been systematically joined, and perhaps never will be. And all that's great, and I love that state of mind, and enjoy the insights that it produces. This insight has shown you a great deal of the dirty mechanics of an unclean social structure, and you have highlighted some of those mechanics, and now it seems like you're content to swing the pendulum the other way with such gusto that you're still part of the throbbing pulse of back and forths that wind up getting us into messes like the one we're in now.

    The ego is not a bad guy-- it's a faculty of the mind, and a powerful one. So too with violence, so too with purposeful alienation. We have to stop reacting against and start asking how these faculties interact with one another, and how they're being perverted. If we are going to perform lobotomy, we better be damn sure it's an appendix we're taking out, and not a hippocampus. A useful organ you repair-- only a useless antique need be removed.

  2. Buddhists have lots of different names for "it", depending on the tradition; Dzogchen Tibetans like to talk about Rigpa; the Theravada refer to the "luminous mind" or pabhassara citta described in the Nikaya sutras; the various schools of Mahayana will talk about Dharmakaya or Tathagatagarbha (which literally means "Buddha Seed", not unlike CM's "seed of a new world"). "Buddha-Nature" is probably the most generic English language term since it can refer to all of that.

    That's interesting about Pratchett. I was very sorry to hear about his "embuggerance".

    Re: Christopher, I think you may be projecting a certain rigid literalism here that isn't intended. Note that the title of this post is reprogramme self, not destroy self. When Buddhists or Sufis or other psychonauts talk about "killing the ego", it's metaphor. We're not advocating some kind of world-denying slave morality. What we're doing is stopping a neurotic mental process that stops us from seeing, engaging, and otherwise experiencing reality. In a certain sense, we are overcoming metaphysics, a la Nietzsche:

    We enter a realm of crude fetishism when we summon before consciousness the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of language, in plain talk, the presuppositions of reason. Everywhere it sees a doer and doing; it believes in will as the cause; it believes the ego, in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and it projects this faith in the ego-substance upon all things—only thereby does it first create the concept of ‘thing.’ Everywhere ‘being’ is projected by thought, pushed underneath, as the cause; the concept of being follows and is a derivative of, the concept of ego.

    We're attempting to realize a certain insight in a fundamental, unmediated fashion, namely the insight (to borrow again from Nietzsche) that there is no thing, 'lightning', which flashes. There is just the flash.

    The only thing destroyed here is the illusion of the 'thing', and with the destruction of the illusion comes the destruction of the rotten system built on illusions and the perpetuation of illusion.

  3. I'm not really sure that you're talking about what Dolores is talking about. In any case, I understand that Dolores isn't saying to destroy the ego, and perhaps I went off track a bit.

    In any case, my specific question is why should we subjugate our ego, and to what? What is it being told to do, and by whom? I've heard a variety of answers to this question, but I'm still not at all sure what answer Dolores would give, or if any of the answers I've heard was very specific. It seems like we might ask for a bit more specificity, in one form or another, with this question.

    I'm sorry, but I really fail to see how killing the ego is a metaphor. You say that the ego is an illusion, but it's as real as chemicals fluctuating in our minds, which is as real as just about anything else. I'm not at all convinced that the ego is a cultural delusion-- I'm much more certain it's something closer to a thought-organ. Like a penis, the ego can be used to manipulate a person, but that doesn't mean the penis isn't real or a good thing to have.

    As for Nietzsche, the depths of his critique of "the prejudices of the philosophers" can be rather startling (incidentally, I don't think Nietzsche would have advocated "killing the ego" as is evidenced, I think, in his understanding of useful fictions)-- but I don't see how the one thing follows from the other: the realization that our minds impose "thinghood" and that we should oppose or destroy that force in our minds?

    To the extent that anything is real, so is our ego-- it's no more illusory than the mind, or the planet, or anything else-- if it's a materialist issue, the ego is made up of matter and energy, so there's no issue there... I guess I don't see how you can call the ego an illusion without calling everything an illusion, and that does seem pretty world-denying to me.

    Anyway, rather than get into a debate about the reality or illusion of "things" here-- because I'm not sure that's what Dolores's post is about, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you're the one person who looked at my post "Is there a thing, 'lightning,' which flashes?" today, and suggest we maybe talk about it there?

  4. By the same token, Christopher, I'm not sure you are talking about what Dolores is talking about. :)

    Much of your comments seem to be derived from the line "learning the difference between You and Your Ego and learning to get the latter to do what's it's told". From this, you draw the metaphor of removing an organ---castration and lobotomy.

    My understanding of this is that rather than amputation, this is simply stopping a particular process of identification and its associated effects---alienation, suffering, imposed limitations, delusions, destructive behavior, etc. It's not about subjugation, but freedom from our conceptual prisons and irrational cravings that otherwise dominate our lives.

    "Ego", at least as I use the word (and I believe how Dolores is using the concept, please jump in and correct me if I' m wrong about this, Dolores), refers to a permanent, separate, self-existent, atomized self (and by extension, a metaphysics in which the world consists of a collection of such separate, solid, enduring entities). This is a fiction. A useful fiction in certain contexts, perhaps, but a fiction nonetheless.

    I'm not saying "everything is an illusion". To return to the earlier metaphor, lightning is not an illusion. What is illusory is positing some permanent or independent "thing" or "essence" or "subject" behind the flash. Reality, in other words, is activity and not entivity.

    And I should add that other scientific disciplines, such as systems theory, quantum mechanics, and ecology as well as the neurology cited in Dolores' post also support this position.

  5. You're right that my characterization of Dolores's post as amputation is an exaggeration. But I'm having trouble even decrypting what you mean by ego.

    Anyway, if the thrust of this is what you say at the end, that life/reality is activity and motion rather than a series of physical chess pieces on a magnificent board, then I suppose I'm still not clear on how all this goes together, but I suppose Dolores is claiming that this is all "half-baked" and maybe I'll know more when the timer buzzes.

    Anyway, I don't know that I understand your conception of ego. It is permanent? And separate from what? From everything else? To the extent that I know what you're talking about (although I really don't understand the permanent part)-- well, I still say it isn't so much an illusion as a stance or a motion. Patterns draw apart and together for various reasons.

  6. I think I'm making this too complicated. And as you may see, Dolores has a new post explaining what "ego" means in the context of Chaos Magick/Chaos Marxism. Still, just to express myself more coherently, let me give it another shot:

    Ego is the image we have of ourselves. It's usually the first point of contact we have with the world. At a very basic level, it's a survival mechanism, since it's through this image that we relate to our environment and the people around us.

    These basic mental functions are not what we're talking about subjugating or getting rid of.

    But the problem is, this image we have of ourselves tends to take center-stage in our lives. It tends to become the center of our lives, in the sense that it needs constant attention. So the lives of most people are a process of constantly feeding and propping up this image they have of themselves. Every action becomes geared toward maintaining this image. And anything that threatens that image becomes a source of suffering and must either be destroyed or ignored. The ego goes from being more or less a mental radar system to something which the psyche identifies with entirely. As a result, it weighs us down and prevents us from reaching our full potential.

    This particular neurosis, which all of us have to one degree or another, is what we're trying to eliminate or at any rate, reprogram/rewire/reroute this psychic energy to more useful purposes.

    There are several roots to this problem. One of them is that we think the ego is something stable, solid, and otherwise permanent. We think our self-image is an enduring substratum which is separate from our actions; "I'm walking", "I'm talking", "It's me doing this". This is, however, a fiction. My quotes from Nietzsche were an attempt to point out that there is no "being" behind "becoming", no "doer" behind the "deed". But we constantly feel the need to interject and add an "actor" to the action---usually for the purposes of taking credit for this action. It's about self-image.

    Another source of the problem comes from thinking that this self-image is separate from everything else. At the most basic level, it's the sensation of being inside a bag of skin, looking outside at the world. This is also a fiction. It's a useful fiction, but it's not true. And yet it's at the root of our alienation: "It's me against the world!" When in fact we cannot exist except in seamless relationship with "the world".

    Chaos Magick can be understood as the art of mastering, reprogramming, and otherwise overcoming these "useful fictions" at a personal level.

    But the problem of the ego is not only the source of much of our personal neuroses; it's also what's driving our capitalist, consumerist society. This is where the Marxism comes in.

    If that is still confusing, please see Dolores' new post. Better yet, check it out anyway. :)