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Ego Death



"The main objective of psychedelic therapy is to create optimal conditions for the subject to experience the ego death and the subsequent transcendence into the so-called psychedelic peak experience. It is an ecstatic state, characterized by the loss of boundaries between the subject and the objective world, with ensuing feelings of unity with other people, nature, the entire Universe, and God. In most instances this experience is contentless and is accompanied by visions of brilliant white or golden light, rainbow spectra or elaborate designs resembling peacock feathers. It can, however, be associated with archetypal figurative visions of deities or divine personages from various cultural frameworks. LSD subjects give various descriptions of this condition, based on their educational background and intellectual orientation. They speak about cosmic unity, unio mystica, mysterium tremendum, cosmic consciousness, union with God, Atman-Brahman union, Samadhi, satori, moksha, or the harmony of the spheres."

-- Stan Grof, in History of LSD Therapy.

Ego death is a change in one's sense of self-control. I am popularizing this term to distribute it farther than it went during the 60s. I am propagating this venerable meme. Stephen Gaskin was a very popular mystic psychedelic teacher in San Francisco in the late 60s. He formed a commune in Tennessee, I think it was, called The Farm. He has a good book out now. I don't recall the title offhand. The book mentions the ego death experience almost casually, implying that it was a standard experience.

Zen theorist Alan Watts often equates ego with the controller, which AI theorist Marvin Minsky would call the homunculus. Ego is the controller homunculus. Above all, I perceive myself as a controller, a cybernetic steersman of my thoughts and actions. Normally, we feel ourselves to be free entities wielding the power of control. But in the mystic altered state, this ordinary sense of freedom and power is cancelled out. Our freedom expands into insanely unrestrained freedom, but this freedom no longer is perceived as being in my control. My loss of the feeling of being a controller is the loss of the ego's power: ego death. Rationality also keeps pace with the experience of suspension of ego's control.

In the intense mystic altered state, rationality combines with a radically freed and innovative imagination to form what transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilber calls 'vision-logic' -- a powerful concept and powerful mode of cognitive processing. Vision-logic enables you to feel, comprehend, and see that the ego's power to control might not really be its own source, but rather, a result of a deeper level of control that entirely precedes your control. Not that this deeper control happens prior to your control along the time-axis, but rather, it thusts forth your control from a hidden place that is beyond your control. Ego death is not only a feeling of cancellation of ego's power-to-control, but a rational understanding of the way in which ego's control can never be powerful in the way we usually assume and feel.

These perceptions of feelings of the cancellation of the ego as a controller are integrated with the feeling of cosmic unity. This unity is largely the unity of controllership. Everything I think and do, and all the choices I make, do not ultimately originate from me, but rather originate from "the great Tao that flows everywhere", from "God's act of Creation", or from "the ground of being". If there is no separate me as controller, then there is just everything that is. Control there is, but no separate entity who controls.

This is a rough sketch and all the terms are problematic. It is possible to fully rationally map out and describe this sensation and the accompanying logic. Perhaps nothing can be proven as true. But this conceptual system is fully consistent and matches with our normal and altered experiences, and is therefore highly plausible.

Acid rock lyrics are full of references to ego death. This is the mystic bridge of death. It is the Dead in Grateful Dead, the river in the band name Styx. "And you're making me feel like I've never been born." -- the Beatles, _Rubber Soul_, the song "She Said". Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- "Pulled the trigger now he's dead, life has just begun, and now you've gone and thrown it all away." The more inspired Industrial and Metal lyrics also catalog the related phenomena. There are dozens of examples of the lyrical conflation of physical death with mystic ego death of the controlling entity. These often occur near lyrics reporting the loss of control and the terrifying status of being a helpless doll at the mercy of hidden, engulfing forces. The hero retains his identity and stability through assuming the proper relationship to this dominating force. In the proper relationship, ego is cancelled and yet preserved as a useful illusion.

Ego is not entirely false. To say that "ego dies" really means, more precisely, that the cognitive structure labelled 'ego', and the egoic mental model of the world, are systematically re-conceived, just like the components of Newtonian physics were systematically re-conceived to form the new system of Einsteinian physics. Ego death means that the mind no longer centrally identifies with the ego. The locus of control or origin of control is no longer seriously taken to be the ego. The transcendent mind knows that there is a source of control underlying the ego, and that ego's power of control is an epiphenomenon.

Imagine yourself as a Godlike entity -- an ultimate controller. Like Kurt Vonnegut, you create a character in a novel, a figure in a cartoon, or an agent in a virtual world shown on a computer screen. You have the power to make this entity shake his fist at you and rebel. You can make him act as though he creates himself and steers his own actions, unrestrained by you. But ultimately, you are the real, higher or underlying source of his every decision. On strong doses of LSD, you feel yourself to be like such a character, awakened to his complete dependence on a higher, prior, hidden author: his God, his real controller. This awakening into the illusory aspect of ego's power-to-control is a powerful feeling of cancellation of the heart of ego. This is the experience of ego death, the essence of religious rapture -- the sense of the heart of your control being raped and trumped by an underlying, hidden source of control that must exist prior to, or giving rise to, your every act.

The sense in which the ego 'exists'

How can that which has no true existence die? It is crude to say that "ego has no true existence". The definition or meaning of the term 'ego' is highly problematic. Whether ego "truly exists" or not totally depends on the assumed meaning of 'exist' and 'ego'.

Ego is some ways exists. Ego is some sense can die.

You've got to learn to think in terms of words as signifiers that can take on multiple meanings, referents, or sets of associations.

There is 'ego'(1) and 'ego'(2).

'Ego' in the term "ego death" means, say, 'ego'(1) but not 'ego'(2).

The senses or usages must be differentiated, and only then can the discussion make any progress.

What is it that ego-bashers bash? If there is no ego, as they claim, then why do they get so upset about ego? Ego is not simply nothing at all. The typical newage mode of discussing ego is extremely naive and clumsy and will never get anywhere.

The problem is not to promote ego, as in Ayn Rand's objectivism, or to condemn ego as evil, as in New Age, nor to deny the existence of ego, also as in New Age. The problem is to explain all the meanings, concepts, experiences, and usages of those things or patterns that can well be labelled 'ego'.

To declare ego flat-out nonexistent is to fail to explain anything. 'Ego death' refers to a specific, standard human experiential phenomenon.

Ego death as the transcendence of personal self-government

In ego death, you feel a unity with the entire world, but also, you experience the loss of your power of self-government. The first scope-of-concern is "being"; the second is cyber-agency, that is, personal governorship, personal steersmanship, self-steering, self-guiding, self-controlling.

Ego transcendence; ego death; the futility of the approaches that demonize ego

The problem is not to promote ego... or to condemn ego... THE PROBLEM IS TO EXPLAIN all the meanings, concepts, experiences, and usages of those things or patterns that can well be labelled 'ego'.

To declare ego flat-out nonexistent is to FAIL TO EXPLAIN anything.

Psychoanalysis sure involves a lot of conceptualization, thinking, and critical interpretation. A lot of "speculation", you could say. What is psychoanalysis if not a school of philosophy that claims to improve people's mental functioning? Abstract philosophy has as much potential to affect lived existence.

You might want to briefly explain 'soma' and clarify "look to the self as holding more critical weight".

Yes, I am doubtful about the effectiveness of psychoanalysis and New Age cliches about "healing the ego". Zen is ineffective and inefficient to the extreme. 30 years of sitting and being utterly frustrated is extreme. The broad path of Buddhism is a dismal failure. How many has it enlightened? There are distant rumors of one here, another over there... nothing more. Buddhism has become so dark that it has become proud of how elusive its knowledge is, how difficult its way is, what an all-consuming challenge it makes of enlightenment.

All existing paths to enlightenment are profoundly unsatisfactory. They practically don't work. Who would disagree? Who would claim that many have been enlightened? Who would claim the rewards of these "paths" to be reasonably attainable? Paths, paths, that is their problem. They are a path that leads on, and on, and on, the signs ever announcing "Enlightenment, Next Exit", but the exit never comes.

A road that never arrives makes for a journey drawn on by false promises, made wearisome by the endlessly extention of frustrated anticipation. The only joyful release available through such a path comes upon arrival at the only real destination the path ever led to: the joyful release into cynical nihilism and radical skepticism.

The only "path" to fully experiencing and comprehending ego death and transcendent knowledge is whichever path integrates dedication to comprehensible explanation with the fullest intensity and most extreme heights of experiencing. No currently available path or approach offers this, but out of the murky chaos of multicultural perspectivism, such a hybrid may well form sooner or later.

The nature of ego's existence and ego death

Mystic egolessness is a more advanced and powerful way of not having an ego. The mystic both has an ego and does not have an ego. He "has" an ego in that the cognitive structure of the ego and the general cognitive structure that is the egoic mental model of the world, remain intact and present if the enlightened mind chooses to use them. He "does not have" an ego, in the sense that his mind is not centrally identified with the ego structure anymore. The enlightened mind knows that the ego is only conventionally conceived of as the center, origin, and controller of all mental activity.

Once the structure of ego is built, it is preserved and you retain all the benefits of it, as a tool. In the schizophrenic mind, the structure of ego is not preserved -- it is effectively dissolved, destroyed, at great loss. The mystic mind advances through the ego and preserves the ego for its use; the insane mind destroys its ego and therefore loses the ability to use the ego. It is very bad to 'lose' the ego in the sense of destroying it. You only want to lose your ego in the sense of wiggling out of identification with it. You can only healthily lose your ego by constructing a mental conceptual system that is more integrated and consistent and true than the ego. Without a solid new foundation, you cannot leave the old accustomed foundation. It is not enough to find that the ego is (partly) false, you must identify and comprehend the true nature of the mind, self, and world, and their relationships. You must build a new world before leaving the old world, and even then, you must not destroy the old world -- just loosen it. Even the master engages his egoic structures almost all the time throughout the day -- but he knows they are largely based on invalid logic and on dreams taken as waking reality.

Alan Watts translated the eastern philosophies into words the Western mind could relate to. I admire Watts' style and goals of communication. He also proved his ability to write in the scholarly mode: _The Supreme Identity_, _Behold the Spirit_.

Watts focuses on enlightenment through taking frustration (about poor control) to its full development. Then you understand the true nature of control, through wrestling with it. Underlying all this wrestling with self-control is a deeper source of control that trumps our control. You learn to mentally see this prior or deeper level of control: the ground of being, from which emanates our every thought, choice, and mental tension. The only way to "trust" and "stop controlling" is to discover and clearly conceptualize the nature of self-control, and its relationship with the ground of being, or "the great Tao that flows everywhere". Then you realize that all your controlling has always been, by its very nature, flowing from a source beyond your control. Then, you are logically, conceptually forced to see that trusting is the only possible action, because you have always been at the mercy of the Tao, that intrudes even into your decisions. This isn't the very clearest wording possible, but it's how Watts describes the essence of enlightenment in _The Way of Zen_ and in the essay "Zen and the Problem of Control" in _This Is It_.

The Tao's control underlies all our sensation of lack of control and self-struggle, our inability to force and restrain our own thoughts, and our inability to silence our own mind. Watts portrays the method of Zen as "enlightenment through the complete frustration of control".

Watts' genius, in my view, is the discovery of the connection between self-control cybernetics and Zen. My philosophy fully highlights this connection and makes it central. Self-control cybernetics is the foundation of my system of philosophy.

The way to escape ego and control is by pushing and magnifying ego and control to their utter limits, till they collapse of their own weight. Do not reduce and moderate ego and control. Rather, blow them up to make them fully visible in the light. The way to ego transcendence is to blow up ego.

Breakdown of control agency, lyrics, Bible

If you all manage to get ahold of any genuine LSD, rather than blank paper, don't waste it, but do massive heroic doses. If you are about to commit some moral transgression against your own will, as your will threatens to transcend and cancel itself out, many people have found that taking a praying stance of doggie-like submission, and praying to some God Of Predetermined Fate, will re-stabilize you, so that you become a cybernetic puppet of the master controller. Thus, knowing this technique of harnessing God's power (hah!) you can trip harder than ever, into the master level.

Whatever you do, don't think about the cybernetic steersman and losing control of your will.

God or Fate, I am just clay in your hands, you master of puppets. Authorship of actions cannot originate from the inner homunculus who lives inside my brain. I don't know if God exists, but I have seen Fate, nonduality, and eternal predetermination with my own Eye.

...the incoherence and multiplicity of Christianity, as opposed the the conversative implication that there is a single, coherent Christianity.

God and Christian morality is as incoherent as our own core of logic about our sovereign independent agency. He says he is the one who puts our will and thus our specific actions into us, but then condemns or glorifies us arbitrarily, to demonstrate His power. Even so, he continues to treat us as morally self-authoring entities, the origins of our actions. But he continues to maintain that it is not us, but only Him, who is the origin of our will, while still condemning or praising us. How can the potter be morally angry and impatient at his own clay products? God's moral attitude is manifestly incoherent or self-contradictory.

So then He has mercy on whomever He wills (chooses) and He hardens (makes stubborn and unyielding the heart of) whomever He wills. You will say to me, Why then does He still find fault and blame us [for sinning]? For who can resist and withstand His will [if it is omnipotent and controls all of our will and actions]? But who are you, a mere man, to criticize and contradict and answer back to God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same mass (lump) one vessel for honorable use, and another for dishonorable use? What if God, although fully intending to show His wrath and to make known His power and authority, has tolerated with much patience the vessels of His anger which are ripe for destruction? And [what if] He thus purposes to make known and show the wealth of His glory in dealing with the vessels (objects) of His mercy which He has prepared beforehand for glory?

-- Romans 9:18 (amplified Bible & King James)

Mysticism is a removal of controllership (steersmanship) not just a sense of unity

This theory identifies the problems clearly and the phenomena that arise; the problems that arise when you think about self-control and governing-agency while in loose cognitive binding (the mystic, religious, dissociative state). Preliminary suggestions of the problems, issues, possible styles of interpretation and analysis. This is similar to Alan Watts' indentification of control as a significant issue in addition to the problem of separate being; even though he did not go very far at all in detail about control-agency and control-breakdown, he definitely said a number of major core themes, certainly enough to establish that there is some major material in this area, without which, enlightenment is grossly incomplete. I define, in great detail, a subject-matter and an approach. This dimension (control agency and control dynamics) is present almost all throughout the mystic writings, but as strong as it is, it is always overwhelmed by the overemphasis on transcending the sense (in general) of separate being. This minor topic of control is actually the core and key, or at least, the bulk of the content. There's not much to say about transcending the sense of separate being, in general. But there is much to say about transcending the sense of separate being as a controller, in which case, we're concentrating on transcending separate controllership (governorship), rather than transcending separate being. In terms of scope and magnitude of insight, previous conceptualization of mystic insight, which equated mystic experiencing with mystic unity of being, have missed expanding the area that has the most potential: the cancellation of the feeling of being a controlling agent. Religion does indeed mean "re-linking" or "re-connecting", but this unity also implies a violation of being specifically a personal governor/controller -- a removal of governing or steering power.

Egoic governing power is counterfeit power (crucifixion), illegitimate power of the created god-king, the would-be self-creator.

Control agency is the missing topic, the key to making spirituality substantial and relevant and concrete/grounded enough to become viable and achievable.

Alan Watts was the first person to problematize control and think about enlightenment in terms of control-agency -- which I point out, is essentially related to the nature of moral agency, which is the concern and creation of Jesus/Xty, and which Jesus also probably helps to t'd. How does Jesus' revealing of the fakeness of his death encourage ego transcendence? It encourages us to be critically concerned with uncovering the reality from the appearance, and suggests the idea of "virtual death" -- a kind of death that is related to governing-agency (control-agency) yet which preserves bodily life and sanity, even while aligned with and aware of Truth about such agency. Jesus as dead governor who yet lives past the experience of the dying of his governing power. Governor-death. Cybernetic death. Steersman-death. The steersman aspect of oneself dies, in the face of Truth.

The death of the steersman aspect, the death of the moral agent. Does "cybernetic" concern government? Absolutely; look in the dictionary. Does kingship involve government? Absolutely; look in the dictionary. What do cybernetics and kingship have in common? They both are essentially concerned with government -- the self-govern ... Is government about control? Absolutely. These are all closely related by definition: king, govern, control, author, agent, cybernetic, steering, will.

The thinker finds himself in a hopeless situation, oneself as oneself (a sovereign agent who once was stabilized by existing in the form of a particular egoic character) runs out of resources; has no choice but to call on a paraclete (a substitute governor-agent) -- calling on a higher-level rescuer/controller demonstrates (and establishes) awareness of personal metaphysical helplessness/ slavery/ creatureliness, relies on Jesus as a model of the encouragement yet (safe, life-preserving) transcendence of the illusion of governor agency/control agency/ moral agency. The savior did save himself, by arranging his non-miraculous healing recovery from the crucifixion. And prayer means I can only hope that the Author-machine has created my near-future in a compassionate form that preserves my mundane well-being. Prayer also marks an attempt to re-engage the egoic character and stabilizing restrictor -- restrictor of actions and cognition and consciousness; trying to pick up again one's (relatively safe and stable) accustomed behavioral boundedness. Regain the accustomed egoic personal habit-patterns, rather that having no cognitive patterns. Does loose cognition mean completely unglued cognition?

To completely unbind cognition in every way, completely and 100%, would be instant chaos. If your self-control were to fragment completely, you would die of a heart attack (that is, a mind-core breakdown). Perhaps cognition can only be mostly-loosened, not completely dis-integrated. Fear the complete disintegration of cognition. Hypoth: if cognition completely disintegrates, then you are not only metaphysically helpless; you are thoroughly incoherent and have no chance, no way to be coherent. Can loose cognitive binding completely suspend, completely loosen and remove all mental-construct binding? That is the sheer chaos, sheer insanity of which they are afraid -- even prayer to Jesus couldn't save you if your mind completely shatters. MC loosening -- cognitive loosening, vs. cognitive shattering. Want to make cognition rubber, not shatter it, not merely fall apart completely. That is the feeling for most people -- that's the worst, not that you'll retain force of will but sans accustomed code of behavior, but rather, you'll lose force of will along with code of behavior and along with every other type of mental structure as well -- lose your mental structure entirely, in all ways. That the accustomed structures and guiding forces, guiding systems are not merely disengaged, but actually quite beyond the ability to remember them -- "lost" control in the sense of being unable to find any accustomed cognitive structures. So that you literally don't know what you're doing; amnesia, replaced by sheer chaos, entirely unable to conceive of anything but sheer randomness of cognition. That's the worst possible fear.

the transcendent mental model coagulates, congeals, drops into place, flips into place - both by literally seeing and feeling it, and by rationally understanding it in detail, if your rationality is advanced. (in fact, rationality is required, to enable feeling it). The more you can reason about ego death, the more you can experience ego death. The more you can reason about unity consciousness, the more you can experience unity consciousness.

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