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Virtual Ego


Clarifying the concept of "ego"

The ego should be considered in terms of the nature of control itself and the nature of agency: ego as controller-entity or self-control cybernetic steersman, the ghostly homunculus who is the helmsman of the ship of you.

Our conception of ego is distorted. But it is crude to say simply "ego is an illusion" or "ego does not exist." When a concept is distorted, this means that part of the mental associations are true, and some of the mental associations are false. But it's overkill to say that the entire thing, or concept, is false, or does not exist. That would be like saying that Einstein disproved Newton -- when he actually only modified Newton. Newton is not false, so much as distorted or incomplete. I would not say "Newtonian physics is an illusion" or "the Newtonian universe does not exist." To say it that way is not very precise, useful, or accurate. These extremely simplistic statements do not help us to understand the strengths as well as the limitations of Newton -- or the nature of the ego.

The ego involves and relies on confused thinking. Where there is unenlightened ego, there is the entire egoic mode of thinking, which is not advanced vision-logic, but clumsy and non-lucid thinking. Bungled thinking is characterized by uncritical associations and categories. The ego is bungled thinking. Advanced, subtle, and powerful thinking is able to master the labyrinth of systematic confusions that are involved in the naive ego. The transcendent mental model of self and world is constructed by noticing and correcting the types of cognitive errors that are thoroughly involved in the egoic mental model.

The ego is a specific cognitive structure that is essentially the same for everyone, in its core.

Important distinction: the ego, vs. the egoic mental model or the egoic mode of cognition. People attack the ego without realizing that it is woven into their worldview or mental model systematically. The problem is not just to reconceive the ego itself, but to make certain alterations of one's entire system of mental associations among fundamental concepts such as time, self, control, agency, freedom, will, and world. All of these concepts are re-conceived and re-associated in the transition from the egoic conceptual system to the transcendent conceptual system.

When different camps talk and think about 'the ego' in different ways, that does not indicate that their core ego is actually different. Likely, they are all stuck in the same systemic confusions about agency. Their different terminological concerns about the ego reflect tangential, added concerns. For New Agers, disparaging talk of 'the ego' is not really about 'the ego' that we all are born with: they are thinking of hateful arrogance and undeserved vanity. For Ayn Rand, reactive promotion of 'the ego' reflects her concern for political freedom.

But the ego that we all are given, that structure which disintegrates in schizophrenia, is different than the vain ego or the political ego. The interesting and universal 'ego' that is a given for all healthy, normal people, is the ego as a cognitive structure -- a structure that is not simply one structure among an entire mental model of the world, but rather, it is a particular relationship and set of associations among the self-symbol and the concept of the world, the concept of agency in general, the concept of time, and the concept of (metaphysical) freedom and power. These are the primary concepts that are wrapped up with the ego-concept. Vanity and political freedom are tangential issues distinct from the ego and the egoic mental model of the world.

The definition of 'ego' one uses "interacts" with one's personal use of the ego. But one's definition of ego probably interacts more with one's concerns about vanity or political freedom, than with one's standard, innate cognitive structure of ego, which includes the egoic conceptual system in general.

In what sense is ego an illusion? Demonizing the ego; in what sense does ego "exist"?

Our conception of ego is distorted. But it is crude to say simply "ego is an illusion" or "ego does not exist." When a concept is distorted, this means that part of the mental associations are true, and some of the mental associations are false. But it's overkill to say that the entire thing, or concept, is false, or does not exist. That would be like saying that Einstein disproved Newton -- when he actually only modified Newton. Newton is not false, so much as distorted or incomplete. I would not say "Newtonian physics is an illusion" or "the Newtonian universe does not exist." To say it that way is not very precise, useful, or accurate. These extremely simplistic statements do not help us to understand the strengths as well as the limitations of Newton -- or the nature of the ego.

It's necessary to reject a narrow, exclusive approach to the ego and the question of its reality. This enables progress against the deadlock of the debate over "whether or not the ego exists". I am not claming that the only correct and effective approach to the entire subject of 'the existence of the ego' is philosophical linguistic analysis. I am only using this linguistic approach on a small scale to unhook the rope of tangled argument, which has been caught on what should be a trivial splinter on the wall.

The argument gets hung up due to static, rigid definitions of terms, definitions that are inherently impossible to resolve, as long as they are held unconsciously. Acknolwedge those differences of definitions as such, and the conversation can move forward using all possible approaches, all of them now awakened to the tendency of such definitional deadlocks to arise. Thus, people can learn to resolve any and all definitional misunderstandings that once prevented communication. This is the only way the conversation can move forward past this type of problem. Once this general problem of handling definitions is out of the way, people are free to bring in other approaches effectively, and knowledge increases where it was once chornically hung up in a multitude of unresolvable conflicts that were due to lack of facility with definitions.

It is a mistake to restrict all studies to any one approach, such as philosophical linguistic analysis.

My statements clearly imply that there are alternatives to the concept of ego: "Whether ego truly exists" or not totally depends on the assumed meaning of 'exist' and 'ego'.

I am not asserting that philosophical linguistic analysis is the only possible way to study ego. I am asserting that philosophical linguistic analysis can explain that there are conflicting conceptions and definitions of the term 'ego' and that we must acknowledge the conflicting definitions as definitions, before you can even begin arguing about the existence of the ego. Lack of facility at definitions leads to uncritically assumed definitions.

Uncritically assuming definitions, people are ignorant of the tendency of definitions (or networks of mental associations) to become unreconilably untrenched. That is all that I am claiming here for the power of philosophical linguistic analysis.

I am not claiming that the only correct way to study ego is philosophical linguistic analysis. I also mentioned that mystic ego death is a common experiential phenomenon. This phenomenon cries out for explanation, by whatever means possible. If philosophy fails to discover this most important problem, then other approaches will have to do an adequate job of taking up the slack.

So far, even Buddhism has failed to clearly conceptualize the problem in these late times. According to most traditional schools, knowledge is progressively growing -- dimmer, as we stumble through this last, darkest cycle. If so, then these darkening traditions disavow their own power. From what direction then can the light of truth shine, if the light of the past has receded too far beyond the fog of forgetfulness? Analytic philosophy is allergic to mysticism, philosophy of mystic experience is fixated on foreign texts from alien paradigms of religion. All this crosscultural Gnostic research is circling about forever, caught up deeper in the multiplicity of trivia.

It is amusing to see people demonizing the ego. "Death to the ego! Kill the ego! Hate the ego! Ego is the root of all ego! Whip that destructive, deluded boy! p.s. Ego is only an illusion!" What we have here is a severe slippage of definitions that is wholly unacknowledged and is the main carelessness of thought that enables arguments to be deadlocked until the end of time.

Some aspects of that phenomenon called 'ego' exist. Some aspects do not -- they lead a ghostly life, but the animation of this ghost is something to be reckoned with, and the first step of this reckoning, only the first, must be a mastery of definitions.

Self-reference is much more interesting when applied to the ego, not just to symbolic logic

>an interesting point that probably has been discovered before.

>self-reference is a paradox in itself. things cannot interact with themselves.

>the fallacy of paradox lies not in practice, as it is impossible to practice a self-reference, but in the use of representation. when we refere to something twice most would think that we are refering to the same thing. in most cases, this is safe to assume. however, it suddenly becomes otherwise when we use examples of self-reference.

>e.g. "this sentence is false"

That is a boring example of your interesting introductory statements. The conversation immediately shrinks to a point, abandoning vital interest.

If you want an interesting example, study the self-reference involved in ego and the awareness and cognition that loop around it.

Based on Douglas Hofstadter's recent interview in Wired, it's clear that his underlying motives and interests have to do with the mind; the human mind. The logic of sentences happens to be a tangible way of doing this. But _Godel, Escher, Bach_ is also about self-control, freedom and determinism, consciousness, and ego. These are the reason why self-reference is interesting. Who cares about self-referential sentences, in themselves? Are they so interesting, in themselves? They are fascinating primarily because they suggest contradictions deep without our own labyrinths of thinking about ourselves.

The need for a strong ego, to transcend ego

After the Death of God, only the autonomous ego is left in control of things and of itself. The ego is intimately involved in self-control. Ken Wilber is the current authority on ego transcendence -- "you must develop an ego strong enough to die." Wilber, however, knows nothing of the key problem of self-control, unlike Alan Watts. If ego = control, then the formula for enlightenment is:

Develop and grasp at self-control until you reach complete frustration and then realize the contradictions and true nature of self-control, or self-guidance.

Striving for a type of self-control that is subtlely, inherently impossible builds up into complete frustration, until out of this mud, the lotus of re-conceptualization blooms.

This is the true heart of ego transcendence.

After ego death and ego transcendence, how big and powerful is the ego? Bigger and more powerful than ever, the ghost who remains after ego death. Though, in another way, the transcended ego is as impotent as everything must be, under the hand of Fate. The mind who is past the central idenfication with the ego is merely awakened to its metaphysical status of a slave. Fit to be the leader of the slaves, but nevertheless itself a slave -- a proud slave, obedient servant to fully developed Reason.

The Virtual Ego and the Illusory Aspect of its Control Power

The ego does not really exist as a time-travelling entity who is wholly present at each time while moving through time. The ego's existence is limited and complex. The ego is normally experienced as an autonomous self-steering entity, rather than as a slave or cybernetic puppet completely defined by the all-inclusive world. The cognitive structures of the semi-illusory ego must be preserved even while discovering that its thoughts and actions originate from the underlying plane, rather than originating from the ego. The ego exists virtually, or in certain limited aspects; the naive concept of ego is distorted, accepting the projected ego image as being as real as the egoic cognitive structures.

The ego-entity exists as a real set of patterns and dynamics, but the ego is not as solid, continuous, or powerful as it seems. The ego is both a set of real patterns, but also a projected, constructed image. In a way, the perceived ego exists, and in a way, it does not. The mind usually projects and constructs a fairly solid and simple image of oneself. Seeing the illusory aspects of this mental representation and feeling the absence of the accustomed sense of personal solidity can be experienced as death, as literal cessation of personal existence, because the naive mind strongly identifies with the projected image and the feeling of personal solidity.

Mental processing is structured with the conscious ego-representation as the center of control and experiencing. This representation of the ego is a dynamic set of mental constructs. The ego-entity at the center of mental processing is partly an illusory projection. The ego includes the deceiving, projected representation of the ego-entity. This deceivingly tangible representation of the self or ego is only a part of the ego.

In a dissociative cognitive state, the usual cognitive structures constituting the ego relax, loosen, and disengage, while remaining available to a degree, as a tool. The projection of the ego image also ceases, unless called upon. Oneself still exists in many ways, such as a body, a brain, a mind, possessions, and a personal past. One genuine aspect of oneself has temporarily ceased to firmly exist: the egoic cognitive processing, which is largely but not entirely suspended. The projection of the self-image is also partly suspended. Insofar as the mind confuses the projected self-image with that part of the self which is genuine, that projected self never existed, other than a perceptual illusion, and so the projected self could not cease to exist.

If the ego is defined strictly as the natural assumption that the mentally projected self-representation is literally oneself, then the ego is only an illusion. But such a narrowed definition of "ego" ignores the real cognitive structures that reliably project that illusion. The ego, as a mode or subsystem of mental processing, is more than just the illusory aspect of the ego projection. The ego, considered as an entire subsystem of the mind, is a large, complex, and dynamic set of mental processes, of which the deceivingly tangible mental representation is only one part.

The will exerts control power, but this power is virtual (secondary; 2nd-order) rather than literal (primary; 1st-order). There is some control-power, but the normal perception of this power is distorted. The sense of having control power is taken too literally and too simply. Ego structures are revised during ego death, not eliminated. There is an alarming feeling of helplessness upon fully realizing the insubstantiality of the cross-time ego and its control-power.

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