What do we mean by 'self'?

Let go of the image of me, of who I am, of who I have been? And be as nothing? And be a silent empty mind? Yes but only if I “understand “ the absolute, dire necessity to do so before the body dies.

And according to K, that understanding can only come from watching ourselves without choice or condemnation, or approval.


I suspect it would take the complete dissolution of the ego. Or, more positively, the presence of true compassion.

Yes. But what that state of no-thingness and silence truly is cannot be imagined (by the ego). If the ego tries to imagine that state it gets frightened because it projects an image of nothingness, of emptiness.

An alternative way of expressing the same thing is to say (following K’s language) where the self is not, love is, beauty is. Compassion is no-thing.

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I think ‘becoming’ secure or blissful… or any’thing’ at all is out?

This has been described as a sort of Stockholm syndrome

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The brain dies after having denied and sold out its birthright, saying “I had a good life”.

That’s really really expensive. Is there a free trial? (Psychedelics?) Money-back guarantee?

Would you be willing to pay it to find out what non-ego life was like?

A free trial for ego-dissolution? I think a profound moment of love or beauty is sufficient to give a taste? But I’ll ask Chat GPT about it:

Ego-death is a term often used in psychology, philosophy, and spirituality to describe a profound psychological experience where an individual undergoes a radical transformation of their sense of self and identity. This term is commonly associated with certain psychedelic experiences, deep meditative states, and mystical or spiritual encounters. Here are some key aspects of ego-death:

  1. Loss of Egoic Identity: Ego-death involves a temporary dissolution or loss of the ego, which is the individual’s conventional sense of self, personal identity, and separateness from the external world.

  2. Transcendence of Boundaries: During ego-death, the boundaries between the self and the external world may blur or vanish, leading to a sense of unity or interconnectedness with everything.

  3. Profound Transformation: Ego-death experiences can be intensely transformative, often accompanied by feelings of awe, oneness, and a deep understanding of the nature of reality.

  4. Surrender and Letting Go: Ego-death experiences typically involve a sense of surrender or letting go of one’s usual thoughts, beliefs, and attachments. This process can be challenging and liberating.

  5. Spiritual and Mystical Context: Ego-death is often associated with spiritual or mystical experiences where individuals feel they have touched upon a higher or transcendent reality.

  6. Variety of Triggers: Ego-death can be triggered by various means, such as through meditation, deep introspection, near-death experiences, or the use of certain psychoactive substances like psychedelics.

  7. Controversy and Interpretation: Ego-death experiences are a subject of philosophical and psychological debate. Some view them as insights into the true nature of the self and reality, while others consider them as altered states of consciousness with no inherent truth.

  8. Challenges and Integration: While ego-death experiences can be profound and illuminating, they can also pose challenges for individuals in terms of integrating these experiences into their daily lives.

It’s important to note that ego-death is a subjective and complex phenomenon, and its interpretation can vary depending on cultural, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives. It’s also a topic of ongoing exploration and research, particularly in the fields of psychology and neuroscience, to better understand its nature and implications.

Other examples (apart from psychedelics) of how to bring about a taste of ego-dissolution suggested by GPT are flow states - including artistic creation, performing music, losing oneself in a sporting activity or deep immersion in a game;
spending time in nature;
going on a spiritual or meditative retreat;
yoga and holotropic breathwork (although I wouldn’t recommend the latter);
altruistic acts of service.

I also asked GPT what religious or spiritual philosophies encourage or celebrate egotism, and it said Ayn Rand, libertarianism, Satanism, Friedrich Nietzsche, and “certain occult and new age beliefs that place a strong emphasis on personal empowerment and the pursuit of personal desires”.

“Most religious and spiritual philosophies”, my digital friend continued, “by their nature tend to emphasise humility, selflessness, and the transcendence of ego or self-centredness.”

Why do many of us find it difficult to dissolve the ego? I thought some of these responses were interesting…

Chat GPT:

People often resist letting go of their ego for various reasons, and these reasons can be deeply ingrained in human psychology and the way we navigate the world. Here are some common explanations for why individuals resist relinquishing their ego:

  1. Sense of Identity: The ego forms a fundamental part of a person’s identity. It provides a sense of self, continuity, and a feeling of being an individual. Letting go of the ego can feel like losing one’s sense of self.

  2. Fear of Annihilation: Ego dissolution can be frightening, as it involves confronting the possibility that the self, as one knows it, might cease to exist. This fear of annihilation can be a powerful deterrent.

  3. Attachment to Desires: The ego is closely tied to desires, ambitions, and personal goals. Letting go of the ego means letting go of these desires, which can be challenging, especially when these desires are deeply ingrained or provide a sense of purpose.

  4. Fear of Vulnerability: The ego often serves as a protective shield against the emotional vulnerabilities and insecurities that individuals may harbor. Letting go of the ego can expose these vulnerabilities, leading to feelings of insecurity or weakness.

  5. Social and Cultural Conditioning: Many societies and cultures encourage the development and preservation of the ego. People are often raised to be independent, self-reliant, and self-assertive, which can make it difficult to let go of ego-centric behavior.

  6. Survival Mechanism: On a primal level, the ego can be viewed as a survival mechanism. It helps individuals compete for resources, protect themselves from threats, and ensure their physical and emotional well-being.

  7. Attachment to Labels: People often identify with labels, roles, and titles that define their ego, such as “doctor,” “parent,” or “athlete.” These roles can be sources of pride and attachment.

  8. Cultural and Societal Expectations: Some societies place a strong emphasis on personal achievement, status, and competition. Ego-driven behavior is often encouraged and rewarded in such environments.

  9. Habitual Thinking Patterns: Over time, ego-driven thinking patterns can become deeply ingrained habits. Breaking these habits and adopting a new perspective can be challenging.

  10. Attachment to Worldly Pleasures: Ego attachment can be closely related to the pursuit of worldly pleasures and material possessions. Letting go of the ego might mean relinquishing these attachments.

  11. Lack of Awareness: Many individuals are not aware of the concept of ego or the potential benefits of letting it go. Awareness and understanding are essential steps toward change.

It’s important to note that not all resistance to letting go of the ego is necessarily negative or unhealthy. The ego serves important functions in daily life and can contribute to individual growth, self-preservation, and the pursuit of goals. However, finding a healthy balance between egoic concerns and self-transcendence can be a significant challenge, as it often involves addressing and reconciling these various factors and motivations.

That’s like the bad boys and girls who hang out behind the high school smoking cigarettes!

‘Egotism’ has quite a negative vibe for GPT. Try instead:

What religious or spiritual philosophies encourage or celebrate the ego?

It came up with a similar answer. When I think about it there are forms of, say, Epicureanism, or aspects of Walt Whitman’s transcendentalism that present a more sophisticated or spiritual form of egotism - but I don’t think Whitman was seriously defending the value of egocentrism or self-interest. A lot of his so-called egotism is purely rhetorical - as though he were speaking on behalf of humanity or nature. It is a pseudo egotism.

I’m considering ‘letting my ego go’, it can be such a nuisance! But if I do, will I have to let my slaves go too?

It would be interesting if Dev could get GPT to immediately fact-check the posts we write! No more useless arguing back and forth about little misunderstandings - and instant correction of mistakes before they snowball! (I’m mostly kidding!)

Of course, it’s not perfect by any means. But it is petty darn resourceful already. I have just asked GPT about the Buddhist understanding of awareness, Krishnamurti’s understanding of the ego, whether the brain can be unconditioned, and about Whitman’s celebration of egotism, and the answers GPT has given are all very much on point.

So, Rick, coming back to the topic of this thread, would you say that you have a more or less secular or conventional understanding of the ego?

There are no major religious philosophies that I can think of - taking into account Christian mysticism (as well as the teachings of Christ), Sufism, Kabbalah, Neo-Platonism, Daoism, Advaita, Samkhya-Yoga, Buddhism, or Jainism - that celebrate or encourage the development of ego or self. Rather it is the opposite.

Perhaps aspects of Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism encourage the development of a more ethical (or ‘better’) self, as do, of course, orthodox Christian, Jewish, and Islamic belief systems. But these are not introspective or analytical traditions - they are social institutions that reflect the general prejudices of wider society. And I don’t think you align yourself with any of these approaches.

So would I be correct in assuming your views of ego or self come from secular psychology and neuroscience?

You’d probably have gotten yourself cancelled in academia with that posting! :wink:

I’m very fond of my AIs. They’re great for brainstorming. And each has its ‘personality.’ Pretty soon they’ll probably all develop artificial egos and neuroses. Biases they already have!

Ahh “academia”…speak of the devil! Weren’t they ‘fiddling while Rome burned?”

My understanding and my feelings about ego-self are quite different. Understanding-wise I see the self being like a mirage, an appearance that is real in the way appearances are real, but that reveals its mirage-ness when carefully scrutinized. But my feelings about my self are, well, quite different.

My understanding is from meditation-contemplation and Advaita and Buddhism and Krishnamurti and Western philosophy. My feelings about my self are from me.

They would say they’re playing virtuoso violin. :wink:

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