All I Wants Is a Room Somewhere

Will Wilkinson wants to find a comfortable but not too ostentatious residence for “self”:

Humean phenomenology and Eastern “mindfulness” practice both lead to careful examination of what we actually experience. If it turns out not to be the sort of thing extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self seem to suggest we experience, the correct inference to draw cannot be that the self is an illusion. The correct inference to draw is that extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self are false. The careful inspection of consciousness for signs of a metaphysically extravagant self comes up empty. Our experience of those signs cannot be “illusory” if we don’t actually have them.

Anyone familiar with the extensive philosophical literature on the subject of subjectivity in the context of notions of free will and determinism will be tempted to respond via bibliography.  I’ll instead focus on the question on its own terms, and as presented.

It is absurd to propose and in the same moment to limit as though objective a category of subjectivity.

The phrase “extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self” already pre-judges and conceals the question.  Any account of “the self” will appear “extravagant” from every conceivable alternative point of view. The position on the self – on Self as a universal or equally any self at all – is already a position on an infinitude and/or nothing, a category of subjectivity other than and opposed to objectivity.

The quantification implicit in “extravagant” as commonly used is senseless in this context:  “Extravagant” means “wasteful, lavish,” but in its root simply means “wandering outside of.”  So in that sense referring to the metaphysics of self as “extravagant” is tautological:  The postulate of the self is the postulate of a “wandering outside of,” on the other side of “material existence.”

To be thought consistently it can’t be thought of as another material existent within material existence – e.g., as exclusively whatever cerebral-organic accommodations and furnishings where and within which thought might be thought to be thought, or as the material evidence of the experience of that thinking – and therefore quantifiable or comparable (relatively “lavish” or “wasteful”):  To think of thinking in that way is merely to collapse the category back into that from which an absolutely fundamental distinction was to be thought.

4 comments on “All I Wants Is a Room Somewhere

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  1. We can, however, recognize collapsed thought. In Sanskrit, “manas” (the brain chatter level of the mind) is a relatively collapsed energetic structure. We can argue with it. We can locate it. We know what we’re thinking so there is something bigger than it, and since there is something bigger than it, it is collapsed. Being trapped within the idea that brain chatter is the self is where most people find themselves and it causes suffering. That condition could even be recognized as the root of suffering.

    • Yes.

      Re-reading the quote I began with, I’m thinking I should have re-worked it in a way that perhaps bob would approve of – or perhaps not: Though Wilkinson doesn’t go into detail about what “extravagantly metaphysical accounts” he’s rejecting, I think we could point out that the opposite of his statement on “illusion” is at least as arguable as his assertion. In other words: “If [what we experience] turns out not to be the sort of thing extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self seem to suggest we experience, the correct inference to draw cannot must be that [that experience of] the self is an illusion.” That experience would be illusory precisely to the extent that we wrongly identify it – what I think you are calling the manas level of self – with self or Self, as conceivable in any sense as the entirety Self. Your something-bigger-than – and I believe you understand quite well that “it” is not “really” “bigger” since it’s not a “thing” with “size” – includes the endlessly extending, always instantly exceeding possibility of experiencing the experience, experiencing the experiencing of that, and so on, and the watching of that, the watching of the watching of that, and so on again, eventually linking up you and me and Wilkinson and bob and Don Miguel, too, on the level of possibility, the unprovable (for Hume as for Descartes), the not yet spoken or unpredictable, which would be an or the, or part of an or the, or an orientational relationship with (from and toward) an or the essence, not a thing; the not-existent/not-yet-existent/pre-existent/never-existent functionally ground-like not-ground, at least, of freedom, not to mention what the manas is chattering to itself about, and without which, even if “only” as the “extravagant denied,” the Humean/manas-level illusory entrapment of the merely thinkable could not even be thinkable

  2. Right. Especially that last part. Without the consciousness that knows what we’re thinking we wouldn’t know what we’re thinking.

  3. The Wilkonson article is all extravegant shots across the bow without clearly identifying the object of his negation. So is it Buddhism, then which one. Is it Eliminative Materalism, again which one. Interesting he didn’t include in his indictment “extravegant neuroscience”. He concludes with a kind of extravegant mush.

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