Thomas Metzinger Professor of PhilosophyDirector of the Theoretical Philosophy at Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz
Thomas Metzinger is one of the foremost thinkers and researchers in the philosophy of mind. Metzinger presents a rigorous philosophical argument against the conception of the self as an entity. Rather than being a metaphysical essence that exists outside the body, he says, the self is an experience: the result of processes occurring within the body and brain. The vivid, conscious experience of being a self, which all of us know, Metzinger says, is a kind of useful hallucination. He explains, “The body and the mind are constantly changing. Nothing in us is ever really the same from one moment to the next. Yet the self represents a very strong phenomenal experience of sameness, and it’s clear this would be adaptive or helpful for a biological organism that needs to plan for the future. If you want to hide some food for winter or you want to save some money in your bank accounts or work on your reputation, you’re planning for future success, and you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t have the very strong feeling that it’s going to be the same entity that gets the reward in the future.” Metzinger has collaborated with neuroscientists to induce out-of-body experiences in human subjects using video technology; these experiments demonstrate that this phenomenon does not constitute proof of the existence of a soul. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.