Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Ego: Ten Myths You’ll Be Relieved to Debunk

Are selves real? A surprising number of sources from spiritual teachers to cognitive scientists say no. Here we get practical and scientific about the true nature of egos, opening new questions about what it means to be egotistical. Read More


All the myths revealed here are interesting. While most of them are yet to be realized, I agree with the 8th point that there is no way to escape ego. This is because ego cannot be killed, it needs to be transformed from its wrong interpretation to the right one. Ego or "I" cannot be killed but egoism of "I am Mr.., I am Engineer, and so on can be transformed to an permanent existence of "I am pure soul." This is exactly the basis of spiritual development, which happens during in the self-realization process.More on this is well explained at:

I think that #7 as you

I think that #7 as you described it is actually two different ideas.

One is what you described as the buddhism idea, that the self is impermanent and therefore doesn't exist. I think a buddhist might have comments on this--I'm not a buddhist, but I'd guess it might go somewhere along the lines of, "the self as we see it is really part of a much larger structure and the importance we assign to our fleeting divergence from the larger structure is misguided."

Two is what you described as the cogsci idea, that the self is only composed of physical elements and therefore doesn't exist. Again, I think a cognitive scientist (which I'm not) would argue that the physical elements are so much more complexly intricate than a computer that it's insulting to the amazing feat of architecture that is the human brain to compare it to the simplistic automatons we know as computers. At the same time, the interplay of physical elements gives rise to the ability to regard ourselves as sentient, even if all of our decisions really come down to billions upon billions of physical factors coming together in a totally unique and unreproducible way.

Both these ideas deserve to be debated--neither should be accepted as truth at a first glance. But at the same time, both ideas deserve to be debated--neither should be rejected in a few brief paragraphs.

Very good point, and I meant

Very good point, and I meant to add links to other writing where I or colleagues challenge the "material eliminativist" arrgument that minds are very complex computers. First, my colleague Terry Deacon's book "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter" (Norton 2011) I've got a book coming out this year called "Purpose: A Natural History" that distills Terry's book. And then a few articles:

Thanks for your vey useful comment.


If you don't meditate, don't

If you don't meditate, don't quote Buddhism or Buddhists. You don't get it.

A question then: Would you

A question then: Would you extend such quote-bans to all schools of thought? Should you not be allowed to quote Christ if you don't attend mass? Should we never quote Iyengar unless we do his yoga? Should you not be allowed to challenge me unless you write blogs for psychology today? Or is your proposed ban just applicable to your sacred sect? I mean where would you draw the line?

I have meditated. You could address the content of my argument or your could simply try to get the last word by saying "Shutup, cause you don't know" Which doesn't seem particularly Buddhist.


If you're a dilettante in

If you're a dilettante in many subjects, then, yes, you shouldn't quote any of them.

Who says? Are you a

Who says? Are you a dilettante in decision theory and moral philosophy or journalistic ethics? If so by your own standards you should not be quoting these field's positions.

Perhaps you are not quoting authoritative sources when you say what one shouldn't do, but just speaking your own mind. Do you mean to control what people say? Alternative responses include you ignoring those people like me who you don't find authoritative or arguing substantively against their positions rather than banning them from talking about the subject because they don't meet your personal standards.

So far what I've got from you is that in your personal opinion, a person who in effect, acts as a journalist in quoting verbatim a Buddhist should not be allowed to do so unless they have a meditation practice.

Thank you for sharing your proposed edict. As it stands I don't find you sufficiently authoritative and therefore will ignore you. I encourage you to do the same with me since you don't find me authoritative. And if anyone else is listening in on our exchange, they can make their own decisions about what to ignore and attend to.

Ummm haha

The true you is that which perceives ego. And that which perceives even perception. There is only 1. 2 is an illusion. There is no ego because there is no me. There is only the great I AM under which all illusions of separateness take place.

Ummm haha

The true you is that which perceives ego. And that which perceives even perception. There is only 1. 2 is an illusion. There is no ego because there is no me. There is only the great I AM under which all illusions of separateness take place.

Ummm Huh? You trying to get

Ummm Huh? You trying to get clear on this stuff or lull us into some dreamy state with esoteric poesy?

Question about your number two above

Evolution by natural selection (or any kind of selection) explains why we live in a universe filled with design. You say "life is distinguishable by the internal work organisms do to keep regenerating themselves...". My question is this: When on the timeline from the very first replicating things did this ability to do internal work to maintain themselves emerge? It seems there are only two answers: this ability to do active work was there at the beginning of evolution by natural selection (the very first replicators), or it emerged later on the timeline?

I want to understand what you are saying, and the answer to this question would help me immensely.

Sorry for my delay dear Bill.

Sorry for my delay dear Bill. By my interpretation, you can't have evolution without that internal self-regenerative work. Many others researchers neglect that internal work, as though evolution could happen on passive molecules that self-replicate. The RNA world interpretation of the origins of life is like that. Autocatalysis is also like that: Molecule A catalyzes B catalyzes C catalyzes A, so A's indirectly make more of themselves. But what is catalysis? Not an active process, it's no more active than a sidewalk holding a piece of chewed gum until you happen to step on it, your shoe then bound to the gum. The passive copying as we see in autocatalysis does nothing to preserve itself. In fact it speeds up its own degeneration, depleting at an ever faster clip the raw materials its converting into A's B's and C's until they're gone and the autocatalysis is over.

There's no evolution without selves, no selves without active internal work for self-preservation. That's why self-organization is a misnomer. A hurricane is self-organizing, locally countering the second law of thermodynamics tendency for things to un-correlate, to get disorganized. But a hurricane is not a self. It doesn't work to preserve itself, it's rather self-exhausting, the way a whirlpool drains the water that makes it.

Does that help clarify my position? Not that it's necessarily the right position. It's just my best guess.

another question, my good friend

Thanks for thoughtfully answering my question. I would submit that at least some other researchers don't neglect the internal self-regenerative work, they see it as one of the marvelous emergent results of evolution by natural selection, and as soon as it started appearing as a result of mutation and selection it would have conferred a significant competitive advantage on the replicator and soon spread everywhere. Does not the ability to do internal self-regenerative work at the very beginning of evolution by natural selection imply a slight degree of complexity and self-organization to begin with? There are two possibilities if this is the case: since no evolution by natural selection had happened yet, raw material must have by completely random chance fallen together with this ability to do self-regenerative work (like falling together into a finished eyeball, for instance), or if not by random chance, something must have designed this complexity in to the first replicators, since evolution hadn't yet started. Neither of these scenarios seems likely to me. Which of the two do you prefer?

Our point is that

Our point is that self-organization alone isn't enough and that the random chance episode that would have gotten life going would have had to be a particular kind of interaction between two self-organizing systems, one in which both regenerate each other.

Self-organization alone degenerates rapidly, indeed speeds up its own degeneration. The first evolvable entity would not be wholistically self-regenerative. Rather it would have to be at least two self-organization processes that regenerate each other, the first complementarity or as I would describe it, the first habit of dedication and dependency, each happening to do the dedicated work that maintains the self-organizational process it depends upon.

The three main approaches to origins of life are
Metabolism first: Something that grows by converting resources into more of itself. eg autocatalysis
Container first: Selves as contained things, eg lipid or protein shells.
Info first: A template molecule that stores memory of past design, eg RNA first.

We say no it's the means and ends complementarity first, because short of that all you have is self-degenerating self-organization.

And no, we don't fall for what I call "Amnesiac watchmaker syndrome" the tendency to engineer a protocell and then claim that it was spontaneous. We start with a universe devoid of all forces that would aim to build life.

Does that help clarify our position?


I think I got it

This seems reasonable, as I understand it, to get things started. Thanks for that. You are saying it takes two to tango. Makes sense.

This passive by chance coming together of the first two structures with the property of doing this combining/copying could have gotten evolution by natural selection started. The difference between the work these two structures do and the work a hurricane does is that the two structures have fallen upon replication, and the hurricane (or chewing gum on the sidewalk) doesn't replicate. so has nothing at all to do with evolution by natural selection. THAT (replication in a competitive environment) to me is the amazing new thing in our corner of the universe that got evolution by natural selection started. Now that I know you are calling that new activity of your TWO chemical structures "active work", and mean no more with that re-definition, I am quite content. I am looking forward to your book.

Close but not quite.

Close but not quite.

Replication is different from reproduction or regeneration. Replication is the more commonly used term and the reason life's internal work has eluded us so long. Reproduction isn't even as important as self-repair. You need a structure that regenerates itself faster than it would otherwise degenerate, repairing itself faster than it otherwise falls into disrepair. The two to tango does this and yet it's not always actually an enclosed structure. When an autogen is open it's got no cell walls, it's just acting as autocatalysis. But with a difference, a tendency to reclose, repairing its original form. Where's the self? Not in any of its parts or in the whole closed structure but in the synergy, the mutual constraint between two self-organizing that produces the tendency to reclose or repair itself.

Thanks for thinking with me.


Thanks for your

Thanks for your patience...

One last question: Your spontaneously arising two systems (sometimes enclosed by cell walls but sometimes open with the tendency to reclose, and with the ability to repair themselves) may be the simplest possible beginning. One necessity for this extra complexity at the beginning is your continual assertion that for evolution by natural selection to even get started:

"We need a structure that regenerates faster than it would otherwise degenerate."

Another way of saying it, which captures my understanding of evolution by natural selection at a more fundamental level, and might allow for simpler beginnings, is:

"We need a structure that replicates before it degenerates".

Statistical probability would point toward a less complex beginning than yours. The odds of two entities appearing from whole cloth with enclosures (cell walls) and the ability to repair themselves, and then coming together in the primordial soup are less than the odds of a chemical entity just growing naturally but falling apart, but, due to its chemical structure, as a duplicate of itself. So is there proof that a simpler entity is not possible to start things off?

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Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.


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