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The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self Paperback – July 27, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Consciousness, mind, brain, self: the relations among these four entities are explored by German cognitive scientist and theoretical philosopher Metzinger, who argues that, in fact, there is no such thing as a self. In prose accessible mainly to those schooled in philosophy and science, Metzinger defines the ego as the phenomenal self, which knows the world experientially as it subjectively appear[s] to you. But neuroscientific experiments have demonstrated, among other things, that the unitary sense of self is a subjective representation: for instance, one can be fooled into feeling sensations in a detached artificial arm. So the author argues that the ego is a tunnel that bores into reality and limits what you can see, hear, smell and feel. Metzinger tests his theory by ranging over events of the consciousness such as out-of-body experiences, lucid dreaming and free will, and he concludes by probing ethical actions and what a good state of consciousness would look like. Most readers will have difficulty penetrating Metzinger's ideas, and those who do will find little that is genuinely new. (Apr.)
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Library Journal
“Metzinger's intended audience is the lay reader, and he does a superb job of presenting his theory and introducing philosophical issues related to consciousness.”

"Groundbreaking. This sophisticated understanding of the brain as an ego machine accounts remarkably well for the lived experience of being someone, a someone who transforms a bombardment of stimuli into a seamless present while still engaging in off-line planning for the future and reflection on the past."

“Metzinger is crisp in his arguments and has a keen appreciation of essential ideas.”

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020690
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Metzinger (*1958 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and an Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study.

In 2008 he received a one-year Fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Berlin Institute for Advanced Study), is past president of the German Cognitive Science Society and was president of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness from 2009 to 2010.

His focus of research lies in analytical philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophical aspects of the neuro- and cognitive sciences as well as connections between ethics, philosophy of mind and anthropology.

In the English language, he has edited two collections on consciousness ("Conscious Experience", Paderborn: mentis & Thorverton, UK: Imprint Academic, 1995; "Neural Correlates of Consciousness", Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000) and one major scientific monograph developing a comprehensive, interdisciplinary theory about consciousness, the phenomenal self, and the first-person perspective ("Being No One - The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity", Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).

In 2009, he published a popular book, which addresses a wider audience and also discusses the ethical, cultural and social consequences of consciousness research ("The Ego Tunnel - The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self", New York: Basic Books).
Details at

There are a number of videos on YouTube, German as well as English. More information at Wikipedia:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Clark on May 21, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
I heartily agree with the positive opinions of others here - this is a first class addition to the lay person's literature on consciousness by a world class philosopher. Absolutely fascinating and revolutionary. I've written a detailed review at [...] , some sections of which I've excerpted here:

Even after giving up belief in the supernatural "up there," many atheists and humanists continue to harbor quasi-supernatural intuitions about the self and free will "in here." The little god of the soul, the categorically mental agent or homunculus in charge of the brain, is still alive and well in the thinking of many secularists. As a result, some of the most profound developments in the ongoing project of scientific enlightenment are still ahead of us.

I am pleased to report that Thomas Metzinger's The Ego Tunnel is a major contribution to this project, written for the curious and fearless lay person wanting to know who, precisely, we are. I strongly recommend this book. Here is the self fully naturalized, a radical revision of the conventional wisdom about our essential nature - are you ready? It's also a must read for anyone interested in consciousness and the mind-body problem, since Metzinger has a well-developed, empirically supported representational theory that explains many of the puzzles about conscious subjectivity.

His two main themes, self and consciousness, are closely linked, and they culminate in two rather unsettling conclusions. First, selves don't exist in the way most folks suppose. Second, the solid, three dimensional public reality that is so palpably there in our waking lives turns out to be a private model of reality.
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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Brian Hines on April 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm an avid reader of books about the brain, consciousness, and what the "self" is (or isn't). Metzinger's is one of the best. Thankfully, he isn't content with simply describing the current state of neuroscience, which can be dry to a non-scientist like me, with all its talk of physical brain functions and such.

Metzinger also addresses important philosophical and ethical problems such as free will, the concept of soul, how we can be certain an experience is real, consciousness exploration through drugs and other outside means, and whether happiness or truth-seeking is the best foundation of a meaningful life.

"The Ego Tunnel" is a great example of how one shouldn't judge a book by a single critical review. I read Owen Flanagan's review in New Scientist and questioned whether I should buy this book. I'm glad that I made up my own mind, because that review was way off the mark, in my non-humble opinion.

I didn't find a trace of the philosophical grandiosity that Flanagan talked about. Instead, I found big problems being addressed, as noted above. Hey, I'm going to die! We all are, one day. Whether I have a self, or soul, that is separable from my physical body is of more than a little importance to me.

This may be a settled question among academic neuroscientists, but it certainly isn't among the people I know. Which, naturally, includes myself. I lean toward a Taoist/Buddhist conception of the cosmos these days, and found much to support that way of viewing reality in Metzinger's book: science and philosophy blending in a pleasingly coherent fashion.

But he stresses the need for each of us to dig our own ego tunnel (not that we have any choice).
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Suchy-Dicey on April 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Those who want a formal description of Thomas Metzinger's theory of the self should go to his earlier works or his recent TICS article to find it. For those who find that kind of writing inaccessible, The Ego Tunnel is a good bet for an accurate, and often elegant, description of the work being done (and the work that should be done) in the sciences and philosophy on consciousness and the self.

The Ego Tunnel was written for those outside of consciousness research to answer Metzinger's felt imperative: "Scientists and academic philosophers cannot simply confine themselves to making contributions to a comprehensive theory of consciousness and the self. If moral obligation exists, they must also confront the anthropological and normative void they have created. They must communicate their results in laymen's language" (215). The Ego Tunnel is thus a double success: it communicates Metzinger's work on the self together with a normative groundwork for consciousness research in "laymen's language" while at the same time offering insight into the mind of one of philosophy's best consciousness researchers.

The book is split into three sections: the first offers the main problems with accounting for conscious experience, ending with the problem of subjectivity; the second gives evidence to think that there is no self to answer the problem of subjectivity and offers an alternative solution; the third is a first look at the ethical obligations that arise from this finding.
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