Thomas Metzinger: Neuroethics, psychedelics, and conscious AI

Thomas Metzinger: Neuroethics, psychedelics, and conscious AI

Thomas Metzinger is a philosopher and author whose work focuses neuroethics, neurotechnology, and the philosophy of mind.

Thomas Metzinger is a philosopher and author whose work focuses neuroethics, neurotechnology, and the philosophy of mind. Thomas is the author of books on the philosophy of mind, consciousness, and the self, including the Ego Tunnel, Being No One, and The Elephant and the Blind.

Today’s topics include the prospects for engineering post-biotic conscious systems, and the ethical implications of doing so; psychedelic drugs and psychedelic experiences, and what these might teach us about the nature of the mind; the range of possible conscious experiences available to human beings and other systems; climate change; intellectual honesty; and other topics.

Watch on YouTube. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any other podcast platform. Read the full transcript here. Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter/X for episodes and infrequent social commentary.

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Episode links

  • Twitter: @ThomasMetzinger

  • Website (includes books)


0:00:00 Intro

0:02:10 Postbiotic conscious systems

0:13:00 The Ego Tunnel

0:20:15 Space of possible experiences

0:29:13 Psychedelics and epistemology

0:36:17 Ethical obligations to explore phenomenal state space

0:50:36 Climate change & culture of consciousness

1:00:45 Can we pull back from the brink?

1:09:00 AI ethics & suffering AI

1:27:20 Minimal forms of consciousness

1:35:40 Book recommendations

1:37:00 Advice (meditate!)

Introduction: Minds of the Future

I consider the content of this conversation very important for the times that we live in. The world is currently facing more difficult coordination problems than we ever have before. With the extremely rapid rise of powerful technologies like artificial intelligence, and more complex, multivariate global problems like climate change, we’re increasingly having to coordinate across a much larger number of people, and at a much faster pace. And the consequences of getting things wrong are higher than before, impacting more people in more meaningful ways. 

And it’s in this context that Thomas’s work is so important. We absolutely need a mature and contemporary ethics that can deal with the questions of our times. And this includes questions that until quite recently would have sounded a bit like science fiction. Questions such as what types of minds do we want to exist in the future, and what types of experiences do we want our children and grandchildren to have. This was a very meaningful conversation, and I hope you find it valuable.

Thank you for reading Paradigm. This post is public so feel free to share it.



This transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. It will be corrected and annotated with links and citations over time.

[00:00:11] Matt Geleta: I'm here with Thomas Metzinger. Thomas, thanks for joining me.

[00:00:13] Thomas Metzinger: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:15] Matt Geleta: Thomas, uh, one of the great pleasures of doing this podcast is that I get to read advanced copies of books before they're released. And I very fortunately got to read an advanced copy of your upcoming book, The Elephant and the Blind. And I was really struck right at the beginning on your dedication.

You dedicated this book to the post pahotic conscious systems of the future. And I would love to understand your mental picture here. What, what are you envisioning when you dedicate the book to those systems?

[00:00:44] Thomas Metzinger: Well, there's an interesting connection that many people don't see. So, and it has to do, you could frame it as two sides of Thomas. So, uh, one side of Thomas is somebody who has meditated twice a day for 47 years, but has always treated this as his personal, private life, not made a fuss about, but who has started about three years ago, a small virtual research network, the MPE project, where the idea is to generate a new approach to the problem of consciousness, namely what theory of science people call a minimal model explanation.

That's where you try to create an idealized model of your target phenomenon that leaves out everything that's superfluous and just the causal core factors also.

Hopefully, that was the, what you really want to understand, so the, what does the explanatory work in the end. So the question would then be, what is the simplest state of consciousness human beings know?

My working hypothesis in this project is, um, conscious experience can exist without time representation. With, uh, even without the experience of a now, without self location in a spatial frame of reference, without a here, without what philosophers call cognitive self reference, that is, I thoughts, you know, or I senses, and without embodiment, without thought, without emotions.

And the more speculative part is that the experience of pure awareness in meditation might be the simplest state of consciousness and might be a perfect entry point to make a fresh start, a fresh scientific start on this.

that's one part of Thomas, the person who has always been interested in consciousness research and has tried out a number of things as a private person, including a sustained meditation practice. But there's another side of me, um, somebody who, um, He first, the first seminar I ever taught in 1987 in Frankfurt was called Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy.

So I've always been interested in opening analytical philosophy of mind to neuroscience, to cognitive science, to AI people. I've always talked with these people a lot, tried to organize interdisciplinary exchange. I still remember when I went into the seminar in the philosophy department and totally nervous stage fright.

My first I have to teach and it was packed with people. There was even, you know, people outside of the door and, uh, nobody wanted to let me in. Why?

Why does this young guy with sneakers have to push himself up to the front? You know, this and, um, the basic sentiment in 1987 was, We don't know what this is, artificial intelligence, but it probably has something to do with fascism and it needs to be stopped, you know, so that the general, also in the humanities, the general idea was, um, we don't know what this is, but it must be bad and we're against it, whatever it is, we're against it, you know, this, this kind of, approach.

And, um, over the years, I've kept this as a hobby, you know, an analytical philosophy of mine since 1963, there was functionalism, Hilary Putnam, Turing machines, and all this. And in the end, I added, uh, ended up from 2018 to 2020 in the European Union's high level expert commission, uh, that generated. That led to this AI act.

Many people see now the first legal regulation on the planet. And our task among others was to generate ethical guidelines for trustworthy AI in Europe. And that was a very, very sobering experience because I went there. Uh, as a, you know, um, totally stupid boy who thought he would actually want to contribute something to the common good and do something good for Europe by, um, developing guidelines.

And only there I realized it's all full of industrial lobby and the majority of the people out there are just. Want to undermine any sabotage, any form of more serious regulation. I've called this ethics washing, uh, uh, in a later newspaper article, which has had quite some impact in a short article. So it was actually developing future markets, uh, massive markets and looking.

The idea was, okay, China is ahead, Silicon Valley is ahead of Europe and we'll say ours unique selling point is going to be. ethical, trustworthy AI.

So if you buy, um, AI products from Europe, you will not be spied upon. And I thought that was a brilliant idea. And I was all for it. And only step by step, I learned that they're not so serious about all of this.

And one of the things in that 52 person committee was that I said, there's a problem of artificial consciousness. because one problem is that you might create an, a large amount of artificial suffering that hasn't existed on the planet before.

This was completely rejected. Highly decorated, um, uh, experts, um, professors of computer science, very smart and intelligent people, but most of them just thought, uh, this is, you know, if you, if I look at the things in my lab, they crash, they don't work, artificial consciousness, it's just science fiction.

And of course the industry folks had the idea, if we start with this, it's going to ruin our future markets. general population is going to get afraid of artificial consciousness. So there was basically only one person in the group, Jan Tallinn, the inventor of Skype, who also saw the issue and was completely banned from the document.

Um, there was a conflict there and they didn't want to have this issue of artificial consciousness in there. If you google now, it's all over the place. There's a journal, Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness, there's people with manifestos, lots of very smart young people begin to talk about artificial sentience, there are conferences, and they've slept in on this.

Now, what's the connection to, um, the dedication in this book? Nick Bostrom in 2011 has coined this term of an information hazard, that there are some kinds of scientific information, say, take as an example, for instance, um, gain of function research in viruses. Stuff like this, where one might think maybe one shouldn't publish results and make them available to everybody on the planet, terrorists and so forth, non state actors.

And the same could be true here in principle, because the connection is as follows.

Imagine my project. would generate progress and we would have something like a minimal model of what consciousness is. Then it's quite plausible that the minimal model would also be most easiest to implement in a non biological system.

And, um, so researching the

pure awareness experience with the goal of coming to a minimal model experience what consciousness is might in principle create an information hazard for those people who are really reckless and would immediately do it just for their scientific career and that's what i'm trying to allude to that there is this i don't know how to call it a historical ambiguity there's and then i'll really stop there's a Um, there's a related question, very, a number of very smart.

AI people have already asked me about. I have always thought the alleviation of suffering in all beings that are capable of suffering is really should be one of our top goals in guiding us. And of course, if you take this serious. It would be good to have a computational phenomenology of suffering that's a more abstract mathematical description.

That's hardware independent of what suffering really is in a choking fish, in a bird, in a human infant, in a dementia patient. Is there, are there commonalities? And here you have the same problem. Imagine We tried to understand suffering on a much better way than ever before. And then people would make mathematical models and say, we need to test this.

It could lead to terrible animal experiments, but it could also lead to simulations, um, to understand this better. Simulations that you actually don't want to have, uh, in this world. And some people have asked us, how do we take this research target of alleviating suffering seriously without creating more suffering?

[00:10:51] Matt Geleta: Yeah, there are many threads to pull on there and I actually want to address, I want to get really deep into this, this topic of, you know, the ethical implications of creating. Conscious systems and and exactly what the nature of that conscious experience is Um, and actually some of the the work that you mentioned, you know I've talked to people on this podcast who are actively

trying to create these systems mark zombs, for example Um, and he has ethical arguments for why his group should be doing that On the way to warming up to that.

I think it's helpful to set The broader context of, you know, what, what actually is the space of possible conscious experiences? Um, because I think that is important for, um, kind of assigning ethical weight to just how important this question could be. One of the, one of the topics I think that draws very nicely here is actually from one of your earlier books, The Ego Tunnel.

where you have this metaphor of, um, of the tunnel, this image of the tunnel, um, and you know, the, the, the claim is that our experiences as human beings is somehow confined to a narrow space in a much larger space. Could you run me through this idea of the ego tunnel and why you, why you feel that this is the right image to use for

our experience of the


[00:12:07] Thomas Metzinger: Well, uh, the, the first thing that image does

It puts a focus on internalism, as philosophers say. So I'll say a little bit more about this. I found, over the years, many people have asked me, but why a tunnel? Why not a bubble? And the idea was, um, that we're also moving through time, that we're moving forward, and that this is not a stationary bubble.

So, um, this internalism externalism debate in philosophy of mind, which is... deep and has many aspects.

The question was, what determines the content of a mental state? Only, for instance, local and contemporaneous properties, say, of the brain, or even the neural correlate of consciousness or a part of the brain.

And the other thing is, this, this would be the phenomenal properties. So I would say, to put it as simply as possible, Phenomenology locally supervenes.

That means when all of your, uh, brain properties are fixed, all of your phenomenal properties are fixed. What you experience, what the walls of the ego tunnel. The high dimensional walls of the ego tunnel, how they look like, that's determined. What is not determined is if what you're experiencing is, for instance, a veridical perception or a hallucination.

So there's this other box, what philosophers call intentional properties, those properties that your mental states refers to, and they are very likely, um, determined by external properties. You know, if your beliefs are true or false, that depends on the world and on many other things, on your linguistic community, on, um, maybe on possible worlds, on, on how concepts acquire their meaning.

It gets very deep there. Um, but so I don't think that The truth or the veracity, no, not the veridicality is determined by the brain state. And philosophers have over decades endlessly discussed what is locally determined and what isn't. And, um, also how these External properties can perhaps be actively sampled, created in an embodied agent that walks, moves through a world and stuff like this.

I think today we have a much more refined picture. If you take, for instance, the free energy people, uh, the free energy principle and all these. Conceptual tools, Carl Friston and his collaborator has given to us. It's not inside and outside. It's much more nuanced. It's a, it's like a Russian doll with Mark nested Markov blankets.

And it gets very complicated. And there's also something that calls is called active inference, where you move through the environment, you have larger cycles, but still even given all of this, I think. If we're just talking about consciousness, the conscious experience is locally determined and that was one of the things, and that's of course for many people that's not sexy, for many people that's doesn't feel right, it's counterintuitive, for instance there's this whole inactivism crowd who have this unclear metaphor of inaction, um, Which sounds so good, you know, it just, it just has the right ring to it.

I enact my world and, and, and stuff like that. But if you take a step back and say, okay, that's a wonderful feel good metaphor, but it's a relation. A enacts B. Can somebody just tell me what A is and what B is? then suddenly you realize you don't get an answer. You know, it's, it's more a poetic formulation of, you know, autopoiesis creating your life world or so.

But if you want to nail it down, it's not so clear. Um, by the way, if it is true that Consciousness is locally determined in the brain, as opposed to knowledge and social interactions. It might, in the very end, turn out that people say, Ah, consciousness is a rather uninteresting phenomenon, actually. Just because it's so local, you know, just because it's so local in the head.

Because you also have conscious experience in a dream. Um, I don't know if that answers your question. I think the main thing we have to understand that is the walls of Plato's cave, the walls of the ego tunnel, are not a two dimensional surface. What is, um, it's... The real, one reason why we cannot experientially recognize this as an image or a simulation is that it has no boundary.

To understand that something is a picture on a wall, you have to see a frame. But this thing is immersive. There's no frame. You can look around. You never get to an edge of it. And uh, that's a property if you're in a tunnel. It's like that too. You can look backwards. And, and, and stuff. So I wanted to highlight the internalism of phenomenal properties.

And of course, that is already something most people find, how do you say, emotionally repelling. Because the whole miracle about conscious experience is.

That it seems to bring us in such a direct contact with the external world. That's the whole trick. So


[00:18:24] Matt Geleta: Yeah, I mean the, um, the really fascinating thing when you combine that view with sort of any foundational view of ethics,

you know, our, our foundations of ethics or for most people are somewhat consequentialist and, you know, we think that any ethical view of the world needs to be kind of built up by integrating some sort of set of conscious experiences or, you know, basically, you know, Where are you within the tunnel?

Um, and I think the, the idea that, you know, the, this image of a tunnel has a narrowness to it,

but we, we understand that the actual space of potential experiences, if, if the, if our brains were constructed differently, for example, could be significantly wider. Um, and so the question arises from an ethical perspective, just how narrow is this tunnel and I guess, how, how wide is the space of possible conscious experiences under different...

Um, configurations that serve a brain state. What, what could different minds possibly

experience? Um, I would like to get your, your views on that and, and also you, you mentioned dreaming. I think this is a case in which, in specifically lucid dreaming, which you mention in your book, in which very exotic conscious experiences can arise from our own minds.

Um, and, uh, what I take it to be... Fairly small changes in what our minds are actually doing. You know, it's quite a small change to the, whatever the information processing in one's mind. But the actual nature of the result experience is vastly different from what we experience in everyday life. Um, and to me that suggests potentially that the, the tunnel is the, the actual space of experiences is very wide.

And the , the tunnel that we live in is very narrow. What are you, what are your views here? How, how narrow is this? Tunnel.

[00:20:12] Thomas Metzinger: Well, it's a very important and very interesting connection you're making there, and there's a lot to be said. So I think...

The tunnel, our phenomenal state space, has not evolved to, um, uh, for knowledge, for epistemic gain, but to copy genes into the next generation, and that is a strong constraint. But yet there's such a vastness, especially with our kinds of brains. There's such a depth, and something that has baffled me all my life is, um, how many people live their whole life without ever understanding how much there is out there.

Um, there, you know, everybody knows there are extreme experiences, but especially. through psychedelics, uh, many people have experienced that there, there was a vastness and a space of almost infinite space of possibilities that they would have never thought of. If they hadn't had first hand experience of it, there are dramatic altered states of consciousness, like you might have them on some psychedelics or in extreme sports or so, and they're very subtle and super fine ones, like they would be in a meditation practice.

And most people just go through life, would savoring be an English, a good English word? I don't know. joying, enjoying and taking serious and exploring the vastness of the space. On the other hand, I think there's also something, there's something to be said for neuroplasticity, for windows of plasticity and for cognitive flexibility.

So in the time in which a human beings develop, develops, There are certain windows where you can be flexible, where you can have certain experiences, and they're also close. I think, as you say, you move into, like I do, age related cognitive


or dementia, if you don't manage to counteract this.

[00:22:39] Matt Geleta: Hehehe.

[00:22:42] Thomas Metzinger: on what childhood you have.

So I think The volume of the state of possible phenomenal experiences changes over a lifetime, and it is something that can be taken serious, it's something that can be cultivated and fostered.

And if we don't show things to our children, if we don't show things to our young, they may never become aware of them, and there's always a good time in life.

for everything. And many people, of course, also close down around 40 or 50 if they live the normal life and become ever more rigid. And of course, that's an interesting ethical question. Like, if you say you were a consequentialist, as you've mentioned, and say, So my intuitions are very strongly towards something I call negative utilitarianism.

For me, it's pretty obvious there's more suffering than joy in this world, at least in the sentient creatures on this planet. So reducing suffering, suffering states of consciousness should always have priority. Therefore, seriously exploring the space of possibilities with that normative context of finding ways of alleviating suffering, you know, not just for entertainment or so.

That's almost something one could say one is obliged to do, um, not because of oneself, but in the service of all Not only suffering humans, but maybe also suffering, um, other, other kinds of animals on, on this planet. We have to explore what increases our flexibility and our plasticity. Is there something?

We have to explore if any of these non everyday realities... Um, can actually help, uh, in reducing suffering, or if they have, it's of course most interesting from a philosopher's perspective, if they have a genuine epistemic potential. That is, if something can be known in this state, these states, that cannot be known via theories, words, arguments, proofs, something that is sub symbolic.

in the brain, but it's still a form of knowledge, um, and I think there are deep forms of pre linguistic knowledge, uh, in this vast space, so it's not only phenomenology, it's not only making the world appear to you in another way, the question is rather, could there be an epistemic That takes what exactly the point you have mentioned, the vastness of this space, serious, but under some normative constraint, like wanting to reduce suffering in the world or gain insights.

Which in its in turn creates a lot of other problems, I mean you can't just come back from a meditation retreat or from a mushroom trip in the mountains and then proclaim your insights and they all would need an independent statement. Everything that you want to put out in public space, it needs an independent justification.

And, um, the question is what you do with ineffable things that you cannot possibly speak about to other people, that have, which have this signature of knowing, which have, give you this feeling this was an insight. Because, As we know, insights can be hallucinated.

You know, that something feels like an insight doesn't mean it is one.

I don't know if you have any thoughts on that. Do

you think there's a

potential for insight in these altered states?

[00:27:03] Matt Geleta: I, yeah, you know, I absolutely do.

I think, um, and I think you're right to point out that some of it is. potentially ineffable. It's, I don't think it's clear to me that it is, it's not clear to me, you know, if I was to map out the space of insights, what proportion of them would be, you know, would overlap with the space of what can be talked about in language, for example, but there, there is certainly some that can.

Um, I think, um, the, you know, you talked about the psychedelic experience, giving one the insight that there is, there is much more to the space of possible experiences that your mind can do. Um, and I think this particular insight is very salient in the case of neuroethics and neurotechnology. Um, and you know, what we talked about at the beginning, the, the ethics of creating, um, artificial sentient systems because I think the, um,

you know, I think it increases the ethical weight to that question when one

realizes What a small change to the chemistry of one's brain can do to the resultant volume of, you know, space of potential suffering, for example.

I think, um, you know, that, that, if it's true that taking three, five grams of psilocybin

mushrooms can,

[00:28:22] Thomas Metzinger: a lot.

[00:28:23] Matt Geleta: that's a, that's a, yeah, that's a very high dose if they're dry, uh, can, can, It, it basically make your

previous notion of an ego tunnel seem infinitesimally small and you realize that there are levels of bliss and levels of suffering that are so much more vast than you could have imagined in, sort of, in both directions and are such a small change.

You can then just imagine if you had to instantiate Um, a computation on a much more powerful system than your brain, what levels of experience one might get. And if certainly if it's a suffering experience, um, you know, one computer might have more suffering than all of humanity for all of history.


[00:29:02] Thomas Metzinger: Yes,


[00:29:04] Matt Geleta: and for me, this is an epistemic insight.

This is an insight that, um, one has subjectively, experientially, but. Um, is something that has sort of, you know, it's, it's a, it's a very practical truth to, to realize.

[00:29:18] Thomas Metzinger: Hmm.

That's all very interesting. But while I'm listening to you, this, these images come up in my mind. After I had finished my PhD thesis, um, in 1985, um, I went to India with my backpack to listen to the talks of J. Krishnamurti in Madras. And, uh, then I went, uh, On to Australia,

and then there were some things in Nimbin, uh, that happened to me.

And, uh, uh,

[00:29:48] Matt Geleta: heh

[00:29:50] Thomas Metzinger: exactly what you're talking about. Um, that's interesting. So if you would even... So the other thing I have to mention, I just come back from the huge INSIGHT conference in Berlin, um, rethinking psychedelics with more than 500 attendants, and it was just breathtaking to see these 500 young people, uh, so intensely searching and researching and developing something.

And a lot of us have commented on how different this is from a standard conference in analytical philosophy or neuroscience, um, just the existential seriousness or the existential touchness of the, um, participants as opposed to, you know, careerism or something in academic conferences. That was, um, uh, very impressive, but I, I think you make a, a very simple, but very convincing point.

Just the value in not, uh, experiencing any specific content at all, just the experience of what is possible. what you never thought was possible before. Another very simple thing I thought is, you know, a large majority of cognitive scientists and philosophers today will agree on some claim that what you consciously experience is a model of reality, in some sense, as I've been saying for three decades.

And a standard way of putting this,

which is also not new now, many people converge on, is that waking consciousness is a controlled online hallucination. It's one thing to believe this and to write about this. But another thing to experience what that means the hard way, uh, you know, uh, what that means that this is a model of reality, uh, to have something like opacification in my terminology, or perhaps even global opacity, um, not as an intellectual point, but as something that really strikes you.


You are part of the simulation too, I mean,

and, uh, that is really something that can be extremely helpful. And I think in a very simple way, I think, for instance, a silent meditation retreat that goes well. Or say, are also...

a cure against superficiality. So you mentioned recognizing how vast a space of possibility is. I mentioned just realizing what this means that this is a model. But I think both things I mean, if things go right, they cure superficiality. It's very hard to live a superficial life, to continue living a superficial life after this.

I mean, some people do this as a defense and avoidance reaction because they didn't want that. That got way too far, you know. Just as Aldous Huxley in my... Favorite passage in the doors of perception as a passage where he says, I found myself on the brink of panic. This I thought was going too far. And , of course, um, you can know, you can deeply understand what he meant by writing this.

And of course, there's a subset of people. Who will never go there again, because it went much too far for them, and who will spend the rest of their lives, you know, keeping their ego tunnel small, and, um... Do you think, because you mentioned ethics and consequentialism, do you think there's something like an ethical obligation, or an ethical point, in exploring the vastness of phenomenal state space?

[00:34:24] Matt Geleta: Well, it's, it's something that I wanted to actually ask you in maybe a different way because

[00:34:28] Thomas Metzinger: But I I just asked you,

[00:34:30] Matt Geleta: Well, uh, this, the short, the short, the short answer is

yes. The short answer is



[00:34:35] Thomas Metzinger: Thank you.

[00:34:35] Matt Geleta: ab abstracting a away, you know, any ethical decision we make. Um, if you, if you are somewhat of a consequentialist at the end of the day, abstracting away the fact that it's physically instantiated in actions and in someone's biology and so on.

At the end of what you're doing is moving around in state space, um, in phenomenal, you know, the state of experiences. Um, and I think that that is the thing that is static once you abstract away all of the fluff.

Um, and so, yes, uh, I think it, it's the only sort of logically consistent way to think about these things, but I, I know you've, uh, you've thought about this a lot harder than, than I do.

And even to the extent of, you know, asking questions like, should we, um, should we mandate certain experiences or should certain experiences be illegal?

Um, and I actually wanted to, to get to, to get to that, you know, to, to what extent do you believe that. We should have, um, sort of ethical obligations towards exploring versus not exploring parts of this potential state of experiences.

[00:35:41] Thomas Metzinger: Well, um, there is this deeper issue. Uh, I think normative sentences have no truth values, uh, to be, um, to be more precise. So I think if one, takes a more serious stance on all this. There are no moral facts in reality, um, if one thinks about this rigorously, that could make normative statements true or false.

So in, I think in the Anglo Saxon tradition, it's also called non cognitivism, that you, um,

strictly speaking, there's nothing to be known there. Um, But, um, there are, of course, a lot of things almost all human beings can, um, agree on. So we have deep seated moral intuitions almost all of us share.

So one example, for instance, that you find In almost all cultures and human beings is that it is more important to help a suffering person suffer less than to make a neutral or happy person more happy.

That shows, this intuition shows that for beings like us there is no symmetry between joy or suffering. There is a, a priority of reducing suffering. So as finite beings that... know very little of reality, that is something we can converge on. And then there's also this old philosophical idea of self knowledge, that you should try to gain knowledge of what you really are.

And, um, I think if you take a closer look, these two are very intimately related. You know, if you want to reduce the suffering of other sentient creatures, you have to understand the deep structure of your own suffering first, and you have to explore all kinds of, um, self knowledge that are available to you.

Very important is meta theoretical philosophical knowledge and evidence based, rational argument based scientific self knowledge. No discussion about this, but there are other ways. So, um, the deep structure of your own suffering. Like, um, sitting in meditation and say having a longing for retaliation arise in you because somebody said something nasty to you in the corridor yesterday.

And to be with this longing for revenge, for retaliation tomorrow when I meet the guy again, you know, um, not in a way that judges it or cognitively penetrates it or Selects it, or tries to suppress it by just being with it, exploring by being with it what is actually my own hatred, my aggression, the things I don't like, where are they located in my body, what kind of bodily senses, not the fantasy, you know, not the mental movie that rushes off into the future and tries to distract you, But stay with the local sensation.

What is that actually? Hatred. What is horniness? I don't know. What is existential despair? What is this, this loneliness, um, this deeper form of loneliness, and having the courage to just go there on a non conceptual level, not by thinking, but by gently attending. That's a form of self knowledge too. And that is completely underrated as an example in our culture, in our societies.

We don't do that. But maybe if we did this, we might understand things about why we are so aggressive or why we sometimes are so lonely that we couldn't understand any other way. And, of course, if you do the thing that I've now described, say, in combination with a psychoactive substance, say, under MDMA, uh, or so, um, and see what this is and try to accept or look at without anxiety at the hating part, at the retaliating element in you, this can be extremely fruitful.

You know, and I think we still have a lot to gain if we would combine, say, the deep wisdom of a sustained meditation practice with some, some of the new molecules that have been discovered in a, you know, protected space in a sane and rational way, and then combine this with the best of neuroscience and scientifically based therapy we know, alleviate human, uh, suffering, a combination of methods.

But in order to do this, as somebody just recently said, uh,

in English, I, I think you can say, you have to know that there's a there, there.

[00:41:11] Matt Geleta: Yeah.

Sam Harris

says that very often.

[00:41:14] Thomas Metzinger: Okay. So I think

things like exploring altered states of consciousness, and that can also include Being alone in nature for extended periods or extreme sports.

It's not all psychoactive substances and meditation. There's a lot, uh, uh, there. Can only give you a feeling of the vastness of phenomenal state space. And the question I wanted to try to ask to you, I mean, do you have the sense, do you have the moral intuition that one is in a sense... Is one obliged to do this, uh, if one wants to, if one is somebody who wants to make a contribution to the common good somehow, uh, that one is obliged to these, uh, deeper forms of self knowledge, or is this just an option?

Okay, if that's your thing, you do it. If it isn't,

[00:42:16] Matt Geleta: Hmm.

[00:42:16] Thomas Metzinger: you have a career in children.

[00:42:19] Matt Geleta: Uh, well, I think if you are, um, if you, if you do believe that you are morally obligated to reduce global suffering in some sense, and you believe that exploring phenomenal state space is a way to do that, then I do think, uh, one is morally obliged to do so. Um, I don't think it's necessarily clear though, that.

That is, you know, empirically, as a fact, that is necessarily the best way to those ends.

Um, for example, I think an argument you hear a lot, um, against, you know, very, very deep, very intense contemplative practices is that it takes a lot of time and, and people end up spending a lot of time doing that and not operating in the real world.

Um, and that is a, I think that is a very real challenge, you know. Um, somebody could get... Could spend a life exploring this space internally and miss the chance to, you know, operate externally. Um, and I'm sure, I'm sure this is a balance that you've, you've thought about or the, you know, this is a question you've, you've thought about a lot.

[00:43:24] Thomas Metzinger: I want to give out a recommendation out of your very own Monash University in Melbourne. There's just a brand new

Trans and Cognitive Science paper, I think, entitled Do Contemplative Practices Make You More Moral? And, um, Coming to a very differentiated result that some practices may, for instance,

like just mindfulness practice, may actually possibly weaken, um, Your, um, your capacity to form moral intentions, uh, because of the detachment it creates, uh, like to, I mean, all I'm saying is that is a really interesting first step.

We need more research on this. So it is possible that a certain state of consciousness that involved de immersion and detachment. also weaken a person's capacity to form a firm intention and sustain it, an ethical or moral intention. And there were some other examples. Of course, there are many of different practices.

And on the other hand, Something I've heard many times in my life, in these spiritual traditions, often the question comes up, actually an uninteresting question is, but how do you know somebody is liberated? Or how do you know somebody is very advanced? And it seems there's a canonical answer over the centuries which says, um, you can't, uh, but the best marker is ethical sensitivity.

If that person really starts perceivably. to act in a very compassionate and ethically sensitive way. That's something you can go by. Um, that's one possible view on this, but I must say, I have the same thing you just voiced, also for, how would one say, non integrated psychedelic experiences.

if I now see some, what I might dub the old heroes, from the time when we were 30 years old. And quite courageous in certain fields of research.

Uh, many of those folks, if I look at my old friends right now, they don't age very well. They don't look, uh, too cool to me. Um, uh, I see many examples of people who've had deep and far reaching experiences who turn into conspiracy theorists, people who have done systematic and serious psychedelic therapy in a formal framework, and still get an alcohol problem 20 years later.

It's a dozen. seem to, you know, reliably last, uh, over a whole lifetime. I don't know if there's any research on it. So it could, could also be that something that works on a short time scale or in a certain period of your life is not, um, the right strategy for a whole life. So I'm, I'm a bit conservative and very cautious there.

Um, uh, what this, at least the uncontrolled use, which is not under an, how do you say, an ethical perspective, how this will turn out in the long run. Um, and that's just why we need so much more good research on all of this. We would really need good research. So in Germany, we now have two fantastic studies with psilocybin on therapy resistant depressive patients, um, funded by the government, all very good.

Um, I just heard talks on it, but what is not clear is how long that lasts. So if I remember correctly, you have very encouraging results in about 48 percent of those patients, but then you have to see six months, two years, relapses, um, will a second dose help? What kind of adjunct therapy will help? what will not help.

We have to do a lot of research on this and in the end we might arrive at a differentiated picture that we see.

Okay, this is, there's a certain group of people for whom that kind of intervention is good and for others that will not help and so on and so


[00:48:26] Matt Geleta: You've, uh, you've talked about, in the end of your, your upcoming book, the idea of a Bewussteinskultur. Um, can you tell me more about that and, and what you envision? What, like, what the ideal conception of, of that would be?

[00:48:39] Thomas Metzinger: Well, so to your audience, I'm looking for an Anglo Saxon publisher. So I've

published a small book that you don't have in English. It's called Bewusstseinskultur, 6th of January. It's making waves in Germany. It's in the fifth print run and I'm having unexpectedly interesting discussions on public events.

And it's, um, Some, there's going to be Polish, Dutch, and Romanian, but we don't have an English publisher right now. That's just a problem. But on that side, there's a 20 page excerpt with a translation that's publicly available on the net, which can give you an

impression. That book is small. It has three chapters. The second a bewusstseinskultur.

Which roughly translates a culture of consciousness. It's a very simple idea. I've had, I've, it's, it's not new. I've been talking about it, but I just brought it together in, in one chapter. Is that first, um, You begin a discussion or begin to think about what a good state of consciousness is. So you don't just ask like in classical ethics, what makes an ethics a good action, but we begin also a cultural societal dialogue about What states of consciousness are good states of consciousness?

Which ones do we want to show our children? Which ones do we want to die in? Which states of consciousness can we force upon animals? Which can we force upon machines? And so on and so forth. Should there be any states of consciousness that should be illegal? Because human beings cannot handle them. Um, If you have results, if a social discussion on what good states of consciousness are, have first results, or if you have your individual results.

Step two is to systematically cultivate them. Say, um, meditate twice a day, or take psilocybin twice a year. in a safe space in a protected environment with a therapist or so. And then the third thing is, and that's the end, is what I call enculturation. You think about how the positive results of such a process of exploring valuable states of consciousness can be embedded into societal and cultural practice.

How we can, you know, change our societies. And I have a very sober view on this. It's, uh, it's, for me, it's a form of applied ethics. And, um, the goal is just to minimize harm and to maximize the benefit for voo. So that's the idea of Beowulf's Science Kulture.

And in that little book, it's contextualized in two directions.

One direction is, there's a chapter called Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty. And, I mean, there is a, it's not in print. There is an essay flying around on the internet I wrote, which has been very impactful, called Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty. The question is, can there be a truly secular form of spiritual practice, an intellectually honest form of practice that doesn't make you commit intellectual suicide or any guru's belief systems and all the other nonsense?

Maybe that is not a coherent idea. But I've said a while ago, we should think about, because that's something we need, um, can there be a secular form of spiritual practice with, that has depth? But at the same time, intellectual honesty. So that's one context in which consciousness culture is contextualized.

There's a depth dimension to it. And then there is something else most people find shocking, but what I find shocking is how many people agree to it. I claim in the first chapter that we are asking these questions in a very special historical situation.

And that is if we apply the principle. Of intellectual honesty, not to spiritual practice, but to the running climate catastrophe, it's very clear that we're failing.

Uh, it doesn't look good.

of course, physically According to physical science and according to climate science, reaching the 1. 5 degree goal or even only the 2 degree goal, um, is still possible. But if we look about at psychological facts, sociological facts, and the political institutions in their current state, it is just not intellectually honest anymore to think that we could make this.

And we actually, we're moving into a very difficult historical epoch, um, an epoch, I say, where human, humankind will lose its dignity by ruining the planet and the atmosphere. So one of the general questions I embed this in is, is how does one, as an individual, for instance, if you are a young person like you, how does one preserve one's self respect in an area where humankind as a whole, uh, not in an area, in a, in a historical epoch where humankind as a whole loses its dignity.

What do you do as an individual if you're born into such an insane time? That also has to do, of course, with meditation and altered states of consciousness. How can you live in a world, uh, like this and, I mean, bear these news and see this, that we're actually not able to act? On a global scale, uh, and that we, we are reaching a point where we cannot take ourselves seriously anymore because we see all these facts about the climate catastrophe and we see that even consciously experience the fact that We see them and we don't act, doesn't change our behavior.

It's, it's, it's, in a way, it cracks your self model, in a way. It's, it's a danger to our mental health, um, to see how humanity behaves. And, um, so the question of a bewusstseinskultur, of a culture, culture, culture of consciousness, is asked. in a deeper spiritual context and in a very, very special, um, historical context, namely the likely failure of humankind in the face of this global poli crisis.

I mean, it's also mass extinction and in interlocking crisis are there. And I think, so Just to report, I've had about eight months of public discussions of this book now, and perhaps the most shocking, uh, experience for me is how many people just have, have kind of a coming out and say, yes, I think you're absolutely right in the first chapter.

This is, this is not going well. It's very unlikely that we manage. I've, I thought one shouldn't say this in the public because one doesn't want to take hope away from young people. And it's kind of not politically correct to publicly state. That one reads the news just as you do them and reads scientific facts just as you do them.

A long row of people. This is just one single person. A well known professor of economics who says he doesn't buy the pessimism. It can all be done with the tools of capitalism. It can be done with proper CO2 pricing. Uh, we can. still do this thing, uh, which is probably right, that the economic tools would be there, but are the Saudis going, are going to go along?

Is Putin going to go along? China wants to be neutral in 2060. That's much too late. In the US, 44% of the population doesn't believe climate change is a problem, you know. If you look at the global context, um,

you tell me about Australia. My last memory of Australia is that the coal industry has an enormous political influence.

Is this still the


[00:58:00] Matt Geleta: That's still the case.

[00:58:02] Thomas Metzinger: Yeah.

But you are having catastrophes already, right? You're having these enormous fires and stuff.

[00:58:09] Matt Geleta: Yeah, yeah, we've, uh, we've had several catastrophes back to back. We've had, um, very severe fires for the past couple years, droughts. We've then preceded by severe flooding around the country. Um, and it's, uh, it's, it's certainly a story we've been seeing. Whether there is a case for maybe not optimism, but basically what is your case for realism here?

Um, you know, if you think very abstractly, um, you know, humans have been set off this evolutionary path, and we have ended up in a state that we are currently. in through this very random process.

And I mean, our question is from, from this point, you know, where we are today, is there a case to be made that something like your conception of Wu Stan's couture can be achieved?

Or are we too far down this, down this evolutionary train?

[00:59:02] Thomas Metzinger: Um, very important, Matt. Uh, very important, uh, question. So, there is an urgency of change. And those people who are at all awake, they perceive it all over the planet. One thing that has to be said is, so I think, as I say in the book, optimism is not an option anymore because it has a delusional quality to it.

It's not facing the facts. Pessimism, I mean, an ideological form of pessimism, so it's also not the answer. So I think one would need something, it maybe sounds weird to some ears, but a spiritual form of realism, of just being with the facts. That's what we need in this historical transition period. But I also have to say, I mean, it's not excluded in Global population is a complex system.

That planet is a complex system. And the energy is now being raised in the system and the population still increases. It's not excluded that... Such a system unexpectedly drops into a new ordered state, you know, we, sometimes it happens, you know, there are things I, I often play a game with myself as, as Thomas, where have you been really wrong?

Absolutely wrong. And one thing I was absolutely wrong with, I I thought

that would be. uh, rebellions, uh, in Italy or Ireland or, you know, uh, I mean, there would be uprisings, but, uh, somehow, at some point, almost everybody stopped smoking. Uh, and, uh, that contradicted my intuitions and I think, I'm sure there are many things we don't yet know, but really the two things that make me rather pessimistic, uh, is first what many people don't understand is the inertia of physical systems.

It's a little counterintuitive. Like, if we would stop all emissions today to zero. tomorrow. What we have done so far would still have an effect centuries down the road, you know, to the, uh, to the glaciers and to the melting and, and all that. And so the, the, uh, the inertia of physical systems is something the human mind doesn't comprehend.

Another thing where really bad is. At is, is exponential developments. We're not good at understanding that sometimes things can happen very fast if thresholds have been passed or so. Um, on the other hand, the question is, is, I mean, what stance do you take to all of this as an individual person? You know, it's in the end, it's you that matters, your consciousness and.

Yeah. Yeah. I've even asked the question if there's a way of... Uh, failing gracefully, or failing with dignity, accepting that one has, it's not our fault, one has to be, has been born into an epoch like this, and if there's an attitude, That doesn't lead to emotional burnout or bitterness or something like that, but allows one to do more, say, as a climate activist or something.

That would be a criterion for me that makes an altered state of consciousness good. Does your meditation practice, does your occasional psychedelic experience enable you to live with these facts without repression, without bitterness, you know, without... Turning to a terrorist or something like this and still increase what you can do in your little world that you have been a part of the solution, you know, I mean, to have a mode of living that one says there is probably no solution.

But I want to live a life in a way that I had been part of the solution, if there, if there had been one, and in that way, you know, uh, protect one's self respect, because I think it, it comes, it now also comes to a question of how do you protect your own sanity and your mental health in the face of all these news, it's, it becomes a practical thing, psychiatrists already know it.

There's climate anxiety, there's very sensitive people who get problems, um, already. Of course there is a crowd now after that, uh, book, there are people who think I'm saying, and that's not what I'm saying,

we should all meditate now and then everything will be good. Uh, uh, I think this will not happen

, you know, and, uh, This, our response has to include that, uh, that this will probably not happen,

that the majority of human beings on the planet are either so misinformed or suffering so much themselves, have difficult lives that just don't allow them, um, to think about these things too much, that it probably will be only a small minority.

But that also means... That people like you and probably many of your listeners who live in rich, privileged countries and who have the freedom to think about this, that they have a very large responsibility to think about these things. And, uh, I hope that I'm just wrong, uh, but, um, I think a first important step is, um, to face the facts, you know, to be with the facts.

This is really not looking good. I don't know, how is this, at 30, uh, do you have the feeling we can still turn this around on a global scale? Or do you also have that feeling?

[01:05:39] Matt Geleta: It depends on, yeah, it depends on what level the question is asked,

I think, um, because I mean, in some sense, uh, you know, it is, I think it is a true statement that all problems are solvable. Um, and so I do, I do think this one is, is solvable. Um, but, uh, actually something that you, you mentioned just about, about the, the Human ability to sort of perceive things like exponential growth, you know, we're just not wired to do that.

This really brought up, like, a deeper question. Um, you know, we're talking about the climate crisis as one particular example of a problem that we're facing now. And... This, I mean, it is a, absolutely a very, very serious problem. There is a sense in which it's constrained to, you know, our planet and the biological organisms that live here.

You know, if I think ethically, what is the worst thing that could happen? As bad as it gets, the impacts are constrained to the biological organisms that live on the planet


[01:06:44] Thomas Metzinger: hmm. Mm

hmm. Mm hmm.

[01:06:46] Matt Geleta: you know, we've also been talking about... Neurotechnology, and you've thought a lot about AI ethics. And if you think about exponential growth, there's this idea that, um, if one were to create postpartum systems that could feel the scale of experience.

could so outrageously dwarf the experiences of biological systems on the planet here that the ethical importance of that decision is so much more important than, let's say, the climate crisis and that a mature culture of consciousness would be focusing. Actually, much more on those questions, just because of how enormous the scale could be.

And so what is your thinking here on, you know, in all these, there are lots of problems to be thinking about. What should somebody be focused on? Is it things like the climate crisis or culture of humans? Or is it actually, um, the question of conscious postbiotic systems? How do you think about that question?

[01:07:45] Thomas Metzinger: Well, co founded a number of years ago the German Effective Altruism Foundation, and there you, of course, you really have, uh, this important question you're arising is, uh, priority setting. So you have, if you want to make a contribution, if you want to do good, in a sense, you have limited resources, and how do you allocate them?

It is, of course, possible. There are certain things I hate to talk about it, because you begin to sound like some

delusional Californian. But the question, of course, is, it could be the case, um, that For reasons of our biological history, our long evolutionary history, um, suffering free biological life or human life is just not an option, or only for very few people.

You know, the liberated monk, uh, in some cave or something like this. But...

That, um, non biological systems, who do not have this, this absolutely, this deepest, you know, I think we have deeply, we embody a cognitive bias. Um, so one example of a deep cognitive bias, we, All humans embody is the discounting of future values.

Say if you were an ethical, effective altruist and you assign very simply a value of one to every human life, then it doesn't make any difference if that person is already born or not. Future lives also have a value of one. That's not what we do. We have this heredity, I think the English word is hereditary coefficient, like our children have 50 percent of our genes, our grandchildren 25%, that's like half siblings, and then solidarity is just gone beyond your grandchildren.

That's a massive distortion. We discount the quality of life, you know, with the dignity and also the options for action. Of millions and millions of future human beings coming after us. That's a great distortion. A much deeper distortion in our minds is what I call existence bias in that, um, in that book.

Human beings will always... prefer to live on even if it's not in their own interest. If it's clear they will only suffer. We are survival machines and we have this craving for existence. And there are very interesting computational mathematical, um, ways to say what that actually means. Today we are anti entropic systems.

We always minimize uncertainty and keep our predict ourselves into existence. We have interesting new conceptual tools to say this in a very precise way. And an, an AI, even a conscious AI of the future could not have, um, this, um, existence bias that we have. The Buddhists call it Bhavatana, uh, the thirst or craving for existence.

A totally rational but conscious AI of the future. could switch itself off if it sees no reason for further existence, um, according to its own values. Human, biological creatures don't do that, you know, uh, and it is of course conceivable that suffering free states of conscious experience are very difficult to realize on biological hardware, but that we could find out How to do this on artificial systems.

Now, then, now it's begun beginning to sound like you're a standard transhumanist billionaire from California, you know, now it's, now it's beginning to, to sound like this, uh, sexy narrative that always comes, which is itself a form of mortality denial. But still, I think you have a very good point with your question.

Imagine we could create. suffering free conscious experience on intelligent machines.

Would we ethically be obliged to prioritize this over biological beings and say, it's, um, I don't know the English, uh, word.

Um, if you have four people running a race and you, I think a baton and you pass a baton on from one runner to the

next, yeah, we should pass the baton to post biological evolution because we see.

We're not going anywhere,

[01:12:44] Matt Geleta: Mhm.


[01:12:47] Thomas Metzinger:

uh, in, even if our phenomenal state space is large, maybe our behavioral space is very limited. And then we, we, we should think, could there be another stage in the evolution of conscious systems that does. For instance, without egoic self awareness completely, or does without suffering, conscious suffering completely?

These are very interesting questions, but, um, they are, it's, it's, it's difficult to discuss them in the public, because

you know, all kinds, get all kinds of crazy people who are suddenly super interested in these questions, and put a lot of noise on, on the signal.

[01:13:38] Matt Geleta: Yeah.

[01:13:39] Thomas Metzinger: But, of course, um, if. AI starts to develop at the pace it's currently developing for another three decades.

It's, um, very reasonable to assume that they would, for instance, manage the planet much better than we do. They would manage the remaining atmosphere much better than we do. And maybe they could also put us into something like reservations. Uh, you know, be nice to us. And let us peacefully die out or even live there.

But the question is, of course, I mean, if you pass the baton over, the baton is gone. And that is, in itself, an ethical responsibility to strive for. Do you have any views on this? Do you have any opinions on

[01:14:35] Matt Geleta: yeah, I do. Well, I mean, I spoke a couple months ago to Mark Soames, who, and I think you've written about him several years ago. I'm not sure how, how close you are with him

and to his



[01:14:46] Thomas Metzinger: We have never met, but I have read large parts of that latest book, the last book. I was, for example, I was amazed, just to say that I was amazed, the clarity with which he can explain, um, the free energy people in natural language to normal people. That I think was a fantastic job he did in the book. And then we have, uh, Non identical but very similar views on the role, say, of the ascending reticular formation.

That's maybe too long now, but I think there's this tradition of people who think, like I've said in the past, that the human self model is grounded. In the invariances of very elementary bioregulation, you know, the life processes itself. Antonio Damasio has said that. Um, Panksepp has that, said that. Mark Solms has, uh, said this.

I now have a slightly different view, I think. It might be possible that the human self model bottoms out in pure awareness and not in this deep embodiment in the life, uh, process. But I understand very well, uh, what he's saying. And, uh, he's a neuroscientist and I'm not.

[01:16:11] Matt Geleta: Yeah, but he, um, he puts together, he puts together an ethical argument towards the end of that book that informs his current research. And the argument is basically, you know, his view, if you believe all the things that, that he said about the origins of consciousness, then it is an inevitability that somebody is going to instantiate this in maybe a biological system, but maybe some other substrate, but somebody will.

Engineer this system. And he says that if that is true, then we better make sure that that is done in a way that's not aligned with commercial incentives. And that is, uh, you know, done in as safe an environment as possible. And, and for that reason, he's actively, he, he and his colleagues are actively trying to create these.

the systems, using the theory of, you know, free energy minimization and so on. And so that is what his, his, his team is sort of working on as a project. And to me, this, um, is, I mean, this seems to misalign to some things that you've written about in the past. You know, you've written a paper on arguing for a, um, global moratorium


endeavors to

[01:17:23] Thomas Metzinger: Well, yeah, I've,

I've, I said this, but I've written so to speak an official paper in 2021 saying there should be a moratorium on synthetic phenomenology until 2050, until we really know what we're doing there, because the consequences might be so far reaching, even hard to predict for us. Uh, of course I'm not naive.

I have no illusions. Nobody will care about this. There are, uh, Dan Dehane, the Paris lab has said it, you know, I'm at the ASSC consciousness community. Michael Graziano has, uh, said it in, in, in Princeton, one could build, uh, um, uh, artificial consciousness just for entertainment value as it takes it, you know.

Then there are these people in Japan, Ryota Kanai, uh, um, uh, Who would immediately do it, I think, if they can do it, and also frame their work like this. And, uh, I think in Australia, if I understand now, Tukhia in Melbourne, right, he would, he's also very interested in artificial consciousness and wouldn't have any inhibitions to create that, if I understand that correctly.

So there are at least four people who might all take very seriously their brilliant minds and very smart, who would immediately do this. So, um, the first premise is probably, right, somebody is going to do that. Um, I have a very sober way, um, I said it in one sentence in, uh, of looking at biological evolution.

I said in one sentence in the Ego Tunnel that it is not something to glorify, to be glorified. We are impressed by the beauty of the different shapes and forms. forms and life and plants and it's just unfathomable, uh, the creativity of evolution, but it also has created an ocean of suffering and confusion in a region of the physical universe where nothing like this existed before.

One also has to see this and I think evolution has created much more negative phenomenology than positive phenomenology in animals. So... That's the reason why I think We should not, because we haven't got much to go by than our own architecture and our own minds, to recreate this, um, on artificial carrier systems that may, may have, think of quantum computers, uh, much higher Pyramid architecture Processing speed, uh, uh, than we have.

We should be very careful before we have understood the deep causes of our own suffering to multiply ourselves on these potentially faster or more efficient systems. So that's why I wouldn't do it. And the thing is, um, I Solms.

create an ethical synthetic phenomenology lab. There will of course be hundreds of other people who still do the same thing and all over the planet, just driven by career interests or commercial interests. Or even organized crime. There are these fantasies people have had that they could blackmail governments by saying, we're going to create an enormous amount of virtual suffering if you don't do that.

And, uh, there are these, uh, scenarios, so all the other actors on the planet, will not stop, just say, because Mark Zolms has an ethical artificial consciousness lab. And it's also plausible to assume that some of these other actors will have more resources than the ethical artificial consciousness people.

So it's a difficult situation. It's a difficult situation. And, um, it also raises these Deeper questions. That's the question of Bavussian's Couture, of course. It raises this deeper question. Okay, if we do this. If we want to be the first ones. And if we want to do it on a strictly... ethical grounding the creating of, creation of synthetic phenomenology.

What is that grounding? I mean, what is it?

It, the beauty of it, it leads right back into classical philosophical questions. Like, what is a good state of consciousness? And, uh, what is a good action? Um, these questions don't go away. And just saying, we'll do it in an ethical, sensible, sensible way, doesn't solve that problem.

What is an ethical, sensible way? So I give you one example. So as one highly decorated law person in Brussels, in Europe, listening to me with this artificial consciousness research, and then completely, he just said, I don't see this. Why shouldn't we make machines suffer? We punish and train animals. We punish and hit our children to educate them.

If there's a learning curve in these systems, and this learning curve can be made steeper by adding artificial suffering, why shouldn't we do something in machines, uh, Um, that we do in children and in animals. And I just thought, oh man.

[01:23:13] Matt Geleta: Yeah.

[01:23:15] Thomas Metzinger: I mean, he was really honest. That was a good argument. But, uh, I thought, oh boy, there are people who actually think like this already now.

You know, if it makes the learn increases And of course we suffer because it has increased our efficiency in evolution. That's why we have conscious suffering. Now if AI developers begin to think as that as a source for further optimization. That's really nasty. You know, that's really nasty to take the worst out of our own mental structure, say for commercial interests, to make something more efficient.

Um, and The question is, okay, would we also say no animal should suffer anymore from human hands? Would we also say we stop punishing children? Or is child suffering actually a necessary part of a good and healthy education, good and healthy development? So I think it opens a can of worms and you can't just stand there and say, we'll do it in an ethically sensible way, because then you have to know what that is.

I mean, um, if one could guarantee we can build artificial systems which are enlightened, uh, which are by guarantee in a suffering free state right from the beginning of their existence, that would actually be a point. But in order to do that, the question is also, um, I mean, what are suffering free states of consciousness?

Do we know anything about those? And that's also what this book The Elephant in the Blind is about.

[01:25:13] Matt Geleta: yeah, I mean it actually leads very well to that book because the, it feels like the right starting point for all of this, from a practical perspective, is to understand what a minimal phenomenological experience is, um, modulo the question of whether a What is experienced in humans is, is minimal in some broader sense, but um, you know, it is the, we, we know that we're conscious and that's kind of the only thing that we can be certain of as far as it comes to consciousness, so maybe let's, maybe let's turn to that book, um, you've, one thing that was really interesting is you've explored this concept of minimal phenomenological experiences using a survey methodology.

Um, so basically you're self reporting people who have, they've had experiences of various types and you've asked them about it. And something that really struck me as interesting in that whole endeavor is if this experience is In some sense, it's truly minimal in some sense, I would expect that means it is, um, it is absent of language and concept and memory.

And if that's true, then in what sense can somebody self report on an experience of this type? I'm not sure you can do much better, but how do you think of, you know, getting a spotlight onto, onto what this MPE thing is,

given that it's probably



[01:26:42] Thomas Metzinger: this is related to many things. There's this thing. I don't know. Have you ever carefully opened your fridge to see if the light really went out?

[01:26:51] Matt Geleta: Of course I


[01:26:52] Thomas Metzinger: you ever done


[01:26:53] Matt Geleta: wonder who

that guy

is. We've

come to



[01:26:55] Thomas Metzinger: And, uh, that's of course, uh, if somebody tries, wants to know if they actually had a selfless state of consciousness, uh,

[01:27:03] Matt Geleta: how did

[01:27:03] Thomas Metzinger: um, it just, the mental agency creates a subtle sense of trying to look there, a subtle sense of effortness, uh, effortfulness that, Um, it introduces duality, a subject object duality into the state again.

What you ask is one of the most interesting philosophical questions. I've kind of flagged it in being no one, uh, almost a quarter century ago. So if somebody claims, as some spiritual folks sometimes do, that all psychedelic people That they've had a conscious experience in which all ego, all self, however the terminology is, was absent.

Then the question is, how can that be an autobiographical memory you report from? How can that be auto? biographical. If it was concurrently ineffable and you weren't there at the time when that conscious episode happened, who, who actually claims, um, that this was part of their own life? And I think there are a lot of subtleties there.

It, it's possible that they were actually lived experiences of the organism, and they were part of the organism's lives, and that there is a mental architecture, uh, later, kind of faking it. Um, there's a very good paper I want to recommend by Raphael Millière on this. I don't know If it's fully satisfying, but to have second order memory and a mental architecture that would embed a memory of a selfless state into a self model that then creates the experience, I have had this, this was part of my life, which would actually be wrong.

You know, there's a, there's something that is misrepresentational in there. But, um, it's of course a great methodological problem if you want to look at non egoic states of consciousness. And if you want to do qualitative research or psychometrics and take reports seriously, there's this deeper issue. I can imagine, I said this ages ago, I can imagine your standard analytical philosopher who says you don't have to take utterances reports like this at all, because they're incoherent.

I mean, if you weren't there... How can you report about this right now? And, uh, but then again, you know, human phenomenology is so much richer and more subtle and nuanced than our conceptual schemes. Another example, for instance, is there is this experience I've dubbed timeless change. Logically, it would seem either you represent timelessness.

without temporal property, or you represent a flow of change. But real phenomenology shows it's not true. It's on the level of words. Human beings can experience timeless change. Uh, the experience of flow, the kaleidoscope of sensory perceptions as embedded to an internal silence or what, however you would like to call it.

That's a possibility. That's our, just, it's the beginning of our conversation. That's the vastness of our phenomenal state. State space, the possibilities in that state space, and they outrun, clearly outrun linguistic description. There are things there

[01:31:05] Matt Geleta: Haha.

[01:31:06] Thomas Metzinger: we have almost no tools to, maybe poetry or metaphors to

[01:31:11] Matt Geleta: Mm.

[01:31:11] Thomas Metzinger: And, um, so I take reports of people who say, They weren't there, or they say they weren't, in a way, they were absent and there at the same time, or something like this. Contradictory reports. I take them very seriously. I don't think that's fraud, or these people are lying. They are just trying to convey something that unround, how do you say, outruns the grain of our linguistic description.

But these are real and important.

[01:31:48] Matt Geleta: Yeah, I think the, um, the, the title, The Elephant and the Blind, and that, that story also has actually been mentioned on this podcast of the, you know, the blind man feeling this strange creature and trying to figure out what it is. And they do form an image that is particularly not accurate, but I guess they form some image.

I think that is probably a good. I guess that, that image, that metaphor kind of gets to, gets to this issue quite well.


[01:32:15] Thomas Metzinger: Yeah, the metaphor also contains something else. If you have seven blind men touching the elephant, what none of these blind men understand is that the elephant can see.

[01:32:28] Matt Geleta: hmm.

[01:32:28] Thomas Metzinger: elephant can see them. That's another aspect of the story. They can touch, but the elephant has a completely other modality of knowing them.

And they wouldn't even know that they are being looked at while they poke around and then, and then, you know, touch the elephant. So, um, there are many readings of this old story.

[01:32:55] Matt Geleta: Well, it's um, I do look forward to it being, it being published and, um, I think you just said just before we started talking that you're going to make this freely available.

[01:33:05] Thomas Metzinger: Yes, the MIT press. Although extremely slow in production, it has a, you know, I've been a bit of an open, uh, access pioneer. If you look at the open mind collections and, and stuff I've put on the web and they have this fantastic new program direct to open. So on the 6th of February, this book will be available for free download to everybody.

[01:33:31] Matt Geleta: Yeah. Amazing. And, um, yeah, I'll include the, I'll include the link to it in the show notes here so everyone can come find it here. Um, I think that's a, that's a good place to bring us to a couple of questions I like to ask towards the end of these conversations. Um, the first is on the topic of books.

Obviously, you've written several books, you've, you've, um, read very, very widely. My question is, which book have you most gifted to other people and why?

[01:33:57] Thomas Metzinger: Books I've written myself.

[01:33:59] Matt Geleta: Uh, it doesn't, it could be any, in the class of all books. Which one have you most gifted to

[01:34:04] Thomas Metzinger: Ah, in a class of all books. Um, that's interesting. Uh, I think if I look over all of my lifetime, um, I have given very simple introductory books by J. Krishnamurti to people most often, because I thought that was the best present one could make to someone. Uh, that was actually it, but, um, I don't even know how the English titles, uh, would look, but, uh, I, that's probably what I have most frequently, given to people.

[01:34:42] Matt Geleta: Yeah, great, that's a, that's a good recommendation, again, I'll link it in the notes. Um, my next one goes back to Bewusstein's Kultur, and my question is. You know, if somebody has read about it, they've heard this conversation and they feel that this is something they want to explore and maybe want to cultivate some of the things we've talked about, what advice would you give generically to this type of person as a starting point?

Where do you send


[01:35:10] Thomas Metzinger: Well, um, I am very happy in my own life, I've been lucky in some respects, that I've had a regular meditation practice of four years before I first took a psychedelic, before I ever took LSD for the first time. And, uh, I think it's a good way to start to lay a foundation, but because this is very, um, subtle and takes some time, the question really is the commitment and how much are you Worth to yourself.

I think very conservative. Just go somewhere where you can learn classical Vipassana practice, where you don't get molested by people with the missionary thing, and just learn that. And then the most important thing is, I think you should do this twice a day. You should have an empty stomach for at least two to four hours, so probably before breakfast and before dinner.

And you should minimally do this for 12 months, which means also on the morning of New Year's Eve, which may be a little later, or, uh, on Christmas evening, you know, no exceptions, just Do this twice a day for 12 months and then decide if this is something for you or not. But don't just dabble and go around and be irregular.

But do it for minimally 12 months and then make an informed decision. No, that's not my thing. I'm another kind of person. But you cannot expect to just say, The worst thing is to go to a retreat out of the blue without having any home practice, uh, with having laid, uh, some foundations, and it, meditation is also not something you do with headphones on.

It's not a form of media consumption. Um, so, uh, of course guided meditation can be helpful. to fresh something up or to learn something, but you have to do this, uh, by yourself eventually. And the question is, I don't know how to say this, how to say this in English, how much is your own life worth to yourself?

I mean, a day has 24 hours, but is your own life worth so much for you that you would do this twice a day for 20 or 30 minutes? for a year to test it out. Um, maybe it isn't, you know, maybe it's not that important for you, but I think you should give it some minimal sustained practice, and maybe even not talk about it so much with your friends.

[01:38:07] Matt Geleta: Hmm.

[01:38:08] Thomas Metzinger: Not read crazy books. Just do it and see what happens.

[01:38:12] Matt Geleta: Well, Thomas, I think that's a, that's a great place to end it. Um, it's been a really great pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for making


[01:38:20] Thomas Metzinger: Same here. Wonderful conversation. Thanks for setting all this up.

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