If you’ve ever had a lucid dream, you certainly discovered the miraculous way the brain can construct a virtual world with impeccable detail and without perceptual input. According to Thomas Metzinger, a leading theoretical philosopher and author of The Ego Tunnel (Perseus Books Group), as we learn more about lucid dreaming a fascinating fact about the brain emerges: it is a virtual reality generator. Not only does it simulate reality as a dream world, but it also simulates our physical waking experience as virtual reality, too.
The Ego Tunnel opens with an honest declaration, “There is no such thing as a self. Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self.” Centuries ago, David Hume tackled the same question regarding the myth of the self. Now we have Metzinger, who in a mere 240 pages tries to convince us there is no entity that is us. Instead what we've accepted as our self is really just a brain process. Using lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences as examples to shatter the myth of the self, Metzinger's two main themes, self and consciousness, are closely linked in ways that lead to profound conclusions. Not only does the self not exist the way we imagined, but the collective world around us is really just a private model of reality. To be more precise, the mental "you" who sees and experiences the world is a module within consciousness, something switched on in your brain's neural processing.
According to Metzinger, lucid dreams allow us to see that in being conscious inside the dream, we construct a virtual world and therefore do not have an immediate grasp on reality. These types of dreams are important because our unawareness of the Ego Tunnel, composed of the self model our brain creates and the indirect perception of reality, is temporarily suspended. Lucid dreams allow the dreamer to recognize the world in the dream is a simulation. A dreamer intuitively recognizes how, through the successive experiences with lucid dreams, the various layers of the self model are put together. It isn't simply knowing that you're dreaming, but knowing you are lying in bed and retaining the memory of your waking and dream life. It is this sense of self that splinters when we fall asleep (you don't know you exist), reactivates in a weaker form (as the dream body) when we dream, and emerges instantaneously as soon as you wake up.
However controversial the claims seem, Metzinger certainly raises important questions about what consciousness is, about who is having the experience of the world, and a question some have asked since Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine; who is the dreamer of your dreams? No matter who you believe the dreamer is The Ego Tunnel is an exploration of consciousness that offers new perspectives on the nature of reality.