16 March 2018

Self: The Endless Refrain

For people who ostensibly don't believe in such a thing, Buddhists talk a lot about self. Often in an unsophisticated and even naive way. Discussions on the subject, which recur endlessly in online forums and social media, tend to conflate all manner of ideas and philosophical positions, often with a view to establishing an ideological position. Many Buddhists are entranced by the idea that they don't exist, and will tell us with irony that they do not. The adoption of highly politicised techniques from Vedanta has only made it worse, as we now have wildly egotistical people telling anyone who will listen, and many who won't, that they have eliminated their ego, as if they had one before but don't now. On the other hand, people I know do seem to be getting some good results in attaining cessation and becoming self-less. But even they seem to struggle to give the experience any intellectual clarity.

As modern Buddhists we have inherited a complex of legacy ideas about self from the Asian traditions. Our Buddhism has been reinterpreted through the lens of Victorian orientalism and combined with the legacy ideas of Freud and his bastards. And in recent decades the results neuroscience investigation of selfhood have complicated the discussion. The result is widespread vagueness as to what is even meant by "self".

Given the huge range of viewpoints even within Buddhism, I doubt it is possible to bring clarity to this issue in a way that will suit everyone. However, I think the approach of treating self as an experience that we all have, and that is thus subject to the same rules as other experiences, is coherent with a majority of practice-focussed Buddhist views. 

Absolute Being

One of the massive legacy problems we have is that while Buddhism was emerging and reaching its peak, the "philosophers" of India were mostly engaged in a search for absolute being. Absolute  being is called different things by different groups: brahman, ātman, Brahmā, puruṣa, jīva, amṛta, sattva, and so on. 

Absolute being is a construct; an abstraction from mere existence. The idea seems to be that if anything exists, then we can abstract from that a kind of principle of existence, with (more or less) only the quality of being. The reasoning seems to go like this: If two things are red, then they have redness in common, so a quality "redness" must exist over and above any given instance of red. Similarly, if two things exist, then existence must be a quality that things can posses, and we can imagine an absolute being - an object whose only quality is being. The being that gives being to all beings.

The absolute in this sense is similar to Plato's noumena. It underpins phenomena, in the sense that phenomena are like projections of the noumena, an image that comes from Plato's famous analogy of shadows cast on the wall of a cave as real things pass in front of a light source. A lot of Buddhists seem to have a Platonic worldview in which a higher or transcendental reality exists and our experience of phenomena is an illusion. 

In India the idea arose in a milieu of advanced meditation. In all likelihood they were regularly able to observe the complete cessation of sense and cognitive experience while remaining conscious. When one is in this kind of state, there is awareness, but it is contentless. The Sāṃkhya view was that behind or underneath the phenomenal world exists a passive viewer, the puruṣa. Phenomena exist in a quessient state, but through ignorance may unfold into a fully fledged phenomenal world (prakṛti). Religious practices roll back those phenomena to reveal the puruṣa.
It is pure consciousness: it enjoys and witnesses Prakṛti’s activities, but does not cause them. It is characterized as the conscious subject: it is uncaused, eternal, all-pervasive, partless, self-sustaining, independent. It is devoid of the [qualities], and therefore inactive and sterile (unable to produce). IEP
This is pretty much a description of being in the state of emptiness. Nothing arises or passes away, there is no sense of time passing, no spatial sense. There is just a bare awareness that does not do anything. It often described as "luminous" and sometimes mistaken for being "primordial" or the "ground of being" and so on. Clearly, non-Buddhists were experiencing this state. Descriptions that seem related can also be found in the early Upaniṣads, for example.

Brahmins talked about absolute being in two ways. From the universal point of view, as Brahman, and from the personal point of view as ātman. And this dichotomy leads us into looking at the flaws in believing in absolute being. Modern Buddhist discourse about absolutes has been strongly influenced by Theosophy, especially through such prominent figures as D. T. Suzuki, and Edward Conze. Theosophy was and is a mystery cult loosely based on a narrow range of Indian texts in English translation. Madam Blavatsky, for example, relied heavily on Wilson's Vishnu Purana and Dowson's Hindu Classical Dictionary (Vidal 1997: 11). The influence of Theosophy on modern Buddhism is probably on a par with the influence of scholars of Indology. So, next, I will look at why absolute being is problematic. 

The Problem With Absolutes
The word “absolute” literally means something which is not relative in any way, in other words something which is beyond the possibility of relations and interrelations with anything in manifestation and surpassing any similarity of any kind with manifested and objective being. — Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK
The basic problem with all absolutes is that all humans are relative. Absolutes are eternal and don't change. We are temporal and contingent. As such, the absolute is "beyond the possibility of relations and interrelations". So how do we relate to something that is beyond the possibility of relations? How does a human being experience the absolute if all experience is temporal and contingent? And it's not just Buddhists who face this problem. How does a Christian come into relationship with God? And so on. If the acme of your religion is absolute being, then you'll never know it. 

Some kind of interface that spans both worlds is one answer. Angels, for example. Shamans are another. Or messiahs in human form. Another approach is to argue that the absolute somehow becomes "manifest" or has avatars (from the Sanskrit ava-tara "descend"). This manifestation of the absolute is usually via some black-box process, and sometimes given succor by scientists - for example, via the idea that our universe is a holographic projection from a higher dimension (which is a fancy version of Plato's cave). Note also that the absolute is usually associated with particular cognitive metaphors. The Absolute is UP in heaven; and the angels, messiahs and avatars DESCEND to earth; from spirit to matter, etc: (For more on this see Metaphors And Materialism)

The ability of meditators to experience emptiness—contentless awareness—seems to short-circuit this problem. In emptiness (śūnyatāyām), the boundaries of self fall away, the subject/object distinction breaks down, one feels connected to everything or that one is everything, time stops. There are no causes and no effects. Nothing arises, nothing passes away. In short, we seem become the absolute. Or do we?

Early Buddhists, already familiar with cessation, were highly critical of the idea that one could find the absolute in experience. They encouraged some to look for something unchanging in their experience, knowing that it could never be found. They counselled others not to bother looking. Experience is characterised by constant change, they pointed out. Therefore, you cannot experience the absolute. Even if you enter the state of emptiness through meditation, at some point the meditation ends and one begins to experience again, unless one dies in meditation. So that meditative experience is ipso facto not absolute. Others argue that even if it doesn't last, one is "in touch" with the absolute while one is in that state. We may be temporal, but the absolute is always there to dip into. Later Buddhists developed more sophisticated critiques against this view. If something exists absolutely then we must always experience it, or never experience it. That the experience comes and goes denies that the absolute can be experienced. In other words, if the absolute were able to be experienced in any way, we would, ipso facto, always experience it and experience nothing else.

This is more or less the Advaita Vedanta argument, except that they propose that we mistake this experience of the absolute for something else. How one could mistake the absolute for the relative is anybody's guess. The very nature of the absolute means that there is an absolute and unmistakable distinction between absolute and relative. Errors of this kind ought to be impossible rather than ubiquitous. 

However, having been in the state of emptiness, one may find that the world doesn't come back the way it was. One might feel that the bounded self, the sense of ownership, the internal monologue are all attenuated or absent. Without a sense of ownership over experience, the push and pull of desires and aversions have no momentum. Mental suffering (cetasika-dukkha), as distinct from physical pain (kāyika-dukkha), may well cease. One may be left in a state of ongoing bliss. The transformation wrought by the experience of (what we call) emptiness continues to inform Indian religious culture even today. And it is starting to inform Modern Buddhist culture to much greater extent as more people speak openly about the experience of cessation/emptiness.

That said, India religious culture, like European culture, has its scholastic side. Arguments about the number of devas you could balance on the head of a pin were formulated and considered. Such discussions tend to reify experience and hypostatise it. Events become entities. Similes become propositions. Metaphors and abstractions become concrete. Jokes lose their punch lines. Descriptions of the experience of emptiness became thoroughly entangled with metaphysical speculations about the nature of reality, the role of consciousness in world, and the whole mess we are familiar with in European philosophy. The bullshit-fest was, if anything, more elaborate in India. Then Buddhism came to Europe and mated with the European tradition, spawning modernist Buddhism or Buddhist modernism depending on your point of view (perhaps both).

There is a fork in the road here. Either we can go down the root of detailed arguments about the pros and cons of this or that philosophical view on self, repeating historic arguments and probably never coming to a conclusion. Or we could short-circuit the whole thing and decide to rethink the idea of self. I think the former approach has had a good run and it's time for something new. 

Does the Self Exist?

When we use a word like "self", it comes loaded with presuppositions and assumptions, few of which ever make it to the light of day. So, asking such a question is never straightforward. Which self are we talking about? But we can short-circuit the discussion, to some extent, by arguing that, whether or not some kind of entity corresponds to it, we definitely all experience ourselves as selves. We start out with a first person perspective on experience; i.e., the feeling or thought that sensory experience is "happening to me", that the sensations are "my sensations", and that this body I inhabit is the location of "my experience". 

We don't have direct access to anyone else's experience or their point of view. We can infer that they have experiences in the same way that we do (the intentional stance, or theory of mind). Experience appears to have an object (i.e., to be "intentional") and a subject. And this dichotomy is encoded in the grammar of all human languages, leading to universal theories of language and grammar.

But if we look closely at this first-person perspective we find that it is not based on an entity. The first person perspective is relatively easy to disrupt. And the ways that it malfunctions suggest that it must be virtual rather than real. Our sense of self can become distorted or attenuated in meditation, for example, or through taking tiny quantities of psychedelic drugs. Just a few micrograms of LSD is enough to seriously disrupt one's sense of self.  Applying strong magnetic fields that disrupt the brain can do the same. Our brain generates our first person perspective on experience as part of conscious experience and disrupting brain function has predictable consequences for our sense of self. We learn that self is not essential or inherent in consciousness, because we can have experiences without any sense of self.

What is Experience?

Experience is part of a virtual model of the world, generated by the brain, which creates a simplified simulacrum that enables us to function efficiently in the world (finding food, finding mates, avoiding predators, etc.) We might then ask, what is the ontological status of a virtual model? In other words, do experiences exist or not? Are they real or unreal? I don't think mainstream philosophy has made much progress on this. Early Buddhists already recognised some of the difficulties involved.

Although it is not explicit, it seems to me, after long reading of Pāḷi suttas, that the authors must have believed in a mind-independent objective world. They say nothing about it, but there are some hints. For example, they say that experience is like an illusion (māyopama). This simile makes no sense unless there is a contrast with something that is not like an illusion; in other words, something real. This real world held no attractions or interest for the communities of men and women who were spending time in states induced by meditation. For them it became clear that, in talking about experience, it wasn't helpful to characterise it as either existent or non-existent, as real or unreal. The nature of the object of perception was more or less irrelevant to their project because one of the principles they embraced was turning away from sense experience, from contact with the mind-independent world.

Experience is a subset of everything. It is not separate from reality, but included in it. However, mind-independent objects and mental objects (from a first person perspective) follow different rules. No matter how convinced you are that you can fly, if you jump off a tall building you will inexorably plummet to the ground. Gravity is not a matter of belief. But you can imagine or dream that you can fly. You can, at times, experience yourself flying. Or to be more precise, you can virtually experience it. Here, the precise meaning of "virtual" is important.

"Virtual" comes from the same root as virile and virtue. It means "excellent, potent, efficacious." (from the same root we get Sanskrit vīra "man, warrior". However, in the mid 15th Century, the word "virtual" began to be used in the sense "being something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact" (OEtD). When we dream we can fly, we may completely suspend disbelief and experience it as if we were flying, though in reality we are not flying. "Virtual" here, then, means as if.

Experience is a virtual representation of the world, created by our brains, that feels as if it is real. So real that most of the time we don't notice. So real that we take experience to be reality. Some philosophers even argue that the distinction I'm making is not useful and we are in fact experiencing reality. Those people have apparently never taken drugs or done meditation.

If experience is a virtual reality, and selfhood (or the first person perspective on experience) is a kind of experience, then selfhood is part of a virtual reality. Not real; not unreal; but virtual. As if real.

Metaphysics versus Phenomenology

Some of my friends phrase this distinction as the difference between a metaphysical self and a phenomenal self. I'm not always sure what they mean by this. But I presume that by "metaphysical" they mean existent. In other words, this is another way of talking about self as an entity. This is so easily ruled out that we don't need to consider it. The self could not be an entity and behave the way it does. 

By phenomenal self, I take my friends to be talking about the first-person perspective on experience. On the whole, I try to avoid calling this "a self". The trouble with this type of language is that it can be all too easily mistaken for some kind of metaphysical stance. We try to fudge things by saying "there is a phenomenal self", but people just hear "there is a... self". By referring to our sense of selfhood, or our sense of being a self, we can avoid this, to some extent. But to be accurate, most of the time I am actually thinking about a first-person perspective on experience rather than a self. I'm not sure that "self" is even a useful word for this. I'm sure that "soul" is completely the wrong word. 

One might argue that the perspective has to be someone's perspective although I don't think this is helpful. The first-person perspective is a function of having sense organs located in a body that is a locus of experience. Since aspects of that perspective, such as the direction of my gaze, are subject to my will, it feels like I am in control, that the experience is mine. It is definitely limited in space to one body. As much as I can make my body seem to disappear in meditation, I cannot then inhabit another body or take control of their limbs or the direction of their gaze.

It is not that we have a self that has a first person perspective. It is that the brain generates a first person perspective on experience and from this we infer a self. The first person perspective is seeing itself as a self. This is not a bad first approximation of what is going on in experience, and it is as far as most people get, unless they have a mental health crisis, take psychedelic drugs, or get good at mediation. Most of us have no reason to question our early inferences.

For me, a qualified self is still overstating things. At best, the sense of being a self is a perspective on experience generated by the brain.

What About Ego?

When Freud (1856–1939) was writing about the mind, he used three metaphors for functions that minds carry out: Ich, Es, and Über-Ich ("I", "It", and "Over-I"). In this model the Ich function mediates between the desires of the Es function and restrictions of the Über-Ich function, to enable human beings to operate as social beings. Unrestrained, the Es function is how the Victorians thought of animals (though they were largely mistaken about this). Without emotions the Über-Ich function makes for an inhuman tyrant. According to Freud, it is the Ich function that mediates between these two basic forces in our inner life and also mediates between us and the world. To not have an Ich function is catastrophic. But also, if the Ich function is unable to impose order on the other functions, one or other of them will dominate leading to animalistic or inhuman behaviour.

Nietzsche (1844–1900) also wrote about two forces human society. The two were of chaos and order, which he dubbed Dionysian and Apollonian after the two Greek gods. Like Freud, Nietzsche saw life as a battle between these forces. However, rather than settling for a detente overseen by the meditating influence of the Ich, Nietzsche (possibly influenced by the Upaniṣads) saw a transcendent type of human being who had resolved his inner conflicts and risen above the human, all too human, level. Like Freud and other men of his day, Nietzsche systematically dismissed women as inferior. It is worth mentioning Nietzsche because his rhetoric remains popular amongst Romantics. The controversial, but popular, conservative Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, for example, often seems to be channelling Nietzsche and apparently sees this kind of conflict between order and chaos in much the same way.

Such things are not rocket science for anyone who is human. We are social animals and as such we are constantly trying to balance individual desire and social obligation. Whether we project balancing these forces onto the world as archetypes (Dionysus and Apollo), or conceive of them them as internal functions in psyche (as Ich and Über-Ich), they resonate, to some extent. And there are differing opinions as to whether individual liberty or collective obligation should take precedence, though clearly without both a society cannot function. 

One of the classic pop-culture references to this accommodation is the friendship between Captain Kirk and Commander Spock in the Star Trek stories. Kirk is hedonistic, impulsive, and moody. Spock is logical, controlled, and detached. Of course, neither could be a pure archetype, because Kirk has to be the Captain. He also has to be cunning, decisive, a planner and a leader. Similarly, Spock is only half Vulcan. But generally speaking, Kirk without Spock is rash, ruthless, and reckless. Spock without Kirk is cold, calculating, and (potentially) cruel. Had they been more purely Es and Über-Ich, a third party would always have been required to mediate. When mediation is required, it comes in the form of the physician, McCoy a "man of science" who is nonetheless highly sentimental. He plays the role of Ich function portrayed as the healer of the psyche.


When Freud's work was translated into English his German terms—Ich, Es, and Über-Ich—were translated, not into English, but into Latin. The idea seems to have been inspired by medical jargon which even today prefers Latin derived words to those with Anglo-Saxon heritage (the 1000 year old English prejudice against Germanic vocabulary is another story). And so today we discuss Ego, Id, and Super-Ego. Reification may have happened anyway, but it was helped along by the quasi-medical Latin. What were functions of the psyche, became entities that make up the mind. Freud's metaphors became three homunculi living in our heads. Which was, and is, deeply unhelpful.

This manifests in Buddhism as people talking about "the Ego" as something to be disposed of, cut off, and done away with. If we accept Freud's model and we get rid of Ich, what is it that moderates between Es and Über-Ich? If there is nothing, and the other aspects of the psyche are left unchanged, then the result is a chaotic battle in which one or other of the two forces in our psyches will likely win, leading to hedonism or nihilism; or, in Nietzsche's terms, to chaos or totalitarianism.

Early Buddhists identified three thoughts about experience that were problematic: 'I am this', 'this is me', 'it is mine'. These coincide very well with characteristics of the first-person perspectives defined by Thomas Metzinger. Metzinger says that for there to be a first person perspective we need three 'target properties'
  • mineness - a sense of ownership, particularly over the body.
  • selfhood - the sense that "I am someone", and continuity through time.
  • centredness - the sense that "I am the centre of my own subjective self".

I've mentioned before that these seem to substantially overlap early Buddhist views on selfhood. And precisely these three qualities are problematic in the Buddhist view, but also they disappear in the state of emptiness.

As a thought experiment I want to consider simply stripping away these properties from an ordinary person. Let us say that we take away the sense of ownership, particularly over the body. This is something that victims of trauma often experience. When you are, for example, beaten or raped, you lose control of what happens to you. And that sense of ownership may be damaged. One may feel so vulnerable around other people that one develops social anxiety or even social phobia. If you walk into a room full of people and lose your sense of self, it is disorienting and frightening.

Similarly, if someone does not experience "I am someone" they may be unable to relate to other people. In the state called "depersonalisation" one stops feeling like a person. Events swirl around you and you cannot respond to them or make connections with other people. It can be very distressing to be cut off in this way.

If I am not the centre of my subjective self, then mental events may seem to be the result of an external agency. It may seem that other people are controlling our thoughts and actions. Our internal monologue may become a hectoring external voice, some other person telling us what to do.

This is a flavour of the the mass of ways in which loss of a sense of self or first-person perspective can leave us wounded and debilitated. All of these events would constitute what is nowadays called a "mental health crisis". If ongoing, such experiences often result in hospitalisation. It has long bothered me that Buddhists seem ignorant of this side of psychology and that they apparently trivialise problems of this kind. Buddhists are often sincere in their beliefs, but sincerity doesn't really mitigate ignorance or stupidity. We have some very dangerous ideas about the mind and its functions.

Going Beyond Self

And yet, something happens in practice that is typically not the same as a mental health crisis. The loss of a sense of self as one goes into samādhi might be scary, but it is not the same terror as comes from a psychotic break. The similarity of language for describing the two has long fascinated me. But it seems to me that, whereas mental health problems are subtraction and division, the effects of meditation are addition and multiplication. 

In other words, I do not believe the interpretations of those meditators who report  that they do not experience themselves as having an Ego. The complete loss of Ego per se would be a catastrophe. Rather, I suggest, that we have to take a step back and look more holistically. We need to think of the Ich, Es, and Über-Ich becoming integrated into a holistic and harmonious structure in which the contest between Ich and Über-Ich is resolved, relieving us of the need for Ego to mediate. When our internal struggles are over, we are free to respond creatively to the people around us, no longer concerned with seeking pleasure or with imposing order. So that would be a Freudian analysis, but I think Freud is deeply problematic, so I wouldn't want to rest there.

My Buddhist analysis goes like this. The fundamental problem we have is that we respond to pleasure with desire for more pleasure; that we are averse to pain and avoid painful situations is also problematic, but, really, pleasure-seeking is the focus. More precisely, we associate happiness with pleasure. Everyone wants to be happy, so we seek out pleasures to make us happy.

Evolution has tuned our body-mind to seek out the things we find pleasurable, because they have survival value. The things we find pleasurable are meant to motivate us. But the evolution argument ends at the beginning of civilisation. When social change outstrips our ability to genetically adapt, we run into problems. One of the problems of civilisation (eventually) is a surplus of the things that we find pleasurable. We can satiate our desires more fully and more often, but what happens when we do this is that we become insensitive to pleasure. We get caught in the addictive loop of seeking more pleasure and more intense pleasure in order to find that feeling of satiation. For example, we add more sugar, more fat, more salt, more chilli to our food, in order to try to recapture the simply pleasure of eating. And it doesn't work. We are always left wanting more. At the extreme the amounts of sugar, fat, and salt are long-term lethal. Or we become obese (though I think obesity is complex, and also involves  attempts to deal with stress by eating. Eating stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system).

When we reach a more integrated state in which the sense of self is less central, we become less prone to the addictive cycle. The aspect of self that claims ownership over experience plays an important role in a healthy mind. Simply eliminating it leads to chaos. Integrating it allows us to opt out of the cycle.

Another way of looking at it is that, while we are self-centred, then we are motivated to feed that sense of self. Claiming what gives us pleasure, pushing away what the unpleasant, we attempt to cling to the pleasant experience as if it existed. But experience is not like a mind-independent object. We can hold a bar of gold, but owning it brings diminishing returns of happiness. Ownership must be continually extended in order to provide happiness. One gold bar is never enough. It is acquisition (novelty) that produces the pleasure, whereas ownership soon loses its savour. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Also, the loss of ownership is a source of misery. And the same dynamic applied to experiences that are fleeting and insubstantial is a recipe for unhappiness. One cannot grasp an experience. It arises, one's attention wanders, and it disappears again. All in a moment.

As one becomes skilled in meditation, one realises that the object is irrelevant compared to the pleasure of simple sustained attention on any arbitrary object. A concentrated mind is a happy mind, but more than this, with glimpses of insight we integrate the disparate aspects of our psyche so that the sense of self is bound up in a greater whole that leaves us without that sense of craving and grasping that plagues modern humans everywhere.

In Conclusion

Discussions about the existence of a self had already been tagged as pointless by early Buddhists more than 2000 years ago. Modern Buddhists need to take note of this and rethink our approach. Self is an experience, generated internally, arising and passing away as the conditions dictate. Under many circumstances this sense of self ceases or does not arise. But we cannot say that having an experience is either real or unreal. Such dichotomies send us down intellectual dead ends with respect to experience.

It seems to me that this cessation of the sense of being a self has to be the result of a forward progression rather than a simple excision. I've seen the results of excising aspects of people's selves and it's ugly and often catastrophic. That is not what Buddhists are doing in meditation.

We need to see self as an experience and Ego as a function. Ego is a milestone on the lower evolution. A human being must develop the Ego function to be happy and healthy. Having an Ego is not an endpoint, but necessary while we also have Id and Super-Ego functions which are in conflict. However, there is also a higher evolution. By integrating these separate functions into a harmonious whole, we may transcend our personality, at least to some extent. We may cease to have, or perhaps to rely on, a first-person perspective to organise our experience. We may find that craving for pleasure is attenuated because there is no longer the same desire to accumulate experiences associated with ownership.

I believe a new doctrinal synthesis is required and that we are better off being proactive and creative in our approach to it than being conservative and reactive. The clash of tradition and modernity is always destabilising. Traditional cultures are often devastated when modernity overruns them. I grew up in the aftermath of one such collision. We would do well to get out ahead of this. It seems to me that accomplishing such a synthesis requires us to step outside the legacies of both Buddhism and Modernism and evaluate what is useful about both and what is not useful.

What remains useful will go beyond mere facts. Facts do not move people. In order to communicate our values effectively we need symbols and images. We have to tell stories that move people. Some of these stories will most likely be ancient, perhaps with a modern twist. We may, for example, decide that the founder figure remains a central organising element in telling our story. We may still tell morality tales about selfish people and the harm they cause.

The focus on experience, I believe, has to take precedence over any metaphysical speculation, particularly in the face of the huge successes scientists have had with describing the world on the human scale (things we can experience with our naked senses). Experience is equally our hermeneutic (the principle on which we base our inquires into doctrine), our heuristic (the process by which we more forward seeking knowledge), and our pedagogy (the underlying principle of how we teach). Everything should be aimed at getting people to look at their experience in a new light, and to seek the altered states provided by meditation to provide insights into experience that are otherwise inaccessible.



Vidal, Denis. (1997). 'Max Muller and the theosophists or the other half of victorian orientalism.' in  Jackie Assayag, Roland Lardinois, Denis Vidal. Orientalism and Anthropology; from Max Muller to Louis Dumont, Pondy Papers in Social Science (24), Institut Français de Pondichéry. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01293966/document

Also check out

Deconstructing Yourself. “Masters of Oblivion” – Michael Taft discusses extinction with Kenneth Folk. Especially the section starting at 48:45 – The preposterousness of eradicating the self
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