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How can the decisions of “autonomous” individuals provide a rationale for freedom and self-governance if a mechanical and causal sense of the self leads us to question the foundational nature of the individual? If most of our decisions originate in brain function below the level of consciousness, we live in a virtual world produced by mechanisms outside our control, arising from transparent self-models of which we are not aware. “Opacity,” the gift of not perceiving directly, of not automatically believing what we are experiencing, is precisely what makes it possible for us to question our first-person perspectives. While we do not have direct access to the mechanisms that give rise to our sense of ourselves, our investigation can make it possible for us to analyze and understand those very mechanisms consciously. The deployment of that knowledge in the act of decision making and the infinite regress of interacting conscious individuals underlies our existential freedom.

Keywords: Thomas Metzinger; agency; causality; consciousness; freedom; individuality; mechanism; narrative self; phenomenology; postmodernism; self; self-governance; self-model

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Edwin C. Laurenson practices corporate and securities law in New York City. His mailing address is 37 Main Street, Apartment 404, Yonkers, NY 10701, USA;, Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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