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Philosophy 4610 Philosophy of Mind Week 13: The Mystery of Consciousness and Review.

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Presentation on theme: "Philosophy 4610 Philosophy of Mind Week 13: The Mystery of Consciousness and Review."— Presentation transcript:

1 Philosophy 4610 Philosophy of Mind Week 13: The Mystery of Consciousness and Review

2 The problem of consciousness  We have asked whether consciousness or qualia might be explainable in physical terms.  “Qualia friends” like Nagel and Jackson assert that qualia are real and that they pose a big problem for physicalist explanation  “Qulia foes” like Dennett argue that there is no big problem for physicalist explanation, because qualia don’t exist.

3 Explaining consciousness: the dilemma  The debate between qualia friends and foes seems to yield a difficult dilemma: –On the ONE hand, it seems as if some version of physicalism must be true. Everything we have ever discovered or explained scientifically has been explainable in scientific terms. –On the OTHER hand, it seems as if consciousness is real, and resists explanation in physical terms.

4 McGinn: The New Mysterianism  McGinn thinks that physicalism is almost certain to be true. It is almost certain there is some physical explanation of consciousness  But the fact that physicalism is true does not at all guarantee that we can understand or have access to the true explanation of consciousness. Consciousness might remain a mystery to us, even if it is ultimately physical in nature.

5 Cognitive Closure  Not all concepts are accessible to all thinkers. For instance, a monkey may have access to the concepts “ball” and “banana”; but the concept “electron” or “black hole” is elusive.  We can say that the monkey is cognitively closed to these concepts: given its form of intelligence, there is no way for it to understand them.

6 Consciousness and cognitive closure  McGinn suggests that we may, similarly, be cognitively closed to the true explanation of consciousness. That is, we may simply be closed to the concepts we would need in order to understand it.  To see this, consider what would be required to find the property P that explains consciousness. Since we perceive the world in spatial and temporal forms, it seems as if such a property would have to be spatial for us to discover it.  But no spatial property (color, shape, size, etc.) seems to do the trick. For any such property, there is still a question: why should that property P underlie consciousness? ?

7  “I hereby invite you to try to conceive of a perceptible property of the brain that might allay the feeling of mystery that attends our contemplation of the brain- mind link: I do not think you will be able to do it. It is like trying to conceive of a perceptible property of a rock that would render it perspicuous that the rock was conscious. In fact, I think it is the very impossibility of this that lies at the root of the felt mind-body problem.” (pp ).

8 McGinn: Summary  If McGinn is right, physicalism might still be true, even though we have no explanation (and no real hope of an explanation) of consciousness in physical terms.  Nevertheless, we don’t have to deny that consciousness, or first person experience, actually exists.

9 Philosophical History and the Problem of Consciousness (2004)  The problem of consciousness, as we discuss it today, is the outcome of a much longer historical discussion.  In this discussion, there is a constant dialectic between structuralist/functionalist explanations and the claim that something important resists these explanations.

10 The problem of consciousness: Diagnosing the problem  To get a better understanding of consciousness, we ought to ask not only whether we can give a physicalist explanation, but also what we want out of any explanation.  The problem of consciousness is, in part, the problem of understanding what we, ourselves, are: the place of human beings within the world described by objective science.

11 The problem of consciousness: Diagnosing common assumptions  Physicalists assume that the conscious mind is a physical thing, existing in the physical world.  Dualists assume that the conscious mind is a non-physical thing, existing outside the physical world.  BUT BOTH assume that consciousness is in some sense a “thing,” – whether physical or nonphysical – that has to be understood as part of science’s accounting for the world.

12  Both physicalism and dualism are thus totalizing in their assumption of a unified, total explanation of the physical world (in terms of which consciousness is either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’).  If consciousness is not a “thing,” what else might it be?  How might thinking of consciousness differently transform the question about the “explanation” of consciousness into one about the nature of human beings, our real needs in talking about our own experience, and our relationship to the objective world as described by science??

13 Finis: Incipit Philosophia  “And so we must go back again, and start from the beginning to find out what [consciousness] is…” (Plato, Euthyphro 185c-d)


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