New mysterianism

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New mysterianism—or commonly just mysterianism—is a philosophical position proposing that the hard problem of consciousness cannot be resolved by humans. The unresolvable problem is how to explain the existence of qualia (individual instances of subjective, conscious experience). In terms of the various schools of philosophy of mind, mysterianism is a form of nonreductive physicalism. Some "mysterians" state their case uncompromisingly (Colin McGinn has said that consciousness is "a mystery that human intelligence will never unravel"); others believe merely that consciousness is not within the grasp of present human understanding, but may be comprehensible to future advances of science and technology.

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences—how and why it is that some internal states are felt states, such as heat or pain, rather than unfelt states, as in a thermostat or a toaster. The philosopher David Chalmers, who introduced the term "hard problem" of consciousness, contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set and that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".

In philosophy and certain models of psychology, qualia are defined to be individual instances of subjective, conscious experience. The term qualia derives from the Latin neuter plural form (qualia) of the Latin adjective quālis meaning "of what sort" or "of what kind" in a specific instance like "what it is like to taste a specific apple, this particular apple now".

Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness, agency, personhood, reality, and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Three common definitions include that subjectivity is the quality or condition of:

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Name

Owen Flanagan noted in his 1991 book Science of the Mind that some modern thinkers have suggested that consciousness may never be completely explained. Flanagan called them "the new mysterians" after the rock group Question Mark and the Mysterians. [1] "But the new mysterianism is a postmodern position designed to drive a railroad spike through the heart of scientism". [2] The term "new mysterianism" has been extended by some writers to encompass the wider philosophical position that humans do not have the intellectual ability to solve (or comprehend the answers to) many hard problems, not just the problem of consciousness, at a scientific level.[ citation needed ] This position is also known as anti-constructive naturalism.

Owen Flanagan is the James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University. Flanagan has done work in philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of social science, ethics, contemporary ethical theory, moral psychology, as well as on Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self.

Scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, pointing to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.

According to Flanagan, "The 'old mysterians' were dualists who thought that consciousness cannot be understood scientifically because it operates according to nonnatural principles and possesses nonnatural properties." Apparently, some apply the terms to thinkers throughout history who suggested some aspect of consciousness may not be knowable or discoverable, including Gottfried Leibniz, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Huxley. Thomas Huxley wrote, "[H]ow it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp." [3]

Samuel Johnson English poet, biographer, essayist, and lexicographer

Samuel Johnson, often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. He was a devout Anglican and a generous philanthropist. Politically, he was a committed Tory. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Johnson as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is the subject of James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, described by Walter Jackson Bate as "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature".

The consciousness of brutes would appear to be related to the mechanism of their body simply as collateral product of its working, and to be completely without any power of modifying that working, as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence upon its machinery. Their volition, if they have any, is an emotion indicative of physical changes, not a cause of such changes... The soul stands to the body as the bell of a clock to the works, and consciousness answers to the sound which the bell gives out when it is struck... To the best of my judgment, the argumentation which applies to brutes holds good of men... We are conscious automata. [2]

Thomas Huxley, "On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata, and its History", 1874

Philosophy

In the view of the new mysterians, their contention that the hard problem of consciousness is unsolvable is not a presupposition, but rather a philosophical conclusion reached by thinking carefully about the issue. The standard argument is as follows:

Subjective experiences by their very nature cannot be shared or compared side-by-side. Therefore, it is impossible to know what subjective experiences another person is having.

Noam Chomsky distinguishes between problems, which seem solvable, at least in principle, through scientific methods, and mysteries, which do not seem solvable, even in principle. He notes that the cognitive capabilities of all organisms are limited by biology, e.g. a mouse will never speak like a human. In the same way, certain problems may be beyond our understanding.

Noam Chomsky American linguist, philosopher and activist

Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, political activist, and social critic. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

Criticism

Idealists would counter the mysterian view by pointing out that it is unscientific to use phrases such as "we may never know", or to try to limit the possibilities of a reflective consciousness, for example in gaining a knowledge of the underlying, pervading principle of consciousness. The apparent paradox that consciousness is "out there" and yet subjective to each individual cannot be solved unless the observer is the subject of the study, i.e. the scientist looks within.[ citation needed ]

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Related Research Articles

Epiphenomenalism is a position on the mind–body problem which holds that physical and biochemical events within the human body are causal with respect to mental events. According to this view, subjective mental events are completely dependent for their existence on corresponding physical and biochemical events within the human body and themselves have no causal efficacy on physical events. The appearance that subjective mental states influence physical events is merely an illusion. For instance, fear seems to make the heart beat faster, but according to epiphenomenalism the biochemical secretions of the brain and nervous system —not the experience of fear—is what raises the heartbeat. Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.

Mind combination of cognitive faculties that provides consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement in humans and potentially other life forms

The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.

<i>Consciousness Explained</i> book

Consciousness Explained is a 1991 book by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which the author offers an account of how consciousness arises from interaction of physical and cognitive processes in the brain.

Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations. In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that require respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, and thus is held to confer certain rights.

Greedy reductionism, identified by Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, is a kind of erroneous reductionism. Whereas "good" reductionism means explaining a thing in terms of what it reduces to, greedy reductionism occurs when "in their eagerness for a bargain, in their zeal to explain too much too fast, scientists and philosophers ... underestimate the complexities, trying to skip whole layers or levels of theory in their rush to fasten everything securely and neatly to the foundation". Using the terminology of "cranes" and "skyhooks" built up earlier in the chapter, Dennett recapitulates his initial definition of the term in the chapter summary on p. 83: "Good reductionists suppose that all Design can be explained without skyhooks; greedy reductionists suppose it can all be explained without cranes."

David Chalmers Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist

David John Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. He is also a University Professor, Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science, and a Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

In philosophy of mind and consciousness, the explanatory gap is the difficulty that physicalist theories have in explaining how physical properties give rise to the way things feel when they are experienced. It is a term introduced by philosopher Joseph Levine. In the 1983 paper in which he first used the term, he used as an example the sentence, "Pain is the firing of C fibers", pointing out that while it might be valid in a physiological sense, it does not help us to understand how pain feels.

Eliminative materialism Philosophical view that states-of-mind as commonly understood do not exist

Eliminative materialism is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.

Colin McGinn is a British philosopher. He has held teaching posts and professorships at University College London, the University of Oxford, Rutgers University and the University of Miami.

Heterophenomenology is a term coined by Daniel Dennett to describe an explicitly third-person, scientific approach to the study of consciousness and other mental phenomena. It consists of applying the scientific method with an anthropological bent, combining the subject's self-reports with all other available evidence to determine their mental state. The goal is to discover how the subject sees the world him- or herself, without taking the accuracy of the subject's view for granted.

In philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, cognitive closure is the proposition that human minds are constitutionally incapable of solving certain perennial philosophical problems. Owen Flanagan calls this position anti-constructive naturalism or the "new mysterianism" and the primary advocate of the hypothesis, Colin McGinn, calls it transcendental naturalism acknowledging the possibility that solutions may be an intelligent non-human of some kind. According to McGinn, such philosophical questions include the mind-body problem, identity of the self, foundations of meaning, free will, and knowledge, both a priori and empirical.

Neurophenomenology refers to a scientific research program aimed to address the hard problem of consciousness in a pragmatic way. It combines neuroscience with phenomenology in order to study experience, mind, and consciousness with an emphasis on the embodied condition of the human mind. The field is very much linked to fields such as neuropsychology, neuroanthropology and behavioral neuroscience and the study of phenomenology in psychology.

A mental representation, in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol: "a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this".

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

"What is it like to be a bat?" is a paper by American philosopher Thomas Nagel, first published in The Philosophical Review in October 1974, and later in Nagel's Mortal Questions (1979). In it, Nagel argues that materialist theories of mind omit the essential component of consciousness, namely that there is something that it is like to be a particular, conscious thing. He argues that an organism has conscious mental states, "if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism to be itself." Daniel Dennett, a critic of Nagel's argument, nevertheless called this paper "the most widely cited and influential thought experiment about consciousness."

Mind–body problem open question in philosophy of how abstract minds interact with physical bodies

The mind–body problem is a philosophical problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

Animal consciousness

Animal consciousness, or animal awareness, is the quality or state of self-awareness within an animal, or of being aware of an external object or something within itself. In humans, consciousness has been defined as: sentience, awareness, subjectivity, qualia, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of self, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is.

Joseph Levine is an American philosopher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who received his PhD from Harvard University in 1981.

References

Citations

  1. Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. MIT Press. p. 313. ISBN   0-262-56056-9.
  2. 1 2 Flanagan, O.J. (1992). Consciousness Reconsidered. Bradford Books. MIT Press. pp. 10, 131. ISBN   978-0-262-56077-1. LCCN   lc92010057.
  3. The Elements of Physiology and Hygiene: A Text-book for Educational Institutions. D. Appleton, 1869, p. 178
  4. William James "Is Life Worth Living" (1896) https://archive.org/stream/islifeworthlivin00jameuoft#page/n7/mode/2up
  5. Colin McGinn (20 February 2012). "All machine and no ghost?". New Statesman . Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  6. https://mindbodyproblems.com/
  7. https://books.google.com/books?id=5cXKQUh6bVQC&q=mcginn#v=snippet&q=mcginn&f=false
  8. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394-6,00.html
  9. Of Beauty and Consolation, Ep. 9
  10. "The Mystery of Consciousness II", 19 October 2011.
  11. Dennett, Daniel C. (May 10, 1991). "The Brain and Its Boundaries". Times Literary Supplement (London). Archived from the original on 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2 February 2018. (Corrected by erratum notice, 24 May, pg 29.)

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