Home » Mind, Neuroscience » Memo from materialists: Science is over. Oh and, by the way, consciousness doesn’t matter

Memo from materialists: Science is over. Oh and, by the way, consciousness doesn’t matter

The multiverse physicists have announced that science is over. Now, philosophy prof Colin McGinn decides that consciousness is not only an insoluble mystery but not very important anyway:

In “All machine and no ghost?” (New Statesman, February 20, 2012), Colin McGinn writes,

Some modern philosophers pride themselves on their “naturalism” but real naturalism begins with a proper perspective on our specifically human intelligence. Palaeoanthropologists have taught us that the human brain gradually evolved from ancestral brains, particularly in concert with practical toolmaking, centring on the anatomy of the human hand. This history shaped and constrained the form of intelligence now housed in our skulls (as the lifestyle of other species form their set of cognitive skills). What chance is there that an intelligence geared to making stone tools and grounded in the contingent peculiarities of the human hand can aspire to uncover all the mysteries of the universe? Can omniscience spring from an opposable thumb? It seems unlikely, so why presume that the mysteries of consciousness will be revealed to a thumb-shaped brain like ours?

The “mysterianism” I advocate is really nothing more than the acknowledgment that human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical and expendable feature of life on earth – an incremental adaptation based on earlier forms of intelligence that no one would regard as faintly omniscient. The current state of the philosophy of mind, from my point of view, is just a reflection of one evolutionary time-slice of a particular bipedal species on a particular humid planet at this fleeting moment in cosmic history – as is everything else about the human animal. There is more ignorance in it than knowledge.

His summary of the various positions misses the mark on dualism: Dualism is focused – as a science should be – on how consciousness interacts with the environment. Other positions are focused on denying one or another aspect of the encounter.

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16 Responses to Memo from materialists: Science is over. Oh and, by the way, consciousness doesn’t matter

  1. To his first comment, you’ve highlighted, where he expresses profound wonder at our ability to comprehend reality, I offer this:

    Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video – (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

    Why should the human mind be able to comprehend reality so deeply? – referenced article
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qGvbg_212biTtvMschSGZ_9kYSqhooRN4OUW_Pw-w0E/edit

    To his second comment where he tries to belittle the wonder he expressed in the first statement to a ‘nothing more than’ nihilistic statement, I offer this quote I stumbled across yesterday;

    “When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again: it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness. All that quantum mechanics purports to provide are probability connections between subsequent impressions (also called “apperceptions”) of the consciousness, and even though the dividing line between the observer, whose consciousness is being affected, and the observed physical object can be shifted towards the one or the other to a considerable degree, it cannot be eliminated. It may be premature to believe that the present philosophy of quantum mechanics will remain a permanent feature of future physical theories; it will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.”-
    Eugene Wigner – (Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, Eugene Wigner, in Wheeler and Zurek, p.169) – received Nobel Prize in 1963 for ‘Quantum Symmetries’
    http://www.informationphilosop.....ts/wigner/

    As to Wigner’s worry that,,,

    ,,,It may be premature to believe that the present philosophy of quantum mechanics will remain a permanent feature of future physical theories,

    I think Dr. Wigner would be very pleased to see this recent development:

    An experimental test of all theories with predictive power beyond quantum theory – May 2011
    Excerpt: Hence, we can immediately refute any already considered or yet-to-be-proposed alternative model with more predictive power than this (quantum theory).
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1105.0133

    I think this is pretty neat. Scientists dig for centuries trying to reveal the basis of reality, and finally after all that struggle they find that, at the base level of quantum mechanics, consciousness plays a integral, even central, role in reality. This development is very reminiscent of this quote from Robert Jastrow about Big Bang cosmology:

    “Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world….the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. Consider the enormousness of the problem : Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks: ‘What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter or energy into the universe?’ And science cannot answer these questions. “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” – Robert Jastrow – founding director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

    Verse and Music:

    Proverbs 21:30
    There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.

    Chris Tomlin – Holy Is The Lord God Almighty -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EduKNYVBKH8

  2. McGinn’s naturalism leads to the conclusion that consciousness should not exist. We are after all just biological machines. But rather than acknowledge the obvious fact that his view of reality leads to absurdity, he presses on because the only alternative is to believe in the existence of an immaterial soul and in God.

    Here is a sound argument that can solve all his problems.

    1. We know what a thing is by observing how it acts.
    2. The mind/soul acts to produce abstract immaterial concepts and rational arguments that no material entity can produce.

    Therefore, the mind/soul is not a material entity, but must be immaterial. Furthermore, this tells us that not only is it possible for immaterial entities to exist, based on our own experience and reason immaterial entities do in fact exist and some form of dualism is true.

  3. Consciousness, or we might say, thinking, is an essential part of what makes us human. Thinking is impossible apart from language. I M P O S S I B L E. All languages are, essentially, a set of symbols and a set of rules for organizing those symbols in various ways to create thought, or information, or ideas. These rules are not only arbitrary, they are contingent. This means that they are not driven or organized or created by or explained by reference to the laws of physics. This means that humans also have free will. Every time a person thinks they prove that they have free will because they arrange the symbols that they need in such a way so as to think and/or communicate what they intend to think and/or communicate. This also means that intentionality, the real, genuine article, also exists. If I did not intend to be writing this post I would not be writing this post. But I am writing this post. Therefore, I DO INTEND to be writing this post. This is not the fake Dawkins “appearance of purpose,” but real purpose. And how would he know the difference anyway??? How could he be aware of the fake if there were no real purpose??

    Languages only work because people agree to use them and know them. If you don’t know the symbols and rules then you cannot think or communicate in that language. Physics cannot, IN PRINCIPLE, explain or account for the phenomenon of language. Physics can only account for, and indeed only claims to account for, the interactions of physical entities. But language is S Y M B O L I C. That means one thing stands for another thing. Physics cannot account for his. EVER. E V E R. Therefore, the naturalist/materialist attempt to provide an explanation for everything fails. Not only is naturalism false, it is not even possible for it to be true. Ontological naturalism, as a set of minimal intellectual commitments (to the causal closure of nature at least), fails to explain the most fundamental aspect of human beings. We think. That people still consider naturalism or materialism, if you will, a legitimate position astonishes me. It is patently false and this brief explanation shows exactly why. The Colin McGinn’s of the world will never “get it” because they don’t want to “get it.” They are, regrettably, in the very strictest sense of the word, and in so many ways, FOOLS.

  4. 4

    I am always amazed by people like McGinn. Everything they write is loaded with an implicit qualification: “Except for me” If this were not so they would be forced to admit either (1) they are wrong; or (2) what they have written is literally meaningless.

  5. David Berlinski writes about the vice and ladder to describe this logical contradiction

    http://ricochet.com/main-feed/.....ng-of-Time

    My question for him would be: Are lower animals(without free-will conscious minds) also able to reflect upon their own illusive consciousness, as he has just done?

  6. Thanks TG for that well thought out post!

    Barry also has a good point that falsifies everything McGinn has to say as well. You can’t get outside of yourself to study humans. You are under the same limitations and laws as every other human so you can’t really objectively study them because you are one of them.

  7. “The current state of the philosophy of mind, from my point of view, is just a reflection of one evolutionary time-slice of a particular bipedal species on a particular humid planet at this fleeting moment in cosmic history – as is everything else about the human animal.”

    What a dreadful, miserable worldview!

  8. tjguy – first, thanks. Then “You are under the same limitations and laws as every other human so you can’t really objectively study them because you are one of them.”

    Another way to say this is that we all have agendas. I don’t think it’s that we can’t be objective, it’s just that we can’t escape being what we are. The Law of Identity rules us even here. We necessarily bring our point of view (ultimately) to the table because we are what we are. That’s (one of the reasons) why the First Principles of Reason or Rational Thought are so important. They are, or should be, the starting place for EVERYONE as they try to figure out the universe they live in. People who start with an agenda other than an unshakeable commitment to reason, and evidence as interpreted and explained by reason, are doomed to end up like McGinn. A sorry excuse for a thinker who peddles intellectual sewage and probably is not even aware of it by now. He believes his own BS. A fatal flaw.

  9. c hand @ 5

    Would you please clarify the point you are trying to make? Thanks.

  10. re Barry @ 4. EXACTLY.

  11. re inunison @ 7. Worse, it’s false. Dreadful and miserable are sometimes true. :-)

  12. tgpeeler,

    What would be really interesting is to construct or adopt a dreadful and miserable worldview that is also true.

    I dare you! :P

  13. I pass. It’s impossible. Christianity is true so the only way one can make that dreadful and miserable is to reject it. Sadly, many do.

  14. tg-
    I affirm “Cogito, ergo sum.” McGinn affirms cogito, but does not deduce “ergo sum” of the mind. Would he not also expect other (non-human) brains to engage “cogito” but stop short of “ergo sum”

    What are the cognitive requirements of a mind( or brain) to be able to doubt its own existence?

  15. This short talk on QM and consciousness is very good:

    Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness – A New Measurement – Bernard Haisch, Ph.D (Shortened version of entire video with notes in description of video)
    http://vimeo.com/37517080

    This quote from the video is a gem:

    “I’m going to talk about the Bell inequality, and more importantly a new inequality that you might not have heard of called the Leggett inequality, that was recently measured. It was actually formulated almost 30 years ago by Professor Leggett, who is a Nobel Prize winner, but it wasn’t tested until about a year and a half ago (in 2007), when an article appeared in Nature, that the measurement was made by this prominent quantum group in Vienna led by Anton Zeilinger, which they measured the Leggett inequality, which actually goes a step deeper than the Bell inequality and rules out any possible interpretation other than consciousness creates reality when the measurement is made.” – Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., Calphysics Institute, is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications.

    Further notes:

    What drives materialists crazy is that consciousness cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or studied in a laboratory. But how could it be otherwise? Consciousness is the very thing that is DOING the seeing, the tasting, the smelling, etc… We define material objects by their effect upon our senses – how they feel in our hands, how they appear to our eyes. But we know consciousness simply by BEING it! – APM – UD blogger

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1kpDwWetu66fBRlPM7zjA5BpHzcu5wBY7AdB7gOz51OQ/edit

    Does Quantum Biology Support A Quantum Soul? – Stuart Hameroff – video (notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/29895068

    Verse and Music:

    Psalm 139:7-14
    Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

    Kari Jobe – Revelation Song –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FObjd5wrgZ8

  16. c hand @ 14 – “What are the cognitive requirements of a mind( or brain) to be able to doubt its own existence?”

    To exist. That seems to me to be Descartes’ point. It’s a first principle. Identity (and existence). He takes an epistemological view but the ontological view is logically first. Sum ergo cogito. (If you can do that in Latin. I have no idea.) In English, I exist. Therefore I think. We can’t “get behind” our existence. If we are thinking, we exist. If we are thinking, we can doubt (foolishly) anything we want to doubt. If I understand your point… I may still not…

    p.s. My basic math skills sure are improving…

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