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The mysterious flame : conscious minds in a…

The mysterious flame : conscious minds in a material world (edition 1999)

by Colin McGinn

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Title:The mysterious flame : conscious minds in a material world
Authors:Colin McGinn
Info:New York: Basic Books, c1999. xiii, 242 p. ; 22 cm. 1st ed
Collections:Your library
Tags:philosophy, consciousness

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The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World by Colin McGinn



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The fundamental argument of this book is that there is (or may be) a fundamental inability on the part of human beings how the brain (which is extended in space and time) gives rise to consciousness (which is not so extended). This fundamental inability he calls "cognitive closure."

This is an interesting idea, but there are a couple of problems with the way McGinn handles it. First of all, people have come up with this idea before; he's not really adding anything new, as far as I can tell. Schopenhauer already said the same thing: that consciousness is that which represents the world as it is extended in space and time, and therefore it itself cannot be known in terms of space and time (that which knows everything and is known by none, I believe he put it somewhere in the World as Will and Representation). Secondly, McGinn makes his own argument far less interesting than it could be by merely saying that the brain-mind problem may be insoluble, but may not be--the only argument for its insolubility is that we've not yet solved it. He likens it to other problems we may never be able to solve, like whether aliens exist (if I recall correctly). The problem with this is that he's denying the fundamental difference between the brain-mind problem, on the one hand, and all problems in space and time, on the other. The latter are all, in theory, soluble by us humans. The former not only may not be solved, it cannot be solved, because it is by the existence of a consciousness that time and space exist at all, and therefore we cannot know consciousness in terms of that which it enables to exist, i.e. time and space. ( )
2 vote Matt_the_Cat | Jun 19, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0465014232, Paperback)

You have a piece of meat in your head called a brain. You also have perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and ideas, which scientists assert are related in some fashion to that piece of meat. How can this be? Philosopher Colin McGinn looks at this question in depth in The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World, a slim, accessible book that presents a novel answer: we'll never know. We can look at the brain from outside, and look at our consciousness from within, but never the twain shall meet.

Not at all defeatist in tone, The Mysterious Flame rejects strict materialism and dualism, which seek to solve the mind-body problem in fairly unsatisfactory ways, and claims instead that our intelligence is not an appropriate tool to use for understanding the interface between subjective experience and material reality. (And, unfortunately, we don't have anything better.) Instead of bemoaning our fate, McGinn turns the traditional questions around and asks "What can we know about ourselves?" This is just as interesting as any question being asked by philosophers of the mind, and in fact seems to merit a higher priority. Whether McGinn's arguments will succeed in the marketplace of ideas is an open question, but they certainly deserve the attention of anyone interested in the nature of human thought. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:26 -0400)

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