Colin McGinn - Can we solve the Mind-body problem.pdf

(834 KB) Pobierz
Can We Solve the Mind--BodyProblem?
Colin McGinn
Mind, New Series, Volume 98, Issue 391 (Jul., 1989), 349-366.
Stable URL: 1%3C349%3ACWSTMP%3E2.O.C0%3B2-3
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you
have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and
you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or
printed page of such transmission.
Mind is published by Oxford University Press. Please contact the publisher for further permissions regarding the
use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at
01989 Oxford University Press
JSTOR and the JSTOR logo are trademarks of JSTOR, and are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
For more information on JSTOR
02003 JSTOR
Fri Mar 28 10:50:422003
Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?
How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a
result of initiating nerve tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the
Djin, where Aladdin rubbed his lamp in the story . . . (Julian Huxley)
We have been trying for a long time to solve the mind-body problem. It
has stubbornly resisted our best efforts. The mystery persists. I think the
time has come to admit candidly that we cannot resolve the mystery. But I
also think that this very insolubility-or the reason for it-removes the
philosophical problem. In this paper I explain why I say these outrageous
The specific problem I want to discuss concerns consciousness, the hard
nut of the mind-body problem. How is it possible for conscious states to
depend upon brain states? How can technicolour phenomenology arise
from soggy grey matter? What makes the bodily organ we call the brain so
radically different from other bodily organs, say the kidneys-the body
parts without a trace of consciousness? How could the aggregation of
millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective awareness?
We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we
have, it seems, no understanding whatever of how this can be so. It strikes
us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic. Somehow, we feel, the water of
the physical brain is turned into the wine of consciousness, but we draw a
total blank on the nature of this conversion. Neural transmissions just
seem like the wrong kind of materials with which to bring consciousness
into the world, but it appears that in some way they perform this
mysterious feat. The mind-body problem is the problem of understanding
how the miracle is wrought, thus removing the sense of deep mystery. We
want to take the magic out of the link between consciousness and the
Purported solutions to the problem have tended to assume one of two
One of the peculiarities of the mind-body problem is the difficulty of formulating it in a rigorous
way. We have a sense of the problem that outruns our capacity to articulate it clearly. Thus we quickly
find ourselves resorting to invitations to look inward, instead of specifying precisely what it is about
consciousness that makes it inexplicable in terms of ordinary physical properties. And this can make it
seem that the problem is spurious. A creature without consciousness would not properly appreciate the
problem (assuming such a creature could appreciate other problems). I think an adequate treatment of
the mind-body problem should explain why it is so hard to state the problem explicitly. My treatment
locates our difficulty in our inadequate conceptions of the nature of the brain and consciousness. In
fact, if we knew their natures fully we would already have solved the problem. This should become
clear later.
Mind, Val. xcviii, no. 391, July 1989
@ Oxford University Press 1989
350 Colin McGinn
forms. One form, which we may call constructive, attempts to specify
some natural property of the brain (or body) which explains how
consciousness can be elicited from it. Thus functionalism, for example,
suggests a property-namely, causal rolewhich is held to be satisfied by
both brain states and mental states; this property is supposed to explain
how conscious states can come from brain states2The other form, which
has been historically dominant, frankly admits that nothing merely natural
could do the job, and suggests instead that we invoke supernatural entities
or divine interventions. Thus we have Cartesian dualism and Leibnizian
pre-established harmony. These 'solutions' at least recognize that some-
thing pretty remarkable is needed if the mind-body relation is to be made
sense of; they are as extreme as the problem. The approach I favour is
naturalistic but not constructive: I do not believe we can ever specify what
it is about the brain that is responsible for consciousness, but I am sure
that whatever it is it is not inherently miraculous. The problem arises, I
want to suggest, because we are cut off by our very cognitive constitution
from achieving a conception of that natural property of the brain (or of
consciousness) that accounts for the psychophysical link. This is a kind of
causal nexus that we are precluded from ever understanding, given the
way we have to form our concepts and develop our theories. No wonder we
find the problem so difficult!
Before I can hope to make this view plausible, I need to sketch the general
conception of cognitive competence that underlies my position. Let me
introduce the idea of cognitive closure. A type of mind M is cognitively closed
with respect to a property P (or theory T) if and only if the concept-forming
procedures at M's disposal cannot extend to a grasp of P (or an understand-
ing of T). Conceiving minds come in different kinds, equipped with varying
powers and limitations, biases and blindspots, so that properties (or theories)
may be accessible to some minds but not to others. What is closed to the
mind of a rat may be open to the mind of a monkey, and what is open to us
may be closed to the monkey. Representational power is not all or nothing.
Minds are biological products like bodies, and like bodies they come in
different shapes and sizes, more or less capacious, more or less suited to
certain cognitive tasks.3 This is particularly clear for perceptual faculties, of
I would also classify panpsychism as a constructive solution, since it attempts to explain
consciousness in terms of properties of the brain that are as natural as consciousness itself. Attributing
specks of proto-consciousness to the constituents of matter is not supernatural in the way postulating
immaterial substances or divine interventions is; it is merely extravagant. I shall here be assuming that
panpsychism, like all other extant constructive solutions, is inadequate as an answer to the mind-body
problem-as (of course) are the supernatural 'solutions'. I am speaking to those who still feel
perplexed (almost everyone, I would think, at least in their heart).
This kind of view of cognitive capacity is forcefully advocated by Noam Chomsky in Refections on
Language, Patheon Books, 1975, and by Jerry Fodor in The Modularity of Mind, Cambridge, Mass.,
MIT Press, 1983. Chomsky distinguishes between 'problems', which human minds are in principle
equipped to solve, and 'mysteries', which systematically elude our understanding; and he envisages a
study of our cognitive systems that would chart these powers and limitations. I am here engaged in
such a study, citing the mind-body problem as falling on the side of the mysteries.
Can We Solves the Mind-Body Problem? 351
course: perceptual closure is hardly to be denied. Different speciesarecapable of
perceiving different properties of the world, and no species can perceive
every property things may instantiate (without artificial instrumentation
anyway). But such closure does not reflect adversely on the reality of the
properties that lie outside the representational capacities in question; a
property is no less real for not being reachable from a certain kind of
perceiving and conceiving mind. The invisible parts of the electromagnetic
spectrum are just as real as the visible parts, and whether a specific kind of
creature can form conceptual representations of these imperceptible parts
does not determine whether they exist. Thus cognitive closure with
respect to P does not imply irrealism about P. That P is (as we might say)
noumenal for M does not show that P does not occur in some naturalistic
scientific theory T-it shows only that T is not cognitively accessible to M.
Presumably monkey minds and the property of being an electron illustrate
this possibility. And the question must arise as to whether human minds
are closed with respect to certain true explanatory theories. Nothing, at
least, in the concept of reality shows that everything real is open to the
human concept-forming faculty-if, that is, we are realists about reality.4
Consider a mind constructed according to the principles of classical
empiricism, a Humean mind. Hume mistakenly thought that human
minds were Humean, but we can at least conceive of such a mind (perhaps
dogs and monkeys have Humean minds). A Humean mind is such that
perceptual closure determines cognitive closure, since 'ideas' must always
be copies of 'impressions'; therefore the concept-forming system cannot
transcend what can be perceptually presented to the subject. Such a mind
will be closed with respect to unobservables; the properties of atoms, say,
will not be representable by a mind constructed in this way. This implies
that explanatory theories in which these properties are essentially men-
tioned will not be accessible to a Humean mind.5 And hence the
observable phenomena that are explained by allusion to unobservables will
be inexplicable by a mind thus limited. But notice: the incapacity to
explain certain phenomena does not carry with it a lack of recognition of
the theoretical problems the phenomena pose. You might be able to
See Thomas Nagel's discussion of realism in The View From Nowhere, Oxford, Oxford University
Press, 1986, ch. VI. He argues there for the possibility of properties we can never grasp. Combining
Nagel's realism with Chomsky-Fodor cognitive closure gives a position looking very much like Locke's
in the Essay Concerning Human (Jnderstanding: the idea that our God-given faculties do not equip us to
fathom the deep truth about reality. In fact, Locke held precisely this about the relation between mind
and brain: only divine revelation could enable us to understand how 'perceptions' are produced in our
minds by material objects.
Hume, of course, argued, in effect, that no theory essentially employing a notion of objective
causal necessitation could be grasped by our minds-and likewise for the notion of objective
persistence. We might compare the frustrations of the Humean mind to the conceptual travails of the
pure sound beings discussed in Ch. I1 of P. F. Strawson's Individunls, London, Methuen, 1959; both
arc types of mind whose constitution puts various concepts beyond them. We can do a lot better than
these truncated minds, but we also have our constitutional limitations.
Colin McGinn
appreciate a problem without being able to formulate (even in principle)
the solution to that problem (I suppose human children are often in this
position, at least for a while). A Humean mind cannot solve the problems
that our physics solves, yet it might be able to have an inkling of what
needs to be explained. We would expect, then, that a moderately
intelligent enquiring Humean mind will feel permanently perplexed and
mystified by the physical world, since the correct science is forever beyond
its cognitive reach. Indeed, something like this was precisely the view of
Locke. He thought that our ideas of matter are quite sharply constrained
by our perceptions and so concluded that the true science of matter is
eternally beyond us-that we could never remove our perplexities about
(say) what solidity ultimately is.6 But it does not follow for Locke that
nature is itself inherently mysterious; the felt mystery comes from our own
cognitive limitations, not from any objective eeriness in the world. It looks
today as if Locke was wrong about our capacity to fathom the nature of the
physical world, but we can still learn from his fundamental thought-the
insistence that our cognitive faculties may not be up to solving every
problem that confronts us. To put the point more generally: the human
mind may not conform to empiricist principles, but it must conform to
some principles-and it is a substantive claim that these principles permit
the solution of every problem we can formulate or sense. Total cognitive
openness is not guaranteed for human beings and it should not be
expected. Yet what is noumenal for us may not be miraculous in itself. We
should therefore be alert to the possibility that a problem that strikes us as
deeply intractable, as utterly baffling, may arise from an area of cognitive
closure in our ways of representing the world.7 That is what I now want to
argue is the case with our sense of the mysterious nature of the connection
between consciousness and the brain. We are biased away from arriving at
the correct explanatory theory of the psychophysical nexus. And this
makes us prone to an illusion of objective mystery. Appreciating this
should remove the philosophical problem: consciousness does not, in
reality, arise from the brain in the miraculous way in which the Djin arises
from the lamp.
I now need to establish three things: (i) there exists some property of the
brain that accounts naturalistically for consciousness; (ii) we are cogni-
tively closed with respect to that property; but (iii) there is no philosophi-
cal (as opposed to scientific) mind-body problem. Most of the work will go
into establishing (ii).
See the Essay, Book 11, ch. IV. Locke compares the project of saying what solidity ultimately is to
trying to clear up a blind man's vision by talking to him.
' Some of the more arcane aspects of cosmology and quantum theory might be thought to lie just
within the bounds of human intelligibility.Chomsky suggests that the causation of behaviour might be
necessarily mysterious to human investigators: see Rejections on Language, p. 156. I myself believe that
the mind-body problem exhibits a qualitatively different level of mystery from this case (unless it is
taken as an aspect of that problem).
Zgłoś jeśli naruszono regulamin