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Why is Consciousness So Baffling?: Colin McGinn - Closer to Truth

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Video from Closer to Truth

"How does consciousness weave its magical web of inner awareness—appreciating music, enjoying art, feeling love? Even when all mental functions may be explained, the great mystery—what it 'feels like' inside—will likely remain. This is the 'Hard Problem' of consciousness. What could even count as a theory of consciousness, even in principle?" from video introduction.

"Colin McGinn is probably the most prominent of the New Mysterians – people who basically offer a counsel of despair about consciousness. Look, he says, we’ve been at this long enough – isn’t it time to confess that we’re never going to solve the problem? Not that there’s anything magic or insoluble about it really: it’s just that our minds aren’t up to it. Everything has its limitations, and not being able to understand consciousness just happens to be one of ours. Once we realise this, however, the philosophical worry basically goes away.

McGinn doesn’t exactly mean that human beings are just too stupid; nor is he offering the popular but mistaken argument that the human brain cannot understand itself because containers cannot contain themselves (so that we can never absorb enough data to grasp our own workings). No: instead he introduces the idea of cognitive closure. This means that the operations the human mind can carry out are incapable in principle of taking us to a proper appreciation of what consciousness is and how it works. It’s as if, on a chess board, you were limited to diagonal moves: you could go all over the board but never link the black and white squares. That wouldn’t mean that one colour was magic, or immaterial. Equally, from God’s point of view, there’s probably no mystery about consciousness at all – it may well be a pretty simple affair when you understand it – but we can no more take the God’s-eye point of view than a dog could adopt a human understanding of physics...from the article: Colin McGinn


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