The view for which McGinn is known is a jejune prediction, namely that science cannot ever solve the problem of how the brain produces consciousness. On what does he base his prediction? Flimsy stuff. First, he is pretty sure our brain is not up to the job. Why not? Try this: a blind man does not experience color, and he will not do so even when we explain the brain mechanisms of experiencing color. Added to which, McGinn says that he cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be a bat, or how conscious experience might be scientifically explained (his brain not being up to the job, as he insists). This cognitive inadequacy he deems to have universal epistemological significance.
Alongside the arrogance, here is one whopping flaw: no causal explanation for a phenomenon, such as color vision, should be expected to actually produce that phenomenon. Here is why: the neural pathways involved in visually experiencing color are not the same pathways as those involved in intellectually understanding the mechanisms for experiencing color. Roughly speaking, experiencing color depends on areas in the back of the brain (visual areas) and intellectual understanding of an explanation depends on areas in the front of the brain.
Now what does this snark and misdirection have to do with anything McGinn actually maintains? Nothing that I can see. Here's McGinn:
Churchland’s account of my arguments for our cognitive limitations with respect to explaining consciousness bears little relation to what I have written in several books, as anyone who has dipped into those books will appreciate. What she refers to as a “whopping flaw” in my position (and that of many others) is simply a complete misreading of what has been argued: the point is not that having a causal explanation for a phenomenon should produce that phenomenon, so that a blind man will be made to see by having a good theory of vision. The point is rather that a blind man will not understand what color vision is merely by finding out about the brain mechanisms that underlie it, since he needs acquaintance with the color experiences themselves.
Churchland 0 - McGinn 1.
The articles below should help you understand some of the issues.
1. God is an absolute, or rather the absolute. That is a non-negotiable starting point for both of us. To uphold the divine absoluteness, however, it is necessary to think of God as ontologically simple, as devoid of metaphysical complexity and composition. For if God is absolute, then he cannot depend on anything else for his existence or nature. It follows that God cannot be an instance of his attributes but must be them; nor can he be an existent among existents: he must be his existence and existence itself. Indeed, God as absolute must be ipsum esse subsistens, self-subsisting Existence. These are hard sayings and sharp heads, Plantinga being one of them, find them incoherent. For details and a bit of a response to Plantinga, I refer you to my Stanford Encyclopedia article. Note also that an absolute cannot be lacking anything or in need of developing itself: it is, eternally, all that it can be. This implies that there is no act/potency distinction in God, no unrealized powers or potentialities. In the classical phrase, God is actus purus, pure act, wholly actual. Dolezal puts it very well when he writes, "The consideration of God as ipsum esse subsistens and actus purus is crucial for any confession of God's absolute existence." (214)
2. But to uphold the divine absoluteness, it is also necessary that God be libertarianly free in his production of creatures. For suppose there is something in the divine nature that necessitates God's creation. Then God would depend on the world to be himself and to be fully actual. He would need what is other than himself to actualize himself. This entanglement with the relative would compromise the divine absoluteness. God would need the world as much as the world needs God. Each would require the other to be what it is. (210)
3. So God must be both simple and free to be absolute. But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities. To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities. Now Dolezal's view if I have understood him -- and he can correct me in the ComBox if I am wrong -- is that it is not only difficult to reconcile simplicity and freedom, but impossible for us, at least in our present state. "Though we discover strong reasons for confessing both simplicity and freedom in God, we cannot form an isomorphically adequate notion of how this is the case." (210) In footnote 55 on the same page, Dolezal brings up wave-particle duality: light behaves both like a particle and like a wave. We have good reason to believe that it is both despite the difficulty or impossibility of understanding how it could be both. On the basis of the quotation and the footnote I hope that Dolezal will forgive me for pinning the label 'mysterian' on him, at least with respect to the simplicity-freedom problem which is only one subproblem within the the divine simplicity constellation.
4. I grant that if we have good reason to believe that p is true, and good reason to believe that q is true, then we have good reason to believe that p and q are logically consistent (with each other) despite an absence of understanding as to how they could be mutually consistent. What is actual is possible whether or not one can render intelligible how it is possible. To give an example of my own, motion is actual, hence possible, despite my inability in the teeth of Zenonian considerations to understand how it is possible. Many similar examples could be given.
And so a mysterian move suggests itself: We are justified in maintaining both that God is simple and that God is free despite the fact that after protracted effort we cannot make logical sense of this conjunction. The fact that the conjunction -- God is simple & God is free -- appears to us, and perhaps even necessarily appears to us, given irremediable cognitive limitations on our part, to be or rather entail an explicit logical contradiction is not a good reason to reject the conjunction. The mysterian is not a dialetheist: he does not claim that there are true contradictions. Like the rest of us, the mysterian eschews them like the plague. His point is rather that a proposition's non-episodic and chronic seeming to be a contradiction does not suffice for its rejection. For it may well be that certain truths are inaccesible to us due to our mental limitations and defects, and that among these truths are some that appear to us only in the guise of contradictions, and must so appear.
Of course, Dolezal's mysterian move cannot be reasonably made unless the extant attempts (by Barry Miller, Eleonore Stump, Brian Davies, et al.) to reconcile simplicity and freedom are failures. Since I agree with Dolezal that they are, I grant him this.
5. So what are some possible questions/reservations?
First, if a (conjunctive) proposition's seeming, after careful and repeated scrutiny, to be or entail an explicit logical contradiction is not sufficient evidence of its being a contradiction, what would be? To put it another way, my inability to explain how it could be true both that p and that q does seem to be pretty good evidence that p and q are not both true. Now I said above that the actual is possible whether or not I can explain how it's possible. Granted, but if I cannot explain the how, doubt is cast on the actuality.
How adjudicate between these opposing lines of argument: A: Because X is actual, X is possible, whether or not anyone can explain how it is possible! B: Because no one can explain how it is possible, it is not possible, and therefore not actual!
Second, if all extant attempts to reconcile simplicity and freedom fail, it does not follow that there isn't a solution right over the horizon. How can a mysterian rule out the possibiity of a future solution? The mysterian seems committed to saying that it is impossible (at least in this life) that there be a solution. How can he be sure of this?
Third, if a proposition appears under careful scrutiny to be or entail a contradiction, then is there even a proposition before the mind? If you require for my salvation that I believe that God is one and God is three, what exactly are you demanding that I believe? Before I can affirm a proposition as true I must understand it, but how can I affirm as true a proposition that appears necessarily false? Such a 'proposition' is arguably not a proposition at all. (This requires development, of course . . . Richard Cartwright's Trinity paper will help you see what I am getting at.))
Classical human reason, defined in terms of common sense notions following from our own myopic experience of reality is not sufficient to discern the workings of the Universe. If time begins at the big bang, then we will have to re-explore what we mean by causality, just as the fact that electrons can be in two places at the same time doing two different things at the same time as long as we are not measuring them is completely nonsensical, but true, and has required rethinking what we mean by particles. Similar arguments by the way imply that we often need to rethink what we actually mean by 'nothing', from empty space, to the absence of space itself.
Perhaps this passage that I just dug up answers or helps to answer the question I posed yesterday: How can someone so intelligent spout such nonsense as I quoted Krauss as spouting? Answer: he's a mysterian! We have discussed mysterianism before in these pages in connection with the theologian James Anderson and in connection with the materialist philosopher of mind Colin McGinn. With Krauss (and others of course) we find the mysterian move being made in the precincts of physics. Marvellously manifold are the moves of mysterians!
Yesterday I quoted Krauss as saying, "Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur." I commented:
This is just nonsense. Whatever the laws of physics are, they are not nothing. So if the laws of physics require that something arise from nothing, then the laws of physics require that something arise without there being laws of physics. [. . .]
So you've got this situation in which nothing at all exists, and then something comes into existence because the physical laws (which don't exist) "require" it.
This implies an explicit logical contradiction: the laws of physics both do and do not exist. They do exist because they govern the transition from nothing to something. They do not exist because they are included in the nothing from which something arises.
Completely nonsensical (in the sense of being logically contradictory) but true nonetheless!
Now this is either a mysterian position or a dialetheist position. The dialetheist holds that, in reality, there are some true contradictions. The mysterian does not hold this; he holds that there are, in reality, no true contradictions, but some propositions no matter how carefully we consider them appear to us as contradictory, or perhaps must appear to us as contradictory given our irremediable cognitive limitations.
This raises all sorts of interesting questions. Here is one: One task of science is to render the world intelligible to us (understandable by us). But if natural science in one of its branches issues in propositions that are unintelligible (either because they are intrinsically contradictory or such that they appear or even must appear as contradictory to us), then how can one call this science?
Forgive me for being naive, but I would have thought that science, genuine science, cannot contain propositions that are nonsensical! And would it not be more reasonable to take the apparent nonsensicality that crops up in the more far-out branches as a sign that something has gone wrong somewhere?
Re: your recent post on Mysterianism, it seems that the central paragraph is this:
And so it is with the mysterian materialist. He bids me accept propositions that as far as I can tell are not propositions at all. A proposition is a sense, but the 'propositions' he bids me accept make no sense. For example, he wants me to accept that my present memories of Boston are all identical to states of my brain. That makes no sense. Memory states are intentional states: they have content. No physical state has content. So no intentional state could be a physical state. The very idea is unintelligible. Where there are no thoughts one can always mouth words. So one can mouth the words, 'Memories are in the head' or 'Thoughts are literally brain states.' But one cannot attach a noncontradictory thought to the words.
The hinge of it is the assertion "No physical state has content."
But isn't this itself the crux of the mysterian materialist's position? He will dispute your assertion, and reply that it appears that some very specific physical states (or perhaps more accurately, physical processes), namely those that arise in the uniquely complex material objects in our skulls, do in fact have content, and just how that is managed is what we do not yet understand. Your impossibility is his actuality, and so his mystery.
You are right that the mysterian materialist will maintain that some physical states do have content. But he also maintains that we will never be able to understand how this is possible. Thus your 'not yet understand' is not accurate. As Colin McGinn, head honcho of the mysterian materialists, puts it, "My thesis is that consciousness depends on an unknowable natural property of the brain." (The Mysterious Flame, p. 28,emphasis added) Someone who holds that with the advance of neuroscience we will eventually solve the mind-body problem is not a mysterian.
The mysterian materialist position is that mental activity just is brain activity. If that is actually so, then it is possibly so whether or not we can render intelligible to ourselves how it is so. For McGinn, we will never render this intelligible because it is impossible to do so. The mind-body problem is "perfectly genuine" (212) but has never been solved and is indeed insoluble because "our minds are not equipped to solve it, rather as the cat's mind is not up to discovering relativity theory or evolution by natural selection." (212)
You are right: my impossibility is his actuality. For him, the proposition that some physical states have content is true but a mystery. So he asserts what he takes to be a well-defined and possibly true proposition -- *Some physical states have content* -- but also asserts that the question of how this proposition is possible will not ever, and cannot ever, be answered due to the limitations of our cognitive architecture.
My claim is that there is no well-defined proposition before us, or rather that there is no proposition before us that could be true. There is the sentence 'Some physical states have content' but this sentence expresses no proposition that could be true. It's a little like 'Some color is a sound.' That sentence does not express a proposition that could be true. I don't believe you would credit the sort of mysterian who maintains that it is true that some colors are sounds, and therefore possibly true, despite our inability to explain how it is true. You would laugh out of the room the guy who said it was true but a mystery. You would say, 'Get out of here, you are talking nonsense.'
How do we know it is nonsense? We know this by thinking attentively about colors and sounds and by grasping that a color is not the sort of item that could be a sound. Similalrly, we know it is nonsense to identify a memory of Boston with a brain state by thinking attentively of both and grasping that the one is not the sort of item that could be identical to the other. (Because the one has content while the other doesn't so the two cannot be identical by the Indiscernibility of Identicals.)
Moving from content to qualia, I would say 'This smell of burnt garlic is identical to some brain state of mine' is on all fours with 'Quadruplicity drinks procrastination.' It can't be so, and for a very deep reason: the very electro-chemical and other vocabulary (axons, dendrites, synapses, diffusion of sodium ions, voltage differentials, etc.) cannot be meaningfully combined with the vocabulary of phenomenology.. When you combine them you get nonsense. The resulting propositions -- if you want to call them that -- cannot be true.
Isn't "No physical state has content", in this context at least, question-begging? I don't believe I am simply begging the question. It is more complicated than that. It may help if I lay out both the mysterian and my argument.
1. Mental activity is just brain activity. (Naturalist assumption) 2. We cannot understand how mental states could be identical to brain states. Therefore 3. This inability to understand does not reflect an objective impossibility but an irremediable limitation in our cognitive architecture: our minds are so structured that we will never be able to understand the mind-body link.
2. We cannot understand how mental states could be identical to brain states. ~3. This inability reflects an objective impossibility. Therefore ~1. Mental activity is not just brain activity.
The deep underlying issue here seems to be this: Is our inability to understand how such-and-such is broadly-logically possible a sufficient reason for denying that such-and-such is objectively broadly-logically possible? To put it another way, the issue is whether there could be true mysteries, where a mystery is a proposition that by our best lights must appear either to be or to entail a broadly-logical contradiction.
There are different sorts of materialism about the mind, among them eliminative materialism, identity-materialism, and functionalism. There is also mysterian materialism. Here is a little speech by a mysterian materialist:
Look, we are just complex physical systems, and as such wholly understandable in natural-scientific terms, if not now in full, then in the future. And yet we think and are conscious. Therefore, we are wholly material beings who think and are conscious. We cannot understand how this is possible. But it is actual, hence possible, whether or not we understand or even can understand how it is possible. It's a mystery, but true nonetheless.
What motivates this mysterian view? There is first of all the deep conviction shared by many today that there is exactly one world, this physical world, that we are parts of it, that nothing in us is not part of it, and that it and us are wholly understandable in terms of the natural sciences. This naturalist conviction implies that there is nothing special about us, that we are continuous with the rest of nature. We are nothing special in that we have no higher origin or destiny. We are mortal, like everything else that lives, and anything (conscience, consciousness, ability to reason,sensus divinitatis, etc.) that suggests otherwise is susceptible of a wholly naturalistic explanation. Part of why people embrace the naturalist conviction is that it puts paid to central tenets of old-time religion: God, the soul, post-mortem rewards and punishments, the libertarian freedom of the will, man's being an image and likeness of God, etc. So hostility to religion is certainly, for some, part of the psychological (if not logical) motivation for the acceptance of the naturalist conviction.
Now take the naturalist conviction and conjoin it to the intellectually honest admission that we have no idea at all how it is so much as possible for a wholly material being to think and enjoy conscious states. The conjunction of the Conviction and the Admission generates a mysterian position according to which one affirms as true a proposition that one cannot understand as possibly true, namely, the proposition that we are wholly material beings susceptible of exhaustive natural-scientific explanation who nonetheless think, feel, love, make and feel subject to moral demands, etc.
This mysterianism is an epistemological position according to which our very make-up makes it impossible for us ever to understand how it is possible for us to think and be conscious. The claim is not that thought and consciousness are mysterious because they are non-natural phenomena; the claim is that they are wholly natural but not understandable by us.
Well, this mysterianism is certainly to be preferred to an eliminativism which argues from the unintellibility of a material thing's thinking to the nonexistence of its thinking. But eliminativism is a lunatic position best left to the exceedingly intelligent lunatics who dreamt it up.
The mysterian position cannot be so readily dismissed. But surely there is something very strange about maintaining that there are true mysteries. If a proposition either is or entails a broadly-logical contradiction, then I wouldn't know what I had before my mind if I had such a proposition before my mind. And if I didn't know exactly which proposition I had before my mind, I wouldn't know exactly which proposition I was claiming was both true and mysterious.
Before I can take a position with respect to a proposition I must know what the hell that proposition is.
I count four positions or attitudes one can take toward a proposition: accept as true, reject as false, suspend judgment as to truth-value, practice epoché , ἐποχή. Pithier still: Accept, Reject, Suspend, Withdraw. The first three are self-explanatory. By Withdraw I mean: take no position on whether or not there is even a proposition (ein Gedanke, a complete thought) before one's mind. (The notion is derived via Benson Mates from Sextus Empiricus.) Withdrawal goes farther than Suspension. To suspend is to refuse to accept or reject a well-defined proposition while accepting that there is such a proposition before one's mind. In the state of Withdrawal I take no position on whether or not there is a well-defined proposition before my mind.
Example. A Trinitarian says, 'There is exactly one God in three divine persons.' Studying the doctrine I come to the conclusion that I can attach no definite sense to it on the ground that it seems to me to entail one or more logical contradictions. That is not a case of rejection or of suspension; it is a case of epoché. I 'bracket' (to borrow a term now from Husserl) two questions: the question as to truth-value, and the more fundamental question as to whether or not there is even a proposition (a unified, coherent, sense-structure) before my mind as opposed to an incoherent, un-unified bunch of word-senses.
Suppose you say to me, "Snow is white and snow is not white." Being the charitable fellow that I am known to be, I would not churlishly jump to impute to you the assertion of a contradiction. I would take you to be using a contradictory form of words to express a non-contradictory proposition, perhaps, the proposition that snow is white where I didn't relieve myself, but not white where I did. Or something like that. The time-honored method of showing an apparent contradiction to be merely apparent is by making a distinction in respect of time, or respect, or word sense.
But if someone insists that he means literally that snow is white and snow is not white where there is no distinction in respect of time, respect, or sense of the word 'white,' then I wouldn't know what the content of the assertion was. I wouldn't know which proposition my interlocutor was trying get across to me. For if my interlocutor was otherwise rational, the principle of charity would forbid me from imputing a contradiction to him. I would have to practice withdrawal.
And so it is with the mysterian materialist. He bids me accept propositions that as far as can tell are not propositions at all. A proposition is a sense, but the 'propositions' he bids me accept make no sense. For example, he wants me to accept that my present memories of Boston are all identical to states of my brain. That makes no sense. Memory states are intentional states: they have content. No physical state has content. So no intentional state could be a physical state. The very idea is unintelligible. Where there are no thoughts one can always mouth words. So one can mouth the words, 'Memories are in the head' or 'Thoughts are literally brain states.' But one cannot attach a noncontradictory thought to the words.
No doubt there is an illusion of sense. There is nothing syntactically wrong with 'Thoughts are brain states' or 'Sensory qualia are physical features of the brain.' And the individual words have meaning. What's more, the words taken together seem to convey a coherent thought in the way in which 'Quadruplicity drinks procrastination' does not seem to convey a coherent thought. But when the meaning is made explicit, the unintelligibility becomes manifest.
My thesis is that the mysterian thesis that these unintelligible claims are true but mysterious in that they cannot be understood by us to be so much as possibly true, is itself unintelligible. For again, what is the identity of the proposition that I am supposed toaccept as both true and mysterious?
Mysterianism is the conjunction of the naturalist conviction and the intellectually honest admission that no one has any idea of how to account for consciousness in natural-scientific terms. Given that mysterianism is untenable for the reason I adduced, the reasonable thing to do is to jettison the naturalist conviction which, after all, is merely a conviction, a deep-seated belief that is just happening to to be getting a lot of play these days.
Here is a brief explanation of mysterianism with some references.
(A guest post by Peter Lupu. Editing and commentary by BV.)
As Bill notes, we are attempting to secure and study a copy of James Anderson’s book, Paradox in Christian Theology. (Publication details here, including links to reviews.) Meanwhile, I will propose here some tentative observations that Anderson’s book may or may not have addressed. These observations are inspired by the following point Bill makes in a post above as well as by some conversations we had about the subject:
“…if I cannot see that a proposition is rationally acceptable (because it appears contradictory to me) then I wouldn't know what proposition I was accepting.”
A similar point is made by Richard Cartwright in On the Logical Problem of the Trinity: "Nor is a mystery supposed to be unintelligible, in the sense that the words in which it is expressed simply cannot be understood. After all, we are asked to believe the propositions expressed by the words, not simply that the words express some true propositions or other, we know not which."
1). Let us agree that a Trinitarian Sentence (TS) is such that
(i) The Bible entails TS;
(ii) The surface structure (SS) of TS exhibits the logical form of a contradiction;
(iii) We are not in the position currently and may not be in the position in our present form of existence ever to construct a contradiction free formulation or deep structure (DS) for TS;
Example of a TS: "The Father is God, the Son is God, the Father is not the Son, and there is exactly one God." The surface structure of this sentence is contradictory.
(This gem is pulled up from the vasty deeps of the ComBox to where it may shine in a more fitting setting. Minor editing, bolding, and comments in blue by BV.)
1). Let us say that a *real* contradiction is a sentence which comes out false according to every possible model (M): i.e., M = language-plus-domain-plus-interpretation, where an ‘interpretation’ is a complete and systematic assignment of extensions to the non-logical terms of the language (L). We assume that L is a well developed natural language such as English and we have a sufficiently rich domain that includes whatever entities are required to implement an interpretation that will suffice for theological purposes.
1.1) Note: We are assuming throughout classical logic in two sense: (a) the logical constants are interpreted classically; (b) there are no *real* true contradictions.
1.2) Sentence S is a *real* contradiction just in case there is no *normal model* M in which it comes out true. A normal model in this context is one which features an interpretation that assigns extensions to the non-logical terms in the usual way prior to resolving any potential ambiguities. On a realist conception of truth, S [if contradictory] has no truth-maker (T-maker) in any normal model or possible world.
2) Let us now define at least one sense of an *apparent contradiction* in model theoretic terms. Let S be a sentence expressible in L and suppose S comes out false in every normal model M. S appears to be a contradiction. Is it really a contradiction? Prof. Anderson maintains that there are sentences which are contradictory in every normal model, but are non-contradictory in some other models of L. How can that be? [Shouldn't Peter have 'false' for contradictory and 'true' for non-contradictory in the preceding sentence? After all, in (1) we are told in effect that contradictoriness is falsehood in every model, which implies that noncontradictoriness is truth in some model. 'Contradictory in every model' is a pleonastic expression.]
I wonder whether mysterianism in defense of such theological doctrines as the Trinity does not in the end backfire by making possible the philosophical justification of philosophical theses incompatible with it. To ease our way into this line of inquiry, let us consider materialist mysterianism.
1. If mysterianism is an acceptable approach in theology, why can't a materialist make use of it in the philosophy of mind? The (positive) mysterian maintains that there are true propositions which appear (and presumably must appear given our 'present' cognitive make-up) contradictory. This is not to be confused with dialetheism, the view that there are some true contradictions. For the mysterian there are no true contradictions, but there are some truths that must appear to us as contradictory due to our cognitive limitations.