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New Mysterianism is a philosophy proposing that certain problems will never be explained or at the least cannot be explained by the human mind at its current evolutionary stage. The problem most often referred to is the hard problem of consciousness; i.e. how to explain sentience and qualia and their interaction with consciousness.
New Mysterianism is often characterized as a presupposition that some problems cannot be solved. Such critics would say that it's arrogant to assume that a problem cannot be solved just because we haven't solved it yet. On the other hand, New Mysterians would say that it's just as absurd to assume that every problem can be solved. Crucially, New Mysterians would argue that they did not start with any supposition as to the solvability of the question, and instead reached their conclusion through logical reasoning.
Owen Flanagan noted in his 1991 book "Science of the Mind" that some modern thinkers have suggested that consciousness might never be completely explained. Flanagan called them "the new mysterians" after the rock group ? and the Mysterians. The term originated with the Japanese alien-invasion film The Mysterians. The "old mysterians" are thinkers throughout history who have put forward a similar position. They include Leibniz, Dr Johnson, and Thomas Huxley. The latter said, "How is it that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp." [6, p. 229, quote]
Noam Chomsky distinguishes between problems, which seem solvable, at least in principle, through scientific methods, and mysteries which do not, even in principle. He notes that the cognitive capabilities of all organisms are limited by biology, e.g. a mouse will never speak. In the same way, certain problems may be beyond our understanding.
The term New Mysterianism has been extended by some writers to encompass the wider philosophical position that humans don't have the intellectual ability to solve many hard problems, not just the problem of consciousness, at a scientific level. This position is also known as Anti-Constructive Naturalism.
For example, in the mind-body problem, emergent materialism claims that humans aren't smart enough to determine "the relationship between mind and matter."  Strong agnosticism is a religious application of this position.
Colin McGinn is the leading proponent of the New Mysterian position.
References[edit | edit source]
- McGinn, Colin, The Problem of Consciousness
- McGinn, Colin, Problems in Philosophy: the limits of enquiry
- McGinn, Colin, The Mysterious Flame
- Blackburn, Simon, Think: A compelling introduction to philosophy, chapter two
- Flanagan, Owen, The Science of the Mind (1991) 2ed MIT Press, Cambridge
- Horgan, John, The Undiscovered Mind (1999), Phoenix, ISBN 0753810980
[edit | edit source]
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