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8/5/09

Colin McGinn: Between The Brain and The Mind

Blame it all on Descartes. The mind/body split, I mean. How do you get from "in here" to "out there"? How do you get from something subjective, mind, to something objective, brain? A mind stops being a mind as soon as it is taken from the skull and placed on a table to examine it. At that point it becomes a brain. You can dissect a brain and look at it under a microscope, but you are no closer to that subjective experience of what it feels like to be an "I."

And how about getting from "in here" to "out there"? Is there a little person inside each of us and this person acts as stage director between the inner and the outer? I speak here of what has been traditionally called the self, that which interacts between our thoughts and the world.

Recent research in neuroscience has many believing that soon we will have a working model for the gap between the brain and the conscious mind. Philosophers such as Daniel Dennett believe that we have made too much of the gap, and that it is really not that big a problem. Think of consciousness as emergent from matter, the brain, and somehow the problem is no longer insoluble. Well, okay.

Not so fast, says Colin McGinn, who holds that we can never bridge the gap between mind and brain. He has this to say about that:

"There appears to be what Wittgenstein called an "unbridgeable gulf" between the brain and the conscious mind. The paradox of the mind-body problem is that the explanatory causes of consciousness in the brain are not discoverable by inspecting the brain, and introspection cannot reveal the rootedness of consciousness in brain tissue. Our modes of knowing about the mind-brain nexus don't home in on the glue that binds the two together." More

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