Skip to main content

Galen Strawson and the Mind-Body Problem

Image result for galen strawson mental reality

A recent essay by the philosopher Galen Strawson has looked at the mind-body problem from a distinctive angle.

The title of the essay seems more straightforward than it is. "Consciousness isn't a mystery. It's Matter." One first gets the impression that Strawson is taking a straightforward materialist/eliminativist view: consciousness simply is matter in one of its operations. But that is to presume that the "it" in the second sentence is an unambiguous reference to the word "consciousness" in the first sentence.

Another reading suggests itself, though. The "it" could refer to the word "mystery." The second sentence would then mean, "It's matter that is the real mystery."

Both meanings fall within the scope of Strawson's intention.

It is what Strawson calls a Very Large Mistake to think that we know enough about matter, through the science of physics, to know that consciousness can't be a material fact. We don't know what matter is, and all physics tells us -- or can given the nature of the science ever tell us -- is what mathematical equations describe its behavior. Not what matter is.

Once we understand this we can free ourselves of any eliminativist temptation. This impulse to deny that consciousness exists because we think we know what matter is and we think this matter must be all there is -- that impulse is in Strawson's view "the most extraordinary move that has ever been made in the history of human thought."

He doesn't mean that in a good way.


Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…