The Brain: An Unbridgeable Gulf

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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.

Nevertheless, consciousness is surely a natural biological product, as devoid of the otherworldly as digestion and blood circulation. It comes and goes, waxes and wanes, grows and dies.

So why is it so hard to tame scientifically? The answer, I suggest, lies not in the stars but in ourselves: our brains have not evolved with the necessary equipment to resolve this mystery. Our brains are good for getting us around and mating successfully, and even for doing some serious physics, but they go blank when they try to understand how they produce the awareness that is our prized essence. The consolation is that we shall always be of intense interest to ourselves, long after quantum theory has become old hat.

McGinn's most recent book is Shakespeare's Philosophy