Consciousness as a Modern Mystery. Can Consciousness be Explained?
Searle claims that consciousness is a brain feature—no more mysterious than photosynthesis. The brain is a biological system, which causes consciousness as a higher-level, emergent feature. Neuroscience will eventually tell us how it works. But philosopher Colin McGinn (1950-) is skeptical:
How could the aggregation of millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective awareness? We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we have, it seems, no understanding whatever of how this can be so. It strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic. Somehow, we feel, the water of the physical brain is turned into the wine of consciousness, but we draw a total blank on the nature of this conversion. Neural transmissions just seem like the wrong kind of materials with which to bring consciousness into the world, but it appears that in some way they perform this mysterious feat. (McGinn 1989)
McGinn calls for a surrender and finds it unlikely that we can understand how consciousness works. It’s a causal but incomprehensible physical phenomenon. Those who find a mysterious gap between the brain and consciousness are called mysterians. To put the gap question into context, let us remind ourselves of some of the philosophy of mind we have covered.