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Consciousness as Mysterious

McGinn suggests that our quest to understand consciousness is futile. Other myste- rians believe that consciousness might be understood after a scientific revolution. Searle thinks that consciousness is an emergent brain feature and no more mysterious than digestion or photosynthesis. But mysterians do not see how we could understand consciousness through causal analysis, whether emergent or not.

How does consciousness fit into nature? I am in a northern California beach cottage, looking out over a glittering ocean. My gaze plays catch with thundering waves and shrieking seagulls. At the center of these experiences is where I find myself as “consciousness”—a consciousness of the world as full of life, beauty, and meaning. How can that be? The rock that sticks out in the water is not just any object. To me, it is a jagged, ocean-worn, magnificent rock, shaped like the tooth of some carnivorous animal. The same is true for all that enters my consciousness: I experience the world under meaningful aspects.

Science is said to give me an objective view from nowhere in particular, but I cannot imagine what it would be like to be conscious without experiencing things as full of meaning—my view is never from nowhere. Consciousness—the mystery—poses the question of how to fit meaning and experience into our naturalized world picture. Science has been successful in explaining nature. Think of how far science has gone in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. What could science afford us in terms of an explanation for consciousness? How could such an explanation be couched?

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