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Michael Shermer: We can never solve mysteries like consciousness, free will, or God

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From Michael Shermer at Scientific American:

Are these “hard” problems, as philosopher David Chalmers characterized consciousness, or are they truly insoluble “mysterian” problems, as philosopher Owen Flanagan designated them (inspired by the 1960s rock group Question Mark and the Mysterians)? The “old mysterians” were dualists who believed in nonmaterial properties, such as the soul, that cannot be explained by natural processes. The “new mysterians,” Flanagan says, contend that consciousness can never be explained because of the limitations of human cognition. I contend that not only consciousness but also free will and God are mysterian problems—not because we are not yet smart enough to solve them but because they can never be solved, not even in principle, relating to how the concepts are conceived in language. Call those of us in this camp the “final mysterians.” More.

He’s right but his subsequent analysis is shallow. There is a distinction between a mystery as a problem (that is, how exactly does something happen?) and a mystery as a fact beyond our grasp.

Consciousness, someone has said, is like looking into and out of a window at the same time. We need consciousness to understand things but when we are trying to understand understanding itself… what are we trying to understand?

Science is much better suited to mysteries that are simply problems, whose answers are in principle within our grasp.

See also: At New Scientist: The neuroscientists’ bet that a signature of human consciousness will be found in the brain has only five years to go… A great deal depends on whether consciousness is the sort of thing that leaves a “signature” other than its effects. One is reminded of the Zen koan: Where is the flame after the candle goes out?

To get some idea what Koch’s Yes! wager is currently up against, see: From Scientific American: “we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.”” We can infer that the hard problem of consciousness is indeed hard when panpsychism, more or less, is taken seriously in science publications.

2 Replies to “Michael Shermer: We can never solve mysteries like consciousness, free will, or God

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    His stuff always is shallow.
    I suspect that he is pushing for a classification of problems, mysterian, that materialists cannot answer, once classified, he can shrug and knowingly smile without a need to respond.

  2. 2
    PaoloV says:

    Will Science Ever Solve the Mysteries of Consciousness, Free Will and God?

    No. Never.

    Are consciousness, free will and God insoluble mysteries?

    No. God solves all mysteries according to His sovereign will. He reveals them according to His absolutely sovereign will.

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