Logo

Philosopher Scholar

‘The Mystery of Consciousness’: An Exchange

Daniel C. Dennett, reply by John R. Searle DECEMBER 21, 1995 ISSUE

John Searle and I have a deep disagreement about how to study the mind. For Searle, it is all really quite simple. There are these bedrock, time-tested intuitions we all have about consciousness, and any theory that challenges them is just preposterous. I, on the contrary, think that the persistent problem of consciousness is going to remain a mystery until we find some such dead obvious intuition and show that, in spite of first appearances, it is false! One of us is dead wrong, and the stakes are high. Searle sees my position as “a form of intellectual pathology”; no one should be surprised to learn that the feeling is mutual. Searle has tradition on his side. My view is remarkably counterintuitive at first, as he says. But his view has some problems, too, which emerge only after some rather subtle analysis. Now how do we proceed? We each try to mount arguments to demonstrate our case and show the other side is wrong…


Why The Mind Is Not the Brain

Neo-existentialist Markus Gabriel argues that the term ‘mind’ is meaningless

“The shortest argument goes something like this: there’s what philosophers call a mereological fallacy. Mereology is the discipline which studies the relation between wholes and parts.

So imagine someone tells you that David Beckham didn’t score a goal, it was his foot. That would be an odd thing to say because Beckham couldn’t shoot for the goal without his foot, but it was the whole beast, so to speak, which shot the goal.

So, mental states like consciousness are states of an entire animal and not states of its parts. So it’s not true that the brain alone is conscious. You couldn’t be conscious without a brain, but that doesn’t mean that the brain and consciousness are identical.”

“What you call ‘mind’ in English does not exist. The ‘mind’ is a historical artefact of misguided philosophical theorising in English. As a term, it does not refer to anything. Philosophers made it up as a technical term. But no one ever tells you what that means. If you look into any standard textbook, ever since John Locke, no one will tell you what it is. It’s not like philosophers have settled the term ‘mind’ and now they’re talking about the mind-brain problem. No two analytical philosophers share the same understanding of the most important term of their discipline.

In German, we have this helpful term – ‘geist’, which roughly means ‘the bearer of mental states’. The brain alone cannot bear mental states.”

“‘Consciousness’ is slightly better than ‘the mind’ if we separate between two types of consciousness. There are different ways of drawing this distinction and I have a huge debate with John Searle on this, but here’s my distinction: intentional consciousness and phenomenal consciousness.

Let intentional consciousness be our capacity to think about things that are not necessarily false. For instance, I can think of London, and London is not just a thought. I can think about my hand, and my hand is not just a thought. I can think of things that aren’t me or my thought.

Phenomenal consciousness is the kind of state that you can modify by drinking coffee, taking LSD, and so on. It’s the feeling of being alive. I think there’s no hard problem of it. It’s easy to say what it is. It’s been studied; we know its neural correlates. There’s no single phenomenal consciousness, there are different ones. Feelings, moods, visual and tactile impressions – they are all phenomenal and they have different correlates in the brain. This is where a legitimate brain–consciousness problem exists but this is not a philosophical problem. It’s no more philosophical than any other empirical problem. It’s a straightforward empirical question.”


The History of Philosophy - Summarized and Visualized

This is my summary of the history of (Western) philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between some of the key ideas/arguments/statements of the philosophers. It’s a never-ending work-in-progress and the current version is mainly based on Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, with many other references for specific philosophers and statements. (The source is noted with the book icon that appears when you click on a statement.)

First off, let me announce that though I read my share of philosophy and have a good grasp of the fields/philosophers I’m interested in, I’m not a historian of philosophy. This is a purely personal project that I’m doing in my own time, with my limited knowledge, for myself; and I’m sharing it to get feedback and to make it accessible to those who are interested. As much as I find this way of looking at philosophy quite productive (and fun) for many reasons, I’m not proposing that this is the right way to look at it; it is just one version that I like to see – an organized collection of notes, reminding the arguments and letting me see how they developed, from a distance.”


Kurt Gödel and the romance of logic

December 13, 2018

“In 1930, Gödel received his doctorate for a dissertation that (in a revised version) was published in the same year as “The Completeness of the Axioms of the Functional Calculus of Logic.” What it showed is that what is now called “first-order logic,” but was then called “functional calculus,” is complete. That is to say, every logical truth expressible using the language of first-order predicate logic (a system of rules and symbols that modern logicians use to analyse the relations between subject-predicate propositions) can be proved within an axiomatic system. This would not, however, include any statements of arithmetic, since arithmetic is not expressible in first-order predicate logic. For arithmetic, you need a more powerful kind of logic, such as the one used by Russell and Whitehead in Principia Mathematica.”

“The year after his [Gödel] death came Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, and with it a dash of posthumous fame.” Uses the book’s idea of a strange loop to explain Gödel’s proof. Gödel showed you can’t derive the whole of arithmetic from a system of logic, the incompleteness theorem. This also provides support for mathematical Platonism. Some mathematical statements are true but cannot be proven, separating truth and provability, “a notion that seems awfully close to the Platonic conception of arithmetical truths being (in some sense) “out there.””