New Mysterianism

From Academic Kids

New Mysterianism is a philosophy proposing that certain problems (in particular, consciousness) will never be explained.

Owen Flanagan noted in his 1991 book "Science of the Mind" that some modern thinkers have suggested that consciousness might never be completely explained. Flanagan called them "the new mysterians" after the rock group ? and the Mysterians. The term originated with the Japanese alien-invasion film The Mysterians. The "old mysterians" are thinkers throughout history who have put forward a similar position. They include Leibniz, Dr Johnson, and Thomas Huxley. The latter said, "How is it that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp." [6, p. 229, quote]

Noam Chomsky distinguishes between problems, which seem solvable, at least in principle, through scientific methods, and mysteries which do not, even in principle. He notes that the cognitive capabilities of all organisms are limited by biology, e.g. a mouse will never speak. In the same way, certain problems may be beyond our understanding.

The term New Mysterianism has been extended by some writers to encompass the wider philosophical position that humans don't have the intellectual ability to understand many hard problems, not just the problem of consciousness, at a scientific level. This position is also known as Anti-Constructive Naturalism.

For example, in the mind-body problem, emergent materialism claims that humans aren't smart enough to determine "the relationship between mind and matter." [4] Strong agnosticism is a religious application of this position.

Colin McGinn is the leading proponent of the New Mysterian position.

Critics argue this philosophy isn't useful and encourages capitulation. One critic noted:

the extreme "Mysterian" position, that there are vital issues forever beyond our reach, is in many ways deeply unsatisfying. [7]

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