Sunday, January 21, 2007

More on Consciousness

I'd blogged a little bit about the metaphysics of the mind last week, and now I see that Time has dedicated its most recent issue to the brain.

Steven Pinker gives gives an overview of "a bracing new field, the science of consciousness." Pinker mentions the philosophical controversy around the relationship between the mind and the body, but Daniel Dennett spends a few hundred words suggesting that there's not really anything very mysterious about consciousness in the first place; it's probably just a novel physical phenomenon we'll figure out in due time. Colin McGinn agrees about the metaphysics but is less sanguine about the epistemology.

I'd just add that cognitive science is one of those fields that has depended pretty heavily on analytic philosophy for its advancement. Metaphysics going at least as far back as Descartes has done a lot of the work of directing scientists to the right sorts of questions to ask and the right places to look for answers. Ditto for Einstein and special relativity. Of course, once a branch of philosophy becomes incorporated into a branch of the hard sciences, everybody stops thinking about it as philosophy. Philosophy itself is therefore doomed to always appear irrelevant and frivolous to most people. A pity.

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