Thursday, March 05, 2009

Derek Ball - The New New Mysterianism

This is an excellent presentation from The Cyber Consciousness Conference. Here is a brief definition of what is meant by "new mysterianism," for those who do not follow philosophy or consciousness studies:

New Mysterianism is often characterized as a presupposition that some problems cannot be solved. Critics of this view argue that it is arrogant to assume that a problem cannot be solved just because we have not solved it yet. On the other hand, New Mysterians would say that it is just as absurd to assume that every problem can be solved. Crucially, New Mysterians would argue that they did not start with any supposition as to the solvability of the question, and instead reached their conclusion through logical reasoning. Their argument goes as follows: Subjective experiences by their very nature cannot be shared or compared. Therefore it is impossible to know what subjective experiences a system (other than ourselves) is having. This will always be the case, no matter what clever scientific tests we invent. Therefore, there are some questions about consciousness that will never be answered.

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 like a human. In the same way, certain problems may be beyond our understanding. For example, in the mind-body problem, emergent materialism claims that humans are not smart enough to determine "the relationship between mind and matter." [4] Strong agnosticism is a religious application of this position.

With that background, here is the presentation from the conference:

The New New Mysterianism

Chair: Richard Brown

Presenter: Derek Ball, Arche; The University of St Andrew

Derek’s paper or a larger version of the video

Commentator 1: David Papinaeu, Kings College –London

Commentator 2: James Dow, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Jame’s paper or a larger version of his video

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