Tuesday, October 30, 2018

M-rays

Let me tell a story. Some neuroscientists detected a physically novel form of radiation, M-rays, that is emitted by brains of subjects who are thinking consciously. They discovered this much like X-rays were discovered, namely by finding something impinging on equipment in the lab in a way that could be explained by conventional physics. Further experiment showed that M-rays are not emitted by anything that clearly isn’t conscious. Moreover, the line between animals that emitted M-rays and animals that didn’t seemed to correspond to a noticeable difference in cognitive sophistication. Finally, in humans the M-rays turned out to be modulated in a way that has a natural one-to-one correspondence with the phenomenal states reported by the conscious subjects, so that the scientists eventually learned to discern from the M-rays what the subject’s conscious state is. (The CIA was very interested.)

In this case, it would be eminently reasonable for a physicalist to conclude that consciousness is the emission of M-rays.

This thought experiment shows that mysterians like Colin McGinn are mistaken in holding that no discovery we could make would solve the hard problem of consciousness.

But of course few physicalists actually expect to find a physically novel phenomenon in the brain.

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