[Marxism] Fwd: Materialism alone cannot explain the riddle of consciousness | Aeon Essays

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 14 07:52:17 MDT 2017

It is easy to see how we got here. Materialism is an attractive 
philosophy – at least, it was before quantum mechanics altered our 
thinking about matter. ‘I refute it thus,’ said the 18th-century writer 
Samuel Johnson kicking a large rock as refutation to arguments against 
materialism he’d just endured. Johnson’s stony drop-kick is the essence 
of a hard-headed (and broken-footed) materialist vision of the world. It 
provides an account of exactly what the world is made of: bits of stuff 
called matter. And since matter has properties that are independent and 
external to anything having to do with us, we can use that stuff to 
build a fully objective account of a fully objective world. This 
ball-and-stick vision of reality seems to inspire much of materialism’s 
public confidence about cracking the mystery of the human mind.

Today, though, it is hard to reconcile that confidence with the multiple 
interpretations of quantum mechanics. Newtonian mechanics might be fine 
for explaining the activity of the brain. It can handle things such as 
blood flow through capillaries and chemical diffusion across synapses, 
but the ground of materialism becomes far more shaky when we attempt to 
grapple with the more profound mystery of the mind, meaning the 
weirdness of being an experiencing subject. In this domain, there is no 
avoiding the scientific and philosophical complications that come with 
quantum mechanics.


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