Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Colin McGinn

British Philosopher, Professor, known for his work on the philosophy of mind

"Our concepts of the empirical world are fundamentally controlled by the character of our perceptual experience and by the introspective access we enjoy to our own minds. Thus our concepts of consciousness are constrained by the specific form of our own consciousness, so that we cannot form concepts for quite alien forms of consciousness possessed by other actual and possible creatures. Similarly, our concepts of the body, including the brain, are constrained by the way we perceive these physical objects; we have, in particular, to conceive of them as spatial entities essentially similar to other physical objects in space... But now these two forms of conceptual closure operate to prevent us from arriving at concepts for the property or relation that intelligibly links consciousness to the brain. For, first, we cannot grasp other forms of consciousness, and so we cannot grasp the theory that explains these other forms: that theory must be general, but we must always be parochial in our conception of consciousness. It is as if we were trying for a general theory of light but only could grasp the visible part of the spectrum. And, second, it is precisely the perceptually controlled conception of the brain that we have which is so hopeless in making consciousness an intelligible result of brain activity. No property we can ascribe to the brain on the basis of how it strikes us perceptually, however inferential the ascription, can be the crucible from which subjective consciousness emerges fully formed. That is why the feeling is so strong in us that there has to be something magical about the mind-brain relation."