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The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  136 ratings  ·  13 reviews
Is consciousness nothing more than brain tissue, as Daniel Dennett argues in his best-selling Consciousness Explained? Or, as others claim, is it a fundamental reality like space, time, and matter? In recent years the nature of consciousness—our immediately known experiences—has taken its place as the most profound problem that science faces. Now in this brilliant and thor ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 29th 1999 by Basic Books
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Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
If naturalism is true, or at least the best metaphysical structure for going about solving certain perennial problems, or if we recognize at least that naturalism is superior to theism (it is), then this is probably the best book on the mind-body problem and its necessary intractability. Can robots ever be conscious, are there still 'selves' in alzheimer patients, can non-organic material be conscious, etc? The only current answer, and most likely indefinite answer, is agnosticism coupled with r ...more
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: mind, philosophy
McGinn's central thesis is that the solution to the mind/body problem is cognitively closed to human beings. That is, due to the structure of our brains, we will never be able to understand the mind/brain link.

The motivation for this thesis--that materialistic explanations of consciousness have been thus far deeply and conceptually off-base--is interesting and correct, I think. However, McGinn's book is rife with inconsistencies and his line for what we do know and what we do not know seems rath
Brian Bowers
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
I began reading this book knowing full well that the mystery of consciousness has not been solved, and most likely never will be. However, I was hoping to gain some insight as to way this is so. I found nothing in this book that could not be discovered through very basic introspection. The author contrives outlandish hypotheses, seemingly just for the sake of proving that it couldn't explain consciousness. This book rambles on, in what seemed like an eternity, to get to what most of us know anyw ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
I've seen McGinn on youtube and found him an endearing, affable and capable person. What I didn't like about this book, apart from its repetitive style, is that whenever McGinn makes reference to some other discipline to illustrate his argument, he gets it wrong. Paleoanthropology, biology, history, physics---he draws on all of these without knowing much about them, and the results are disappointing. ...more
Jun 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and cleverly written book about the mind-body question. I don't agree with some of McGinn's ideas but he certainly made me think. ...more
May 07, 2018 added it
A very entertaining read for a non-professional to catch up on perspectives on the ol' mind/body problem. Mr. Mc Ginn's own take on the issue is that if you take it at all seriously, meaning you don't collapse consciousness into a totally materialist base, then the problem probably will never be solved. This because the human brain has evolved to solve problems in space, with linguistic logic an added twist, and that kind of brain does not have the ability to think in such a way that it can conc ...more
Maggie Jones
one of truest things I've read to date ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
McGinn addresses the problem of consciousness with regards to the connection between mind and body. By arguing against Materialist points of view McGinn's primary thesis argues that human beings can not truly reconcile the connection of mind and body.

Whether you agree or disagree with his argument, McGinn has put forth an exceptionally well written piece of work. The literature is accessible to both the philosophical scholar and the layman thus creating an enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Philip Bardi
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting idea, but shows a great lack of insight on the authors part. To base such theories on conclusions drawn from the premise that consciousness
MUST reside within the physical body is very limiting. I can't help but think that other very real possibilities exist. It seems as archaic and misguided as thinking that if one destroys a radio with a hammer, they have in some way destroyed the song that is playing. Obviously this is nonsense, we know that the song was only being picked up by th
Nov 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
A persuasive argument against the materialist view of consciousness written in clear non-technical language. There is great virtue in communicating 'big' ideas without self-consciously employing 'big' words. A great many 'thinkers' should take note of McGinn's exemplary straightforwardness. ...more
Manny Cota
Oct 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting and entertaining read. I disagree entirely with his views and conclusion, but this is a book worth reading for those interested in naturalist attempts to explain away the problem of consciousness.
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Colin McGinn is a British philosopher currently working at the University of Miami. McGinn has also held major teaching positions at Oxford University and Rutgers University. He is best known for his work in the philosophy of mind, though he has written on topics across the breadth of modern philosophy. Chief among his works intended for a general audience is the intellectual memoir The Making of ...more

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