Checking In

I’ve finally completed the book that has consumed an astonishing amount of my time for the past three years – Your Living Mind: The Mystery of Consciousness and Why It Matters to You. It’s about contemporary philosophy rather than theology, but I suspect that many who have been interested in Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground have also wondered about the amazing phenomenon of conscious experience. I’ll paste text from the book’s back cover below my signature line.

It may be a few weeks before I catch up enough with mundane matters to get back to blogging, but I look forward to resuming this blog and my other two:

Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible
The Mystery of Consciousness, and Why It Matters

Roger Christan Schriner

Your Living Mind was written for several kinds of readers.

Do any of these statements fit for you?

❁ You want to develop a well-crafted personal philosophy of life. Understanding consciousness is part of that quest.
❁ You want to learn about yourself, to know who and what you are.
❁ You have been interested in the “big questions” of philosophy and psychology, and you’d like to revisit this sort of reflection.
❁ You find it fascinating to learn about the mind and the brain.
❁ You have already explored contemporary consciousness studies, and you enjoy playing with new ideas about “philosophical zombies” and other enigmas.

This book confronts the most bewildering puzzles in philosophy of mind. You will find out how dedicated scholars have struggled with these riddles, apparently without success. You will also have opportunities to reflect and experiment yourself, and to evaluate the author’s proposed solutions. Your Living Mind explains subtle ideas in straightforward language, minimizing technical jargon. Issues are clarified with illustrations, diagrams, and specific examples.

Available on

Physicalism’s Ugly-Contest, Round Two

In Bridging the God Gap I contend that intelligent and well-informed theism and intelligent/well-informed atheism are both legitimate viewpoints. Atheism typically maintains that the universe is entirely physical, and some people think this reduces human beings to the status of “mere” machines. In my previous post I embedded two blankly robotic images from the covers of books about physicalism, and asked, “Who would want to be like that?”

I’ve just received the latest edition of The Philosopher’s Magazine, an excellent publication that opens a window into the world of contemporary philosophy. The cover theme is “Building better humans,” so presumably the cover attempts to depict an improved version of homo sapiens. Check this image and ask yourself, “Does this look like an improvement?”

(This URL will probably bring up a list of sites. Click on “Exact Editions – The Philosophers’ Magazine.”)

Is this a positive image? It does look rather formidable. But it falls into a long tradition of sci-fi imagery, portraying future humans as robotlike. Notice that the eyes are blank, as if devoid of emotion or motivation. I’m reminded of lines about another robotlike fellow, from W.H. Auden’s poem, “The Unknown Citizen.”

“Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.”

The Philosophers’ Magazine certainly has no reason to make physicalism look ugly. Perhaps without knowing it, cover illustrators use the “scare ‘em to make ‘em look” strategy.

Have any of you seen highly positive images of humans-conceived-as-physical or humans-of-the-high-tech-future? Is so, I’d love to see them.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Whacking on Materialism, with the Ugly Stick

I’ve posted a few entries lately about materialism – not the love of owning material goods, but rather the physicalist idea that every entity is made out of matter. Many people react quite negatively to this notion. To them, the claim that the mind is the brain, or even the idea that mind and brain are intimately connected, seems to undermine our dignity, reducing us to the status of “mere” machines.

Perhaps that’s why some books about mind and brain display morose, robot-like creatures on their front covers. Consider the dust jackets of Jean-Pierre Changeux’s Neuronal Man and Michael Tye’s Consciousness Revisited, amazingly similar even though they were published a quarter of a century apart. Both depict a human head with the brain exposed. Both faces seem passive and morose. Both are rendered in gloomy grays and purples. Tye’s robotic fellow is lying face-up, his bright red eye staring blankly, his visible brain filled with sequences of ones and zeroes. Who would want to be like that?

Here’s Tye’s book:

The cover to Neuronal Man has changed since I bought it years ago. To me the face on the older edition seems empty and sad, whereas the newer countenance seems grim and depressed. Neither one is appealing. Here’s the current edition:

These robotic images could serve as Exhibit A for Harold Morowitz, who warns us that “the way we respond to our fellow human beings is dependent on the way we conceptualize them in our theoretical formulations. If we envision our fellows solely as animals or machines, we drain our interactions of humanistic richness.” (See “Rediscovering the Mind,” in Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, eds., The Mind’s I, p. 41.)

But not everyone thinks that machine analogies are degrading. Douglas Hofstadter asks, “Why don’t you let the word ‘machine’ conjure up images of dancing patterns of light rather than of giant steam shovels?” (See “A Coffeehouse Conversation,” in The Mind’s I, p. 86.)

Beware of depressing art and poetry, disguised as philosophy.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

Is Physicalism on the Ropes?

What is mind? Never matter. What is matter? Never mind! – attributed to Eighteenth Century philosopher George Berkeley

Is reality wholly material, or are some real things non-material? Theists and atheists tend to answer this question rather differently. This issue also ties into the mind-body problem. Is the mind part of the brain? Is it separate from the body, perhaps some sort of immaterial soul? Or is it both material and non-material, and if that’s true how do these two components interact with each other?

For several decades most philosophers have found it rather obvious that all realities are physical. One way to think of physicalism is to imagine an all-powerful creator “laying out all the microphysical phenomena throughout the universe. Having done so, and having settled all the microphysical properties of those phenomena along with the basic microphysical laws, God did not then have to ask Himself ‘Shall I make lightning flashes or caterpillars or mountains or human beings?’ No further work was needed on His part.” (Michael Tye, Consciousness Revisited: Materialism without Phenomenal Concepts, pp. 25-26)

Tye is not advocating theism in this passage. It is fairly common for philosophers to invoke the concept of God in a metaphorical sense, to highlight some conceptual issue, and Tye is using the God-concept to clarify what physicalism is all about. By making all the particles of the cosmos and deciding how they would interact, a Creator would have ensured that lightning flashes, caterpillars, etc. would also exist.

But we aren’t so sure when it comes to consciousness. Some would suggest that: “Even if God had no further work to do in determining whether there would be a tree in place p or a river in place q or a neuron-firing in place r, say, having settled all the microphysical facts,” if God wanted to make sure that humans had conscious experiences, “God did have more work to do” (p. 31).

This issue has been hotly debated in academic circles, especially since the 1970s. Thomas Nagel, Frank Jackson, David Chalmers, Joseph Levine and many others have offered arguments suggesting that it seems odd or even impossible for consciousness to be physically constituted.

Most of those who question the coherence of physicalism still think all of reality is material. We just aren’t sure how to make sense of this fact when it comes to mental processes. Jerry Fodor puts it bluntly: “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness.” (

This tide of criticism seems to be rising. In 2010 Oxford University Press published The Waning of Materialism, edited by Robert Koons and George Bealer. Some of the 23 contributors advocate substance dualism: mind and matter are two very different kinds of stuff.

I’m sharing this information because atheists and agnostics sometimes assume that anyone who questions physicalism is an idiot. But there are sophisticated reasons for challenging the materialist paradigm. I’m exploring this issue in my current book-in-progress. More about that later.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.