The Primacy of Method

  • Jeffrey Foss


The argument of this book turns on the idea that the doctrine that consciousness lies outside the reach of science is an inherently unstable doctrine for any materialist to hold. Mysterians profess that the science of consciousness is impossible, while at the same time maintaining that they are materialists. That is, they argue that consciousness lies outside of the domain of physical science, while nevertheless insisting that it lies entirely inside the domain of the physical. An ingenious and subtle hypothesis, to be sure, but one cannot help but be reminded of Tycho Brahe’s model of the universe. Beleaguered on one hand by the many failures of accuracy in the Earth-centered view of Ptolemy, and threatened on the other by the challenges to the accepted principles of physics posed by Copernicus’s sun-centered view of the universe, Tycho devised an ingenious and subtle compromise: a model of the world in which most of the planets orbit around the sun, while the sun itself, along with the moon, orbit around the splendidly stationary Earth. Likewise, the mysterians attempt to strike a compromise. Impressed by the many triumphs of physical science they admit on one hand that consciousness is physical, while still maintaining on the other that consciousness is perfectly stationary, splendidly unmoved by the explanatory trajectory of science. The goal of this chapter is to show that the instability of this compromise will eventually be revealed by practical progress in the science of consciousness. The notion you can be a materialist and a mysterian at the same time is supportable for the nonce only because of the rather elementary state of our modeling of the brain, a circumstance that clearly can be remedied.


Physical Science Physical Thing Internal Speech Civil Libertarian Metaphysical Dispute 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. [1]
    These predictions would not have to be computed in real time. They would be essentially as interesting if we had to wait for their predictions until after the predicted words occurred. Surely none of us could fail to sit up and take notice if we had a model that could, by taking the first, say, three minutes of some internal monologue, predict the next three minutes, even if the computers for the model had to grind away for a week or more to do it. Retrodiction confirms the accuracy of the model just as well as prediction. After all, it is mostly by retrodiction that we are confident in our current models of the solar system.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    It is a bit retrograde for Kim (1984) to maintain that all real causality must occur on the microscopic level, since it is precisely on the microscopic level that causality fails according to modern physics. As I see it, this hypothesis of Kim’s is symptomatic of the generally troubled relationship between the scientific and manifest models. Kim has taken the view that mental states are causally impotent, a view that he properly labels epiphenomenal. His view of mental causality is that it is at best supervenient on the real causality of the sub-microscopic realm. Kim’s view is. needless to say, a rather depressing prospect for those of us engaged in the life of the mind. But it can easily be avoided once we realize that causality is a relatively macroscopic phenomenon, one that easily includes the mechanisms of the brain, and hence of consciousness. The causal efficacy of a bat upon a ball will ensure the survival of baseball, just as its effect on the consciousness of the crowd will make them cheer as the ball sails into the seats. If we permit out metaphysics of causality to be informed by physics, we may justifiably accept the cheerful hypothesis that mental phenomena — including the ones that are conscious — are fully causal. At least, that is how the evidence affects my judgment of the situation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey Foss
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations