Colin McGinn is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He is author of several books, including The Character of the Mind Moral Literacy Minds and Bodies: Philosophers and Their Ideas Ethics, Evil, and Fiction and Mental Content.
Although its roots reach back to ancient Greece, the mind-body problem has bedeviled Western philosophers particularly since the time of the rationalist suppositions of Descartes in the 17th century. As knowledge of neurophysiology and brain function increase, questions about the nature of human consciousness also multiply. McGinn (Ethics, Evil and Fiction), a philosophy professor at Rutgers University, explores the relationship between the brain and the mind in a witty style. The authors analysis of the classical philosophical answers and conundrums emanating from this problem (dualism, epiphenomenalism, materialism, supernaturalism) are made easy to understand for the lay reader. Pushing reason, logic and experience to their limits, McGinn concludes that, ultimately, the essence of mind and the meaning of consciousness lie beyond the capability of the minds trying to define and comprehend them. Yet, he says, in accepting the limitations of thought about thought, we may find unlikely intellectual solace in inexplicable mystery. This is no pessimistic tract. McGinn asserts that acknowledging the frustrating boundaries of reason about reason frees the thinker to explore those areas of human intelligence that are open to our understanding. Except for his distracting habit of defaulting the third-person personal pronoun to the feminine, McGinn makes his case eloquently, with literary examples drawn from areas as diverse as biology, astrophysics and science fiction. Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (May)