The Paradox of Self-Consciousness

Markus Gabriel in Edge:

One of the central questions I’m asking myself is how to fit the human being into our current understanding of both natural scientific fact and the social and general mental and interpretative facts unearthed by the humanities and social sciences. Where do we locate the human being and what we know about ourselves from humanistic, historically oriented research vis-à-vis contemporary technology, the digital sphere, cutting-edge research in physics, neuroscience, etc.?

Philosophy’s central object is the human being and its position in the mindless universe. How do we fit into reality with our perspectival minds? That’s fundamentally the kind of question that I’m working on, using various tools hopefully suited for trying to tackle that very hard question. One of the tools I’m deploying is the whole category box of contemporary theoretical epistemology. Epistemology asks the following questions: What is knowledge? How far does knowledge extend? What can we really know about the universe and ourselves as knowers of the universe? Many people think there’s a problem with how we can fit consciousness, or the mind, into a mindless universe. But there’s an even deeper problem at the outset of this enterprise, which is how can we know ourselves as knowers and our position in the universe?

Knowing anything about the universe requires being causally in touch with it. We cannot know anything about the universe without, to some extent, intervening in it. We don’t know anything relevant about the universe a priori, that is, by just thinking about it. We didn’t discover bosons by thinking harder about the composition of physical reality; we had to run thought experiments and develop the right mathematical tools in order to check whether our understanding of the universe matches the facts. Checking thought experiments requires causal intervention. The limits of causal intervention are, thus, real, physical obstacles to human knowledge. Currently, we do not know where exactly (if ever) we will hit a knowledge ceiling. In any event, modern science tells us that it is basically impossible to know absolutely everything about physical reality. There simply are scientific reasons that underpin research into meta-physical issues, i.e., into facts beyond the ken of physics and physical intervention.

More here.