14 January 2014

Mind and Cosmos/ Thomas Nagel

Still slowly working my way through Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel. It's a bit of a slog; he uses words like phenomenology, teleology, epistemology, and reductionism the way most writers use 'door,' 'stone,' and 'ground.' But his main thesis, I must acknowledge, is intriguing, although I remain skeptical.

He is non-reductionist. He rejects the notion that pure material (chemical/physical) explanations can solve the mind/body problem or account for consciousness and mental life, and especially for rationality. He makes a fairly convincing argument that higher order consciousness and rationality is very unlikely to arise from purely material natural selection. He is not arguing for God, but for an element of nature that is inherently subjective and mindlike (to paraphrase; he doesn't use that word).

In fact, he rejects the notion that life itself is likely to have originated from purely physical processes; SOME form of teleology or inherent mind nature is necessarily implied. He doesn't have a coherent theory of what was involved, but he does make a strong argument that the sort of purely Dawkinsian/sociobiological explanation for intelligent living beings is just not plausible. Sometimes it's the role of philosophy to identify what we do not know, not to inform us of the way things are.

One thing he says that I like (which can be true even in a materialist reductionist interpretation) is that we, as conscious and (sometimes) rational beings, ARE, each of us individually and all of us collectively, a manifestation of the waking to awareness of the universe. (Because you can think of the conscious beings as the aspect of the universe that is aware, if you choose to look at it purely materially).

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