Mind and Cosmos
Review of Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel
One star for the great cover design*, one star for the surprise and entertainment I got from reading such backwards thinking. (2/5)
My two-sentence summary of the book:
Consciousness, reason and value cannot be the products of Darwinian evolution. So they must be among the building blocks of the universe, guiding evolution towards self-awareness and value formation.
Nagel is wise enough to concede that his ideas are “unlikely to be taken seriously in the present intellectual climate”. He explains that he is not so much making detailed truth claims as carrying out an exercise in thinking about possible non-theistic alternatives to the materialist Neo-Darwinian paradigm which is “ripe for displacement”. Being a materialist Neo-Darwinist, I didn’t agree with the motivation but I was curious about the results as a philosophical enterprise; in the end I fell squarely into the group who cannot take it seriously. Rarely do I come across a book this much filled with arbitrary assumptions, bad argumentation and wishful thinking.
I haven’t read Nagel enough to analyze his output throughout his life but I always find it sad when you can feel that the author is an old person when you’re reading analytic philosophy – not from the language or style but from the thinking, especially from an inclination towards common sense.
“After all, everything we believe, even the most far-reaching cosmological theories, has to be based ultimately on common sense, and on what is plainly undeniable.” (p.29)
Common sense died in 1543. It was buried in 1859. In 1905 it was exhumed for autopsy, and in 1920s its ashes were scattered over the sea. It’s sad that some important philosophers of mind (Nagel, Searle, …) still believe in it.
* Seriously, look at all these marvelous covers. It seems like anti-reductionist authors always get better covers than the reductionists, and they fool me into giving higher ratings with that. I’d like to change that.
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