11 May 2013
Terry Scambray, a Fresno, California–based writer, offers a review of prominent philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos, in which he challenges his thesis a bit:
Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, Thomas Nagel. Oxford University Press, 2012. 128 pages. $24.95
In Mind & Cosmos, the highly regarded philosopher Thomas Nagel can’t make up his mind about how to explain his own mind and the minds of the rest of us. However, he is sure that the materialist explanation of mind is, well, merely a mental construct or as he writes, it “is almost certainly false.”
In his longest chapter called “Consciousness,” Nagel, a professor of philosophy and law at New York University, recounts how the “mind-body problem” arose out of the 17th century scientific revolution, which necessarily involved reducing things down to their tiniest physical and chemical parts and then discovering what made them tick.
But can such “scientific” reductionism be applied to the mind and consciousness ? Not really because applying quantitative measurements to the unquantifiable is actually a misapplication which results in a degenerative form of science sometimes called, “scientism.” And “scientism” is but another example of the adage: If you are devoted to using a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.
Yes, it remains paradoxical that science has never been able to objectify something essential to its entire enterprise, mind or consciousness, which, as Nagel writes, is that “aspect of mental phenomena that is evident from the first person, inner point of view which tells you how sugar tastes, red looks or how anger feels,” and how to fairly and accurately evaluate a scientific experiment.
Of course, the mind/body conundrum is a perennial issue which thinkers found puzzling even a long time prior to the 17th century. Nonetheless, Nagel (left) yearns for a “unified world picture” which would necessarily have to include the mind and the cosmos, a goal which he oddly refers to as “utopian.”
Perhaps he thinks of this goal as “utopian” because as he concedes, “theories of everything” are restricted because science currently limits itself to material causes whereas the mind is an immaterial, immeasurable, unrestricted free agent.
Despite this limitation, Nagel ambitiously remarks that “the more encompassing a theory is, the more powerful it has to be.” For this reason he hopes that “a major conceptual revolution at least as radical as relativity theory or the original scientific revolution itself” will be discovered which will make the mind and consciousness amenable to scientific inspection. Read more »