4.13.2015

A short review: Mind and Cosmos

Thomas Nagel's book is another strike against the neo-Darwinian materialism so prominent among the scientific community. His thesis that materialism can not explain consciousness and cognition are his best argued points and follows in the same kind of vein as Alvin Plantinga: If our cognitive abilities are the result of materialist neo-Darwinian evolution then there is no reason why they should be accurate, let alone allow for abstract thinking that is far removed from our survival. How could these things have come to be if neo-Darwinian materialism is quite unable to answer these question?!
Nagel has an answer: The universe's matter has a type of "proto-mind" (he's not specific as to what this entails)  which provides in with a teleological path leading towards conscious and even cognitive beings.
Unfortunately, when proposing these fixes, the book slips into incoherence. One of the big difficulties is that he's set against any type of dualism. This is (one reason) why he rejects theism and why the material universe has to come already pre-hardwired for telos and mind. This means that something has to have a goal without intention (Nagel himself makes it clear that there can be no intention.  What about the mind in matter? My guess: it's in such a primitive state that it's too simple for goals) - and even he expresses doubts about the possibility. Those doubts however are quickly pushed aside, because intention (in this case) naturally lead to theism. This problem is bigger than he thinks, is an "intention-less" goal even coherent? I seriously doubt it.
He then tries to argue for a realist view of values in order to show the incoherence of the materialist worldview. I found this section to be half baked and confused. He rightly writes off the subjective theory of values but his realist theory doesn't add up. After all, without god whose values is he talking about? I'm afraid the cold and vacuous expanse of the cosmos holds no such value - he should probably look else where.

4.06.2015

Initial thoughts on Mind and Cosmos

Today I started reading Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos". The thesis of the book is that both the Neo-Darwinian reductionist and theistic explanations for life are inadequate for explaining phenomenon such as human consciousness and values. He feels that in order to continue the rate of progress science has made since the enlightenment, scientists must reject a strictly materialist worldview while staying clear of affirming theism.

So far it's a very interesting read, however, after the first two chapters, I don't think Nagel quite understands the Thomist conception of god, either that or his portrayal of theism for the book is a straw-man. Nagel is adamant that theism isn't useful since "god" is separate from his creation. In Thomist thinking however, God and the natural world are not the completely separate entities that Nagel imagines them out to be. The classical (Christian) theist conception of God is that he is being itself, and David Hart makes the argument that this a very similar conception of God in a wide array of theistic religions.

This is a big problem in Nagel's book, because he uses the term "theism" vaguely, and when he does talk about the God of this "theism", it is separate from the cosmos. His theism is something of a caricature, and that caricature seems to be required for his argument.

So far my questions would be, "if the cosmos is teleologically predisposed to evolve creatures who have mind where did that teleology come from?" Does the cosmos have mind or just beget mind? If it doesn't have mind, how does non-mind beget mind? or If it does have mind, how is it that mind not (a) "god"?