of books by Thomas Nagel

THOMA NAGEL (1937) is a philosopher on the theory of mind, politics and ethics. He is a Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University (NYU).

Mind & Cosmos
by Thomas Nagel
Oxford University Press, 2012
The subtitle of this book is "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False". With this short book, Nagel extends a long line of his writings exploring the limits of reductionism. This book is an exploration of the shortcomings of both reductionism and theism, world views that both, in different ways, seek to explain everything there is. Nagel lies out why both are wrong, acknowledging that a third teleological world view is the correct view, although he does not claim to know what it is.

Indeed, modern science has so far failed to explain the mind and origin of life using a reductionist theory (in physics this being the theory of everything, in biology origin of life theories and evolution). There is an emergent property in Nature that cannot be reduced to a physico-chemical explanation. What ever will ultimately explain how the brain generates consciousness, will also explain how life started from non-living matter.

Nagel first contributed to this discussion with an essay titled "What is it like to be a bat?" Lacking a sense for echo locating, humans cannot possible experience the qualia of 'seeing' with sound*. Bats almost certainly do. We can measure neuronal activity in bat brains and neurons, but our reductionist science cannot describe the feeling of navigating with sound. Thus science lacks a theory of mind and reductionism is unable to help.

* Ultrasound images are an obvious why of seeing with sound using computer technology. Thus it is not difficult to propose that the bat brain, like a computer, could calculate images based on scanning the nearby surface of objects into an image.


June 27, 2013 /  © 2013 Lukas K. Buehler / go back to Book Review Home