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Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False [Hardcover]

Thomas Nagel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 6 2012
In Mind and Cosmos Thomas Nagel argues that the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems thathave developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. No such explanation is available, and the physical sciences, includingmolecular biology, cannot be expected to provide one. The book explores these problems through a general treatment of the obstacles to reductionism, with more specific application to the phenomena of consciousness, cognition, and value. The conclusion is that physics cannot be the theory of everything.

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"[This] troublemaking book has sparked the most exciting disputation in many years... I like Nagel's mind and I like Nagel's cosmos. He thinks strictly but not imperiously, and in grateful view of the full tremendousness of existence." -- Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic


"A sharp, lucidly argued challenge to today's scientific worldview." -- Jim Holt, The Wall Street Journal


"Starts with a boldly discerning look at that strange creature, mankind, and comes to some remarkable speculations about who we are and what our place is in the universe... The very beauty of Nagel's theory - its power to inspire imagination - counts in its favor." -- Richard Brody, The New Yorker


"An intense philosophical takedown of Neo-Darwinism and scientific materialism. It's a brave and contrarian book. Reminds me of Wittgenstein's remark: 'Even if all our scientific questions are answered, our problem is still not touched at all.'" -- E.L. Doctorow, The New York Times Book Review


"Nagel's arguments against reductionism should give those who are in search of a reductionist physical 'theory of everything' pause for thought... The book serves as a challenging invitation to ponder the limits of science and as a reminder of the astonishing puzzle of consciousness." -- Science


"Mind and Cosmos, weighing in at 128 closely argued pages, is hardly a barn-burning polemic. But in his cool style Mr. Nagel extends his ideas about consciousness into a sweeping critique of the modern scientific worldview." -- The New York Times


"His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism... [Nagel has] performed an important service with his withering critical examination of some of the most common and oppressive dogmas of our age." -- The New Republic


"[This] short, tightly argued, exacting new book is a work of considerable courage and importance." -- National Review


" Provocative... Reflects the efforts of a fiercely independent mind." -- H. Allen Orr, The New York Review of Books


"[Nagel] is an avowed nonbeliever, but regularly enrages the New Atheist crowd because he is determined to leave open a space... for the incomprehensible, for the numinous... and writes very honestly about that." -- James Wood


"This short book is packed like a neutron star. I found myself underlining so much that I had to highlight some underlining with further underlining and flag up this underlining in turn. Mind and Cosmos is a brave intervention." -- Raymond Tallis, The New Atlantis


"Challenging and intentionally disruptive... Unless one is a scientific Whig, one must strongly suspect that something someday will indeed succeed [contemporary science]. Nagel's Mind and Cosmos does not build a road to that destination, but it is much to have gestured toward a gap in the hills through which a road might someday run." -- The Los Angeles Review of Books


"A model of carefulness, sobriety and reason... Reading Nagel feels like opening the door on to a tidy, sunny room that you didn't know existed." -- The Guardian


"Fascinating... [A] call for revolution." -- Alva Noe, NPR's 13.7


"The book's wider questions -- its awe-inspiring questions -- turn outward to address the uncanny cognizability of the universe around us.... He's simply doing the old-fashioned Socratic work of gadfly, probing for gaps in what science thinks it knows." -- Louis B. Jones, The Threepenny Review


"[Attacks] the hidden hypocrisies of many reductionists, secularists, and those who wish to have it both ways on religious modes of thinking ... Fully recognizes the absurdities (my word, not his) of dualism, and thinks them through carefully and honestly."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution


About the Author

Thomas Nagel is University Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University.

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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb, powerful and compelling Jan. 16 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Nagel redeems the reputation of philosophy in this dissection of contemporary dogmas. Philosophy should not confine itself to merely accurate thinking; it should engage the larger questions of mind and action. In this treatment of Darwinist thinking, of the kind one reads in Dawkins, Dennett and their allies, Nagel politely but carefully destroys the view that matter as they conceive it could ever constitute the whole of the universe and that it alone generates mind. He does so without recourse to theistic explanations. By comparison, I have read hundreds of pages of scientists such as Incomplete Nature attempt to do the same to no effect. Nagel is the Master, and those interested in the implications of Darwinist thought owe it to themselves to experience the force of his reasoning.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing Feb. 12 2013
By Harrison Koehli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I've never been satisfied with the options provided by religion or science when it comes to providing an explanation of all and everything. Religion always seemed too convenient, but science (in practice if not in principle) seemed to leave so much out. That's what made Nagel's book so refreshing for me. With the clarity of a world-class philosopher, he lays out the reasons science doesn't (and can't) give a full explanation of all the facts in the universe, but he retains the importance of reason, and doesn't fall back on some "God in the gaps" to explain everything that is so far unexplainable. He lays out a trajectory for future thinking about the universe, and a way to see the world as it is, given what we currently know.

Nagel's argument is clear and concise (one hundred twenty-something pages), each section building on the last, and by the end, his point is clear, and for me at least, it's difficult to see the alternatives as anything but self-contradictory fantasies. Nagel begins by arguing against materialism and reductionism, which has been done successfully by others without too much difficulty. But he then builds on this in layers, showing the absurdity of materialistic thinking when it comes to the origin of life, consciousness, reason, and value. Each presents a new problem, and the current orthodoxies can't answer them. Our ability to recognize truth, and to control our actions based on reasons and values, have staggering implications for our understanding of the universe as a whole. The alternative he presents to accommodate these implications isn't fully thought out (as he puts it, a real psychophysical understanding will probably require new concepts, a revolution on par with relativity), just plausible. It's impossible to say it's true, at this point, but It makes sense.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile read June 28 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is a mentality among scholars who study and write about life: Their perception is that there exists nothing but the purely physical and material. Thomas Nagel contests the paradigm that nothing non-material can possibly be out there -- the purely material and physical idea does not explain how we're able to think, imagine, plan and do the other mental things human beings are able to do.

His writing is difficult to follow at times; often we're not sure just what he means to say in a particular passage. But if you're up to the brain-strain, he makes some good points. Darwinism certainly is false, and the materialist view of life is misleading at best.
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