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Summary

The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

Since minds are features of biological systems that have 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, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. Nagel's skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative.

In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.

©2012 Oxford University Press (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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Brilliant! A Theory of Life, Universe & Everything

This is not an easy read/listen, but if like me, you often find yourself caught between the disenchanting sterility of scientism, the often outdated superstitions of religion, and the flakiness of many New Age beliefs it is well worth the effort.

"Mind & Cosmos" not only rationally challenges our current materialist presumption, but proposes a plausible 'third way' between the two modern polarities of 'theism' (which Nagel defines as a belief in the primordial nature of mind), and 'materialist atheism' (a belief in the primordial nature of matter).

The success of Science has established in many people's minds that everything can (and in time will) be explained in terms of physics, chemistry & biology. Yet the "Hard Problem" of consciousness remains intractable. Indeed as Nagel points out, we are further than ever from a reductive materialist explanation of consciousness. If it is the case that consciousness is irreducible, as seems increasingly likely, this brings into serious doubt the whole ontology of materialism as an adequate foundation for the explanations of science. Consciousness is part of biology, yet our current biological theories (e.g. evolutionary theory) take no account of this.

Equally problematic is the opposite theistic polarity, which takes mind and intention outside of Nature altogether to the realm of "God".

Nagel instead proposes the co-emergence of mind and matter as a more complete and satisfying ontology, in the form of 'neutral monism', ascribing a Panpsychist experiential dimension down even to the level of fundamental physics.

This is where for me, things get exciting, for it changes the metaphor of the universe from mechanistic machine, to living organism, of which we are co-creative parts. By bringing 'mind' back into Nature, he argues speculatively for an intentional direction in cosmological evolution. We are the universe becoming self aware, experiential beings in an experiential world, with an evolutionary direction of travel towards even greater complexity, knowledge and self awareness.

In summary, this is not the easiest of books, though it is well and clearly read, but what excited me is it is a genuine attempt, by a well respected Philosopher to see beyond the polarities of both disenchanted materialism and religious idealism, and to reclaim our place as intentional beings integral to the organismic universe we inhabit of mind/matter stuff.

4 people found this helpful

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Read this.

Pretty heavy going with regards to terminology, look alive. Good book though, short and sweet.

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Terrible narration

Any additional comments?

The content of thIs book is good, but the narration is terrible. Brian Troxell, according to a Google search, is an actor, not a scientist or philosopher. He may well be a good narrator of fiction works, and I wouldn't want to judge him on his performance in those (I haven't heard anything else narrated by him), but his voice isn't suitable for this kind of subject matter.

Why is the narration so bad?

First, it's far too fast and breathless; one gets the impression he doesn't have a deep understanding of the subject matter, but rather just knows how to read according to the rules of grammar. He also starts new sentences far too quickly, not allowing the implications of often quite dense previous sentences to sink in (possibly for himself as much as for his reader), and so one often finds oneself wanting to pause and go back -- which wouldn't be so bad if the whole book wasn't so dense all the way through, but as it is, it's a complete disaster.

Second, his voice is rather monotonic, possibly because he doesn't seem to be connecting with the rather dry narrative as he might do with fictional material. I don't think it would be impossible to read the book out loud in an interesting way, but it would need a narrator who engaged with, and understood, the work.

It might have been better (if still not spectacular) if he'd read it at half the pace. I think I'm going to have to return this title and go for the Kindle version, which I will be able to read at my natural pace so as to allow its meaning to be absorbed. I should have listened to the sample to have avoided my mistake.

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  • Si
  • 01-08-17

Shower

The somewhat shallow musings of a bloke, the kind of things you think of in the shower. The narrator is not quite so relaxed and goes at it like an actor auditioning for the role of Obstreperous Professor.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Alice Walker
  • 15-02-18

Intellectual honesty at its finest

As an evolutionary biochemist with a PhD from Harvard, I have worked over the past 17 years to dispel the myth among my colleagues and collaborators that the materialist Neo-Darwinian paradigm has the power to explain life, reason, value, etc, debating them until I'm blue in the face. I don't seem to get very far, even though they seem to be able to recognize that the sheer vastness of protein sequence space does present an insurmountable problem for the unguided self-organization of functional biosynthetic systems, not to mention the genetic code. But more often than not, they fall back to naturalism because in their minds, that's the only thing that is "science", and everything outside of this is "religion", specifically Christianity with all its right wing hypocrisy etc. Being open about my faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the propitiation of my sin, my colleagues often grant themselves an automatic trap door to escape the reality of my critiques of materialism and Darwinism: "you are motivated, at least in part, by your faith to think this way." I cannot deny that my worldview colors everything I see. I just don't think it's fair for them to think their position isn't influenced by an atheistic or other worldview that has the very same function. Nevertheless, reason and intellectual honesty are available to us all, no matter what your starting points in the discussion. Which is why I love this book. I will be recommending it to everyone I know who makes the brute assumption that only Theists should take the position that reductive materialist Neo-Darwinism has failed. I may not agree with Nagel's conclusions, but as a scientist, I would think it a victory for the community of evolutionary biologists simply to free themselves to openly discuss (not just over beers after work) and to search for a theory that actually explains the most self-evident and necessary parts of life: the mind and all that it produces.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Robbie
  • 21-01-18

Worth the "read." At times, difficult to follow.

I am glad I bought and listened to it, however, the arguments, at times, were too technical philosophically, and I felt a bit lost. Fortunately, I did, overall, feel edified by the book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • N. Soldofsky
  • 13-07-15

Interesting ideas, poor reasoning

How Nagel replaces reductive materialism is interesting, but his reasons for replacing it are misinformed and illogical. Maybe worth listening, but definitely supplement with something that deals with the multiverse theory and the weak anthropic principle, as so much of Nagel's arguments boil down to questions of likelihood. I suggest Tegemark's Mathematical Universe, as an antidote to Nagel's weakest points.

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 29-01-15

IS DARWIN'S THEORY WRONG?

Thomas Nagel believes Darwin’s theory of natural selection is wrong. Nagel suggests natural selection fails to encompass the concept of mind. Even though Nagel acknowledges biology and physics have made great strides in understanding the nature of life, he suggests the mind should be a starting point for a theory of everything. Nagel infers that science research is bogged down by a mechanistic and materialistic view of nature. Nagel suggests science must discover the origin of consciousness to find the Holy Grail; i.e. an all-encompassing theory of nature.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with Nagel’s idea, it seems propitious for the United States to fund and begin their decade-long effort to examine the human brain. Though nearer term objectives are to understand Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the longer term result may be to discover the origin of consciousness. Contrary to Nagel’s contention that natural selection cannot explain consciousness, brain research may reveal consciousness rises from the same source of mysterious elemental and repetitive combinations of an immortal gene that Darwin dimly understood. Brain research offers an avenue for extension or refutation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

"Mind and Cosmos" is a tribute to Nagel’s “outside the box” philosophical’ thought. Like some who say string theory is a blind alley for a theory of everything, natural selection may be a mistaken road to the origin of life.

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  • Domenick Lazzara
  • 10-09-21

Staggering intellectual performance

Nagel’s ability to succinctly provide an intelligible alternative to, and in, mind and cosmos, is worth exploring, regardless of where you are and where you might be going. Highly recommend.

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  • Crossroads Pastors
  • 02-07-21

Avoids the evident.

I appreciate the author’s explanation of reason, value and consciousness as significant problems for natural or material explanations of our origin. However, his conclusions seem to point to the one possibility that is ruled out on the basis it can’t be scientifically proven - the existence of a higher intelligence. In other roads, all roads seem to lead to Rome, but I refuse to go there.

I do applaud his intellectual consistency to point out the problems with his own atheistic beliefs.

I believe he could have written this to appeal to a broader audience if he could have used “reductionism” in regard to his vocabulary! Lol. But then again, he is an anti-reductionists. 😊

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  • Michael
  • 24-05-21

Mind and Cosmos

This is hard to evaluate because I didn't understand some things, and what I did understand I mostly thought he hadn't engaged with the available literature that addresses his concerns and would preclude the need for his theory. He lands on some kind of atheistic metaphysical moral realism teleology. I couldn't buy into it, but it was nice to hear a different pov to the scientific consensus.

He starts with consciousness and values being real objective things, and kind of concludes that everything else is a product of those. It was a lot of "I can't see how the natural world could produce X, so here's another theory." Apart from slipping into god-of-the-gapsism, I think there are already satisfactory explanations and demonstrations for many of the things he presents as definitely unexplainable. And teleology seems to be so un-thought through. There is no one final end product of anything in the world, so it's impossible to say what goal teleologically created beings could meet exactly. With something like a car, we can see how there's a design and blueprint and creative process that produces an exact result that is the goal/end product of that intentional process. But which human is the end product of teleological design? Which kangaroo is the final, perfect kangaroo? Which earwig is the archetype? I think it only works if you take a snapshot of the present and say "This is how everything should be", but not if you see everything in flux.

I personally don't think consciousness is a problem for philosophy and science. I think it's just an illusion, a strange loop of feedback processes, but still a material process. It comes when a brain develops, and it fades when a brain degenerates, and it's gone when the brain no longer operates. There's no reason to think it precedes the material brain, as though waiting for a host to manifest itself. Maybe it does, but why would that be the best explanation?

Nagel also talks about probabilities quite a bit, and I'm not sure how he's using that term each time. Any shuffled deck of cards results in a once-in-the-universe order of cards. But that doesn't imply design. I think Nagel should engage a bit more with evolutionary micro-biology, just to see how mutation + environmental selection fully explains many things we can observe on our time scale, and perhaps he wouldn't need to posit a new mechanism for things that operate on longer time scales.

I'm glad I read this though. I might try something else of his.

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  • K
  • 30-06-20

surprisingly honest

it is unusual to see a secular academic to write against mainline, pollitically correct materialistic paradigm.
it is a welcomed contribution to a realization that the teleology is real. also, resonate with much of intellifent design on IRREDUCIBILITY of a given phenomenon. be that interdependent molecular machines, or consciousness, or values.
should be a food for thought regardless of your convictions.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 30-12-19

Great effort

Great effort considering his very limited view of the world. There's so much more evidence to support his conclusion that the discussion could continue for volumes.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-03-19

Good book, bad reading.

The performer repeatedly mispronounces key terms, including, shockingly, Aristotelian. I would have expected higher quality.