maandag 19 januari 2015

'Mind and cosmos' by Thomas Nagel

Many people - and especially scientists - think that our current knowledge is sufficient to explain current life. Doubting the theory of evolution is not done. Nevertheless, this is exactly what philosopher Thomas Nagel does in his small book 'Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False' (

Neo-Darwinism implies that the combination of mutation and natural selection (darwinism) drives evolution. It does not explain the existence of non material aspects of life like consciousness, cognition and value. This is no surprise, because science does not include these aspects.

Nagel pleas for looking for a naturalistic theory that describes the order that governs the natural world from the inside out. That is, a theory without supernatural elements. The order should lead without surprises and maybe inevitably to consciousness, cognition and value. Non material matters might also exist in some form in the beginning to evolve from there.

After investigating several solutions Nagel concludes with a teleological theory as feasible and the most probable. Teleology dates back to Plato and Aristotle. It states that development is aimed at a goal or purpose. This in contrast to ordinary causality, where effects follow causes. Teleology could in this case work by guiding mutations such that life as we know it arises in time. This guiding is necessary because Nagel beliefs that neodarwinism is 'too slow' for the development of life as we know it. The teleological guiding law would be just another natural law.

The book surprised many people because Thomas Nagel is a respected, atheistic philosopher. Teleological views do not fit into this picture. The book is rejected by many if not most philosophers.

The book is interesting to me because I belief already quite some time that neodarwinism is too slow and could be repaired by a teleological 'fix'. It is therefore a pity that the book is difficult to read and understand - at least for me. There are many long sentences and it lacks a decent summary of the main lines of reasoning. Taking more time for reading it would increase my understanding. However, I will not do this because I seriously doubt whether philosophy can contribute much conclusive to this subject. Maybe science should come to the rescue again?

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