Mind & Cosmos

“The aim of this book is to argue that the mind-body problem is not just a local problem, having to do with the relation between mind, brain, and behavior in living animal organisms, but that it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history. The physical sciences and evolutionary biology cannot be kept insulated from it, and I believe a true appreciation of the difficulty of the problem must eventually change our conception of the place of the physical sciences in describing the natural order.

One of the legitimate tasks of philosophy is to investigate the limits of even the best developed and most successful forms of contemporary scientific knowledge. It may be frustrating to acknowledge, but we are simply at the point in the history of human thought at which we find ourselves, and our successors will make discoveries and develop forms of understanding of which we have not dreamt. Human are addicted to hope for a final reckoning, but intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole. Pointing out their limits is a philosophical task, whoever engages in it, rather than part of the internal pursuit of science (…). Scientists are well aware of how much they don’t know, but this is a different kind of problem – not just of acknowledging the limits of what is actually understood but of trying to recognise what can and cannot in principle be understood by certain existing methods.

(…) For all I know, most practicing scientists may have no opinion about the overaching cosmological questions to which this materialist reductionism provides an answer. Their detailed research and substantive finding do not in general depend on or imply either that or any other answer to such questions. But among the scientists and philosophers who do express views about the natural order as a whole, reductive materialism is widely assumed to be the only serious possibility.

The starting point for the argument is the failure of psychophysical reductionism, a position in the philosophy of mind that is largely motivated by the hope of showing how the physical sciences could in principle provide a theory of everything. If that hope is unrealisable, the question arises whether…”

Thomas Nagel

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