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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 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. 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, including molecular biology, cannot be expected to provide one. Mind and Cosmos 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.
II. Antireductionism and the Natural Order
Thomas Nagel is University Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University.
"Mind and Cosmos is [...] extraordinarily ambitious. Nagel proposes not merely a new explanation for the origin of life and consciousness, but a new type of explanation: 'natural teleology.'"
– George Scialabba, Inference: International Review of Science
"Nagel's book is provocative, interesting and important"
– Simon Oliver, Studies in Christian Ethics
"Nagel's arguments are forceful, and his proposals are bold, intriguing, and original. This, though short and clear, is philosophy in the grand manner, and it is worthy of much philosophical discussion."
– Keith Ward, The Philosophical Quarterly
"This is a challenging text that should provoke much further reflection. I recommend it to anyone interested in trying to understand the nature of our existence."
– W. Richard Bowen, ESSSAT News & Reviews 23:1
"[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
"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."
"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
"[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
"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, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"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
"This is an interesting and clearly written book by one of the most important philosophers alive today. It serves as an excellent introduction to debates about the power of scientific explanation."
– Constantine Sandis, Times Higher Education
" [...] reading this book will certainly prove a worthwhile venture, as it is certain to have an inspiring effect on the reader's own attitude towards mind and the cosmos."
– Jozef Bremer, Forum Philosophicum