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Mind and Cosmos

Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False
Narrated by: Brian Troxell
Length: 3 hrs and 45 mins
4.6 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)

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Publisher's 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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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

An important challenge to the current orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is often hard to challenge. But thankfully Nagel has offered us this important perspective

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An incisive critique of reductive materialism

Nagel is one of those rare nonreligious intellectuals with the courage to face up to the patent failure of the received scientific worldview to explain some of the most basic facts of existence, from the origin of life to the emergence of consciousness. Here he shows how reductive materialism offers a stunted view of reality completely at odds with its axiomatic status in modern science. As I completed Mind and Cosmos I was reminded of the line from Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy".

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Good to get an overview of arguments

I’ve bought the paperback book to ponder the arguments for a longer time and so that I can read more carefully. As someone without any formal philosophy training I found some of the language to be quite dense and in audio format it feels like your brain is in some sections on the edge of keeping up or just falls behind as you think through the implications of an argument. I did enjoy it although it was a hard slog. I look forward to a time where there is less materialistic dogma in the sciences.

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  • Alice Walker
  • 15-02-2018

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.

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  • Robbie
  • 21-01-2018

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.

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 29-01-2015

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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  • K
  • 30-06-2020

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
  • 30-12-2019

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
  • 07-03-2019

Good book, bad reading.

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

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  • TrueHulk
  • 31-01-2019

finally

a honest, consistent atheist/agnostic writing a good book not full of garbage. it's a chimera to be sure, but a welcome one

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  • N. Soldofsky
  • 13-07-2015

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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  • Log Jammin
  • 01-03-2017

take that dawkins!

be careful to give your undivided attention to nagel's thoughts and words, for if you do, your mind will be blown.

2 people found this helpful

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  • James Brown
  • 01-09-2017

Easy of Time

If your interested in reading a book that leaves you with less knowledge of the subject rather than more then this books for you.
The author has achieved a remarkable grasp of the obvious and the ability to describe it with enough multisyllabic words to make your ears go blind.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jim Vaughan
  • 12-06-2016

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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  • Kindle Customer
  • 15-01-2020

Read this.

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

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  • Michael Larkin
  • 26-09-2016

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
  • 01-08-2017

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.

2 people found this helpful