It's hard to believe the fuss that's being made over this book. It's even harder to believe how a major thinker can present his views on what is argua...moreIt's hard to believe the fuss that's being made over this book. It's even harder to believe how a major thinker can present his views on what is arguably the central problem of the western worldview and exclude so much work that has been done towards addressing that problem. Is it an academic turf thing or is it just that he's unaware of these advancements? Nagel takes on the age-old mind/body problem--how to reconcile materialistic science with the world of mind and consciousness--and does so with courage and creativity. Ultimately however, he does everyone a great disservice by overlooking the advancements in mind/body science that have accumulated over the past three or four decades. The revolution in our worldview that Nagel argues for in "Mind and Cosmos" is a revolution that has been going on for decades, and has unfolded over the years in the form of various "postmodern" critiques of modernity and its views of materialism, reductionism, and determinism.
The best place to look for these revolutions and their approaches to the problems Nagel addresses in this book are "embodied mind cognitive science" (embodied cognition) and "complex systems theory" (also self-organizing systems, self-adaptive systems, and autopoiesis). Both are labels for massively interdisciplinary endeavors that are being pursued by philosophers, linguists, psychologists, neuroscientists, biologists, anthropologists, and computer scientists. The embodied mind approach in cognitive science is barely two decades old but recently it has been gaining mainstream attention because people are realizing that it points a path toward the kind of reconciliation Nagel argues for. Here is a very partial list of volumes in these two interdisciplinary fields that have come out in the last 10-20 years that contain tons of new insights and perspectives that depart from the kind of materialistic naturalism that Nagel so rightly criticizes:
1. Evan Thompson, "Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind" 2. Alva Noe, "Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness" 3. Ilya Prigogine, "The End of Certainty" 4. Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch, "The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience" 5. Lawrence Shapiro, "Embodied Cognition" (New Problems of Philosophy) 6. Humberto Maturana, "From Being to Doing. The Origins of the Biology of Cognition" 7. Humberto Maturana & Francsico Varela, "Tree of Knowledge" 8. Shaun Gallagher, "How the Body Shapes the Mind" 9. Lakoff & Johnson, "Philosophy In The Flesh" 10. Bruce Clarke, "Emergence and Embodiment: New Essays on Second-Order Systems Theory"
Another reviewer also pointed out that Nagel overlooks developments in epigenetics and the advancements in neuroscience that continue to add to our overall picture of how the mind and the body interact. Although Nagel brings in the possibility of a natural teleology as an avenue for reconciliation, he doesn't address the overall problem of time and irreversibility in the natural sciences, particularly in physics, a problem that is at the heart of the materialistic worldview. Recently physicist Lee Smolin published a book that takes on this challenge in "Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe" and thus continues the important work of Ilya Prigogine on time and irreversibility done in the 1980s and 90s in "Order Out of Chaos" (see also: "Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life").
Of course Nagel is a philosopher and so makes a fine philosophical statement, one which I mostly agree with. Unfortunately that's not enough in today's interconnected world. Today's intellectuals have to be interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and hopefully someday transdisciplinary. I hope Nagel's book interests you enough to delve into the works (above) and see for yourself the exciting new roads people have been traveling towards resolving the mind/body problem.(less)