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The Unreasonableness of Naturalism

Some of you may have already seen that Thomas Nagel’s new book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, has been subject to a blistering review in the liberal US weekly, The Nation. On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s excellent Religion & Ethics website, I have commented on this review, Nagel’s thesis, and the attempt by naturalists to present a politically correct face that avoids Nagel’s critique.

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27 Responses to The Unreasonableness of Naturalism

  1. In a nutshell, Leiter critism is that naturalism as an argument from utility, makes it superior so who care about details.

    For, my iphone’s ghost radar beats your ouija board. My satellite TV beats your visions. My….

    Well, you get the picture…..right?

  2. Even I give Leiter more credit for intelligence than you seem to!

  3. Ed Feser has some comments on Leiter’s review here and here, as well.

  4. As to the enigma of consciousness:

    Scale Of The Universe – interactive graph
    http://htwins.net/scale2/?bordercolor=white

    The preceding interactive graph points out that the smallest scale visible to the human eye (as well as a human egg) is at 10^-4 meters, which ‘just so happens’ to be directly in the exponential center of all possible sizes of our physical reality (not just ‘nearly’ in the exponential center!). i.e. 10^-4 is, ex
    ponentially, right in the middle of 10^-35 meters, which is the smallest possible unit of length, which is Planck length, and 10^27 meters, which is the largest possible unit of ‘observable’ length since space-time was created in the Big Bang, which is the diameter of the universe. This is very interesting for, as far as I can tell, the limits to human vision (as well as the size of the human egg) could have, theoretically, been at very different positions than directly in the exponential middle of all possible sizes; Finding conscious observation to be directly in the exponential center is interesting since,,,

    “I’m going to talk about the Bell inequality, and more importantly a new inequality that you might not have heard of called the Leggett inequality, that was recently measured. It was actually formulated almost 30 years ago by Professor Leggett, who is a Nobel Prize winner, but it wasn’t tested until about a year and a half ago (in 2007), when an article appeared in Nature, that the measurement was made by this prominent quantum group in Vienna led by Anton Zeilinger, which they measured the Leggett inequality, which actually goes a step deeper than the Bell inequality and rules out any possible interpretation other than consciousness creates reality when the measurement is made.” –
    Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., Calphysics Institute, is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications.

    Preceding quote taken from this following video;

    Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness – A New Measurement – Bernard Haisch, Ph.D (Shortened version of entire video with notes in description of video)
    http://vimeo.com/37517080

    as well,

    Logical Proofs of Infinite External Consciousness – January 18, 2012
    Excerpt: (Proof # 2) If you believe in the theory of Quantum Mechanics, then you believe that conscious observation must be present to collapse a wave function. If consciousness did not exist prior to matter coming into existence, then it is impossible that matter could ever come into existence. Additionally, this rules out the possibility that consciousness is the result of quantum mechanical processes. Either consciousness existed before matter or QM is wrong, one or the other is indisputably true.
    http://www.libertariannews.org.....ciousness/

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Three intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    Moreover, besides the smallest scale visible to the human eye, finding that the human egg is also in the exponential center of all possible sizes in the universe argues very strongly for the pro-life position and clearly indicates that humans are intended for a purpose and are not random accidents of nature as the atheistic neo-Darwinists would hold.

    Supplemental note:

    Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    Excerpt: I find it extremely interesting, and strange, that quantum mechanics tells us that instantaneous quantum wave collapse to its ‘uncertain’ 3-D state is centered on each individual observer in the universe, whereas, 4-D space-time cosmology (General Relativity) tells us each 3-D point in the universe is central to the expansion of the universe. These findings of modern science are pretty much exactly what we would expect to see if this universe were indeed created, and sustained, from a higher dimension by a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal Being who knows everything that is happening everywhere in the universe at the same time. These findings certainly seem to go to the very heart of the age old question asked of many parents by their children, “How can God hear everybody’s prayers at the same time?”,,, i.e. Why should the expansion of the universe, or the quantum wave collapse of the entire universe, even care that you or I, or anyone else, should exist? Only Theism offers a rational explanation as to why you or I, or anyone else, should have such undeserved significance in such a vast universe:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US

    Verse and music:

    Psalm 33:13-15
    The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

    Apocalypitca – Nothing Else Matters -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSMXMv0noY4

  5. Of related note: ENV ‘serendipitously’ posted this podcast last night:

    “Thomas Nagel and the Limitations of Scientific Materialism” – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....0_49-08_00

  6. 6
    Kantian Naturalist

    I think the problem with Nagel’s book is simple: it’s just not very good. It doesn’t have the conceptual sophistication of the work that made him famous (not just “What is it like to be a bat?” but other essays and articles as well, mostly in ethics and politics). He throws terms around (like “reductive” and “materialism”) without engaging in the various debates about how these terms are to be cashed out.

    It’s also not well-done from a scholarly point of view. Consider: Nagel first started writing about these issues in 1974 — that’s when the “bat” essay was first published. There’s been a lot of hard work done since then, by some heavy-hitters in the field. But Nagel takes pretty much no notice of them. His argument against reductionism is the same now as it was in 1974, and even that argument depends largely on whether one’s “intuitions” have been decisively shaped by Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.

    (In the bat essay, Nagel is clear that what he’s really talking about is the ontological gulf between the pour soi and the en soi. So I’m not surprised to learn that he wrote his dissertation on Sartre.)

    For example, there’s been a lot of work done on different notions of irreducibility. (Fuller mentions John Dupre, in particular.)

    Now, it could be that the irreducibility of subjective consciousness to objective materiality is (1) ontologically real, and not just a feature of our “vocabularies”, as Davidson and Rorty argued, and it could also be that (2) the ontological irreducibility of subjective consciousness to objective materiality is different in kind from the irreducibility of population genetics to molecular genetics, or the irreducibility of geology to particle physics. So perhaps there’s more than kind of irreducibility. (As indeed I believe there is.)

    But showing that there’s more than kind of irreducibility is hard work, it’s the exact work that Nagel would have needed to do in order to deflect the criticisms that Leiter and Weisberg bring against him, it’s work that obviously needs to be done if one is going to defend Nagel’s views at this point in the history of philosophy of mind, and Nagel just doesn’t do it.

    He’s coasting on his earlier achievements, and he’s not doing the hard work that remains to be done. Mind and Cosmos contains the tantalizing possibilities of a good book, maybe even a great book, but the check simply does not get cashed.

  7. @bornagain

    in regards to consciousness and wave collapse, many physicists do not accept that consciousness causes wave collapse and posit other explanations.

  8. KN:

    I think the problem with Nagel’s book is simple: it’s just not very good

    “His short, tightly argued, exacting new book is a work of considerable courage and importance.”

    https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/331656/rationality-vs-darwinism

  9. 9
    Kantian Naturalist

    Thank you for the link, Mung. I’m not inclined to read the article at home, because I don’t want to give National Review twenty-five cents, but I’ll see if it’s available through my institution.

    Provisionally, though: Aeschliman is a professor of education and literature; Leiter and Weisberg are professors of philosophy. The argumentative standards are quite different, and especially with regards to what is expected from a philosopher as well-known as Nagel is. Dupre, to whom Fuller refers in his review above, take a similarly dim view of the book here.

    In any event, I’ve read it myself, I stand by my assessment, and anyone who wishes to take issue with me is perfectly free to do so.

    Please note: I’m actually quite sympathetic to the general point of view that Nagel sketches. I just don’t think he does a good job of articulating and defending it.

  10. See links @3 as well. :)

  11. ma35tr0 states:

    in regards to consciousness and wave collapse, many physicists do not accept that consciousness causes wave collapse and posit other explanations.

    Indeed even Leggett himself, who devised the most recent inequality which violated realism, though he saw the results first hand, is averse to the (Theistic) implications of its violation:

    A team of physicists in Vienna has devised experiments that may answer one of the enduring riddles of science: Do we create the world just by looking at it? – 2008
    Excerpt: Leggett agrees with Zeilinger that realism is wrong in quantum mechanics, but when I asked him whether he now believes in the theory, he answered only “no” before demurring, “I’m in a small minority with that point of view and I wouldn’t stake my life on it.” For Leggett there are still enough loopholes to disbelieve. I asked him what could finally change his mind about quantum mechanics. Without hesitation, he said sending humans into space as detectors to test the theory. In space there is enough distance to exclude communication between the detectors (humans), and the lack of other particles should allow most entangled photons to reach the detectors unimpeded. Plus, each person can decide independently which photon polarizations to measure. If Leggett’s model were contradicted in space, he might believe. When I mentioned this to Prof. Zeilinger he said, “That will happen someday. There is no doubt in my mind. It is just a question of technology.” Alessandro Fedrizzi had already shown me a prototype of a realism experiment he is hoping to send up in a satellite. It’s a heavy, metallic slab the size of a dinner plate.
    http://seedmagazine.com/conten....._tests/P1/

    But there are other lines of evidence from quantum mechanics, as well ma35tr0, which clearly implicate the active role of consciousness in quantum mechanics besides the violation of Bell’s and Leggett’s inequalities, for instance:

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will conscious observation as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    of note:

    What does the term “measurement” mean in quantum mechanics?
    “Measurement” or “observation” in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto.
    http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=597846

    Needless to say, finding ‘free will conscious observation’ to be ‘built into’ our best description of foundational reality, quantum mechanics, as a starting assumption, ‘free will observation’ which is indeed the driving aspect of randomness in quantum mechanics, is VERY antithetical to the entire materialistic philosophy which demands that a ‘non-telological randomness’ be the driving force of creativity in Darwinian evolution! Also of interest:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiments, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Of note: since our free will choices figure so prominently in how reality is actually found to be constructed in our understanding of quantum mechanics, I think a Christian perspective on just how important our choices are in this temporal life, in regards to our eternal destiny, is very fitting:

    Is God Good? (Free will and the problem of evil) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd_1UAjeIA

    Ravi Zacharias – How To Measure Your Choices – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Op_S5syhKI

    You must measure your choices by the measure of
    1) eternity
    2) morality
    3) accountability
    4) charity

  12. further notes that may be of interest to some:

    Alvin Plantinga and the Modal Argument (for the soul/mind) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOTn_wRwDE0

    One can see Plantinga’s modal argument, for the soul/mind, being played out here at the 3:39 minute mark in which the animator’s imagine being outside all of space-time, matter energy in the universe. i.e. Thus demonstrating a property of ‘a’ that is not true of ‘b’ as Plantinga put it in his argument.

    The Known Universe – Dec. 2009 – a very cool video (please note the centrality of the earth in the universe)
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4240304/

    Empirical confirmation for the preceding modal argument, and video, is found in Harvard neurosurgeon’s Eben Alexander’s Near Death Experience: This following video interview of a Harvard Neurosurgeon, who had a Near Death Experience (NDE), is very interesting. His NDE was rather unique from typical NDEs in that he had completely lost brain wave function for 7 days while the rest of his body was on life support. As such he had what can be termed a ‘pure consciousness’ NDE that was dramatically different from the ‘typical’ Judeo-Christian NDE of going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension, seeing departed relatives, and having a life review. His NDE featured his ‘consciousness’ going completely outside the confines of space/time, matter/energy to experience ‘non-locally’ what he termed ‘the Core’, i.e to experience God. It is also interesting to note that he retained a ‘finite sense of self-identity’, as Theism would hold, and did not blend into the infinite consciousness/omniscience of God, as pantheism would hold.

    A Conversation with Near Death Experiencer Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander III, M.D. with Steve Paulson (Interviewer) – video
    http://www.btci.org/bioethics/...../vid3.html

    It is also important to point out that there is a viable ‘quantum’ mechanism to explain why Dr. Alexander’s NDE was so different from ‘typical’ NDE’s of going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension and that allowed him to witness ‘the core’. There is found to be a different type of quantum information/entanglement in the brain than there is in the rest of the body:

    Quantum Entangled Consciousness (Permanence of Quantum Information)- Life After Death – Stuart Hameroff – video
    https://vimeo.com/39982578

    Brain ‘entanglement’ could explain memories – January 2010
    Excerpt: In both cases, the researchers noticed that the voltage of the electrical signal in groups of neurons separated by up to 10 millimetres sometimes rose and fell with exactly the same rhythm. These patterns of activity, dubbed “coherence potentials”, often started in one set of neurons, only to be mimicked or “cloned” by others milliseconds later. They were also much more complicated than the simple phase-locked oscillations and always matched each other in amplitude as well as in frequency. (Perfect clones) “The precision with which these new sites pick up on the activity of the initiating group is quite astounding – they are perfect clones,” says Plen
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-399098

    Bridging the Gap – October 2011
    Excerpt: Like a bridge that spans a river to connect two major metropolises, the corpus callosum is the main conduit for information flowing between the left and right hemispheres of our brains. Now, neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found that people who are born without that link—a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum, or AgCC—still show remarkably normal communication across the gap between the two halves of their brains.
    http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13465

    And since Dr. Alexander’s brain was ‘shut down’ whilst the rest of his body was on life support, then that explains why the consciousness of his mind became separated from the soul of his body.,,, Here is the ‘normal’ quantum entanglement within the body that entangles (for lack of a better word) the entire soul with the material body:

    Does DNA Have Telepathic Properties?-A Galaxy Insight – 2009
    Excerpt: DNA has been found to have a bizarre ability to put itself together, even at a distance, when according to known science it shouldn’t be able to.,,, The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way unrecognized by science. There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_.....ave-t.html

    Coherent Intrachain energy migration at room temperature – Elisabetta Collini & Gregory Scholes – University of Toronto – Science, 323, (2009), pp. 369-73
    Excerpt: The authors conducted an experiment to observe quantum coherence dynamics in relation to energy transfer. The experiment, conducted at room temperature, examined chain conformations, such as those found in the proteins of living cells. Neighbouring molecules along the backbone of a protein chain were seen to have coherent energy transfer. Where this happens quantum decoherence (the underlying tendency to loss of coherence due to interaction with the environment) is able to be resisted, and the evolution of the system remains entangled as a single quantum state.
    http://www.scimednet.org/quant.....d-protein/

    Supplemental note:

    “I was in a body, and the only way that I can describe it was a body of energy, or of light. And this body had a form. It had a head, it had arms and it had legs. And it was like it was made out of light. And it was everything that was me. All of my memories, my consciousness, everything.”,,, “And then this vehicle formed itself around me. Vehicle is the only thing, or tube, or something, but it was a mode of transportation that’s for sure! And it formed around me. And there was no one in it with me. I was in it alone. But I knew there were other people ahead of me and behind me. What they were doing I don’t know, but there were people ahead of me and people behind me, but I was alone in my particular conveyance. And I could see out of it. And it went at a tremendously, horrifically, rapid rate of speed. But it wasn’t unpleasant. It was beautiful in fact. I was reclining in this thing, I wasn’t sitting straight up, but I wasn’t lying down either. I was sitting back. And it was just so fast. I can’t even begin to tell you where it went or whatever it was just fast!” –
    Vicki’s NDE – Blind since birth – quote taken from first part of the following video

    Near Death Experience Tunnel – Speed Of Light – Turin Shroud – video
    http://www.vimeo.com/18371644

    quote:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    William Shakespeare – Hamlet

  13. OT: Explore the stellar neighborhood with new Milky Way visualization – November 15, 2012
    http://phys.org/news/2012-11-e.....ation.html

  14. 14
    Kantian Naturalist

    See links @3 as well. :)

    Thank you for encouraging me to look at Feser’s reviews. I found some of his criticisms of Leiter and Weisberg apt, others struck me as “uncharitable” (along the lines of you, “c’mon, you know they didn’t mean that!”) — but, given how uncharitable Leiter and Weisberg were towards Nagel, allowances can be made (especially in light of how unbelievably petty academics tend to be).

    However, there were also a few areas in which I think Feser continued Nagel’s confusions, despite the efforts made to alleviate those confusions, not only by Leiter and Weisberg, but also by John Dupre (whose review I linked to above), Eliot Sober (who reviewed Mind and Cosmos for the Boston Globe) and Alva Noe.

    The basic problem with Nagel’s book –a point that Leiter & Weisberg and Dupre point out, though Feser repeats Nagel’s error — is that Nagel just assumes that science is committed to “materialism” and to “reductionism”. In 1974, when Nagel wrote the famous bat essay, it was easy to assume that those were basic features of science. That’s just not the case anymore. Philosophy of science has come a long way since then — in large part because philosophers of science have started paying a lot closer attention to how scientists actually reason in the lab and field.

    Granted, the rejection of reductionism among philosophers of science has not really permeated the consciousness of the profession as a whole. In particular, philosophy of mind is still obsessed with reductionism, though much less so than it used to be. For more on this, I highly recommend Beyond Reduction, who nails the problem squarely on the head.

    Indeed, it could well be that the big problem with how Nagel’s book has been reviewed is due to the disconnect between philosophers of science and philosophers of mind. Nagel is well-known and well-respected in philosophy of mind, not just for the “bat” essay but for other work as well. His recent “The Psychophysical Nexus” is really quite, quite excellent. But then he writes a book that seems to be about philosophy of science, and so philosophers of science go to review it — that’s the field of specialization for Weisberg, Dupre, and Sober — and they’re astonished to see that the reductionism that vanished from philosophy of science a generation ago still seems to be alive and kicking.

  15. KN, That has to be one of the best Kindle values I’ve seen.

    $60.00 hardback for only $16.37.

    But it’s also available in paperback for $30.

    “Trivia for Amazon bibliophiles: At Boston University, Horst was the roommate of sci-fi author Neal Stephenson.”

    Also author of:

    Symbols, Computation, and Intentionality: A Critique of the Computational Theory of Mind

  16. …and they’re astonished to see that the reductionism that vanished from philosophy of science a generation ago still seems to be alive and kicking.

    They need to spend more time on internet blogs. ;)

  17. 17

    Or that people who spend time on internet blogs need to read more! :)

  18. touche’

  19. Kantian Naturalist:

    Or that people who spend time on internet blogs need to read more!

    Just published:

    Life is an enduring mystery. Yet, science tells us that living beings are merely sophisticated structures of lifeless molecules.

    Life’s Ratchet is one of those rare books that pay off one of science’s central promises: reductionism can explain higher-order phenomena.

    Life’s Ratchet

    Looks like it’s taking a while for the word to get out on all sides, eh?

  20. 20

    Touche! ;)

    My view, basically, is that the reducibility or irreducibility of “mind” to “matter” is not the most helpful way of thinking about the problem. I’m not on board with Nagel or Feser at a very basic level.

    Rather, on my view, there are two different ‘reductions’ or ‘irreducibilities’ at stake: (1) the irreducibility of normative concepts, like personhood, agency, or intentionality, to natural-scientific concepts; (2) the irreducibility of one set of natural-scientific concepts, like organism or life, to physical-chemical concepts.

    Once one is no longer working at the level of the whole organism, but instead at the level of biochemistry, translating from there to physics is relatively easy. Hoffmann, as a physicist, might be able to shed some light on biochemistry, but I’m considerably more skeptical as to whether his research will successfully “reduce” organisms to molecules.

    (Here I’m using “reduction” and “emergence” as contrasting notions: it’s because emergence is real that reductions can’t work. But I’ll admit that I need to really work through that part of the story.)

    Nagel continues the Cartesian project (in several ways, actually) of conflating these two kinds of irreducibility. On my view, one is an irreducibility of normative concepts to descriptive terms, the other is an irreducibility of one set of descriptive terms to another set of descriptive terms. So the irreducibility of agency, thought, intention, etc. to biological facts (e.g. about neurophysiology) is different in kind from the irreducibility of organisms to molecules, however sophisticated and interesting those molecules are.

  21. p. 1 of Life’s Ratchet:

    That crude matter should have originally formed itself according to mechanical laws, that life should have sprung from the nature of what is lifeless, that matter should have been able to dispose itself into the form of a self-maintaining purposiveness – that [is] contradictory to reason.

    – Immmanuel Kant

  22. 22

    I found that Kant quote in section 81 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment and read the whole section, just to make sure I understood what Kant was doing there.

    Kant’s concern there is the relation between teleology and mechanism, and after considering several theories of teleology, he settles on the theory of epigenesis. In the course of doing so, he also argues that biology must start from an organized system of matter, because a teleological system (such as organisms) could not have arise from a mechanistic system (such as matter).

    Now, this might be surprising to some of you, but in the past few days I’ve decided that Kant is exactly right about this. Which means, interestingly, that any naturalistic solution to the problem of abiogenesis will require one of two approaches: (1) abandoning the mechanistic theory of matter or (2) treating organisms mechanistically. Despite the popularity of (2) among biochemists, I not only prefer (1) but I think it’s completely viable.

    What happened is, on Wednesday I read “Bio-agency and the problem of action” by J. C. Skewes & C. A. Hooker (Biology and Philosophy 24 (3):283-300, 2009). I won’t get into all the details right now; suffice it to say that the way they set up the problem in what I find to be a deeply compelling fashion. Namely, the Aristotelian-Kantian notion that organisms are centers of their own causal activity is not compatible with linear effective causation — what you might call a “domino” theory of causation. So, what they propose to do is reject the domino theory of causation. Put otherwise, they reject mechanism. In its place they argue that dynamical systems theory can explain how autopoeitic systems arise.

    Anyway, that’s why I agree with Kant. :)

  23. Someone ought to write a paper. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Prior Planning.

  24. Laughed when I heard Dr Eben Alexander, the neurosurgeon who had had the 7-day NDE, refer to ‘science’, and immediately after that, ‘neuroscience’, making the two-fingered quotation-mark signs, after the latter.

    I thought of the female blogger who is a neurological specialist of some kind, linked either from here or from Dr Cornelius Hunter’s blog, and her withering dismissal of ‘neuroscience’ (if I remember correctly) on her blog, as even a half serious, scientific discipline; given the extremely limited understanding of the biology involved in the structure of the brain, never mind the brain’s relationship to consciousness.

  25. Alvin Plantinga’s review of Nagel’s ‘Mind & Cosmos’.
    http://www.tnr.com/print/artic.....lism-wrong

  26. 27

    The review is quite interesting. One of the deep issues lurking beneath the surface here is whether it is Nagel’s desire for intelligible unity, or the idea that the desire for intelligibility can only be satisfied by unity, that accounts for the affinity between Nagel and Plantinga. (For another iteration of this affinity, see Nagel’s review of Plantinga in The New York Review of Books.)

    Nagel, unlike Sellarsian pragmatists such as Rorty, Dennett, and myself, insists on what he calls “the ambition of transcendence” as central to the philosophical enterprise as such. Richard Rorty has written perceptively about the difference between Nagel and Dennett on intentionality; I can provide salient quotes if there’s interest.

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