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I liked this book, having been a fan of Nagel's writing for a while. He is not at all sympathetic to the kind of issues discussed on this blog. But along with the likes of John Searle, Colin McGinn, David Chalmers and Galen Strawson he is, to my mind, one of a group of post war analytical philosophers who have most effectively criticised materialistic explanations of consciousness and mind (which I recall Nagel describing as the "dominant illusion of the age"). Perhaps I'm biased, but for me their arguments are unanswerable.

Nagel did an expecially penetrating review of Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' in 2006, which I would commend to anyone. Here's a link that doesn't require going through a paywall:

http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2009/12/nagel-on-dawkins.html

Academixc philopshera are literally having a nervous breakdown over this because of Nagels stature as one of the deans of American philosophy. they sound like Villagers chasing Baron Von Frankensteins creature up the hill and into the mill.

A very interesting review. Having read the God Delusion, I thought it was a bit of rant (justifiably) against organised religion, mainly Christianity it has to be said - there wasn't much about Islam in it.

I thought Nagel's summary was very honest and clear. It doesn't seem to have an agenda, simply acknowledges the flaws Dawkin's argument.

Very relevant to "the brute facts of existence" is the concept of "qualia." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), the famous physicist, had this counter-materialist take:

"The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so."[2]

The importance of qualia in philosophy of mind comes largely from the fact that it is seen as posing a fundamental problem for materialist explanations of the mind-body problem. Much of the debate over their importance hinges on the definition of the term that is used, as various philosophers emphasize or deny the existence of certain features of qualia. As such, the nature and existence of qualia are controversial.

Here's another quote from that Wikipedia article on qualia:

Although it does not actually mention the word "qualia," Thomas Nagel's paper What Is it Like to Be a Bat?[4] is often cited in debates over qualia. Nagel argues that consciousness has an essentially subjective character, a what-it-is-like aspect. He states that "an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism — something it is like for the organism."[5] Nagel also suggests that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of reductionistic science. He claims that "[i]f we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could be done."[6] Furthermore, he states that "it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective."[6]

"Having read the God Delusion, I thought it was a bit of rant (justifiably) against organised religion, mainly Christianity it has to be said - there wasn't much about Islam in it." Here's a very recent article in the UK Guardian on the impact of Dawkins' ranting on muslims:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2013/mar/25/atheists-alpha-course

I've recently come across the book The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. In it, he describes the extent to which dominant scientific theories are cultural products rather than accurate descriptions of objective reality. One of the examples he uses is the Theory of Evolution - a description of life as a brutal competition for survival - that is so much like the society from which it arose. This has rendered it nearly blind to other features (like cooperation) that are just as prevalent.

It seems to me that there is a lot less objectivity and a lot more projection of cultural values and beliefs onto the world around us to be found in science than is commonly appreciated.

"It seems to me that there is a lot less objectivity and a lot more projection of cultural values and beliefs onto the world around us to be found in science than is commonly appreciated."

I agree. And, in a similar vein, that's one of the reasons (though not the main one) I'm leery of analogies that would have us believe the universe works somewhat like an all-powerful computer. (Sorry, Michael!)

I'm also questioning the History Channel's Viking series for similar reasons. I know the Vikings were ruthless, but this series shows them as downright sadistic. There's a difference, and I'm wondering how accurate that portrayal is.

Great post, Michael! This truly is a shot across the bow.

We should NOT let the materialist pretend that quantum physics explains their views of the material world, or is proof that there is nothing beyond.

Modern quantum theories and the ‘places’ they are taking us are far ‘spookier’ than virtually any of the religious and spiritual understandings they rant against.
Jim

I haven't read this book yet, but I find myself wondering about the quality of Nagel's insights if he does not "believe" in psi. Waffle all you want about God; the evidence is weak and highly subjective. As for survival, the evidence is solid but not yet overwhelming, so doubt away, good sir. But psi? That's not a matter of belief. It's a matter of simple fact borne out by the results of extremely rigorous experimentation. Whether it's telepathy, remote viewing or presentiment, the evidence for psi is rock solid. That the author let's his belief color his views in this area makes me question his thought process in general.

I've come to the conclusion that western intellectual culture has been thoroughly theophobic for most of the past century and a half, a few disciplines such as theology, perhaps, excepted. There is no more certain way to make yourself a pariah than to even entertain the possibility that there is a God and saying anything that could possibly lead to the suspicion that someone is a secret theist provokes a panic reaction. That charge is even made against dyed in the wool atheists like Lewontin and Gould by people like Dennett ("skyhooks").

I think the reaction against that is growing and it would have grown faster if not for the fundamentalist resurgence in the past forty or so years. As that wains, as people tire of the materialist dictatorship, as freer conceptions of God and religions are shown to be possible, I think people will lose their fear. Look what happened in the Soviet bloc and worse cases such as Albania when the despots fell.

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