Thomas Nagel Identifies the Problem

You think that David Gelernter presented some troubling considerations for modern science? You might recall he mentioned Thomas Nagel and his new book that created such a furor on the academic left, since he is–or was, an icon of the left.

Nagel, University Professor and renowned philosopher at NYU (university professor is the highest academic rank I know of, he can, literally lecture on any subject he desires on the Campus) wrote Mind and Cosmos last year and sent the atheists and Darwinists and some others on the academic left into orbit.

Nagel asked questions about consciousness and evolution that got the left’s panties in a twist for sure, and they tried to excommunicate him from the snotty elite comfortable and confident salon. Richard Dawkins, Darwinist atheist, was apoplectic. Nagel is still an atheistic leftist, but he asked the questions because he asks questions, that’s what he does, and when he can’t find a satisfactory answer, he says so.

Nagel said there are things we don’t understand and since he couldn’t understand them and he couldn’t find anyone who could explain them, he was going to consider evolution a question, not an answer and consciousness a cunundrum beyond our limited ability to understand. (Sound like Gelernter?)

Nice going Thomas, mysteries, complexities? Questions about consciousness and evolution, and complexity beyond our ability to investigate or understand?

I do biology–medical problem solving biology, but biology nonetheless and I can live with complexity and uncertainty, in fact I welcome it, since it obscures the measure of my ignorance.

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/blog/philosophy/thomas-nagel-mind-and-cosmos-review-leiter-nation/#.UsX_QfukOmQ

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7 responses to “Thomas Nagel Identifies the Problem

  1. The article at the end of the link reads very much like the output of Bulhak’s Postmodernism Generator.

    • Tell me about it. Postmodernism is something I really dislike, anti science and anti tradition. The anarchist’s sandbox.

      • Sorry John, it was a conflation of low-quality inputs from a couple unrelated posts that made me grumpy. I read them in quick succession while I was busy with something else, and they left me with an overall impression that a human ought to do better.

        The first article (not this one) contained this tautology followed by a bunch of trivia: “Tipping points happen when momentum toward an idea builds and finally crosses a threshold where it is evident that a major cultural change has occurred”. It essentially says, tipping points happen when they happen. A robot could have written it.

        So my comment was misplaced, although the article you link here has a bit of the same air to it. In this case, it is a contradiction that a human should be able to spot. It starts with this:

        “It is the fact that we’re conscious and rational that led us to believe in things like Higgs bosons in the first place.”

        Wow. I understand this article is summary of somebody else’s thoughts, but what a summary! So our rationality is a fact. I did not know that. And then I learn that it is the fact we’re rational that leads us to believe in some things. I’m blown away already. And then he gives Higgs bosons as an example of our rational beliefs. Is there anything that can be more rational?

        But that’s an aside. A contradiction that a human ought to spot is that Nagel (or Malcolm the reporter, don’t know who) states with certainty that there is something he calls mind or conscience, after having spent a substantial linguistic effort to assert that it is inscrutable to science. An in passing, he denies the existence of that inscrutable feature in non-humans: “Why aren’t we unconscious primates who unreflectively go about our business?”

        How does he know the unconscious primates go about their business unreflectively if their unconsciousness is inscrutable to him, as he himself claims it is? Or is it that only consciousness is inscrutable, while unconsciousness is obvious?

        This is the kind of stuff that makes me grumpy. I understand that philosophy is not science and it is OK for a philosopher to ignore or tolerate contradictions. What else is there that makes it endearing to people? I have just read (and re-read) this lengthy piece and have again failed to find useful content in it. None of it even sounds nice, so what’s the point?

        • Here’s the way I look at it.

          Thomas Nagel found out that material world explanations don’t cut on highly complex things like consciousness.

          He’s looking for answers and doesn’t think he found em in his book of answers.

          I like that, a little humility is good for a University Professor at NYU.

          John Dale Dunn MD JD Consultant Emergency Services/Peer Review Civilian Faculty, Emergency Medicine Residency Carl R. Darnall Army Med Center Fort Hood, Texas Medical Officer, Sheriff Bobby Grubbs Brown County, Texas 325 784 6697 (h) 642 5073 (c)

  2. Once you stop questioning the basic tenets of theories, they become like religions as seen in some of the responses to Nagel. Evolution is a nice, workable theory for a good many things. Unfortunately, too many of the evolutionists believe in evolution with a fervor approaching religion. As soon as they start with the quasi-religious bit, I start lowering the shields.

    • keep the shields up, it’s photon torpedoes that you want.

      John Dale Dunn MD JD Consultant Emergency Services/Peer Review Civilian Faculty, Emergency Medicine Residency Carl R. Darnall Army Med Center Fort Hood, Texas Medical Officer, Sheriff Bobby Grubbs Brown County, Texas 325 784 6697 (h) 642 5073 (c)

  3. Frederick Michael

    You can learn a lot about someone by seeing how they react to tough but interesting questions that challenge their thinking. A true professor will engage in a spirited back-and-forth and enjoy the interchange. In the 1970’s, I had many such discussions with my physics professors at the University of Maryland.

    Conversely, some people just get offended and defensive. How sad.

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