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Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False Hardcover – September 26, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0199919758 ISBN-10: 0199919755 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199919755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199919758
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.7 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (181 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"If evolutionary biology redraws its boundaries as this book says it must, then the dialogue between theology and science will be considerably altered." --Anglican Theological Review

"[This] troublemaking book has sparked the most exciting disputation in many years... I like Nagel's mind and I like Nagel's cosmos. He thinks strictly but not imperiously, and in grateful view of the full tremendousness of existence." -- Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic

"A sharp, lucidly argued challenge to today's scientific worldview." -- Jim Holt, The Wall Street Journal

"Starts with a boldly discerning look at that strange creature, mankind, and comes to some remarkable speculations about who we are and what our place is in the universe... The very beauty of Nagel's theory - its power to inspire imagination - counts in its favor." -- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"An intense philosophical takedown of Neo-Darwinism and scientific materialism. It's a brave and contrarian book. Reminds me of Wittgenstein's remark: 'Even if all our scientific questions are answered, our problem is still not touched at all.'" -- E.L. Doctorow, The New York Times Book Review

"Nagel's arguments against reductionism should give those who are in search of a reductionist physical 'theory of everything' pause for thought... The book serves as a challenging invitation to ponder the limits of science and as a reminder of the astonishing puzzle of consciousness." -- Science

"Mind and Cosmos, weighing in at 128 closely argued pages, is hardly a barn-burning polemic. But in his cool style Mr. Nagel extends his ideas about consciousness into a sweeping critique of the modern scientific worldview." -- The New York Times

"His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism... [Nagel has] performed an important service with his withering critical examination of some of the most common and oppressive dogmas of our age." -- The New Republic

"[This] short, tightly argued, exacting new book is a work of considerable courage and importance." -- National Review

" Provocative... Reflects the efforts of a fiercely independent mind." -- H. Allen Orr, The New York Review of Books

"[Nagel] is an avowed nonbeliever, but regularly enrages the New Atheist crowd because he is determined to leave open a space... for the incomprehensible, for the numinous... and writes very honestly about that." -- James Wood

"This short book is packed like a neutron star. I found myself underlining so much that I had to highlight some underlining with further underlining and flag up this underlining in turn. Mind and Cosmos is a brave intervention." -- Raymond Tallis, The New Atlantis

"Challenging and intentionally disruptive... Unless one is a scientific Whig, one must strongly suspect that something someday will indeed succeed [contemporary science]. Nagel's Mind and Cosmos does not build a road to that destination, but it is much to have gestured toward a gap in the hills through which a road might someday run." -- The Los Angeles Review of Books

"A model of carefulness, sobriety and reason... Reading Nagel feels like opening the door on to a tidy, sunny room that you didn't know existed." -- The Guardian

"Fascinating... [A] call for revolution." -- Alva Noe, NPR's 13.7

"The book's wider questions -- its awe-inspiring questions -- turn outward to address the uncanny cognizability of the universe around us.... He's simply doing the old-fashioned Socratic work of gadfly, probing for gaps in what science thinks it knows." -- Louis B. Jones, The Threepenny Review

"[Attacks] the hidden hypocrisies of many reductionists, secularists, and those who wish to have it both ways on religious modes of thinking ... Fully recognizes the absurdities (my word, not his) of dualism, and thinks them through carefully and honestly."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

About the Author

Thomas Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Law at New York University. His books include The Possibility of Altruism, The View from Nowhere, and What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. In 2008, he was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy and the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy.

Customer Reviews

He says he just doesn't have a sense that god exists, therefore he doesn't.
Amazon Customer
This, like our more general cognitive capacities, is a higher development of our nature as conscious creatures.
Peter S. Bradley
Nagel records his personal aversion to theistic alternatives without much by way of sustained argument.
Ryan S Ashton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

234 of 251 people found the following review helpful By Slow Reader on October 21, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thomas Nagel is well-known for asking the question, "What is it like to be a bat?" I think it is a useful exercise to try to answer this question before reading his Mind and Cosmos. At dusk I see bats navigating expertly around trees and making precise changes of course to pluck an insect from the air. Bats evidently have as accurate a representation of three dimensional space as we do but with one crucial difference: it is constructed by a brain that relies on sound rather than light. Try to imagine that. Having a very detailed understanding of how neurons fire in the bat brain will get us no closer to understanding what it is like to be a bat. The same can be said of understanding human consciousness. A scanner that could show us the intricate patterns of neurons firing in real time would be a scientific (and aesthetic) marvel, but viewing the output would bring us no closer to understanding the experience of awareness, the meaning of the thoughts, of what it is like to be that person whose brain is being scanned. Material explanations cannot lead to the understanding of non-material consciousness.
Nagel builds on this insight more thoroughly than any other thinker I am aware of. His claim in this book is that science, being objective and materialist, can make only a limited claim to a Theory of Everything (TOE) because it cannot explain essentially subjective phenomena. Awareness, in all its forms in life on Earth, is a cosmological fact as much as is matter, organized as it is into particles, stars and brains. Science is very successful at prying out the material consequences of the big bang, where each new level of complexity is built on the inherent properties of lower levels.
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388 of 429 people found the following review helpful By Alexei Tsvetkov on September 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It galls me that the only reviewer who gave this book five stars somehow sees it as an argument for theism which is definitely not so. It treats theism more or less like it does materialism - not as a solution to the problem but as a way of explaining it away, in the particular case of theism simply by kicking the can further down the road (See Nagel's recent review of the new Alvin Plantinga's book in NYRB).
For me, however, the main thrust of its argument is against the currently prevalent physicalist reductionism which has been my own worldview for the past ten years or so for the lack of anything better. I have always been aware of the unease with which this approach treats the problem of mind and consciousness, tying itself into knots by either ignoring it altogether as a purely subjective realm of qualia or squeezing it into the general deterministic scheme of thing and denying the possibility of free will and moral choice.
It takes a lot of intellectual courage to point out that consciousness is not an ephemeral byproduct of the evolution but its essential component that begs to be included in every attempt of the exhaustive explanation of reality. Thomas Nagel is one of a few who possess that kind of courage.
And please, do not believe someone who calls the book "tidious". It is extremely lucid for this kind of philosophical work, reads like an adventure novel. A veritable marvel of a book, a rare pleasure.
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148 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Philonous on January 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
**edited version 1.0**

Couple years before I read Mind and Cosmos, my friend invited me to his university (NYU) to attend Nagel's lecture in the course Philosophy of Mind. Ironically, Nagel was giving a lecture about the Chalmers' argument from the Hard Problem of Consciousness, which in hindsight felt like it foreshadows of what will happen in the near future. My friend once remarked to Nagel, "If it turns out that consciousness is, in some sense, fundamentally different from mere physical matter, then the whole scientific worldview of the cosmos will change". To my friend's surprise, Nagel responds with full hearted agreement. At the time neither I nor my friend have really read what Nagel had written before, so we did not take Nagel's response as any significant indication of he thought deep inside until I read Nagel's book Mind and Cosmos.

Aside from Nagel's elegant writing style, his thesis is very bold and radical when one considers that it is written in the backdrop of the intellectual climate of academic philosophy and modern science that is predominantly naturalistic. Furthermore, the scientific climate of evolutionary biologists seems to lean towards a kind of reductionism. Nagel's overall thesis is a bit complex, but it can be understood in twofold (Nagel did not make this distinction): the negative thesis and the positive thesis. The former consists in a critique of the materialist and reductionist interpretation of the theory of evolution, while the latter consists in arguing for an alternative naturalistic world-view that allows teleology to have its place in the natural world.
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214 of 251 people found the following review helpful By tspencer on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an odd book by a very respectable, established philosopher. The arguments are sensible, responsible, and are shared more or less by a number of reputable scientists, yet the reader knows the book is a potential outrage to the gatekeepers of materialism. That is what is weird. It reminds me of the Army-McCarthy hearings when Joseph Nye Welch directly challenges the man himself ("Have you left no sense of decency?"), and instead of incurring suspicion...he gets applauded by everyone in the gallery! And so should Nagel. He merely points out that there is a Darwinism-of-the-gaps at work in much of the scientific community, and perhaps it is time to step back and take a more balanced, imaginative look at a world that in certain respects strongly resists a materialist-reductionist reading. Science is supposedly eager to upset everything, but in actual fact there are sacred limits to what some scientists (or self-appointed popularists of scientism) are willing to question. Nagel's own suggestions point toward a less-than-rosy teleological neutral monism. Honestly, I don't see what is so frightening about that, even for a God hater. The most "scandalous" thing about the book is that it credits (almost as a side note) ID people with asking some very good questions, and concedes that some form of theistic intentionalism is not preposterous given certain features of the world. He himself stays far away from theism for reasons he clearly states, but he is outrageous enough to forego insults. (Naughty Thomas, neither hot nor cold, fit to be spewed from God's mouth!)

The book is very carefully reasoned and at times not quite "popular" in its technicality.
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Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False
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