Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Nagel on Cognition

In his book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Thomas Nagel says that the materialist world view cannot explain human cognition and why it is reliable.

The natural internal stance of human life assumes that there is a real world, that many questions, both factual and practical, have correct answers, and that there are norms of thought which, if we follow them will tend to lead us toward the correct answers to those question. It assumes that to follow those norms is to respond correctly to values or reasons that we apprehend. Mathematics, science and ethics are built on such norms.

It is very difficult to make sense of all this in traditional naturalistic terms. This points to a further expansion of our conception of the natural order to include not only the source of phenomenological consciousness—sensation, perception and emotion—but also the source of our active capacity to thing our way beyond those starting points (p.72).

But once we come to recognise the distinction between appearance and reality, and the existence of objective factual or practical truth that goes beyond what perception, appetite, and emotion tell us, the ability of creatures like us to arrive at such truth, or even to think about it, requires explanation (p.73).

The likelihood that a process of natural selection would have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about reality that extends far beyond the initial appearances, as we take ourselves to have done and to continue to do collectively in science, logic, and ethics. Is it credible that selection for fitness in the prehistoric past should have fixed capacities that are effective in theoretical pursuits that were unimaginable at the time (p.74)?

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