Thomas Nagel
Mind and Cosmos

Oxford University Press 2012


50 The usual view of evolution must be revised. It is not just a physical process.

Nagel-Mind 56
Keywords:
56
neutral monism
65 the intentional and teleological alternatives:
66 Purpose - Teleology
71 Cognition
mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation
72
nature as a system capable of generating mind
76
system of concepts that enables us to understand reality
77
principles of value
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56 Tom Sorell: Even if the mechanisms that produced biological life, including consciousness, are, at some level, the same as those that operate in the evolution of the physical universe, it does not follow that those mechanisms are physical just because physical evolution preceded biological involution. Perhaps some transphysical and transmental concept is required to capture both mechanisms.
This conjecture stakes out the territory of a something sometimes called “
neutral monism” in addition to do list, materialist, and idealist positions. Tom Sorell Descartes Reinvented, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pg.95

63 It is even more obscure how properties that would explain how conscious beings are constituted out of universal elements could also help to explain how conscious beings have arisen, historically, in virtue of these laws and principles governing the behaviour of those elements. If the theory is to be not only constitutively but historically reductive, then the proto-mental character of the elements would have to play a part in the explanation of how life began and evolved even before the appearance of animal organisms.

It is already a natural part of the monist conception that the proto-mental features of the basic constituents are not merely passive but are necessarily also active, since this is needed to explain the inseparability of active and passive in the consciousness of ordinary animals. Just as phenomenology and behaviour are internally connected in the mental life of organisms, something analogous must be true at the micro level, if monism is correct. So the proto-mental will have behavioural implications.

65 the intentional and teleological alternatives:
66 Purpose
But if we are trying to imagine a secular theory, according to which the historical development of conscious life is fully explained not by intervention but as partof the natural order, there seem to be only two alternatives: either this development itself depends entirely on efficient causation, operating in its later stages through the mechanisms of biological evolution,
or there are natural teleological laws governing the development of organisation over time, in addition to laws of the familiar kind governing the behaviour of the elements.

This is a throwback to the Aristotelian conception of nature, banished from the scene at the birth of modern science. But I have been persuaded that the idea of teleological laws is coherent, and quite different from the idea of explanation by the intentions of a purposive being who produces the means to his end by choice.

In spite of the exclusion of
teleology from contemporary science, it certainly shouldn't be ruled out a priori. Formally, the possibility of principles of change over time tending to which certain types of outcomes is coherent, in a world in which the non-teleological laws are not fully deterministic.

67 But it is essential,
if teleology is to form part of a revised natural order, that its laws should be genuinely universal and not just the description of a single goal seeking process.

Since we are acquainted with only one instance of the appearance and evolution of life, we lack a basis for bringing it under universal teleological laws, unless teleological principles can be found operating consistently at much lower levels. But there would have to be such laws for teleology to genuinely explain anything.

Admittedly, the idea of teleological explanation is often associated with a further idea that the outcomes have value, so that it is not arbitrary that those particular teleological principles hold. That in turn poses the question whether an explanation that appeals to value can be understood apart from the purposes of some being who aims at it.

Non-purposive teleology would either have to be value free or would have to say that the value of certain outcomes can itself explain why the laws hold. (John Leslie).

Boe: John Leslie defends the possibility that value can explain existence

In either case,
natural teleology would mean that the universe is rationally governed in more than one way - not only through the universal quantitative laws of physics that underlie efficient causation but also through principles which imply that things happen because they are on a path that leads towards certain outcomes - notably, the existence of living, and ultimately of conscious, organisms.

Boe: cf. Terrence Deacon

68 Human consciousness is not merely passive but is permeated, both in action and cognition, with intentionality, the capacity of the mind to represent the world and its own aims.

It may be more controversial to claim that intentionality cannot be realised in a purely physical universe than that consciousness cannot be. However, if, as I believe, intentionality, thought, and action resist psychophysical reduction and can exist only in the lives of beings that are also capable of consciousness, then they too
form part of what the larger explanation of the mental must account for.

This subject will be taken up in the following chapters.
I believe that the role of consciousness in the survival of organisms is inseparable from intentionality: inseparable from perception, belief, desire, and action, and finally from reason. The generation of the entire mental structure would have to be explained by basic principles, if it is recognised as part of the natural order.

Philosophy cannot generate such explanations; it can only point out that gaping lack of them, and the obstacles to constructing them out of previously available materials. But in contrast to classical dualism, I suggest that we should not renounce the aim of finding an integrated naturalistic explanation of a new kind.

Boe: worldview of immanence - Spinoza: Pantheism

Such a theory cannot be approached directly. It would require many stages, over a long period of time, beginning with greatly expanded empirical information about regularities in the relation between conscious states and brain states in ourselves and closely related organisms. Only later could reductive hypotheses be formulated on this evidential base.

But
I believe that it makes sense to pursue not only neurophysiological but evolutionary research with a certain utopian long-term goal in mind. We should seek a form of understanding that enables us to see ourselves and other conscious organisms as specific expressions simultaneously of the physical and mental character of the universe.

One might object that life is hard enough to understand considered purely as a physical phenomenon on, and that the mind can wait. But adding the requirement that any theory of life also has to explain the development of consciousness may not make the problem worse. Perhaps, on the contrary, the added features of the natural order needed to account for mind will in the end contribute to the explanation of life as well. The more a theory has to explain, the more powerful it has to be.
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71 Chapter 4 - Cognition:

Consciousness presents a problem for evolutionary reductionism because of its irreducibly subjective character. This is true even of the most primitive forms of sensory consciousness, such as those presumably found in all animals.

The problem that I want to take up now concerns mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation that are limited to humans, though their beginnings may be found in a few other species. These are the functions that have enabled us to transcend the perspective of the immediate life-world given to us by our senses and instincts, and to explore the larger objective reality of nature and value.

Boe: vgl. Luhmann-Introduction 169/170

I shall assume that the attribution of knowledge to a computer is a metaphor, and that the higher level cognitive capacities can be possessed only by a being that also has consciousness. That already implies that those capacities cannot be understood through physical science alone, and that their existence cannot be explained by a version of evolutionary theory that is physically reductive.

But the problem I now want to discuss goes beyond its it has to do with the nature of these capacities and the relation they put us to the world.

72 What we take ourselves to be doing when we think about what is the case or how we should act is something that cannot be reconciled with a reductive naturalism, for reasons distinct from those that entail the irreducibility of consciousness. It is not merely the subjectivity of thought but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to discover what is objectively the case that presents a problem.

Thought and reasoning are correct or incorrect in virtue of something independent of the thinkers beliefs, and even independent of the community of thinkers to which he belongs. We take ourselves to have the
capacity to form true beliefs about the world around us, about the timeless domains of logic and mathematics, and about the right thing to do. We don't take these capacities to be infallible, but we think they are often unreliable, in an objective sense, and that they can give us knowledge.

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 towards correct answers to those questions. 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 difficult
to make sense of all this in traditional naturalistic terms for unless we are prepared to regard most of it as an illusion, 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 think our way beyond those starting points. The question is how to understand mind in its full sense as a product of nature - or rather, how to understand nature as a system capable of generating mind.

73
Perception and desire have to meet certain standards of accuracy to enable creatures to survive in the world: they have to enable us to respond similarly to things that are similar and differently to things that are different, to avoid what is harmful, and to pursue what is beneficial. For most creatures, however, objectivity extends no farther than this. Their lives are lived in the world of appearances, and the idea of a more objective reality has no meaning.

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.

An important aspect of this explanation will be that
we have acquired language and the possibilities of interpersonal communication, justification, and criticism that language makes possible.

But the explanation of our ability to acquire and use language in these ways presents problems of the same order, for language is one of the most important normatively governed faculties. To acquire a language is in part to acquire the system of concepts that enables us to understand reality.

76 giving a credible account of the success of our cognitive capacities:
For factual knowledge, this is the aim of
naturalised epistemology.

Boe: Luhmann - operational epistemology; thinking - communication, observation - the observer

The goal would be to explain how innate mental capacities that were selected for their immediate adaptive value are also capable of generating, through extended cultural evolutionary history, true theories about a law-governed natural order that there was no adaptive need to understand earlier. The evolutionary explanation would have to be indirect, since scientific knowledge had no role in the selection of the capacities that generated it.

The just-so story would go roughly like this: Even in the wild, it isn't just perception and operant conditioning that have survival value. The capacity to generalise from experience and to allow those generalisations, or general expectations, to be confirmed or disconfirmed by subsequent experience is also adaptive. So is a basic disposition to maintain logical consistency in belief, by modifying beliefs when inconsistencies arise.
A further, very important step would be the capacity to correct individual appearances not only by reference to other conflicting appearances of one's own but also by reference to how things appear to other perceivers. That requires recognition of other minds, an ability with obvious adaptive potential.
The reach of these capacities can be greatly extended and deliberately exercised with the help of language, which also permits knowledge to be collectively created, accumulated, and transmitted.
With language we can hold in our minds and share with others alternative possibilities, and decide among them on the basis of their consistency or inconsistency with further observations. Complex scientific theories that entail empirical predictions are therefore extensions of the highly adaptive capacity to learn from experience - our own and that of others. This story depends heavily on the supposition of biological origin of the capacity for non-perceptual representation through language, resulting in the ability to grasp logically complex abstract structures.


77 It is even possible to tell a parallel just-so story about the compatibility between evolutionary theory and moral realism. I am not thinking of the familiar appeal to sociobiology, with its essentially nepotistic interpretation of innate altruistic dispositions. I am not even thinking of the explanation through group selection of dispositions to cooperation in social creatures. Rather, I have in mind the discovery of general principles of value by rational means analogous to those used elsewhere.

Starting from an understanding of innate desires and aversions as immediate impressions of value - of what is good or bad for ourselves or our kin - the discovery of a larger, principal-governed normative domain, or domain of practical reason, in which these immediately apparent values are situated, can again proceed through the capacity to generalise and the disposition to avoid inconsistency. Generalisation would lead to the recognition of value in possible future experiences.

If there are objective general norms of conduct, this kind of thinking would allow others to discover them even if they are no more innnate than the laws of physics. As with science, the process of discovery would be impossible without language, interpersonal communication and cultural memory.


Nagel-Mind 82

Nagel Mind and Cosmos
Beobachtung Dritter Ordnung


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