Mind and Cosmos

Mind and Cosmos

Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

Book - 2012
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In Mind and Cosmos Thomas Nagel argues that the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects ofreality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology isfundamentally incomplete.And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.No such explanation is available, and the physical sciences, including molecular biology, cannot be expected to provide one. The book explores these problems through a general treatment of the obstacles to reductionism, with more specific application to the phenomena of consciousness, cognition,and value. The conclusion is that physics cannot be the theory of everything.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, c2012.
ISBN: 9780199919758
Branch Call Number: 113 Nag
Characteristics: x, 130 p. ; 22 cm.
Alternative Title: Mind & cosmos


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May 03, 2017

“Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible”
by Victor Stenger, updated August 27, 2011, at The Blog, HuffPost
“Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible”
by Lorna Salzman, posted 2002
“Science and religion are incompatible in two major ways”
with John Shook, posted June 15, 2009, at It’s Only Natural

Jan 30, 2017

This is an extremely clearly written little book, and its argument is so strong, that it ended up convincing me of its main point. It may even reintroduce grand philosophical systems back into philosophy, albeit with modifications.

Dec 11, 2015

All of the evidence of modern science finds no evidence for your preferred delusions? Apparently the answer is to blame science and not to question your own assumptions and the bronze age superstition from which they spring.

Aug 17, 2014

When this book was published, philosopher Thomas Nagel was practically burned at the stake for challenging the ideas of people like of Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett. I found it a tough read but persevered to see what all the fuss was about. Nagel pokes the hornets’ nest by quoting intelligent designers and using terms like Darwinism-of-the-gaps to point out the failure of scientific reductionism to explain subjective consciousness (the interior world of individual minds), rational thought, and values (Dawkins, Dennett & Pinker place a high value on TRUTH, for example, but is that valid in a universe that is essentially the product of random processes?) Nagel hits the nail on the head when he calls the multi-universe theory an explanatory cop-out; but his own ideas are very fuzzy concerning his proposed natural “teleology” (a term he doesn't even bother to define). Nagel points out the historical quality of the the Universe - it’s not directionless and this cannot be accounted for by random “accidents”, although Nagel gives very few specifics. Read the book “The Plausibility of Life – Solving Darwin’s Dilemma” by Marc Kirschner for a good explanation of the directionality of biological evolution; also John F. Haught’s “Is Nature Enough? Meaning and Truth in the age of Science” provides a much more scientifically and theologically informed challenge to reductionism than intelligent design. Nagel’s generous, open mind was a pleasure to encounter in this book even though his conclusions are vague. The physicist Freeman Dyson summed it up just as well years ago: “As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming”

Oct 12, 2013

"...standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete." Clearly, this book and author demonstrates the inate ineptness of philosophy lacking any scientific grounding. Certainly evolutionary biology is incomplete, as are all sciences to date, as science is humanity's grasp of the existing universe, and that is woefully limited! Surely what knowledge we now have of evolutionary biology (amptly illustrated by the occasional article and op-ed by local UW scholar, Prof. Barash) is quite thought-provoking! Book rated inadequate and mediocre!

Oct 11, 2013

I liked this book much better than I expected to. It is NOT an argument for intelligent design, and creationists who really read it instead of cherry-picking it would have recognized that immediately. Nagel grants that the cosmos developed over billions of years and that all living forms, including us, evolved from a simple beginning. He summarily dismisses theism as a non-explanation that pushes the cause of life, consciousness, reason and value judgment totally out of the realm of nature and provides no process of scientifically investigating it. What he doubts is that materialist science does, or can, explain how a material, unliving cosmos could be expected to develop living organisms capable of consciousness, cognition and value judgments by natural processes. He wants scientists to consider the possibility that there is something basic, detectable, measurable, testable in the material cosmos that we could point to and say, “Because of that, the eventual existence of mind was inevitable.” He does not claim to know what the answer would be, but he asks good questions. I recommend the review at http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/10/12/162725315/are-the-mind-and-life-natural and the additional reading it suggests; also Daniel Dennett’s books and The Problem of the Soul , by Owen Flanagan. / Nagel refers to Dennett, and Dennet quotes Nagel. I found that fun.

Aug 18, 2013

An insurmountable challenge to Neo-Darwinism, among many others.
Shorter sentences and a glossary of terms would make for easier reading.

JarrettHolst Aug 06, 2013

While a good read (if a bit formal and difficult), the title is somewhat misleading.

Right from the beginning, the author admits he has no real evidence to support his main contention, more than it is a 'feeling' based on 'common sense'. (He also admits to not fully understanding the theory of evolution, and he parrots a number of dubious creationist arguments against evolution, despite not being a creationist/theist himself.)

The rest of the book is then spent speculating on what would/could be if his 'feeling' is correct.

A more apt title would have been, "IF the Materialist Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature is False".

Jul 14, 2013

In spite of being only 128 pages, this book is neither an easy read nor a fast one but I persevered because I find the subject so interesting.

Nagel is searching for a “theory of everything” that explains not only the physical, material world but also consciousness, intention, cognition, meaning and value – the attributes that make us human and more than a biological collection of chemicals and physical processes. Neither the physical sciences, evolutionary theory nor religion (theism) offer adequate explanations of these elements and how they came to exist. Nagel examines both the scientific/evolutionary explanations of life and the theistic approach and finds them both wanting. He is searching for a third alternative.

The book is written by an academic, in a very academic style so is not accessible to the non-academic reader. The negative review by “Peredur111” is quite accurate as it relates to the writing style of the book. The author assumes that the reader has a substantial background in philosophy and its lingo. Any reader not well-versed in philosophical concepts will find Wikipedia an invaluable assistant – even then, some concepts are not at all clear. Even after resolving the terminology, the reading is difficult. Among other things, Nagel seems to be quite fond of the double negative – not usually a problem but in conjunction with the generally opaque writing it increases the confusion. While the complex structure of academic language is in its own way quite beautiful, it does not contribute to clear communication, especially of complex and esoteric ideas.

The library website review by “Choice” states that “The book is accessible to a wide audience, as it avoids the kind of technical detail found in typical philosophical works on this topic.” This is nonsense! I would suggest that the book is accessible only to those who spend the majority of their time in the academic and intellectual world where this type of language is the norm. It takes exposure and practice to be able to easily follow such language without engaging in a substantial translation process. Most of us don’t inhabit the milieu that would make that experience possible. Many of us, however, do possess the intellectual curiosity that impels us to read about this subject matter and the intellect necessary to comprehend it when clearly presented. Our curiosity would be more effectively satisfied by simple communicative language.

In the beginning, I made the effort to understand the book in as much detail as possible. It took hours to make it through the first 40 pages – referring to dictionaries and Wikipedia, taking voluminous notes and in essence rewriting much of what I read in terms which I could understand. With that effort, I understood 90-95% of what I read. After that first 40 pages, I ran out of time. I could have the book from the library for only 2 weeks so I read at a normal pace. I managed to capture the jist of what I read but not much more. The comprehension level on the last 80+ pages was probably about 40%.

The presentation of this book requires 3 things: a) a statement at the beginning clarifying who the intended audience is, b) a glossary of philosophical terminology used and c) a simple accessible writing style.

On the content front, there is one glaring omission: there is no mention of the human soul. Any search for a unified theory of the universe must surely include an examination of the soul. It is as important as, and is distinct from, consciousness, cognition and value – the 3 aspects of the mind that are examined in detail. Perhaps Nagel doesn’t believe in the concept of the soul. But he doesn’t believe in the concept of God and yet does address theistic answers to these questions.

This is a fascinating subject. I am convinced that this material could be presented in a way accessible to the average intelligent person. Sadly, this book does not accomplish that.

Apr 09, 2013

I haven't read this yet but it would be helpful if people who haven't read it either did not give it stars, as this behaviour gives a misleading representation of the book. In the case of the previous reviewer, a simple comment would have sufficed.

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