Can the Philosophy of Mind Revise Science?

Thomas Nagel makes an astounding claim in his book, Mind and Cosmos.  That claim is that the entire edifice of science must change in order to accommodate the fact that human beings have evolved with minds that cannot be explained by science.  His reasoning in Chapter 1 goes like this:

“The great advances in the physical and biological sciences were made possible by excluding the mind from the physical world. This has permitted a quantitative understanding of that world, expressed in timeless, mathematically formulated physical laws. But at some point it will be necessary to make a new start on a more comprehensive understanding that includes the mind.”

“Mind, as a development of life, must be included as the most recent stage of this long cosmological history, and its appearance, I believe, casts its shadow back over the entire process and the constituents and principles on which the process depends.”

Nagel discounts intervention by an intelligent designer, but favors some sort of teleological explanation that can be contained within the laws of nature.  Presumably, Nagel’s teleological principle would modify the laws of physics so that those laws would be more likely to support the genesis of life and the evolutionary direction that he perceives.  What sort of modification could that be and still have the laws of physics support reductionism?  Although Nagel doesn’t require reductionism in his approach, I am adding the requirement of supporting reductionism because some form of causal reductionism is necessary to maintain the history of successful scientific explanation.

First, teleology is a philosophical position that attributes to nature the ability to proceed toward a final goal or objective.  That would seem to imply that whatever adjustment is made to physics, that it would need to be sophisticated enough to be able to correlate long term implications with assign short-term actions.  Short term actions that did not correlate strongly with the desired long term outcome would need to be minimized.

Second, in order to change physics so that the entire structure of physics does not have to be re-built requires a rather subtle change.  One way that I have stated that change is as a bias in the laws of physics that favor life.  I think that still works in Nagel’s framework, although in order to be more compatible with Nagel, perhaps the bias also needs to favor consciousness.

Third, the place to insert such a subtle change so that it doesn’t greatly disturb the whole structure of science is at the most fundamental level.  For physics that would be at the quantum level.  And some physicists do argue that quantum physics is incomplete as it is now constituted.

There may be many such modifications, but the simplest modification that I can imagine would be a decision process in quantum physics that favors life and consciousness.  The decision process would need to produce the exact same results that quantum experiments currently confirm.  And it would need to provide for the action of biological molecules in the simplest organisms and in the most complex organisms.  Presumably such a bias would also greatly increase the likelihood that life originated from the available raw materials, either on Earth or nearby.

In such a framework where a decision process favoring life and consciousness has been added to quantum physics, the fundamental particles would be representatives of the decision process rather than mechanistic material particles.  Some explanation would be needed to differentiate the constituents of inorganic matter from living biological matter.

In order to explain mind with this new edifice, it will be necessary to explain how individual particles can bind together into larger entities that possess the attributes of a single mind.  That may not be easy, but it is probably easier than explaining how mind can emerge from a collection of mechanistic particles.

I believe that such a decision process requires an intelligent power at least as powerful as the human mind, but probably vastly more powerful since this power must encompass the entire scope and history of the Universe.  That is why I take the theistic position contrary to Nagel’s atheistic position.

I am looking forward to a more specific proposal from Nagel as I plunge into Chapter 2.


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