Are the Mind and Life Natural?
October 13, 2012
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Alva Noë (Berkeley) writes for NPR. This is another response (the first is here) to Thomas Nagel‘s (NYU) Mind and Cosmos.
Let us remember, then, that there is another strategy for responding to the explanatory gaps. This has been one of philosophy’s orthodox strategies at least since Kant and it is an approach championed by many of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, from Carnap and the logical positivists down through Wittgenstein and Ryle, to Dennett. According to this strategy, the seeming gaps are, really, a cognitive illusion. We think we can’t explain life, but only because we insist on adhering to a conception of life as vaguely spooky, some sort of vital spirit. And likewise, we think we can’t explain consciousness, but again this is because we cling to a conception of consciousness as, well, somehow spiritual, and precisely because we insist on thinking of it as something that floats free of its physical substrates (“a ghost in the machine”), as something essentially interior and private. Once we clear away these confusions, so this alternative would have it, we realize that we don’t need to solve any special problems about life and mind. There never were any problems.
It is striking that neither Nagel, nor Leiter and Weisberg, in their hostile review of his book, seem to take this philosophical alternative very seriously.