Fermi Society of Philosophy

Book Review of Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by T. Nagel, Oxford Press, 201

by abrunstingcomcastnet


A failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues a philosopher T. Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. The book was highly praised by J.Holt, L.Wieseltier, and E.L.Doctorow



What’s in an accent?

by pronskikh

In this talk, which is essentially a brief review of literature on the topic, I have discussed the controversy between, on the one hand, claims that everyone has an accent and intelligible accents are tolerable and, on the other, that certain foreign accents are perceived in a prejudiced way. I have discussed a known classification of “good” and “bad” accents and its possible explanation, perception of accents in schools, public media, professions. I have mentioned also few known from literature case studies that shed light on accents’ probable influence on career prospects. Finally, I have argued (and that is my original argument and probably a topic of future research) that due to the presence of “boundary objects” and an assembly-line type organization of big science the possible negative impact of foreign accents on scientific work and communication in STEM is substantially alleviated for many roles scientists play.


Next Meetings

by alexeyburov

Dear colleagues, here is the new poster. Feel free to print and hang it wherever you like.


T. Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 2012

by alexeyburov

Dear colleagues, I think this is an indispensable book for any serious approach to the main metaphysical questions. Its author, Thomas Nagel, is one of the most interesting contemporary philosophers. Calling himself an atheist, he suggests a deep and well–articulated criticism of the materialistic reductionism, showing “why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false”. Explaining why theism is not acceptable to him either, he tries to glimpse a third way to understand mind and cosmos. It seems a good idea to discuss this book at one of our meetings. A review of this book by Alvin Plantinga is also very interesting. The last couple of pages of the “Mind and Cosmos” I bring to your attention below.

In the present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion, I have thought it useful to speculate about possible alternatives. Above all, I would like to extend the boundaries of what is not regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really understand about the world. It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment, and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates, could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps— to adapt one of its own pejorative tags. I have tried to show that this approach is incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe. However, I am certain that my own attempt to explore alternatives is far too unimaginative. An understanding of the universe as basically prone to generate life and mind will probably require a much more radical departure from the familiar forms of naturalistic explanation than I am at present able to conceive. Specifically, in attempting to understand consciousness as a biological phenomenon, it is too easy to forget how radical is the difference between the subjective and the objective, and to fall into the error of thinking about the mental in terms taken from our ideas of physical events and processes. Wittgenstein was sensitive to this error, though his way of avoiding it through an exploration of the grammar of mental language seems to me plainly insufficient. It is perfectly possible that the truth is beyond our reach, in virtue of our intrinsic cognitive limitations, and not merely beyond our grasp in humanity’s present stage of intellectual development. But I believe that we cannot know this, and that it makes sense to go on seeking a systematic understanding of how we and other living things fit into the world. In this process, the ability to generate and reject false hypotheses plays an essential role. I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension. But to go back to my introductory remarks, I find this view antecedently unbelievable— a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. The empirical evidence can be interpreted to accommodate different comprehensive theories, but in this case the cost in conceptual and probabilistic contortions is prohibitive. I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two— though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid. The human will to believe is inexhaustible.

Nagel, Thomas. “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”, Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition (2012).


Reason and Mystery, discussion

by alexeyburov

Many thanks for all participants of yesterday’s discussion on Giorgio’s talk “Reason open to Mystery” (the talk itself can be found as Giorgio’s post of Nov 11).

My small presentation with a suggested definition of mystery, as well as its pros and contras is here. Questions and comments are encouraged as always.

Peter Punin’s Answers to Presentation Questions

by Lev Burov

Dear all,

Peter has answered the presentation’s follow-up questions, and you can now download the pdf containing his response. Thank you all for participating, I think this turned out to be a very interesting exchange.

Yours truly, -Lev Burov

The Penultimate Curiosity

by alexeyburov

Dear colleagues,

I understand that each of you has a significant list of books to read. That is why I do not normally dare to suggest you reading one more. However, with this new book of R. Wagner and A. Briggs, I have a strong feeling to make an exception and add my modest voice to those of great people highly appraised this wonderful common work of a powerful artist and a distinguished scientist. I think it would be a good idea to devote one of our meetings to its discussion.



Mathematical Platonism as a Necessity of Reason

by alexeyburov

Dear colleagues, I am thanking everybody who expressed his interest to my talk, who came to listen me, ask questions and formulate comments of all possible signs. This post suggests one more option for the comments, by the way.

Slides are here.

When the talk was over, Lev noted, smiling, that one thing I forgot to tell: why the Mathematical Platonism is indeed a necessary of reason? Well, maybe, I did want it like that, leaving it for you as a theme of meditation for the coming Christmas :)

So, let each of you have marry Christmas and amazing discoveries in the coming new year of 2017!

Scientific Platonism without Metaphysical Presuppositions talk by Peter Punin

by Lev Burov

Update: Peter asked to share these presentation notes with those who are interested to ask follow-up questions.

Time: today, Dec 1, at the usual place and time.

Title: Scientific Platonism without Metaphysical Presuppositions

Subtitle: A Way to Go Beyond Dogmatic Materialism

Reference paper available at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11465/

Abstract: Belonging to metaphysics, scientific Platonism nevertheless can be defended without metaphysical presuppositions. Comparing the complexity and intrinsic plausibility of the hypotheses Platonism and its negations respectively require to remain consistent, we realize that the conception of an immaterial truth beyond matter is easier to support than materialism.

The priority of remarks

by alexeyburov

Dear colleagues,

The number of people in our meetings is getting bigger, and we have to accept certain limitations and regulations for remarks. I would suggest the following, so please comment with related ideas.

  1. During a talk, only short interrupting questions are welcome, not longer than a couple of sentences.
  2. After a talk, to avoid situations when a single person highjacks all the time, one should rise a hand before speaking.
  3. During discussions, those who have prepared slides (one or two) and sent them to the chairperson (to me so far) have the privilege to start first with a mini-talk, which follow the same rules as #1.
  4. If you wish to continue discussion after the meeting is over, you may try to invite your favorite interlocutor to have a lunch/coffee together. As for me, I would be happy to get that sort of invitation.