Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cognition and Thomas Nagel

Can thought and cognition be reduced to a matter of mere chemical-electrical materials? NYU Professor of Philosophy and atheist, Thomas Nagel, reasons that there must be more to thought than just the materials:

·        It is not merely the subjectivity of thought [the experience 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 thinker’s beliefs, and even independent of the community of thinkers to which he belongs…There are norms [laws] of thought which, if we follow them, will tend to lead us toward the correct answers to those questions…Mathematics, science, and ethics are built on such norms. It is difficult to make sense of all this in traditional naturalistic terms. (Mind and Cosmos, 72)

It is one thing to accurately perceive the world; it’s another to put the data together into a reasonable, logical, useable and comprehensive package. Somehow, our minds must be amenable to the world around us and they both must be amenable to a set of common logical laws that can enable us to convert the external, material world into accurate ideas about it.

Our minds are more than mirrors or cameras that provide exact reflections of our slice of reality. They are synthesizers. However, in order to function in this way, there must be an “operating system” or set of transcendent rules in place that instructs our mental circuitry about how to organize the data. Besides, the real world data has to also be conformable to these rules.

Without this set of rules, we are no more than firing circuitry leading nowhere. Instead, this glorious package we call “mind” gives every appearance of a grand and intelligent design – the kind alluded to in the Bible:

·        Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

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