Monday, September 30, 2013

Lunch Chat (10/3): Is Consciousness a Problem for Evolution?

Consciousness has been called the last real mystery in science. That's probably overstating it, but still, many philosophers and scientists agree: explaining consciousness in physical terms is no easy feat. In fact, according to Thomas Nagel, it's impossible. This is a core thesis of his controversial book, Mind and Cosmos, whose central arguments he recently described in a post on the New York Times' philosophy blog, The Stone. The most controversial part of the book claims that evolutionary theory "must become more than just a physical theory." Here's Nagel explaining why:
So the physical sciences, in spite of their extraordinary success in their own domain, necessarily leave an important aspect of nature unexplained.  Further, since the mental arises through the development of animal organisms, the nature of those organisms cannot be fully understood through the physical sciences alone.  Finally, since the long process of biological evolution is responsible for the existence of conscious organisms, and since a purely physical process cannot explain their existence, it follows that biological evolution must be more than just a physical process, and the theory of evolution, if it is to explain the existence of conscious life, must become more than just a physical theory.
As you can imagine, this has rankled more than a few people. Join us Thursday, October 3rd, from 12-1 pm to discuss it with biology professor Tristan Stayton! Lunch provided, as always.
Tristan Stayton (Biology)

About Philosophy Lunch Chats: About every two weeks throughout the term, interested faculty, staff, students, and community members get together in the Willard–Smith Library in Vaughan Literature Building from noon to 1PM to chat about some philosophical topic over lunch in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. There's nothing to sign up for, and you won't get a grade, ever. Feel free to be a regular or show up just once. For more information about Philosophy Lunch Chats or to offer suggestions for future chats (warmly welcomed), either contact Professor Matthew Slater <> or Professor Jason Leddington <>.

In the Queue: 10/17: "Friendship: For Better or Worse?" — with Professor Sheila Lintott (Philosophy)