Thursday, January 15, 2015

The View from Nowhere

In his book “The View from Nowhere,” Nagel says that we need an explanation of the possibility of objective knowledge that is itself an instance of objective knowledge. How could we have the capacity to know the world through, say, science and mathematics? Natural selection, he says, only explains how creatures with vision or reason will survive, not how vision or reasoning are possible. Natural selection at best says that if we attempt to know the world and we get it wrong, we die without passing on our genes. Thus someone who went up in a moon rocket and ended up floating through space without a food supply would die as a result, and natural selection would select against them. But we seem to have capacities of thought that don’t seem in any way obviously useful for, say, humans in the hunter-gatherer stage. He mentions the general response on behalf of a natural-selection explanation. According to this response, not every feature of an organism has to be separately selected for its adaptive value, and some features can be side effects of others. The large brain that was useful for making tools also gave us the capacity to develop the theory of relativity and prove Godel’s theorem. He thinks there is little or nothing in the way of evidence for this story. However, it is accepted because it is the only candidate for a Darwinian explanation of our reasoning capacities. But rather than adopt a “Darwin or bust” explanation, or a creationist one, he simply says that he has no explanation for this.

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