I’m also reminded of Thomas Nagel’s new book, Mind and Cosmos. Nagel — an esteemed philosopher and, yes, an atheist — argues that scientific materialism cannot account for the existence of consciousness. Instead he posits a teleological explanation: the universe possesses an innate tendency to move in that direction. The cosmos wants, as it were, to become aware of itself, which it does through creatures like us. As for the idea that consciousness emerged through natural selection, Nagel simply says that it flies in the face of common sense. Well, science is built on the corpse of notions of what counts as common sense. Meanwhile, Nagel makes no attempt to explain how his teleological principle arose or might operate. It sounds a lot to me like God.
Krauss and Nagel’s views are hardly in the same league as the planet Kolob or the Book of Abraham, but they confirm our inability to rid ourselves of mystical beliefs. We just can’t seem to accept the fact that this is all there is. That’s what really needs to be explained.
“The fact that this is all there is.” The fact.
William Deresiewicz is a fairly well-educated — though not, as it happens, in science or in religion — member of a fairly advanced society, as societies go, of the apex-predator species on one of eight or so planets that circle one of two hundred billion stars that fill one of five hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Assuming — which of course cannot safely be assumed — that there is but one universe. But William Deresiewicz knows as a fact that what he can perceive with his particular sensory configuration is “all there is.”