“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

“Picking Holes in the Concept of Natural Selection” by Evan Thompson

The philosopher Evan Thompson (author of Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind) recently reviewed two books on the philosophy of biology: Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong and Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly Wrong. Check it out HERE.

Thompson expresses doubts about these authors’ argumentative strategies and laments their neglect of the latest literature in theoretical biology (much of which points to natural selection being just one in a number of other causal factors in evolution). But he seems to agree with them that an adequate evolutionary theory must include some account of natural or immanent teleology if it hopes to explain the emergence of life and consciousness from physical processes. In other words, Thompson agrees with these thinkers that reductive materialistic accounts of life and consciousness fall short of explanatory adequacy.

Thompson writes:

A number of theorists have argued that certain types of self-organizing systems exhibit a kind of natural teleology in the sense of a directedness arising from being self-producing and self-maintaining (Juarrero 1999, Thompson E 2007, Deacon 2012). This kind of directedness does not involve teleological laws beyond or outside of the laws of physics, unlike the natural teleology that Nagel proposes but does not develop fully. Moreover, such self-producing and self-maintaining systems arguably exhibit protomental characteristics and thereby provide a bridge from the physical order to the orders of life and the mind.

Here is my earlier review of Nagel’s book, in particular his mentions of Schelling and Whitehead.




3 responses to ““Picking Holes in the Concept of Natural Selection” by Evan Thompson”

  1. milliern Avatar

    Thompson’s dual book review seems like a hatchet job. I highly doubt that Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s book states mutually contradicting points in its two central arguments. My guess is that Thompson either didn’t take the time to read it sympathetically or is simply intentionally misrepresenting. There are a number of other valuable things he doesn’t acknowledge, like Dennett’s reasoning for rejecting Gould’s contingent tape-rewind hypothesis, which Nagel, Fodor, and Piattelli-Palmarini seem to be feeding off of.

    The review has all the trappings of one that should be dismiss. It is rather fishy.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I have a feeling the editor of this journal may have cut some of Thompson’s review. Have you had a chance to read Thompson’s book “Mind in Life”?

      1. milliern Avatar

        Nope, not yet.

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