The kinds of conundrums facing our current crop of top scientists could not be more formidable. A great majority of all the matter in the universe is suspiciously absent; we understand more about the human brain than ever before, yet consciousness remains as much a mystery as ever; to make our physical laws and scientific observations line up, many physicists now propose an infinite number of universes. Renown philosopher and atheist Thomas Nagel argues that “intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that the tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Nagel suggests that our conception of science is lacking because it treats the mind as capable of fully understanding a reality outside itself, ultimately free from the influence of its own limitations. Evolution, he suggests, is insufficient to explain the rise of consciousness. Then perhaps consciousness is a fundamental property and should be added to the great list of four–energy, matter, time, and space–which the physical sciences currently regard as exclusive. “[M]aybe decades or millenniums from now — here or someplace yet to be imagined — science on Earth, circa 2014, will look like nothing more than a good start.”