The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will, and Evolution

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Rowman & Littlefield, 2001 - Philosophy - 305 pages
How is it possible for the world as we experience it to exist embedded in the physical universe? How can there be sensory qualities, consciousness, freedom, science and art, friendship, love, justice-all that which gives meaning and value to life-if the world really is more or less as modern science tells us it is? This is the problem that is tackled by this book. The solution proposed is that physics describes only a selected aspect of all that exists-that aspect which determines the way events unfold. Sensory qualities, inner experiences, consciousness, meaning and value, all these exist but lie beyond the scope of physics, and of that part of science that can be reduced to physics. Furthermore, these human features of the world are to be explained and understood, not scientifically, but "personalistically," a kind of understanding distinct from, and not reducible to, science. This view that the world is riddled with what may be called "double comprehensibility" leads to a proposed solution to the philosophical mind/body problem, and to the problem of free will; it leads to a reinterpretation of Darwin's theory of evolution, and to an account of the evolution of consciousness and free will. After a discussion of the location of consciousness in the brain, the book concludes with a proposal as to how academic inquiry might be changed so that it becomes a kind of inquiry rationally designed to help humanity create a more civilized human world in the physical universe.

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"Ambitious and carefully-argued...I strongly recommend this book. It presents a version of compatibilism that attempts to do real justice to common sense ideas of free will, value, and meaning, deals with many aspects of the most fundamental problems of existence." Dr. David Hodgson, Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 9, 2002, pp. 93-94. "Maxwell has not only succeeded in bringing together the various different subjects that make up the human world/physical universe problem in a single volume, he has done so in a comprehensive, lucid and, above all, readable way." Dr. M. Iredale, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 6, 2002, p. 225. "...a bald summary of this interesting and passionately argued book does insufficient justice to the subtlety of many of the detailed arguments it contains." Professor Bernard Harrison, Mind, vol. 112, October 2003, p. 768. “Nicholas Maxwell takes on the ambitious project of explaining, both epistemologically and metaphysically, the physical universe and human existence within it. His vision is appealing; he unites the physical and the personal by means of the concepts of aim and value, which he sees as the keys to explaining traditional physical puzzles. Given the current popularity of theories of goal-oriented dynamical systems in biology and cognitive science, this approach is timely. . . The most admirable aspect of this book is the willingness to confront every important aspect of human existence in the physical universe, and the recognition that in a complete explanation, all these aspects must be covered. Maxwell lays out the whole field, and thus provides a valuable map of the problem space that any philosopher must understand in order to resolve it in whole or in part.” Professor Natika Newton, Philosophical Psychology, vol. 16, 2003, p. 149 & p. 156. “This is a very complex and rich book. Maxwell convincingly explains why we should and how we can overcome the ‘unnatural’ segregation of science and philosophy that is the legacy of analytic philosophy. His critique of standard empiricism and defence of aim-oriented empiricism are especially stimulating” Professor Thomas Bittner, Philosophical Books 45, 2004, p. 182. “I recommend reading The Human World in the Physical Universe . . . for a number of reasons. First, [it] … provides the best entrance to Maxwell’s world of thought. Secondly, [it] contains a succinct but certainly not too-detailed overview of the various problems and positions in the currently flourishing philosophy of mind. Thirdly, it shows that despite the fact that many philosophers have declared Cartesian Dualism dead time and again, with some adjustments, the Cartesian view remains powerful and can compete effortlessly with other extant views” Dr. F. A. Muller, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35, 2004, p. 119. “Some philosophers like neat arguments that address small questions comprehensively. Maxwell’s book is not for them. The Human World in the Physical Universe instead addresses big problems with broad brushstrokes.” Dr. Rachel Cooper, Metascience 11, 2002, p. 402. "A solid work of original thinking." Professor L. McHenry, Choice, May 2002, pp. 1600-1601. 



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About the author (2001)

Nicholas Maxwell is Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science at the University of London. He has written numerous books including The Comprehensibility of the Universe and From Knowledge to Wisdom.

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