Peter Cave on my review of Bryan Magee’s Ultimate Questions

Those of my few ‘followers’ who liked my recent review of Bryan Magee’s latest book may like to know that I lost a little sleep after posting it. Who was I, I said to myself, an amateur reader of philosophy, to be so bold as to criticise Magee? I shared my worries with the philosopher and London University don Peter Cave, and he reassures me that I’m not mad. Peter is, of course, a close friend, but a man of great integrity and high standing as chairman of The Humanist Philosophers Association. I do not believe that, despite his famous wit, he would put any thought into writing without meaning it. Nevertheless, my discomfort persists, though somewhat less intense, and I will therefore go on following the ‘mid-body’ debate among the philosophers. Links to Peter’s own books can be found on his website http://www.PeterCave.com .

Dear Hazhir,
I have read your review and it comes over as generous and thoughtful and admiring, even with the criticisms.

With regard to the criticisms, well, you are standing up for views held by many philosophers, yet also disputed by many. Yes, of course, the term ‘soul’ has religious connotations, but it can be used without them — to point to whatever the ‘I’ designates (if anything), to the self. Bafflements regarding how to handle the self persist, as do those regarding how we are to understand the relationship between consciousness and neural states and activities. I have sometimes written of concepts such as the self and free-will as muddled or mythical concepts that we cannot live without.

As for scientific progress regarding understanding the world, well, I’m inclined to proclaim: ‘who knows?’ Theories can have radical revision. So I would await with interest, though given my age, the wait will lack sufficient duration. A highly respected atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, for example, has recently published on why, in his view, neo-darwinism is probably wrong:

“… the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. No such explanation is available, and the physical sciences, including molecular biology, cannot be expected to provide one. The book explores these problems through a general treatment of the obstacles to reductionism, with more specific application to the phenomena of consciousness, cognition, and value. The conclusion is that physics cannot be the theory of everything.”

Yes, lunch with Brian Magee is a splendid idea.

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About Hazhir Teimourian, FRAS.

'Late love, if kindled, leads to scandal', says an old Persian proverb : Why bother 'to blog’ at 71? I find myself these days – August 2011 – one of the few grizzled old men of Middle East commentary still walking. Even though I was last on regular public view in 1996 – in the pages of The Times – broadcasters still remember. On some particularly hot days – and the past six months of the “Arab Spring” have seen many hot days – the BBC arrange for me to give up to 24 interviews to their innumerable national and local radio stations before breakfast: Every 8 minutes from 6 to 9, one of them is connected to my ISDN line – a miracle of modern technology that turns your desk into a radio studio – and that station gets about five minutes of reflection on the subject that’s making headlines. This is partly explained by their own correspondents being stretched in the field, and partly by the convenience of the high-quality sound that the ISDN line provides. At short notice, it may prove hard to get a younger, more attractive commentator to a studio. But it must also have something to do with the bonds of friendship that develop across the years between broadcasters and print journalists - even in the political class generally - across ideological lines. Until recently, I had on my noticeboard a fading piece of paper bearing an address in the City, in the Barbican. It was written by the late and beloved Brian Redhead – the John Humphries of his day – and it was his home address. One morning in 1990 in the Today office in Broadcasting House, he dragged me to his desk and wrote down the address and asked that I visit him and his wife at home. Unfortunately, I never did. In those days – remember the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 by the accursed Saddam or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990? – it sometimes felt as if I lived at the BBC, to the annoyance of the Foreign Desk at The Times. (I was told that Simon Jenkins, at one of his first morning conferences as Editor, had asked: “Who is this man Teimourian who is everywhere described as of The Times”? Later, he told me – or threatened me – that he read every word I wrote, but was also gracious enough to ask me to have breakfast with him at the fabulous Connaught Hotel, where he lived.) Thus I have accumulated many ‘friends’ I have never met, from Sydney to Calgary, through Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and New York. Sorry for the digression. Why am I starting what the young call a ‘blog’ in my 8th decade? Well, first of all, let’s see whether it lasts and whether anyone will read it. It’s probably a whim and one last attempt at weaving my way into the company of the glamorous young. I was once their darling and old longings die hard. As the Persians say: Eshqe piri, gar bejonbad / Sar be rosva’i zanad (Late love, if kindled / Leads to scandal.) But assuming it lasts, it won’t do any harm to hear the occasional reflections of a man who has watched the world from the privileged position of the British media superpower for over 40 years. If it becomes embarrassing, hopefully my family and friends will gently let me know that it’s time I spent the remainder of my time in the greenhouse talking to my aubergine plants. A glimpse of my career and some of my past writings can be found at www.HTeimourian.net or www.KhayyamByTeimourian.net . You may also be interested in www.MigrationWatchUK.com and www.BalancedMigration.com . I am on the Council of the former, under Andrew Green, and a non-parliamentary member of the latter. The Group is chaired jointly by Frank Field (Lab.) and Nicholas Soames (Con.) and includes such non-partisan figures as former Archbishop Lord Carey and the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. Update (April 2017): for more up-to-date information, please see www.ConsolationsOfAutumn.com or my Author Profile on Amazon.
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