Review of The Last Word
I found the book to be interesting but not as thought-provoking, and perhaps more predictable, than Nagel's major work The View From Nowhere. I will post my own comments on the book in a few days when I have a little more time (and after some rereading). Meanwhile I will just make an observation on this paragraph of the review:
"But maybe atheists should be alarmed by fundamental and irreducible laws of physics. And, for that matter, the existence of anything at all. While it may be possible in principle to find some fundamental feature of the universe that satisfactorily explains the mind-world relation, both of these phenomena seem to stubbornly point beyond the physical universe. The fact that there is anything at all, and the fact that there is one particular set of fundamental laws of physics rather than some other possible set both seem to require something “external” to the universe for the explanation, if they are to be explained at all."
If the "physical universe" is defined as everything that is explainable by the fundamental laws of physics, then it is trivially obvious that no physical explanation of these laws can be provided; they are the premises of all physical explanations. So while the last sentence of this paragraph is certainly true, I don't see why atheists should find this "alarming" at all. Maybe these laws are not just physically but ontologically fundamental; in other words, they are the ultimate foundation of everything, and no explanation at all can be given of them. Or maybe these laws are explained by something utterly beyond our physical universe, but then there is no reason at all to suppose this "something beyond" to be spiritual in nature or to resemble the usual conception of God.
Still another possibility, which seems to me quite plausible but is very little discussed, is that there is no ultimate level in physical explanation. Perhaps for each physical law there are other more fundamental, general and abstract principles that explain it, and for these yet other, and so on without end. This is a bit dizzying and difficult to imagine, but there seems to be no logical contradiction in the idea.