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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from…

Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (2011)

by Terrence W. Deacon

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How emergence gives rise to life and consciousness. ( )
  jefware | Jun 7, 2016 |
While the truly "popular science" version of this thesis remains to be written - Deacon's style and use of neologism are too cumbersome for most readers - it is a welcome addition to my library of non-reductive approaches to the major questions of contemporary science. In physics, cosmology, biology, and now in neuroscience, a new view of reality is beginning to emerge. It's summed up by Stuart Kauffman's idea of "order all the way down" or "order from order." Deacon posits that we need to conceive of human consciousness as a kind of negative space - a product of dynamical relations that cannot be reduced to specific material elements or flows of energy, while still being dependent upon their existence for its existence. And once having emerged, phenomena such as life and consciousness clearly become capable of permanently altering material reality in turn, reifying themselves and also producing novelty. That all aspects of reality are entangled and recursive, that "higher" levels are not reducible to a simple pile-up of "lower" levels is a much more promising posture for science to take than the reductive one that has merely led to the current dystopia: extreme alienation of humans from their environment and themselves. ( )
1 vote CSRodgers | Dec 3, 2015 |
Consistent with my own view that strict materialism needs to be extended to include the abstract while ruling out the supernatural, this massive (602 pp) and hugely impressive treatise starts by observing that, for living and mental phenomena as opposed to the purely material, *absences* of various kinds have causative efficacy. The subsequent explorations of an approach to explaining "ententionality" (one of several newly coined terms) are invariably systematic (though quite often beyond my ability to fully absorb them). For example, there is an elaborate argument that the origin of life corresponds to the emergence of "teleodynamics" from "morphodynamics", which itself emerges from "homeodynamics" (or thermodynamics). The framework then built up by chapters on work, information, significance, evolution, self, sentience, and consciousness is, as far as I can say, truly original, and auspicious for a great expansion of *rigorous* science's realm of applicability. This guy is good, and his book should be influential for a long time.
  fpagan | May 15, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393049914, Hardcover)

A radical new explanation of how life and consciousness emerge from physics and chemistry.

As physicists work toward completing a theory of the universe and biologists unravel the molecular complexity of life, a glaring incompleteness in this scientific vision becomes apparent. The "Theory of Everything" that appears to be emerging includes everything but us: the feelings, meanings, consciousness, and purposes that make us (and many of our animal cousins) what we are. These most immediate and incontrovertible phenomena are left unexplained by the natural sciences because they lack the physical properties—such as mass, momentum, charge, and location—that are assumed to be necessary for something to have physical consequences in the world. This is an unacceptable omission. We need a "theory of everything" that does not leave it absurd that we exist.

Incomplete Nature begins by accepting what other theories try to deny: that, although mental contents do indeed lack these material-energetic properties, they are still entirely products of physical processes and have an unprecedented kind of causal power that is unlike anything that physics and chemistry alone have so far explained. Paradoxically, it is the intrinsic incompleteness of these semiotic and teleological phenomena that is the source of their unique form of physical influence in the world. Incomplete Nature meticulously traces the emergence of this special causal capacity from simple thermodynamics to self-organizing dynamics to living and mental dynamics, and it demonstrates how specific absences (or constraints) play the critical causal role in the organization of physical processes that generate these properties.

The book's radically challenging conclusion is that we are made of these specific absenses—such stuff as dreams are made on—and that what is not immediately present can be as physically potent as that which is. It offers a figure/background shift that shows how even meanings and values can be understood as legitimate components of the physical world. 12 black-and-white illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:28 -0400)

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Examines the emergent processes that bridge the gap between organisms that think and have consciousness and those that do not and discusses the origins of life, information, and free will.

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