Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...

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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a tour de force encompassing biology, neurobiology, metaphysics, information theory, physics, and semiotics, Deacon, a neuroscientist and chair of anthropology at UC-Berkeley, attempts to resolve the issue of how life and mind arose from inanimate matter. As he did in his previous book, The Symbolic Species, Deacon asks a very big question and provides the framework for an answer. He argues persuasively that complexity can comfortably emerge as a higher order function from simplicity and extends this point to discuss how nonmaterial entities such as ideas and emotions can generate physical consequences. He believes that by bridging the divide between the material and the nonmaterial, a more robust understanding of the world will be developed and some of the largest shortcomings of science will be addressed. “It’s not just that we have failed to uncover the twists of physics and chemistry that set us apart from the non-living world. Our scientific theories have failed to explain what matters most to us: the place of meaning, purpose, and value in the physical world.” One caveat: although the topics covered by Deacon are important and fascinating, his language is so technical that the book is likely to be accessible only to experts. 12 illus. (Nov.)
Nature
“Contains many rewarding thoughts about life and mind and their place in nature.”
Psychology Today
“Unprecedentedly comprehensive. . . . Imagine the consequences for science and society of having a physical explanation for functional, meaningful and conscious behavior no less scientific and accessible than our explanation for lightning. I believe Deacon provides just that.”
Wall Street Journal
“In his approach to the question of how sentience emerged from ‘dumb’ and ‘numb’ matter, Mr. Deacon mobilizes some radically new ideas.”
Candice Kall
“Starred review. Deacon's dense and breathtaking study of the relationship between conscious experience and physical processes offers a new framework to examine how phenomena that are not physically extant...can and do impact physical processes and how physical processes transform into conscious experience. ...Highly recommended.”
Stuart Kauffman
“A stunningly original, stunningly synoptic book. With Autogenesis, Significance, Sentience, seventeen insightful and integrated chapters turn our world upside down and finally, as in the Chinese proverb, lead us home again to a place we see anew. Few ask the important questions. Deacon is one of these.”
Bruce H. Weber
“This is a work of science and philosophy at the cutting edge of both that seeks to develop a complete theory of the world that includes humans, our minds and culture, embodied and emerging in nature.”
Kalevi Kull
“[Deacon] demonstrates how systems that are intrinsically incomplete happen to be alive and meaning-making. The crux of life—and meaning—is solved. It was worthwhile to wait for this book. The twenty-first century can now really start.”
Robert E. Ulanowicz
“A profound shift in thinking that in magnitude can only be compared with those that followed upon the works of Darwin and Einstein.”
Library Journal
For all our emerging understanding of how the brain and body work, we still haven't grasped "what matters most to us: the place of meaning, purpose, and value in the physical world." Deacon (anthropology, Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain) offers a new, multidisciplinary approach—combining neuroscience, general philosophy, the philosophy of science, semiotics, anthropology, and a humanist worldview—to explore rigorously how we create meaning and how mind emerged from matter. Deacon's dense and breathtaking study of the relationship between conscious experience and physical processes offers a new framework to examine how phenomena that are not physically extant (e.g., thoughts, ideas, meaning, an understanding of conscious experience) can and do impact physical processes and how physical processes transform into conscious experience. He has worked to make the book accessible to nonscientists and nonphilosophers and largely succeeds, though a dictionary and encyclopedia are helpful to have at hand. VERDICT Appealing to those who enjoy Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida as well as physical science and neuroscience buffs. Highly recommended.—Candice Kail, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York
Kirkus Reviews

Deacon (Biological Anthropology and Neuroscience/Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain, 1997) takes up the challenge of giving a physical, scientific basis for our perception of agency and selfhood.

With the development of fMRI and other scanning devices, scientists are able to correlate the activation areas of the brain to stimulus/response patterns involved in decision making, which precede conscious thought (the subject of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink).While Deacon has no answer to the conundrum of the disappearing "I"—the inability of scientists to discover a neurological foundation for our subjective perception of our own agency—he believes that one does exist but requires a revolutionary shift in the present scientific paradigm. The author offers a prospectus for such a scientific revolution—"the qualitative outlines of a future science that is subtle enough to include us"—that would encompass a neurological basis for the emergence of creativity. He develops insights from complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics at extreme conditions to address the fundamental question of how cellular life emerged from the physical substrata as a precondition for evolution. "Life and sentience are deeply interrelated," he writes. "Sentience is not just a product of biological evolution, but in many respects a micro-evolutionary process in action...the experience of being sentient is what it feels like to be evolution.

A dense but intriguing book that demands close reading; for dedicated readers, it's well worth the effort.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393080834
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/14/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 700,489
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Terrence W. Deacon is a professor of biological anthropology and neuroscience and the chair of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of The Symbolic Species and Incomplete Nature, he lives near Berkeley, California.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2012

    Not up to academic standards -- but fine for the general public

    While Deacon's latest work is a well written review of his current thinking if one is a general reader, the book falls well short of acceptable academic standards. Important parallel work by Alicia Juarrero, Evan Thompson, and Mark Graves is simply ignored -- despite all three authors having published years before this book and despite Deacon's having had personal interaction with all three. There seem to be NO references cited post 2005 other than Deacon's own work -- which seems strange for a book written in 2010 and edited in 2011. Academic readers are urged to look at the parallel research where the referencing is much better and attributions are NOT inexplicably missing. General readers looking to explore will find a thoughtful exposition BUT this is NOT Deacon's best work.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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