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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matterby Terrence W. Deacon
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
Deacon (biological anthropology and neuroscience, U. of California Berkeley) walks readers through a stimulating range of ideas pertaining to ideas, the mind, and the brain, offering this survey as backdrop to some innovative (and startling) thinking on consciousness. He writes engagingly for a serious general audience, using a narrative style that is accessible yet does not condescend or over-simplify. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A radical new explanation of how life and consciousness emerge from physics and chemistry.
Leading biological anthropologist and neuroscientist Terrence W. Deacon, whose acclaimed book The Symbolic Species explained how the human brain evolved its capacity for language, now offers a radical new approach to the riddle of consciousness. The fact that minds emerged from life and life emerged from inanimate matter leads Deacon to reexamine this mystery from the bottom up. While the same kinds of atoms make up rivers, bacteria, and human brains, Deacon shows how their dynamical relationships produce their different properties. In Incomplete Nature he reveals a missing link: emergent processes that are neither fully mental nor merely material, which provide a bridge connecting the two. He demonstrates how functions, intentions, representations, and values--despite their apparent nonmaterial character--can nevertheless produce physical consequences. Origins of life, information, sentience, meaning, and free will all fall into place in a fully integrated scientific account of the relationship between mind and matter.
About the Author
Terrence W. Deaconis professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California-Berkeley.
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