Incomplete Nature by Terrence W. Deacon
How Mind Emerged from Matter

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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.

About Terrence W. Deacon

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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.
Published November 21, 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company. 624 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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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.

Sep 15 2011 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

Sep 26 2011 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

New York Journal of Books

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Although each sentence is fresh and meticulously constructed, and each idea builds upon the previous one, Dr. Deacon conveys his ideas through multiple examples and makes sure no threads are left dangling.

Jan 28 2017 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

The Wall Street Journal

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One is the claim that the mind is the brain, or the activity of the brain, so that one of the most powerful ways to advance our understanding of ourselves is to look at our brains in action, using the latest scanning devices.

Nov 12 2011 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

New York Journal of Books

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way to view these issues will inspire others to explore some of the many domains now made visible.”If fellow researchers grab the ball he’s tossing and run with it, then the elusive intangibles of consciousness, values, ideas, intent, anticipation may finally get properly linked to the organ they...

Nov 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...


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Terrence Deacon (photo credit: University of California, Berkeley). Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature, might have been titled Aristotle's Revenge.  While the book's subtitle is 'How Mind Emerged From Matter', it's a far more ambitious--and complicated--attempt to show how goal-directed processe...

Dec 26 2012 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

Daily Kos

My latest published work and a work in progress are abstracted and linked in a recent diary:(two abstracts of recent work available in this diary).

Jan 25 2012 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

London Review of Books

The print edition of the London Review of Books in which this book review appears and a downloadable PDF version of this book review are also available for purchase from the London Review Bookshop.

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In a June review in The New York Review of Books, Colin McGinn, a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, writes that ideas in Deacon’s book draw heavily on ideas in works by Alicia Juarrero, professor emerita of philosophy at Prince George’s Community College who earned her Ph.D.

Oct 22 2012 | Read Full Review of Incomplete Nature: How Mind E...

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