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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393049916
ISBN-10: 0393049914
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Editorial Reviews

Review

A profound shift in thinking that in magnitude can only be compared with those that followed upon the works of Darwin and Einstein. (Robert E. Ulanowicz, author of A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin)

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. (Bruce H. Weber, coauthor of Darwinism Evolving)

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. (Stuart Kauffman, author of Investigations)

[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. (Kalevi Kull, professor, Department of Semiotics, Tartu University)

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (November 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049916
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #813,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author talks about - and to some degree - explores self-organization/morphodynamics; he outlines how systems that are (then) far from equilibrium can spontaneously "create themselves" (not a quote). Ever more complex systems pave the way to, are substrates for and mark steps toward life (and mind). Biological cells are pretty complex. To create them, self-sustaining (autocatalytic) systems (constituted by chemical processes) are necessary which need to progress to autogen(ic) status; autogenic status is characterized by the ability of the system (cell) to repair itself and to replicate itself. Essentially, in order to reach the complexity required for life, (gradual) progress has to be made. Each increase in complexity, each increase in sophistication of systems needs to be protected so that it can be build upon. Very much simplified: imagine a self-assembling sandcastle that needs to protect itself against the onslaught of mindless children who are out to destroy it. Mr. Deacon offers concepts for how that could work (not for sandcastles).

However, while he discusses all sorts of things (prominently: complexity theory, self-organization/morphodynamics, thermodynamics, teleodynamics, intentional/ententional [the latter a term he creates] phenomena, information theory and emergence) it does not converge into progress. At least not to me.

Ententional phenomena (elements that are not directly physically represented, such as purpose and thoughts) seem to be what he assigned a fundamental role to. But a focus on that theme is only present in the book's first half and does not amount to a conclusion, to a new insight, to something to work with.

The focus then shifts to constraints. Constraints prevent things.
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Format: Hardcover
If it were a snake it would have bit us. It's sitting right under our noses. It's the unifying insight behind the two biggest breakthrough clues toward solving the biggest remaining scientific mystery. Grateful and greatly encouraged by the breakthrough clues we ran with them, ignoring their underlying and unifying insight, the insight that made them both possible. We ignored the underlying insight until Deacon's book, whose 600 exquisitely reasoned and written pages I'll attempt to summarize here.

The biggest remaining scientific mystery is how to close the explanatory gap between the hard and the soft sciences, between energy and information, between physical forces and living desires, between a values-neutral physio-chemical universe and the values-driven bio-psycho-social universe--in a word, between clockwork physics and ever-game-changing life.

In other words, why can we talk about a living creature's intentions, preferences, desires, appetites, adaptations, functions, and purposes, but not a rock, a planet's, or an atom's? What changed, making information and intention cause matter to behave so differently, the way it most obviously does with life? And precisely how do intentions change things?

The two biggest breakthrough clues are evolutionary theory and information theory, and the overlooked underlying insight is about where to look for what life does differently--not in things themselves but in differences, and in particular differences between behaviors that do and don't persist, differences between what remains present and what becomes absent.

Darwin discovered how differential survival, the proliferation of some lineages and the disappearance and absence of others yielded game-changing adaptations over time.
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Format: Hardcover
I read Terrance Deacon's book "The Symbolic Species" some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, and understood everything he was saying. It was written clearly. In contrast, this book was maddening and frustrating for me. It took me about six weeks to slog through it because it kept either making me confused or would put me to sleep. If I have to read a paragraph twice, I blame myself, but if I have to read it seven times, I blame the writer. His prose is often convoluted, and he invents new words needlessly. At times, it almost seems as if he is trying to be enigmatic rather than clear, as if he is intentionally speaking in Zen koans. He badly needs an editor to simplify his run-on sentences. This could have been said in 300 pages instead of 600, if his writing had been concise. The basic ideas are reasonable, however, although I failed to see how they are revolutionary or so different from others' ideas on how emergent properties might be realized in physical substrates and be maintained and evolve within a far-from-equilibrium but still physicalist paradigm. The central idea is that causation can proceed because of physical constraints placed on what is possible. How can anyone disagree with that? He confuses the matter when he talks about absence being causal, as if nothing can cause something. He gives metaphors like the hole in the hub of a wagon wheel being an absence that is causal by allowing the whole to rotate around an axle. But really, the axle is constrained by the inner rim holding spokes and to talk of the absence in the center being causal is just confusing. I sure hope a better writer can give a shorter, clearer version of Deacon's argument someday. It would be useful if someone would write a list of what Deacon's claims are in simple English, and what is really new.Read more ›
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