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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter 1st Edition

44 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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

152 of 189 people found the following review helpful By Taowin on November 13, 2011
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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114 of 142 people found the following review helpful By Sevens on December 28, 2011
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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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By James W. on June 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was excited about the book because it appeared to be one of those books yet to appear, doing three things: carefully laying out the grand challenge (how do we understand the division between living and non-living matters, each with and without meaning, values, and purpose, in terms of known laws of physics and chemistry?), solves the underlying problem on the fundamental level, and look at the consequences and ramifications in terms of our understanding of biological evolution, consciousness, ethics, etc. Schneider and Sagan's 'Into the Cool' is an example of an attempt, in which I think the authors have the very plausible central idea but bungled in the execution.

My enthusiasm waned as I progressed over the chapters, but I did persevere till the end. I have to agree with another reviewer that his writing style is convoluted. Earlier chapters 1-9 are Okay and you may like some of them if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter. An important point is that contrary to common beliefs, Darwinian explanation of natural selection does not solve the problem of what life is, because why organisms strive for survival and reproduction is not clear. Classifying natural processes into homeodynamic (non-organizing), morphodynamic (self-organizing), and teleodynamic (living) ones seems to be a promising idea, if the criteria can be made precise in physical and thermodynamic sense. Morphodynamics involve Benard convection-like emergence of patterns, a reasonable distinction because many well-studied examples of such self-organization now exist. What makes teleodynamic ones different is the central question, which should also explain the emergence of 'values.
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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
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