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Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter Hardcover – November 21, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0393049916 ISBN-10: 0393049914 Edition: 1st

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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: 9.4 x 6.2 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“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.” (Candice Kall, Columbia Univ. Libraries, New York - Library Journal)

“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)

“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)

“[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)

“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)

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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Customer Reviews

This could have been said in 300 pages instead of 600, if his writing had been concise.
Thomas Zweifel
One process creates a condition favorable to another, so that it can continue rather than wind down by destroying the conditions that gave rise to it.
Edward J. Steffes
This is one of the most difficult books I have read, but the gain easily paid for the effort.
Kunal Sen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Rutledge on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I've read this book three or four times over the past two years, and every time I read it I become less and less impressed with it. Deacon's thesis is that life and the mind can be integrated into scientific theory by introducing the concept of constraint. In other words, constraints are the missing link, the last frontier that show us how matter turns into mind.

Deacon starts the book by noting that things like mind, meaning, morality, and purpose are all "missing" from the scientific worldview. We know that they are important, but science has nothing to say about them...yet. When you analyze the physical dynamics of the brain, you don't find experiences banging around inside the neurons. Instead, you find things like actions potentials, neurotransmitters, etc. So where are the experiences? Deacon says things like experiences, meanings and morals are "absential". We intuitively know they make a difference, but when we look at the physical world we never see them "there". The word "absence" is vitally important here, and it will come up again in the discussion of constraints. Deacon will ultimately try to tie two very different notions of absence together in order to provide an "explanation" of consciousness. What follows in my review is unavoidably complicated, which reflects the complex nature of the topic at hand. I'll attempt pull everything together at the end of the review to show where I think Deacon succeeds, and where he fails.

Enter the concept of constraint. What is a constraint? Constraint is a way of conceptualizing limitations, restrictions or absences(!). Railroad tracks constrain the movements of a train, government regulations restrict the actions of people and corporations, etc.
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143 of 176 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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110 of 137 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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