Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (Hardcover)

Staff Pick Badge
Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter Cover Image
Email or call for price.
Out of Print - Not Available

Staff Reviews

Deacon’s aim in Incomplete Nature is to characterize things that are absent (e.g., function, reference, purpose, value) using information theory, thermodynamics and chaos theory.  He mobilizes arguments based on evolution and emergence and coins some neologisms to allow him to push those concepts forward.  Along the way he attacks reductive materialist accounts of consciousness and puts forth his own theories of how the first forms of life may have started.  Heavy on philosophy and dense with physics, it is worth the effort!

— Andy


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 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.

Praise For…

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

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
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393049916
ISBN-10: 0393049914
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: November 21st, 2011
Pages: 624
Language: English