Deacon, Terence W. Incomplete nature: how mind emerged from matter. W. W. Norton, 2012.
Physics talks about matter-energy and how the universe arose, biology about how life evolves, and psychology about how mind functions. But science has not been able to explain how measuring mind came from mute matter. This bold treatise – accessible to those trained in scientific vocabulary – is a grand effort to solve that riddle. Based on the framework of thermodynamics and self-organizing principles, and introducing the highly original notion that absent entities have enormous impact on present predicaments, the author has constructed a coherent system bridging philosophy and science in which hitherto elusive-to-science notions like purpose, meaning, and truth are revealed to be emergent properties of brute matter and physical laws. Though Deacon doesn’t mention it, in retrospect, Paul Dirac’s hole theory where the positron is a hole (absence) in an electron sea was perhaps the first physical theory of incomplete nature. One may also regard the impact of memories and not-actualized hopes as further instances of Deacon’s thesis. If the message of this book is accepted as a valid scientific theory, it could be revolutionary of Copernican proportions: It shifts mind and meaning from anthropic exceptionalism to a feature of the physical world that doesn't reduce to matter and energy: the constraints that they create. Mind is not a mysterious eruption, but the actualization of a latent potential of the physical world.
December 5, 2011