Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drunks

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beyond Emergence

Posted by on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Posted on Brain Science Podcast is Ginger Campbell's fascinating interview with Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist who teaches at Berkeley and was once a resident of West Seattle. The interview concerns the ideas presented in his new book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. The core idea in this book is that we (or the biological sciences) need to face the fact that emergence explains little about the dynamics of life and consciousness. A whirlpool, for example, emerges when water is disturbed in a specific way. This emergence is only an emergence and nothing more. Deacon explains:

What’s interesting about the whirlpool, however, is something really interesting, having to do with its non-solidity, so to speak; the fact that it’s not the same thing from moment to moment. It’s different water every second. The whirlpool is not something constant of either energy or matter; it’s a form that’s constant. The whirlpool today is not the whirlpool tomorrow, is not the whirlpool two seconds later.

The main point: The disturbances from which the whirlpool emerges are external to it, whereas the dynamics of life are internal and also end-directed. Deacon calls this end-directedness "teleodynamics," which is different from “morphodynamics” (self-organizing or form-producing dynamics). An understanding of how he makes the leap from morphodynamics (a primitive system) to teleodynamics (a complex, autopoietic system) requires reading the book. The interview only gives a hint of how this transition (if it is indeed a transition—the relation between the two might be only a convergence) might work or happen. But teleodynamics does sound similar to James Shapiro's natural genetic engineering. Both ideas want teleology to reenter scientific discourse without the aura or authority of the supernatural.

I listened to the interview while crossing this field in the CD...


Two low-flying swallows repeatedly circled me as I walked. It was one of those synanthropic moments.


Comments (4) RSS

Newest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Confluence 4

You're trying to look smart, but making yourself look dumb.

The whole point of Deacon's book is to redefine the concept so well-established by Holland & others, by integrating teleology. And if you don't know Deacon, PhD from Harvard, do yourself a favor and edumacate yourself so that you don't embarrass yourself in the future. Unlike most scientists, Deacon actually has a broad perspective and can see the big picture. Dipshit.
Posted by Confluence on July 18, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Sorry, but that definition of "emergence" used by the author is truly lame.

I don't think he either understands or grasps the subject he's discussing.

Read John H. Holland, the probable father of genetic algorithms, to fully understand the actual definition of emergence.
Posted by sgt_doom on July 18, 2012 at 10:40 AM · Report this
thatsnotright 2
This is a rehash of the "can you step into the same river twice?" paradox. Discussed by Plato and Socrates around 500 years BCE, then Plutarch 400 years later. Also known as "The ship of Theseus" and much later as "Abe Lincoln's axe."
Posted by thatsnotright on July 18, 2012 at 10:18 AM · Report this
You were disturbing insects, and they were feeding. Purely an emergent property of very base behaviors.
Posted by STJA on July 18, 2012 at 8:59 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy