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.