Terrence Deacon, neuroscientist and chair of UC Berkeley's Anthropology Department, will focus on the central idea of his new book, "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter" namely that key elements of consciousness (feelings, meaning, and purpose, among others) emerge from specific CONSTRAINTS on the physical processes of a nervous system. 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."
Terrence Deacon is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Professor Deacon's research has combined human evolutionary biology and neuroscience, with the aim of investigating the evolution of human cognition. His work extends from laboratory-based cellular-molecular neurobiology to the study of semiotic processes underlying animal and human communication, especially language. Many of these interests are explored in his 1997 book, The Symbolic Species: The Coevolution of Language and the Brain.
His neurobiological research is focused on determining the nature of the human divergence from typical primate brain anatomy, the cellular-molecular mechanisms producing this difference, and the correlations between these anatomical differences and special human cognitive abilities, particularly language. In pursuit of these questions he has used a variety of laboratory approaches including the tracing of axonal connections, quantitative analysis of regions of different species brains, and cross-species fetal neural transplantation. The goal is to identify elements of the developmental genetic mechanisms that distinguish human brains from other ape brains, to aid the study of the cognitive consequences of human brain evolution.
His theoretical interests include the study of evolution-like processes at many levels, including their role in embryonic development, neural signal processing, language change, and social processes, and how these different processes interact and depend on each other. Currently, his theoretical interests have focused on the problem of explaining emergent phenomena, such as characterize such apparently unprecedented transitions as the origin of life, the evolution of language, and the generation of conscious experience by brains. This is fueled by a career-long interest in the ideas of the late 19th-century American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce and his theory of semiosis. His new book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, explores the relationship between thermodynamic, self-organizing, evolutionary and semiotic processes and provides a new technical conception of information that explains both its representational and normative properties.
Terrence Deacon, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, discusses his new book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, and the idea of teleology - the meaning of design and purpose in humanity and nature.
Interdisciplinary study that attempts to explain the cognitive processes of humans and some higher animals in terms of the manipulation of symbols using computational rules. The field draws particularly on the disciplines of artificial intelligence, psychology (seecognitive psychology), linguistics, neuroscience, and philosophy. Some chief areas of research in cognitive science have been vision, thinking and reasoning, memory, attention, learning, and language processing. Early theories of cognitive function attempted to explain the evident compositionality of human thought (thoughts are built up of smaller units put together in a certain way), as well as its productivity (the process of putting together a thought from smaller units can be repeated indefinitely to produce an infinite number of new thoughts), by assuming the existence of discrete mental representations that can be put together or taken apart according to rules that are sensitive to the representations' syntactic, or structural, properties. This language of thought hypothesis was later challenged by an approach, variously referred to as connectionism, parallel-distributed processing, or neural-network modeling, according to which cognitive processes (such as pattern recognition) consist of adjustments in the activation strengths of neuronlike processing units arranged in a network.