Terrence Deacon
Incomplete Nature
How Mind Emerged from Matter
Norton 2012


Absence – The Missing Cipher
...a function, reference, purpose, or value
- is in some way incomplete. There this something not-there there.
Without this „ something“ missing they would just be plain and simple physical objects and events, lacking these otherwise curious attributes. Longing, desire, passion, appetite, morning, loss, aspiration - all are based on an analogous intrinsic incompleteness, an integral without-ness.
As I reflect on this odd state of things, I am stuck by the fact that there is no single term that seems to refer to this elusive character of such things. So, at the risk of initiating this discussion with a clumsy neologism, I will refer to this as an absential feature, to denote phenomena whose existence is determined with respect to an essential absence. This could be a state of things not yet realised, the specific separate object of representation, the general type of property that may or may not exist, and abstract quality, an experience, and so forth - just not that which is actually present.
This paradoxical intrinsic quality of existing with respect is something missing, separate, and possibly nonexistent is irrelevant when it comes to inanimate things, but
it is a defining property of life and mind.

Deacon-Incomplete Nature 8
Zero – Calculating with Absence
What zero shares in common with living and mental phenomena is that these natural processes also owe their most fundamental character to what is specifically not present. They are also, in effect, the physical tokens of this absence.
Functions and meanings are explicitly entangled with something that is not intrinsic to the artefacts or signs that constitute them. Experiences and values seem to inhere in physical relationships but are not there at the same time.
This something-not-there permeates and organises what is physically present in these phenomena. It's absent mode of existence, so to speak, is at most only a potentiality, a placeholder...
Zero is the paradigm exemplar of such a placeholder… Similarly, the written word is also a placeholder. It is a pointer to a space in a network of meanings, each also pointing to one another and to potential features of the world. But the meaning is something virtual and potential...

Boe: Potentiality - Möglichkeitsraum - vgl. Glanville

Deacon Incomplete Nature pg18
Though we can only work with what is there, use comes from what is not there.
Laozi 11
44 What we will discover is that
ententional processes have a distinctive and characteristic dynamical circularity, and that their causal power is not located in any ultimate stuff but in this dynamical organisation itself. Our ultimate scientific challenges to precisely characterise this geometry of dynamical forms which leads from thermodynamic processes to living and mental processes, and to explain their dependency relationships with respect to one another. It is a quest to naturalise teleology and its kin, and thereby demonstrate that we are the legitimate heirs of the physical universe. To do this, we must answer one persistent question. How can something not there be the cause of anything? Making sense of this „efficacy of absence“will be the central challenge of this book, and the key to embracing our ententional nature, rather than pretending to ignore or deny its existence.

Deacon Incomplete Nature 463
Subjective Self; simple organisms self; human mental self; problem of intentionality and self; issues of teleology, agency, representation and value

466 Understood in this more general sense
self is not the property limited to organisms with brains like humans, or to other animals likely to have some tiny semblance of subjective experience.

Subjectivity is almost certainly a specially developed mode of self that is probably limited to creatures with complex brains. This special aspect of neurologically mediated self is in many ways derivative from (or rather, emergent from) features exemplified in different ways in the more basic form of self that constitutes organism individuality.


Deacon Incomplete Nature 485
Keywords: sentience - (feeling), quale, self-reference; teleodynamic organisation, the relationship between minds and brains; Hard problem of consciousness; complex dynamics of signal processing in a richly connected network of billions of nodes; Shannon information, anticipatory sentience, human symbolically mediated sentience, concept of self,

486 The emergence of sentience
When it is carefully distinguished from any specific content that is the focus of mental experience, the background „feeling of being here“ is sometimes just described in terms of a distinctive quality to experience – or
quale, to use the technical jargon of philosophers. This quality has a perspective, an internal and private locus, a self-reference frame with respect to which non-self content is discriminated. Following William James, I will refer to this core feature of conscious experience as sentience. The term sentience derives from the Latin, and literally means „feeling“.

From organism to brain: Organisms with nervous systems, and particularly those with brains, have evolved to augment and elaborate a basic teleodynamic principle that is at the core of all life. Brains specifically evolved in animated multicelled creatures – animals - because being able to move about and modify the surroundings requires predictive as well as a reactive capacities. The evolution of this „anticipatory sentience“ - nested within, constituted by, and acting on behalf of the „reactive (or vegetative) sentience“ of the organism - has given rise to emergent features that have no precedent.


Deacon Incomplete Nature 508

508 The hierarchy of sentience
Sentience is a typical emergent attribute of any teleodynamic system. But the distinct emergent higher-order form of sentience that is found in animals with brains is a form of sentience built upon sentience.
So, although there is a hierarchic dependency of higher-order forms of sentience on lower forms of sentience, there is no possibility of reducing these higher-order forms (e.g., neural sentience, or vegetative sentience of brainless organisms and free living cells). This irriducibility arises for the same reason that teleodynamic processes in any form are irreducible to the thermodynamic processes that they depend on.
Neurons are sentient agents. That doesn't mean that this is the same, or even fractionally part of the emergent sentience of mental processes. The discontinuity created by the dynamical supervenience of mental (whole brain-level) teleodynamics on neuronal (cellular-level) teleodynamics makes these entirely separate realms. Thus the sentient experience you will have while reading these words is not the sum of the sentient responsiveness of the tens of billions of individual neurons involved. The two levels are phenomenally discontinuous, which is to say that a neuron's sentience comprises no fraction of your sentience.
509 This higher-order sentience, which constitutes the
mental subjective experience of struggling with these ideas, is constituted by the teleodynamic features emerging from the flux of intracellular signals that neurons give rise to. Neurons contribute to this phenomenon of mental experience by virtue of the way that vegetative sentience (implicit in their individual teleodynamic organisation) contributes non-mechanistic interaction characteristics to this higher-order neural network-level teleodynamics.

Boe: trivial/non-trivial machines: non-mechanistic interaction characteristics

510 In other words, sentience is constituted by the dynamical organisation, not the stuff (signals, chemistry) or even the neuronal cellular-level sentience that constitutes the substrate of that dynamics.
The teleodynamic processes occurring within each neuron are necessary for the generation of mental experience only insofar as they contribute to the
development of a higher-order teleodynamics of global signal processing.
The various nested levels of sentience - from molecular to neuronal to mental - are thus mutually inaccessible to one another, and can exhibit quite different properties. Sentience has an autonomous locus at a specific level of dynamics because it is constituted by the self-creative, self-bounding nature of teleogenic individuation.
The dynamical reflexivity and constraint closure that characterises a teleodynamic system, whether constituting intra-neuronal processes or the global-signalling dynamics developing within an entire brain, creates an
internal/external self/other distinction that is determined by this dynamical closure. Its locus is ultimately something not materially present - a self-creating system of constraints with the capacity to do work to maintain its dynamical continuity - and yet it provides a precise dynamical boundedness.

The sentience at each level is implicit in the capacity to do self-preservative work, as this constitutes the system‘s sensitivity to non-self influences via an intrinsic tendency to generate a self-sustaining contragrade dynamics. This tendency to generate self-preserving work with respect to such influences is a spontaneous defining characteristic of such reciprocity of constraints creation.
Closure and autonomy are thus the very essence of sentience.

Boe: dynamical boundedness- closure - autonomy:
vgl. Hoffmeyer Biosemiotics:
Luhmann: Einführung in die Systemtheorie, Seite 100

But they are also the reasons that higher-order sentient teleogenic systems can be constituted of lower order teleogenic systems, level upon level, and yet to produce level specific emergent forms of sentience that are both irreducible and unable to be entirely merged into larger conglomerates.
It is teleogenic closure that produces sentience but also isolates it, creating the fundamental distinction between self and other, whether at a neuronal level or mental level.
So, while the lower level of cellular sentience cannot be dispensed with, it is a realm apart from mental experience. There is the world of the neuron and the world of minds, and they are distinct sentient realms.

Terrence Deacon
Beobachtung Dritter Ordnung