Teleodynamics articles by Terrence Deacon

and co-authors

The Five Questions

1. Why were you initially drawn to the theory of signs and meaning?
2. What do you consider your contribution to the …Field?
3. What is the proper role of a theory of signs and meaning in relation to other academic disciplines?
4.What do you consider the most important topics and/or contributions in the theory of meaning and signs?
5. What are the most important open problems in this field and what are the prospects for progress?

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Steps to a Metaphysics of Incompleteness

Deacon’s speculations about the metaphysical implications of his approach to emergence, teleology, information, and sentience, which sharply
contrast with the currently dominant mechanistic metaphysics yet also contrast with current vitalist,
pan-experientialist, theological, and process-metaphysics perspectives.

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An evolutionary perspective on reading and reading disorders

Abstract: An evolutionary perspective on reading can contribute to understanding dyslexia and other learning disorders. Human beings evolved speech over many thousands of years, but writing and reading are recent inventions, only a few thousand years old. People...

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Monkey homologues of language areas: computing the ambiguities

Abstract: The ‘language-readiness’ of human brains most probably resulted from modification of structures present in non-human primate brains, but identifying such homologues and the nature of their modifications has been highly problematic. In a recent article,...

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Teleology For The Perplexed: How Matter Began To Matter

Abstract: Lacking a plausible model for the emergence of telos (purposive, representational, and evaluative relationships, as in life and consciousness) from simple material and energetic processes, the sciences operate as though all teleological relationships are...

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Shannon Boltzmann Darwin: Redefining Information Pt. 2

Abstract: A scientifically adequate theory of semiotic processes must ultimately be founded on a theory of information that can unify the physical, biological, cognitive, and computational uses of the concept. Unfortunately, no such unification exists, and more...

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Shannon Boltzmann Darwin: Redefining Information Pt. 1.

Abstract: A scientifically adequate theory of semiotic processes must ultimately be founded on a theory of information that can unify the physical, biological, cognitive, and computational uses of the concept. Unfortunately, no such unification exists, and more...

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Theses on Biosemiotics: Prolegomena to a Theoretical Biology

Abstract: Theses on the semiotic study of life as presented here provide a collectively formulated set of statements on what biology needs to be focused on in order to describe life as a process based on semiosis, or signaction. An aim of the biosemiotic approach is...

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Rethinking Mammalian Brain Evolution

SYNOPSIS. A critical review of past and current theories of mammalian brain evolution is presented in order to discuss conceptual problems that persist in the field. Problems with the concept of homology arise because of the interaction of cell lineages and...

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The Role of Symbolic Capacity In The Origins Of Religion

Abstract:  The scientific investigation of the human religious predisposition has recently been augmented by considering it from an evolutionary perspective. This approach has provided new insights, but has also generated controversy because of its reductionist goals....

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Fallacies of Progression in Theories of Brain-Size Evolution

Abstract: The tacit assumption that relative enlargement and differentiation of brains reflect a progressive evolutionary trend toward greater intelligence is a major impediment to the study of brain evolution. Theories that purport to establish a linear scale for...

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The Evolution of Language Systems in the Human Brain

Abstract: The investigation of the neural basis and evolution of language abilities is best pursued as a search for language adaptations rather than as a search for the language faculty. The species uniqueness of language functions is contrasted with the conserved...

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Beyond the Symbolic Species

Abstract: Confusions about the nature of symbolic reference are at the core of two major challenges to understanding human language. A failure to take into account the complex iconic and indexical infrastructure of symbolic interpretation processes has blocked...

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What Connects the Map to the Territory?

by Tyrone Cashman Abstract: Bateson left an unresolved ambiguity in his explanation of the relationship of the mind to the world, the map to the territory. This ambiguity is related to his failure to develop a theory of intentionality, reference, “aboutness.” However,...

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The Symbol Concept

Introduction: The term symbol derives from the Greek stem of ballein ‘to throw’ and syn ‘together’. This etymology characterizes the way that words are forced into correspondence with ideas and their physical referents irrespective of any natural affinities. Throughout philosophical history, the term ‘symbol’ is almost exclusively applied to spoken utterances, inscriptions, or other culturally generated meaningful artefacts and actions created specifically for representational purposes. These cultural phenomena include talismans, ritual performances, religious relics, military insignias, spoken words, and typographical characters, among innumerable other forms. In contrast, a cough is generally referred to as a sign of a respiratory infection, not a symbol, and paintings of famous people are generally described as depicting them, but not symbolizing them. These latter are signs that represent by virtue of some ‘natural affinity’, irrespective of human cultural intervention. 

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A role for relaxed selection in the evolution of the language capacity

Explaining the extravagant complexity of the human language and our competence to acquire it has long posed challenges for natural selection theory. To answer his critics, Darwin turned to sexual selection to account for the extreme development of language. Many contemporary evolutionary theorists have invoked incredibly lucky mutation or some variant of the assimilation of acquired behaviors to innate predispositions in an effort to explain it. Recent evodevo approaches have identified developmental processes that help to explain how complex functional synergies can evolve by Darwinian means. Interestingly, many of these developmental mechanisms bear a resemblance to aspects of Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection, often differing only in one respect (e.g., form of duplication, kind of variation, competition/cooperation). A common feature is an interplay between processes of stabilizing selection and processes of relaxed selection at different levels of organism function. These may play important roles in the many levels of evolutionary process contributing to language. Surprisingly, the relaxation of selection at the organism level may have been a source of many complex synergistic features of the human language capacity, and may help explain why so much language information is “inherited” socially. 

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Relaxed Selection and the Role of Epigenesis in the Evolution of Language

Abstract: It is generally assumed that there is a positive correlation between the complexity of functional adaptive systems and the intensity and duration of natural selection driving their evolution. Although the role of selection is unquestionable, especially with respect to functional correspondences between organism and environment, the correlation with functional complexity is not so clear. The recent resurgence of interest in the contribution of epigenetic processes to the course of evolutionary change, popularly known as evodevo, has begun to focus attention on other potential sources of complex integration: that is, the self-organizing and intraselection processes that are recruited by evolution to serve epigenetic functions. This chapter reviews evidence for a general evolutionary logic that the chapter calls the “Lazy Gene” effect, which suggests that genes will tend to offload control of morphogenetic processes to epigenetic mechanisms in evolution whenever reliable extragenomic constraints or influences can induce the same effect. The chapter also explores an example of this effect that is particularly relevant to language evolution: a case of birdsong change under the influence of artificial breeding for an unrelated trait. 

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The Aesthetic Faculty

This chapter asks the question: Why is it that only human beings spend time and effort to produce and acquire aesthetic experience? It focuses on the role of juxtapositions, bisociations, and blends in human cognition, and proposes that symbolic abilities are a...

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Evolution of Language Systems in the Human Brain

ABSTRACT: The investigation of the neural basis and evolution of language abilities is best pursued as a search for language adaptations rather than as a search for the language faculty. The species uniqueness of language functions is contrasted with the conserved homologies linking human brain structures to anthropoid primate brain structures, and the failure to find species-specific neuroanatomical or genetic correlates of linguistically-defined innate features of language (e.g. universal grammar)…

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Reciprocal Linkage between Self-organizing Processes is Sufficient for Self-reproduction and Evolvability

Abstract: A simple molecular system (“autocell”) is described consisting of the reciprocal linkage between an autocatalytic cycle and a self-assembling encapsulation process where the molecular constituents for the capsule are products of the autocatalysis. In a molecular environment sufficiently rich in the substrates, capsule growth will also occur with high predictability.Growth to closure will be most probable in the vicinity of the most prolific autocatalysis and will thus tend to spontaneously enclose supportive catalysts within the capsule interior. If subsequently disrupted in the presence of new substrates, the released components will initiate production of additional catalytic and capsule components that will spontaneously re-assemble into one or more autocell replicas, thereby reconstituting and sometimes reproducing the original. In a diverse molecular environment, cycles of disruption and enclosure will cause autocells to incidentally encapsulate other molecules as well as reactive substrates. To the extent that any captured molecule can be incorporated into the autocatalytic process by virtue of structural degeneracy of the catalytic binding sites, the altered autocell will incorporate the new type of component into subsequent replications. Such altered autocells will be progenitors of “lineages” with variant characteristics that will differentially propagate with respect to the availability of commonly required substrates. Autocells are susceptible to a limited form of evolution, capable of leading to more efficient, more environmentally fitted, and more complex forms. This provides a simple demonstration of the plausibility of open-ended reproduction and evolvability without self-replicating template molecules (e.g., nucleic acids) or maintenance of persistent nonequilibrium chemistry. This model identifies an intermediate domain between prebiotic and biotic systems and bridges the gap from nonequilibrium thermodynamics to life.

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The physical origins of purposive systems

It is almost a core doctrine of organismal biology and cognitive science that any use of concepts that explicitly or implicitly evoke telos for explanatory purposes has imported illegitimate terms and fallacious causal assumptions into science…

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Memes as Signs in the Dynamic Logic of Semiosis: Beyond Molecular Science and Computation Theory

Abstract. The concept of meme misidentifies units of cultural information as active agents, which is the same “shorthand” that misleads our understanding of genes and obscures the dynamic logic of evolution. But the meme concept does offer hope by contributing something missing from many semiotic theories. In treating memes as replicators, Dawkins fails to distinguish mere patterns from information (and replication from interpretation), which leads to the problem encountered in all realms of information processing: what counts as information is context dependent. Nothing is intrinsically meaningful, to be so it must be interpreted. In the evolution of both genes and words, replication has always been a multilevel affair in a dynamic system, from which what we conceive as “adapted” or “interpreted” units emerge. Memes are replicas not replicators, and I suggest that the iconic function of signs, as identified by Peirce, is the essence of the meme concept. As in sign function, both gene and meme functions are informed by whatever relationship exists between the physical pattern of the token and the system of processes in which each is embedded (so these are semiotic relationships). I argue that two, not-clearly-articulated aspects of the meme concept could rescue semiotic from mere descriptive taxonomy and lead the way for a general theory of semiosis and a unifying methodology for the semiotic sciences to emerge. 

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Multilevel selection in a complex adaptive system: The problem of language origins

1. Introduction: Recipes for Failure -Theories of language origins have almost universally been embarrassments to empirical science. This is because they are typically like narratives exemplifying certain linguistic theories and deep philosophical commitments, rather than efforts to understand the processes involved in generating this uniquely complex phenomenon. The reasons for this tendency are not hard to find…

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Evolution and intelligence: beyond the argument from design

The persistence of top-down explanations in biology: When the theory of natural selection was first presented to the scholars of the last century, many found it to be too implausible to believe. The incredulity of many great thinkers at the time, from brilliant biologists to articulate theologians, was based on a well-reasoned common sense understanding of the world: Left to chance, things tend to get less organized, not more. Millennia prior to Darwin, this same reasoning led Aristotle to criticize the natural philosophy of his contemporary, Empedocles, who argued that all natural processes are the actions of blind chance and that organisms arise out of the preservation of useful accidents (see Aristotle’s Physics). Aristotle easily found innumerable examples of end-directed design in nature that he felt could on no account be explained from such a minimalist perspective. But Aristotle was wrong about this, and only after more than twenty centuries of musing about this conundrum, did scientists come to realize the power of the opposed conception for explaining biological phenomena. When the logic behind Empedocles’ insight was rediscovered and given a more substantive interpretation by Darwin and Wallace, it revolutionized biology by providing an answer to this counterintuitive problem. This has become widely appreciated, not just by biologists, but by the general lay public educated in basic biology. 

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Evolution and intelligence: beyond the argument from design.

The persistence of top-down explanations in biology
When the theory of natural selection was first presented to the scholars of the last
century, many found it to be too implausible to believe. The incredulity of many great thinkers
at the time, from brilliant biologists to articulate theologians, was based on a well-reasoned
common sense understanding of the world: Left to chance, things tend to get less organized, not
more. Millennia prior to Darwin, this same reasoning led Aristotle to criticize the natural
philosophy of his contemporary, Empedocles, who argued that all natural processes are the
actions of blind chance and that organisms arise out of the preservation of useful accidents (see
Aristotle’s Physics). Aristotle easily found innumerable examples of end-directed design in
nature that he felt could on no account be explained from such a minimalist perspective. But
Aristotle was wrong about this, and only after more than twenty centuries of musing about this
conundrum, did scientists come to realize the power of the opposed conception for explaining
biological phenomena. When the logic behind Empedocles’ insight was rediscovered and given
a more substantive interpretation by Darwin and Wallace, it revolutionized biology by providing
an answer to this counterintuitive problem. This has become widely appreciated, not just by
biologists, but by the general lay public educated in basic biology.

read more