Last week, I posted (Beyond Emergence) about Ginger Campbell's fascinating interview with Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist whose latest book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, presents ideas that challenge current thinking on emergence and self-organization. In that post, I made this comment:
[Deacon's] 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 incredible leap from morphodynamics (a primitive system) to teleodynamics (a complex, autopoietic system) requires reading the book.
I haven't read the book yet, but I did watch this video of a lecture Deacon recently delivered at Standford. The lecture gives a good idea (or provides a better understanding) of the point at which the incredible leap from morphodynamics (self-organization—though Deacon does not agree with this term because, rightly, something like a whirlpool has no self) to teleodynamics (end-directed self-organization) is made...
Here is the point: the nature of the contraint or contraints of a thing. For example, a whirlpool's constraint (this being, of course, what is the whirlpool) functions to maximize the undoing of the whirlpool. Meaning, the contraint is there because water doesn't want to be a whirlpool. Water wants to get rid of the disturbance, the imbalance, the disequilibrium. Now life has constraints, but their function is completely opposite to the function of a whirlpool's constraint. Life's constraints are there to maintain life, to keep it going, to keep things together, and to generate more constraints. To lose your constraints is the meaning of death. So, life at its core is more than an emergence, more than mere morphodynamics—it's a much deeper dynamic, a dynamic the retains, remembers, generates, and transmits contraints. The question then comes down to this: When and how did the nature of constraints change, when and how did primitive contraints become complicated ones? And it's a huge change; more huge than, say, the change from prokaryotes to eukaryotes.
I will read the book next month and make a fuller report of these very interesting ideas.