If the universe is aimless, how do selves and aims emerge? Why do living beings have aims when inanimate things do not? Current science encourages us to reject the ghost-in-the-machine explanation—that something called spirit, soul, mind, or will was somehow breathed into matter—and instead accept that selves are just matter, in aimless mechanistic motion like everything else. But what about life’s many emergent qualities, the multifarious purposes that shape actual physical behavior not just in human lives, but in all of life? Even the simplest life forms have adaptive functions, traits that accomplish goals or ends. How can we explain the nature and origin of selves and aims without resorting to supernatural forces or explaining them away as nothing but cause-and-effect mechanisms?
In Neither Ghost nor Machine, Jeremy Sherman explains the emergence of selves and aims in an aimless universe. He distills for a general audience the theory developed by renowned neuroscientist Terrence Deacon, which extends the breakthrough constraint-based insight that inspired evolutionary, information, and self-organization theory. Emergent dynamics theory provides a testable hypothesis for how mattering arose from matter, function from physics, and means-to-ends behavior from cause-and-effect dynamics. It offers a physics of purpose, demonstrating that there is a strictly physical explanation for the emergence and nature of selves and aims, one that shows our existence in an otherwise inanimate universe is not absurd. Neither Ghost nor Machine bridges the gap between the hard and soft sciences, suggesting fresh and exciting solutions to philosophical mysteries that have perplexed humanity for millennia, from free will to causality to morality.
Jeremy Sherman is a decision theorist researching and writing about choice from the origin of life to everyday living. He teaches college courses across the social sciences and blogs for Psychology Today. He has studied and collaborated with Terrence Deacon for twenty years.
Foreword, by Terrence Deacon
1. The Mystery of Purpose
2. The Biggest Mystery We Ever Ignore
3. Deacon’s Solution in Brief
II. Framing the Mystery
4. Two Sources of Change
6. Two Ghosts, Two Machines
9. Evolution’s Limited Limiting Role
III. Dead Ends, Live Clues
10. The History
11. Evolutionary Theory’s Elusive Self
12. Information About Nothing for Anyone
13. The Engineered Ghosts in Our Machines
14. Small Is Dubious
IV. Grounding a Solution
15. Processes of Emergent Elimination
16. Second Law Irregularity
17. Emergent Regularization
18. Emergent Regularization vs. Emergent Self-Regeneration
19. Other Emergent Regularization Dynamics
20. Coupled Regularization Processes
V. Deacon’s Solution
21. Autogens: Self-Generators
22. Evolved Autogens
23. Where Is the Self?
24. The Consequences of Self-Regeneration
VI. The Interpreting Self
25. Codes, Signs, Interpreters
26. Kinds of Signs
27. A Constraint-Based Approach to Evolutionary Theory
28. Implications for the Free Will Debate?
29. Making Science Safe for Value