Terrence W Deacon

Terrence W Deacon
University of California, Berkeley | UCB · Department of Anthropology

PhD

About

140
Publications
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Publications

Publications (140)
Article
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To explore how molecules became signs I will ask: “What sort of process is necessary and sufficient to treat a molecule as a sign?” This requires focusing on the interpreting system and its interpretive competence. To avoid assuming any properties that need to be explained I develop what I consider to be a simplest possible molecular model system w...
Article
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We agree with Brette's assessment that the coding metaphor has become more problematic than helpful for theories of brain and cognitive functioning. In an effort to aid in constructing an alternative, we argue that joining the insights from the dynamical systems approach with the semiotic framework of C. S. Peirce can provide a fruitful perspective...
Article
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In this review, we describe some of the central philosophical issues facing origins-of-life research and provide a targeted history of the developments that have led to the multidisciplinary field of origins-of-life studies. We outline these issues and developments to guide researchers and students from all fields. With respect to philosophy, we pr...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In this review, we describe some of the central philosophical issues facing origins-of-life research and provide a targeted history of the developments that have led to the multidisciplinary field of origins-of-life studies. We outline these issues and developments to guide researchers and students from all fields. With respect to philosophy, we pr...
Chapter
Neuropsychological theories make implicit assumptions about brain organization and the relationships between structure and function. Since the early part of the 19th century mainstream neurology and neuropsychology have embraced one of the general approaches at the expense of the other, the history of the field has seen a series of pendulum swings...
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In the embodied, situated, enacted and distributed approaches to cognition, the coordinative role of language comes to the fore. Language, with its symbolic properties, arises from a multimodal stream of interactive events and gradually gains power to constrain them in a functional and adaptive way. In this article, we attempt to integrate three ap...
Chapter
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The technical concept of information developed after Shannon [22] has fueled advances in many fields, but its quantitative precision and its breadth of application have come at a cost. Its formal abstraction from issues of reference and significance has reduced its usefulness in fields such as biology, cognitive neuroscience and the social sciences...
Chapter
The first major advances in the understanding of the neurological bases for language abilities were the results of the study of the brains and behaviors of patients with language impairments due to focal brain damage. The two most prominent pioneers in this field are remembered because their names have become associated with distinctive aphasia (la...
Chapter
In this paper, I argue that relaxed selection-an evolutionary process that contributes to the well-documented effects of gene duplication, diversification, and synergistic gene interactions in evolution-may have also played a significant role in the evolution of the extensive phenotypic plasticity and unprecedented neurological changes in human evo...
Chapter
Encephalization is one of the defining features of the primate Order, but patterns of brain/body scaling in different primate radiations are caused by different developmental mechanisms. All primates share a novel pattern of fetal encephalization that is linked to exceptionally slow rates of postcranial body growth during every stage of ontogeny. B...
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Contemporary textbooks often define evolution in terms of the replication, mutation, and selective retention of DNA sequences, ignoring the contribution of the physical processes involved. In the closing line of The Origin of Species, however, Darwin recognized that natural selection depends on prior more basic living functions, which he merely des...
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In this essay, I argue that we ultimately need to re-ground biosemiotic theory on natural science principles and abandon the analogy with human level semiotics, except as this provides clues for guiding analysis. But, to overcome the implicit dualism still firmly entrenched in the biological sciences requires a third approach that is neither phenom...
Conference Paper
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The technical concept of information developed after Shannon (1948) and those who followed has fueled advances in many fields, from fundamental physics to bioinfomatics, but its quantitative precision and its breadth of application have come at a cost. It has impeded its usefulness in fields distinguished by the need to explain reference and functi...
Article
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We argue that a critical difference distinguishing machines from organisms and computers from brains is not complexity in a structural sense, but a difference in dynamical organization that is not well accounted for by current complexity measures. We propose a measure of the complexity of a system that is largely orthogonal to computational, inform...
Article
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The origin of living dynamics required a local evasion of thermodynamic degradation by maintaining critical dynamical and structural constraints. Scenarios for life`s origin that fail to distinguish between constrained chemistry and regulated metabolism do not address the question of how living processes first emerge from simpler constraints on mol...
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The classic anthropological hypothesis known as the "obstetrical dilemma" is a well-known explanation for human altriciality, a condition that has significant implications for human social and behavioral evolution. The hypothesis holds that antagonistic selection for a large neonatal brain and a narrow, bipedal-adapted birth canal poses a problem f...
Chapter
Terrence Deacon’s “The Symbolic Species” came out in 1997 and became an important participant in the renewed focusing upon the issue of the origin of man. The basic Darwinian framework agreed upon by all serious research since early 20C had left the important problem of accounting for the evolution of man’s special intellectual abilities, including...
Chapter
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 progress in the study of language structure, language evolution, neural processing of language, and...
Book
Introduction - searching the missing links Frederik Stjernfelt, Theresa Schilhab.- Part I: The Biosemiotic Connection.- 1. Towards a semiotic cognitive science: why neither the phenomenological nor computational approaches are adequate Terrence Deacon.- 2. The Symbolic Species hypothesis revisited Frederik Stjernfelt.- 3. Peirce and Deacon on meani...
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Each generation of evolutionary biologists has brought a fresh wave of attempts to answer the evolutionary riddle of altruism. However, none describe how such a condition could incrementally evolve from a prior condition of non-cooperation. This chapter describes a mechanism that could spontaneously and incrementally give rise to a synergistic code...
Article
There have been more theories of consciousness than you can shake a stick at, but this is the first to depend as much on what isn't there as on what is. There's more. Its originator, Terrence W. Deacon believes his counterintuitive theory will help us better understand emotions, brain functions – and even our early origins
Article
Kalevi Kull and colleagues recently proposed eight theses as a conceptual basis for the field of biosemiotics. We use these theses as a framework for discussing important current areas of debate in biosemiotics with particular reference to the articles collected in this issue of Zygon.
Article
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 vari...
Conference Paper
Over the last decade, the potential explanatory power of cultural evolution has been widely promoted in the field of language evolution. However, a recent study reports an intriguing case of cultural evolution (Fehér, Wang, Saar, Mitra, & Tchernichovski, 2009). Birds reared in a deprived, unexposed environment consisting of singing males acquire di...
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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. Here we explore the religious predisposition in terms of its emergent characteristics, specif...
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Targeted delivery of pharmaceutical agents into selected populations of CNS (Central Nervous System) neurons is an extremely compelling goal. Currently, systemic methods are generally used for delivery of pain medications, anti-virals for treatment of dermatomal infections, anti-spasmodics, and neuroprotectants. Systemic side effects or undesirable...
Article
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 failu...
Article
Each generation of evolutionary biologists has brought a fresh wave of attempts to answer the evolutionary riddle of altruism, from Darwin's community selection approach to variants on the concept of reciprocal altruism and niche construction effects that influence subsequent generations. All of these have analysed how natural selection could maint...
Article
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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 to explain how life evolves through all varieties of forms of communication and signification...
Book
Syntax is a highly complex system unique to humans, and its evolution is even more complex. The comparative method used by biologists is not sufficient to elucidate human language but can still be employed to conduct investigations from the bottom up. This chapter examines the syntactic abilities of animals and the influence of genes on syntax or o...
Article
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We report the use of axonal transport to achieve intraneural drug delivery. We constructed a novel tripartite complex of an axonal transport facilitator conjugated to a linker molecule bearing up to a hundred reversibly attached drug molecules. The complex efficiently enters nerve terminals after intramuscular or intradermal administration and trav...
Chapter
This chapter defines three subcategories of emergent phenomena that can be arranged into a hierarchy of increasing topological complexity. Thirdorder emergent processes (teleodynamics) require self-amplifying secondorder emergent processes (morphodynamics) to create their necessary conditions, which in turn require self-amplifying (non-equilibrium)...
Chapter
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Gregory Bateson introduced the concept of double description as a method of analysis critical to his challenge to bridge the connection between mind and evolution. First we examine three ideas crucial to double description: abduction, induction, and logical types. Abduction is employed to find potentially informative similar patterns. Induction mak...
Chapter
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By his own standards Gregory Bateson was unsuccessful in his lifelong quest to explain how the informational or living realm (creatura) could emerge out of the energetic or physical realm (pleroma). Drawing upon recent insights in self-organization theory, the authors suggest a missing link connecting the realms; a simple spontaneously arising, non...
Article
Scientists have had spectacular success with reductionism. Response to this success has been decidedly mixed. On the one hand, people slurp up the technologies and medicines that spin off from, and thereby validate, these reductionist understandings. On the other hand, they often decry the Humpty-Dumpty fragments that appear to be all that remains...
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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 physically epiphenomenal. Alternatively, in religion and the humanities it is assumed either th...
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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 importantly, the causal status of informational content remains ambiguous as a result. Lacking thi...
Chapter
This chapter offers an overview of the cognitive principles of art, the origins of art, and the cognitive function of art. Art is an activity that arises in the context of human cultural and cognitive evolution. Its sources include not only the most abstract integrative regions of the brain but also the communities of mind within which artists and...
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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...
Article
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Deacon has recently proposed that complexes of genes can be integrated into functional groups as a result of environmental changes that mask and unmask selection pressures. For example, many animals endogenously synthesize ascorbic acid (vitamin C), but anthropoid primates have only a nonfunctional version of the crucial gene for this pathway. It i...
Article
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Language is a spontaneously evolved emergent adaptation, not a formal computational system. Its structure does not derive from either innate or social instruction but rather self-organization and selection. Its quasi-universal features emerge from the interactions among semiodc constraints, neural processing limitations, and social transmission dyn...
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The scientific, ethical, and policy issues raised by research involving the engraftment of human neural stem cells into the brains of nonhuman primates are explored by an interdisciplinary working group in this [Policy Forum][1]. The authors consider the possibility that this research might alter the cognitive capacities of recipient great apes and...
Article
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, Arbiband Bota suggest that these problems can be overcome using a neuroinformatics approach. But...
Conference Paper
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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 d...
Article
Social animals are provisioned with prosocial orientations that operate to transcend self-interest. Morality, as used here, describes human versions of such orientations. We explore the evolutionary antecedents of morality in the context of emergentism, giving considerable attention to the biological traits that undergird awareness and our emergent...
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This chapter places the human ability for complex symbolic communication at the centre of language evolution. It rejects the notion that the many subpatterns of language structure that can be found across all the languages of the worlds-the so-called language universals-are products of cultural processes, or that they reflect a set of evolved innat...
Article
Cicchetti F, Fodor W, Deacon TW, van Horne C, Rollins S, Burton W, Costantini LC, Isacson O. Immune parameters relevant to neural xenograft survival in the primate brain. Xenotransplantation 2003: 10: 41–49. © Blackwell Munksgaard, 2003 The lack of supply and access to human tissue has prompted the development of xenotransplantation as a potential...
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Scientific theories typically make sense of phenomena at a given level of explanation. Occasionally, phenomena that seem to belong to one level unexpectedly influence an entirely different one. These interactions are strange loops. In evolution and learning, one such strange loop, the Baldwin effect, was proposed over a century ago, and has been st...
Article
Embryonic neurons transplanted to the adult CNS extend axons only for a developmentally defined period. There are certain intercellular factors that control the axonal extension, one of which may be the expression of the bcl-2 protein. In this study, rats with complete striatal dopamine fiber denervation received embryonic day 14 mouse ventral mese...
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Neural and stem cell transplantation is emerging as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. Transplantation of specific committed neuroblasts (fetal neurons) to the adult brain provides such scientific exploration of these new potential therapies. Huntington's disease (HD) is a fatal, incurable autosomal dominant (CAG repeat expansion...
Article
Our understanding of speech and language disorders may be aided by information about the constraints and predispositions contributed by neural developmental processes. As soon as we begin to look at human neuroanatomy and development from a comparative perspective, it is possible to recognize a number of ways that human brains diverge from the gene...
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The problem of evolutionary emergence is particularly well exemplified in theories of the origins of life and of language. To adequately address these evolutionary problems requires not only deploying the full resources of biological science but also developing a general theory of emergent phenomena that treats biological information and natural se...
Chapter
This chapter provides an overview of neural xenotransplantation—transplantation of fetal neuroblasts derived from homologous neural structures of a different (mammalian) species into the adult brain. Although evidence is accumulating in favor of the therapeutic potential of allogeneic neural transplantation in Parkinson's (and Huntington's) disease...
Article
The anatomical specificity of axon growth from fetal pig septal xenografts was studied by transplanting septal cells from E30-35 pig fetuses into cholinergic deafferented (192-IgG-saporin-infused) rats or into aged rats (> 18 months). Cell suspensions (100,000 cells/microl) were injected bilaterally into the dorsal and ventral hippocampus of immuno...
Article
Adults rats were lesioned with 192-IgG-saporin, an immunotoxin that targets cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain expressing the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor (p75). One month later, rats received E30-35 porcine cholinergic neurons bilaterally into the hippocampus, and were tested in the Morris water maze and the passive avoidance...
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We used brain imaging to study long-term neurodegenerative and bioadaptive neurochemical changes in a primate model of Parkinson disease. We gradually induced a selective loss of nigrostriatal dopamine neurons, similar to that of Parkinson disease, by creating oxidative stress through infusion of the mitochondrial complex 1 inhibitor MPTP for 14+/-...
Article
Protection or regeneration of the dopaminergic (DA) system would be of significant therapeutic value for Parkinson's disease. Immunophilin ligands, such as FK506, can produce neurotrophic effects in vitro and in vivo, but their immunosuppressive effects make them unsuitable for neurological application. This study demonstrates that a novel, nonimmu...
Article
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive deficits in the elderly. Its neuropathology is characterized by amyloid deposition and specific cholinergic degeneration. To address the link between amyloid formation and cholinergic loss, we examined histologically the amyloid precursor protein (APP) chan...
Article
In order to assess the potential of embryonic stem cells to undergo neuronal differentiation in vivo, totipotent stem cells from mouse blastocysts (D3 and E14TG2a; previously expanded in the presence of leukemia inhibitory factor) were transplanted, with or without retinoic acid pretreatment, into adult mouse brain, adult lesioned rat brain, and in...
Article
Basic research using cell transplantation indicates that structural developmental mechanisms seen in immature brains can also function in the adult brain. As the brain matures, cellular migration and axonal growth is impeded. However, fetal neural transplantation studies have shown that directional cues are available for fetal axons to find specifi...
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Despite decades of research that has revolutionized the neurosciences, efforts to explain the major features of human brain evolution are still mostly based on superficial gross neuroanatomical features (e.g. size, sulcal patterns) and on theories of selection for high-level functions that lack precise neurobiological predictions (e.g. general inte...
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The movement disorder in Parkinson's disease results from the selective degeneration of a small group of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta region of the brain. A number of exploratory studies using human fetal tissue allografts have suggested that transplantation of dopaminergic neurons may become an effective treatment for...
Article
The presence and specificity of axon guidance cues in the mature brain were examined by transplanting several types of xenogeneic neural cells from fetal pig brains into adult rat brains with selective neuronal loss. Committed neuronal phenotypes from cortical, mesencephalic and striatal fetal regions were implanted in homotopic or ectopic central...