Biological Adumbrations of Drama: Deacon, Burke, Action/Motion, and the Bridge to the “Symbolic Species”

Edward C. Appel, Lock Haven University


Terrence W. Deacon, University of California, Berkeley, has become an international star in biological anthropology and evolutionary neuroscience. His empirical research appears to provide intriguing precursors to, and confirmations of, Kenneth Burke’s dramatism/logology. However, Deacon’s data and theory call into question Burke’s usually unnuanced distinction between symbolic “action” and nonsymbolic “motion.” This essay explores the four intersections between Deacon’s evolutionary theory and Burke’s dramatism that inform the apparent “Deacon”-struction of Burke’s action/motion claim.

. . . Sentience---without it there are no moral claims and no moral obligations. But once sentience exists, a claim is made, and morality gets ‘a foothold in the universe.’

—William James, 1897 (qtd. in Deacon, Incomplete Nature 485)

Terrence W. Deacon is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a biological anthropologist and evolutionary neuroscientist (Tallerman and Gibson xvii). Deacon’s star as internationally famous and influential academician has been on the rise since the publication of his book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (1997). With the appearance of his most recent volume, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (2012), Deacon has reached a level of importance in the study of evolution and language such that it invites interest from scholars in communication.1

Deacon posits a distinct and structured bridge connecting animal life in general to human symbolizers. The central piling in Deacon’s bridgework is a sense of negation he asserts pervades all animal life, not just the “symbolic species.” Consequently, and in particular, as I have previously pointed out, Deacon’s work appears to intersect with, or evince marked similarities to, the dramatism/logology of philosopher of language Kenneth Burke (Appel, “’Symbolic Species’”). The power of negative motivation undergirds the work of both these theorists.

As empirical science, not philosophy, Deacon’s research and findings add a dimension of insight into Burke’s rhetorical system that may problematize, as well as support, some of Burke’s ideas. It is the contention here that, as I explained (“’Symbolic Species’”), multiple facets of the biology and semiotics of Terrence Deacon uphold Burke’s conceptions of “symbol-using animal[s]” and their unique standing in the hierarchy of sentient organisms (Burke, Language 3-9). One determination, though, of Deacon’s research significantly challenges Burke’s philosophy. Burke’s famous and categorical polarity of “action” vs. “motion,” post Deacon, might require attention and review---here on the (nonsymbolic animal) “motion” side of that dialectical polarity---by scholars and critics in the Burkean tradition (Crusius, Kenneth Burke 136, 164-66).2

Deacon’s Incomplete Nature affords a noteworthy point of departure for that challenge to Burke’s default conceptualization of nonsymbolic animal “motion.” Deacon says:

Organisms are spontaneously emergent systems that can be said to “act on their own behalf” (though “acting” and “selfhood” must be understood in a generic and minimal sense . . . ) . . . In organisms, we see the most basic precursors of what in our mental experience we describe as self, intention, significance, purpose, and even evaluation. These attributes, even in attenuated form, are significantly unlike anything found spontaneously in the nonliving world, and yet they inevitably emerged in their most basic form first in systems far simpler than the simplest known organisms. (Incomplete 273-74)

The notion of single-celled living creatures “act[ing]” with “intention” for a “purpose” by way of a capacity for “evaluation” of an environment they somehow sense as “favorable or unfavorable” for survival marks off a strange landscape for a Burkean, as well as many other observers of the biosphere in general (Incomplete 273). This is the language of drama. The “Morality” [read: drama] William James said gets a “foothold” via animal sentience is here, at least, “foreshadow[ed] vaguely,” surely exceedingly vaguely, but still, if accurately described by Deacon, foreshadowed (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “adumbrate,” def. 1 18). “Morality”-cum-drama is at minimum significantly prepared for in some “enigmatic” way (Incomplete 1). Tiny “sentien[t]” creatures, as Deacon labels them, are presumed to intuit and then “encompass” a problematic situation (Incomplete 485-86; Burke, Philosophy 1, 64). A Burkean scene-act correspondence surely comes to mind. Deacon’s dramatic phrasing, though admittedly “attenuated,” seems meant to be taken on its face, not just as gross metaphor or the typical superimposition of drama on mechanistic nature symbolizers are wont to do without reflection (Incomplete 273; Burke, Grammar 3-7; Language 54-55, 378-79; Appel, Burkean Primer 4-12).

Accordingly, this probe of Deacon’s research will focus on the four points of intersection between Burke’s dramatism/logology and Deacon’s putatively scientific theorizations that suggest a revision of Burke’s action/motion theme on the nonsymbolic motion side. Those points of connection that challenge Burke are what Deacon calls the four nonsymbolic “precursors” of human experience (Incomplete 473). These early attributes of “sentience” as the “foothold” William James theorized differ from the six pillars of support for Burke’s dramatism I found in Deacon’s depiction of the “symbolic species” in evolutionary near-formation and then fully formed (Incomplete 485; Appel, “’Symbolic Species’”). Deacon’s four antecedents to symbolism, harbingers, as it were, of the human drama yet to emerge, problematically undercut Burke’s facile and categorical action/motion polarity.

Deacon’s fourfold nonsymbolic precursors of Burkean drama here examined will include a protonegative; a protopentad of a kind (the scene-agent-act-purpose-means trajectory inherent in the grammar of language, i.e., Burke’s pentad); concepts that seemingly adumbrate Burkean terms for order (order/disorder-sin-guilt-sacrifice-redemption, Burke’s cycle of terms implicit in the idea of order), as more loosely construed, of course; and the activity or experience of that animal life as not reducible to spontaneous motion (Incomplete 1-3, 53). Deacon’s sixfold theory of the semiotic communication of emerging and ultimately fully-emergent humankind---comprised of a “bi-layered” symbolic species in thought and action, a theory of entitlement that places symbols in a separate bin from the objects they presumably name, an evolutionary explanation of linguistic origins remarkably like Burke’s, treatment of Burke’s sixth grammatical term, “attitude,” as integral to symbolic action, indeed, defining supposedly sapient men and women as the essentially symbolic and theological animals Burke construes them as---these dramatistically supportive features of Deacon’s research I have already examined (“’Symbolic Species’”; Burke, “Dramatism” 8-9). Deacon giveth, as well as taketh away, in respect to Burke’s conceptions.

To rephrase as preview the trajectory to be elaborated in this probe: If a sense of the “absential” or negative of whatever variety is assumed as inherent in any living creature, Deacon’s postulate, then a purpose of a kind must implicitly follow as motive for any living creature. An intuition to reject, say, alternatives A, B, and C as serviceable options means a likely preference for D as purpose. If not A, not B, and not C, but rather D as purpose, then restriction, an inhibition or sacrifice of a kind, a pushing back against the blind purposeless forces of ordinary physics and chemistry, in respect to A, B, and C as possibilities. And if that negative sensibility, generating a purpose and a prohibition against what does not serve that purpose, if such purpose and prohibition orients toward something beyond a materialistic, billiard-ball form of causation, then a potential incommensurability between the sought-for outcome and the mechanics of the material substrates that are being supervened. The negative calls forth Burke’s pentad, a rippling out toward all the notions that go with the term “purpose,” and the purposive pentadic terms call forth the concepts implicit in the idea of order, as described by Burke, as some sort of transcendence of the motions of inanimate nature.3

 The upshot: Four essential features of presymbolic living nature Deacon argues for and highlights, presage, intimate, sufficiently foreshow, four essential features of Burke’s symbolizing animal, to call into question Burke’s customary construction of his action/motion polarity.

First, though, by way of situating Deacon’s challenge to Burke’s action/motion pair, a review of representative studies that have troubled or refined Burke’s thought on human action may afford helpful context. A look at Burke’s inconsistencies on the action/motion binary requires attention, as well. Careful delineation of what is, and what is not, in focus in a Deacon/Burke comparison on action/motion should be made apparent, before launching into Deacon’s claims on the matter.

Symbolic “Action” the Usual Problematic in Burke Studies, Not Nonsymbolic “Motion” Elsewhere in the Biosphere

Most studies that have problematized, or refined, Burke on action/motion have taken aim at the human “action” side of the divide, how human “action” needs to be construed or modified conceptually, not the pole in which Burke usually places nonsymbolic animals. The questions include, how free is the symbol-user, or, where do nonsymbolic impulses end and human free will, expressed in symbolic action, begin? Or even, how free is symbolic action, when symbols goad or use the symbol-user as well? In his treatment of putatively free symbolic action per se, an ambiguity in Burke’s thorizations is often overlooked, Abraham Kaplan claimed. Kaplan put it this way:

Burke explicitly declares his concern to be with the analysis of language [as “symbolic action”], not “reality” [the “reality” of the tangible actions, i.e., morally purposeful motions, human symbolizations supposedly goad into being]. But it remains doubtful whether he has in fact clearly distinguished the two and successfully limited himself to the linguistic level. (“Review” 233-34)

Sociologist Michael Overington said the same (“Kenneth Burke” 133).

Additional secondary literature on Burke and action/motion has addressed this ambiguity in Burke, or such theoretical complexity in general. For example, in their probe of their concept of “pentadic cartography,” Anderson and Prelli examined the (unsatisfactory, they claimed) linguistic reduction of action to motion in the rhetoric of contemporary technological culture (“Pentadic Cartography”). They then applied their take on Burke’s critique of language to Herbert Marcuse’s putative failure to successfully “map” that terministic terrain. Anderson and Prelli’s analysis dissected the symbolic attribution of motives. It did not attribute motives itself, or undermine Burke’s stated focus on language as basis for some, if even a minimal, degree of free moral action.

Crable critiqued Burke’s language of attribution. He offered a “friendly amendment” to Burke’s axiom, “There can be motion without action.” The proposition should read, Crable said, “There can be no motion without action” (“Symbolizing Motion” 128). The dialectical polarity itself, by Burke’s own reckoning, extrudes from a distinction made possible only by symbols (Crable, 126-27; Burke, On Human Nature 139-71). Demonstrating the “fragmentation” of such a full dialectic in a truncated rhetoric, Crable showed how the attempted reduction of “action” to “motion” in Western “racist” categories “corrupt[s]” nonsymbolic motion with one-up, one-down, hierarchal symbolizations not present in human nature itself (“Symbolizing Motion” 132-35). So-called biologically heritable disparities exist only in our languaging of “race,” Crable asserted, not in the material world itself. Any such hierarchal/dialectical discrimination is to be at least suspect as a symbolic superimposition.

Other Burke scholars have probed the action/motion ambiguity with the focus thoroughly on the human “action” side, in respect to “reality,” not just talk about reality. Desilet and I briefly questioned the notion of “free” moral action in support of a “comic” attitude toward perpetrators of even the most heinous of war crimes (“Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy” 340-62). A “comic” extenuation of atrocity is facilitated by a scenic diminution of personal responsibility, Desilet and I suggested. Conrad and Macom deconstructed Burke-style symbolic “agency,” particularly with respect to habit as symbolic “action” turned “motion.” They claimed Burke’s “tension”-filled, “dualistic” treatment of action/motion “oscillates” between emphasis on one pole, then the other, with the symbol/action side ultimately the more privileged. Conrad and Macom argued for a more coherent “interpenetration” of the two motives, “free” action and constrained motion, as illustrated in that habitualization of “action” toward “motion,” often to be followed by the dehabitualization of “motion” in an emergency (“Re-Visiting Kenneth Burke” 12-16, 22, 25). Most intriguing in this subtle treatment is their claim that symbolic motives themselves can often be construed as “motion.” Burke’s “entelechy,” or symbolic thrust toward hierarchal perfectionism, can serve as suasive force without conscious, deliberative awareness of how terms are so “using” the symbol-user (13-15).

Engnell targeted five dialectical interpenetrations of symbolic and physical motivations that complicate a simplistic action/motion distinction. Awareness of the ways body and symbol “avenge” each other’s promptings will facilitate a fuller, more balanced, rhetoric, Engnell offered (“Materiality, Symbolicity” 1-25).

From a Burkean purview, Hawhee further explored whatever it is that distinguishes the seemingly purposeful motion of persons from the promptings of spontaneous nature. In a wide-ranging survey that highlighted Burke’s interests in music criticism, dance, mysticism, social hygiene, endocrinology, drug addiction, bodily diseases, including Burke’s own illnesses, and, finally, Burke’s excremental obsessions, Hawhee emphasized dramatism’s co-constituting relationship between body and symbol, its integral movement from body to language, concluding that those polar terms are “an irreducible pair, contiguous but distinct” (Moving Bodies 158; see, also, O’Keefe, “Burke’s Dramatism”; Jameson, “Symbolic Inference”; Schlauch, “Review.” Relevant, too, on the action/motion question are Jack, “Neurorhetorics”; Ivakhiv, “Environmental Communication”).

In summary, many if not most of Burke’s critics on action/motion take him to task, or provide nuance, with a heavy interpretive thumb on Burke’s purposive, symbolic, aesthetic, distinctively human side of the scales. They do not put in play Burke’s customarily sweeping definition of nonsymbolic motion to include animals in the wild. Burke’s inconsistent treatment of this other pole in his dialectical pair, that of nonsymbolic motion in the “lower” animal realm, requires a closer look, as well. This is the one feature of Burkology Deacon’s research, taken on its face, deconstructs.

Burke’s Inconsistencies on Animal “Motion”

It must be acknowledged at the outset that Burke did occasionally drop hints that he was aware that nonsymbolic living beings, those that are in common parlance called “lower” animals, do not function only according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Early in Permanence and Change, Burke spoke of fish as demonstrating “criticism of experience.” After a bad day in the river, fish might “revise [their] critical appraisals” to avoid “’jaw-ripping food.’” In fact, Burke conceded, “all living organisms interpret many of the signs about them.” This expression of the basic irritability that is said to distinguish living beings serves as contrast to the human facility for “criticism of criticism,” a meta-capacity to “interpret our interpretations,” transcend via a symbol-induced insight that generic irritability. Burke went on in that opening chapter of P&C to cite Pavlov’s dogs and domesticated chickens as exhibiting the same learning and interpretive instincts, only to have them backfire when the summons is to their “punishment,” not their feeding time (Permanence and Change 5-6, 18, 22).

In the same vein, Burke vouchsafed in A Grammar of Motives that nonsymbolic animals could be labeled “agents-minus,” and what they physically do “action-minus.” Burke explained:

In reducing all phenomena to terms of motion, biology is as unambiguously scenic as physics. But as soon as it encounters the subject of self-movement, it makes claims upon the areas covered by our term agent. We have improvised a solution, for our purposes, by deciding that the biologist’s word, “organism,” is Grammatically the equivalent of “agent-minus.” (Grammar 157, 237)

Whether he is altogether committed in his Grammar to such re-labeling, Burke does nicely “improvise” in the direction of nuance.

These two passages in Burke’s corpus reflect well enough the overall point Deacon seems to be making in bold strokes. Yet Burke more normally confounds the issue with statements like the following, in a long and definitive essay he entitled, and in which he specifically contrasted,, “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action”: “If all typically symbol-using animals (that is, humans) were suddenly obliterated, . . . ,” Burke said, “the Earth would be but a realm of planetary, geologic, meteorological motion, including the motions of whatever nonhuman biologic organisms happened to survive.” Burke curiously added, “Ironically . . . [via ‘operant conditioning,’ B. F.] Skinner is able to set up so ‘rational’ a problem (‘push that lever, peck that key, or starve’) that his animals can in effect behave much more ‘rationally’ than is the case in most human situations . . . [in respect to] discriminations” (Human Nature 141, 168-71). The glaring “irony” is: Burke did not seem to sense that his illustration undermines, not his distinction between the “action” of symbolizers and whatever it is that preverbal animals do, but rather his blanket conflation of that “discriminat[ing]” animal behavior with, for example, undiscriminating “planetary” motion.

In his summary encyclopedia article, “Dramatism,” the “sheer motion[s]” of the brain Burke spoke of, on which the “action” of human thought is based, are, in part, per Deacon, expressive of “sentient” neurons operating on an admittedly “lower-level” of emergent activity, yet still living beings with a degree of intention all their own (Incomplete 509-11). In Deacon-world, Lewis Thomas’s book The Lives of a Cell comes readily and appropriately to mind.

Burke’s inconsistency on the “motion” side of action/motion is brought sharply into focus by Deacon’s theory of evolutionary self-organization. What Deacon’s theory entails, and how it critically articulates with Burke’s dramatism in complication of so-called nonsymbolic animal “motion,” is herewith examined.

Precursors to Drama in Deacon’s Evolutionism: The Protonegative, Protopentad, Order, “Irreducible” Activity of a Kind

We now address, in some detail, four of the most salient features of Burke’s philosophy, previewed, Deacon maintained, in natural, biological history. Burke devoted a famous four-part series of articles in the Quarterly Journal of Speech to the negative basis of symbolic action (“Origins of Language”; Burke, Language 419-79). His seminal work, A Grammar of Motives, explains throughout the ubiquity of his pentad of terms: act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose (introduced on pp. xv-xxiii). Burke’s climactic “logological” study, The Rhetoric of Religion, is built around the grammatically implicit terms for “Order” or guilt-redemption cycle (4-5, 184). “’Symbolic action’” as irreducible to terms for motion highlighted Burke’s summary piece in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (see Burke, “Dramatism” 11). Deacon’s evolutionary theory resonates with these ideas as operative in reduced scale in primitive life forms. Whether appropriately labeled activity or “behavior,” apparently Burke’s term for the notion of lower “organisms” functioning in some nonmechanistic way, Deacon puts such animatedly intermediate operations in boldest relief (Burke, Permanence and Change 5).

Deacon’s “Absential Feature” or “Abstential Phenomenon”

The power of negative motivation serves as core not only for Deacon’s semiotics, but also for his conception of animate being in general. In Deacon’s tale, two great dislocations, two great transformations, not just the one Burke highlighted, occurred in the evolution of our planetary home: when living animals and plants appeared, and, again, when the symbolic species arose into full self-conscious life. Both transformations give evidence of some sort of negative provocation (e.g., Incomplete 155-59, 182). Conventional evolutionists ignore the “absential” that is inherent, Deacon averred, in whatever it is that nonsymbolic life forms are doing (Incomplete 3, emphasis in original). Behaviorists like B. F. Skinner, and premier biologists like Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick, will often smuggle into their accounts “homuncul[i]” and “golem[s],” “unacknowledged gap-fillers,” that do the “teleonomic”---Deacon’s word for an apparent purposefulness short of the human---the teleonomic or teleological work of explanation that is required. But the implicit presence and purposiveness of these manipulative stowaways go unacknowledged (Incomplete 46-106, 550, 553).

Deacon’s mentor, however, did not so ignore. Deacon carries forward Gregory Bateson’s notion of a “difference which makes a difference” in the activity of all living beings (Bateson, Ecology 381, emphasis in original). Bateson, along with Deacon after him, borrowed terminology from the ancient Gnostics. In the “Pleroma,” the realm of chemical and physical mechanism, entropy rules. The Second Law of Thermodynamics drives all processes relentlessly toward a state of equilibrium, dis-order. In the “Creatura,” the arena of living beings, “work,” broadly defined, “stave[s] off” “thermodynamic decay” by feeding off of “free energy” in the environment, generating or perpetuating “order” way beyond the capacity, it would seem, of the mere physical and chemical properties of those “working” creatures (Bateson, Ecology 455-56, 481-82; Incomplete 281). What is “absent” somehow motivates that “work.” The some-way-sought-for, somehow-motivating, “ends” of that “work” are “repair” and “formation,” which is to say, “survival” and “reproduction” (Bateson, Ecology 481-83; Incomplete 281-83; Deacon, e-mail, “Re: Fw: Re: Deacon’s Neo-Aristotelian Complication”: “Bateson was a powerful personal influence on me”). Often energized by the “responding part rather than by impact from the triggering part,” “self-organization,” “self-correctivness,” “trial and error” can characterize nonverbal, as well as verbal, life forms (Bateson, Ecology 482; Incomplete 169; Kauffman, Origins of Order: Self-Organization). That absential-related “difference” cannot “make a difference” unless there is a recognition of some kind that the “difference” taken cognizance of is not correct or not incorrect in terms of some “target state” (Bateson, Ecology 381, 482; Incomplete 281-83, 326-30, 487, 553).

Colin McGinn, a philosopher at Miami University, wrote a dissenting review of Incomplete Nature. McGinn asked in the title of his piece, “Can Anything Emerge from Nothing?” His answer: No (“Emerge”). The “absential” does remain vague in Deacon. Deacon does not particularly give shape or contour to this cryptic notion. The “absential,” or protonegative, would strike one, on its face, at this preliminary point in evolutionary history, as a nonmoralizing negative. Deacon concedes the concept is a “nontechnical . . . heuristic,” a kind of exploratory assumption (“In Response”). Yet, both Deacon and Bateson appear very much to be on to something. The nonsymbolic negative can perhaps be compared to dark energy in cosmology. Astronomers do not know exactly what dark energy is, but its effects are clearly observable and measurable. Likewise, such “absential” phenomena as Deacon and Bateson postulate appear to exist. What nonsymbolic living beings do cannot readily be explained without that postulate. Adaptive change in general, to say nothing of successful training of those “lower” animals, via stimulus-response, suggests sensitivity to a difference that can make a difference. How else account for the warning signals of meerkats when danger looms on the horizon, or any animal’s defense of nest, den, or territory when invaded by outsiders. What an unacceptable difference these creatures seek to “correct” for!

 Some might call this line of reasoning argument by bafflement. We cannot yet conjure a satisfactory mechanistic explanation for such seemingly calculated, communicative, unspontaneous adaptation to a perceived threat (though some biologists are trying; see, below, “What Deacon Uniquely Adds”). The notion of argument by correlation can serve as counterstatement. We do not hear or see a symbolic auditory or gestural “no,” “not,” or “beware” when a Vervet monkey calls out or signals to its troop members, with discrimination, that a snake, leopard, or eagle is nearby. When related animals take appropriate evasive action in response to such a warning, like looking down (snake), climbing a tree (leopard), or hiding in a bush (eagle), correlative cognition would seem to have occurred. A “difference which makes a difference” in terms of survival, is, on some level, discerned. A correspondence with the linguistic “no,” even if rarefied, appears operative and plausible (Deacon, Symbolic Species 54-56).

 “Correlation” is the precise term many biologists use to link animal calls to the states and events in the environment the calls are “about.” If the resulting and correlative behavior suggests a warning has been received, is not negation implicit? The warning call is correlative to a subsequent not-doing whatever it is these animals had been doing (Deacon, Symbolic Species 54-56; Seyfarth and Cheney, “Primate Social Cognition” 61; Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 8; Adams and Beighley, “Information, Meaning” 405-406, 411-12, 416).

“Entelechy,” the Four Causes, Grammatical Terminology

The notion of a nonsymbolic “absential” negative, whatever its lineaments and motivational power, calls forth the language of seemingly purposeful action. (The “absential” implies not A, not B, and not C, in order to achieve D, the purpose.) Such, at any rate, are the grammatical requirements of the language human observers use to talk about it (Appel, Burkean Primer 10-12; Burke, Language 378-79). Deacon can and will label that presymbolic response to negative inducement “teleological,” not merely “teleonomic.” Deacon defines teleonomy (a term he etymologically traces to the late 1950s) as a “middle ground between mere mechanism and purpose, behavior predictably oriented toward a particular target state even in systems where there is no explicit representation of that state or intention to achieve it” (Incomplete, 116, 553; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “teleonomy” 1284). “Thermostats and computer programs are teleonomic,” Deacon said (“Re: Revision”; Incomplete 116-123). Of and by themselves, without reference to the design in their human origin, no “intention” to “achieve” some “target state” inheres in such mechanistic artifacts.

Deacon defines “teleological,” usually associated with full-bore orientation toward design in nature, ultimate purposiveness, alignment toward some consummate goal, as “purposive or end-directed (the study of such relationships); philosophically related to Aristotle’s concept of a “’final cause’” (Incomplete 553; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “teleology” 1284). But here is the rub: Deacon’s notion of the “teleology” that infused and infuses evolution and all living systems is an immanentized teleology, not a transcendentalized one. Deacon’s project is the “Naturalizing of Teleology” (Visual, Ginn Lecture, “Naturalizing Teleology”). In personal correspondence, Deacon put it this way:

Teleodynamics [a term for Deacon’s system as related to “teleology”] attempts to carve a path between a vitalist elan vital and the cybernetic-related conception of teleonomy. I consider Aristotle’s notion of entelechy (given its prescientific context) to be closer to my view than to teleonomy. His subsequent interpreters exaggerated the homuncular way of interpreting it, however, and this is what I would object to. (“Re: One More Time.”) 4

Once again on the homunculus: This is the “little man” in the “germ cell” in prescientific notions of procreation that was thought to grow to maturity during human gestation. Deacon extends the reference to the connotations of teleology that mechanistic theorists often surreptitiously sneak into their explanations of phenomena to illegitimately fill explanatory gaps (Incomplete 46-79; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “homunculus” 596).

One way or another, all this utilitarian sub-verbal behavior in animate life in general, in the direction of an entelechial target state or “purpose” of a kind, conjures up, in Deacon’s explanation, notions of Aristotle’s protopentadic “four causes.” One of those causes is purpose or “final cause,” in other words, entelechial end-directedness. And if there is a final cause or purpose, then an efficient cause or agent, a formal cause or act, and a material cause or scene inevitably follow (Burke, Grammar xv). Deacon makes those connections (Incomplete 34-35, 161, 185-86, 210-214). All grammars appear to answer, even require, the who, what, why, how (comprised of preliminary whys), and when and where. The notion of a purpose, necessarily devolved from negative motivation, will so require.

Burke explains Aristotle’s entelechy in contrast to his own conception. Aristotle’s usage is close to Deacons. It pertains to the behavior of nonsymbolic beings, as well as humans. Burke’s notion of entelechy is limited to the symbolic. The “purpose” or “end-directedness” Burke embraces refers just to symbol-users and their unique actions. Burke posits, however, two important features, as he sees them, of “entelechy” as even Aristotle conceived it. The term “entelechy,” as per Aristotle and Deacon, is, by implication, still “dramatistic” (Dramatism and Development 57). Aristotle’s four causes and the five elements of linguistic grammar Burke analogously derives from the content parts of speech (noun actor, verbal act, adverbial purpose, means, manner [Burke’s hexadic “attitude”], and scenic time and place) are irrepressibly conjured by the notion of end-directedness in either case. And that Aristotelian “entelechy,” reaching down to the most primitive forms of animal and vegetable life, is “metaphysical,” Burke clearly stresses, which is to say, at the very least: If the “purpose” of a kind the Aristotelian entelechy suggests cannot be satisfactorily accounted for within the materiality of the most basic life forms to which the term is applied, observers will be prompted, or tempted, to look for that “purpose” in some “beyond” (Burke, Dramatism and Development 57-58; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “metaphysical” 780, def. 2a).

No such “purpose” inheres at all within the materiality of nonsymbolic life forms in the “absential”-centered evolutionary theory of Terrence Deacon. Inadvertently and proleptically, Burke’s conception of the metaphysical quality of even Aristotelian entelechy calls into some question how successfully Deacon has actually “naturalized teleology” and its theological implications. Deacon’s “absential” most assuredly does not reside in the undiscerning physical or chemical compulsions of even living matter.

Deacon summons, as per Burke, many variants of purposive pentadic drama from the negative “absential,” however situated in the realm of animal life: “meanings,” “evaluations,” a feeling for “potentials” and “possibilities not realized,” leading to “longings,” “intentions,” “aspirations,” indeed inclinations toward “end-directed,” “consequence-oriented” actions, processes, and forms of causality that most characterize the symbolic species (Incomplete, e.g., 3, 5, 7, 11-12, 14, 16, 33). By unaccounted, “enigmatic,” but observable enough legerdemain, this goal-seeking, in some fashion, seeps downward into the nether-reaches of living organisms. By the implacable “lurking” Burke has been lampooned for, such “purpose” brings to mind all the pentadic components---even, it would seem, for those elemental, “minimal[ly]” sentient, microbial life forms (Incomplete,1, 273; Lansner, “Burke, Burke, the Lurk” 261).

Emergent “Order” by Way of “Work” and “Restriction”

Just as he adumbrates Burke’s pentad in his description of dynamical processes on varied levels of even elemental biological organization, so, too, does Deacon echo Burke’s “terms implicit in the idea of order,” or guilt-redemption cycle, in his mind-from-matter trajectory of evolutionary development. Once again, Deacon uses these “order” terms more loosely than Burke. Concepts analogous to Burke’s “Iron Law of History” are projected downward into realms of the nonsymbolic (Burke, Religion 4-5, 184). There they function as descriptives of activity or behavior that far transcend the mechanism of mere physics and chemistry.

Recall Burke’s “Iron Law” poem in The Rhetoric of Religion. The stages of drama anatomized there go from “order,” maintained by “commandments” (the thou-shalt-nots) that inevitably lead to violations and “guilt,” the resulting disorder rectified and “redeemed” through “sacrifice” by way of “victimage” directed at self or other. Later in the book, Burke elaborated this moral drama in his famous diagram that proceeds from the “Bless[ings]” and “Curses[es]” the commandments that maintain order inspire, to ”redemption by vicarious atonement” that restores order disrupted by things gone amiss (Religion 4-5, 184).

Deacon’s roughly equivalent terms construct “order” in the biosphere generally via “constraint” and “restriction,” which is to say, by rules or commandments, so to speak, that resonate across living nature. The intuited “absential,” that sense of a “missing” element in both minimally and fully sentient life, constrains the “restriction,” much like the hortatory negative in the human drama. The feel for that complicating “difference which makes a difference” brings resolution, order recovered or retained in the face of threat, by way of “work,” a concept within hailing distance of Burke’s “self-sacrifice” (Incomplete 24, 191-98, 326-70; Bateson, Ecology 381; Burke, Permanence and Change 286-91; Burke, Rhetoric 260-74).

Unpacking his version of the terms for order, Deacon said, “Order and constraint are intrinsically related concepts.” He calls his approach a “negative way of assessing order.” Deacon explains:

The nature of constraint (and therefore the absent options [read: potential “purposes” of a kind]) indirectly determines which differences can and cannot make a difference in any interaction. . . [In fact,] by recasting our understanding of habit [from Charles Sanders  Peirce] and order in negative terms, we can begin to disentangle ourselves from the “something more” fallacy of traditional emergence theories. . . . Emergent properties are not something added, but rather a reflection of something restricted and hidden. . . . (Incomplete 198, 203)

What is shunted to the side by living “work” is the multifarious and random events of spontaneous nature (Incomplete 195, 197-98, 190-205).

Deacon defines that “work” thus: “In general terms, then, we can describe all forms of work as activity that is necessary to overcome resistance to [goal-directed] change. Resistance can be either passive or active, and so work can be directed toward enacting change that wouldn’t otherwise occur or preventing change that would happen in its absence.” Which is to say, “work” is activity that thwarts the “spontaneous” drift toward the “entropy” the Second Law of Thermodynamics says “mechanism” is “naturally,” if fitfully, careening toward across billions of years of the mostly un-“teleonomic,” very definitely un-“teleological,” processes physicists and chemists study and account for by way of their experiments and observations (Incomplete 330). “Work” is also activity that thwarts, or attempts to thwart, the “working” aggressions of other sentient life forms.

“Terms for order” of a distinctive kind devolve essentially from the “incompleteness” Deacon finds in the operations of all beings in living nature.

An“Irreducibility” at the Heart of the Matter

Following Talcot Parsons, Burke said, “Action is not reducible to terms of motion” (Dramatism” 10). Something “novel,” creative, inheres in a symbolic act, inexplicable in reference to material scene, actor, purpose, or means (Burke, Grammar 65-66, 68). True, “There can be no action without motion,” according to Burke. Electrochemical brain waves are happening when human thoughts and words lead to interference with the kinds of causes that would otherwise be taking place, minus those negatively-charged symbolic inducements (those electro-chemical discharges authored by living brain cells, “motion” for Burke, not altogether so for Deacon). At the very foundation of the hierarchy of sentient activity in the human brain, “motion” is apparently taking place, as Burke sees it. The resultant symbolic meanings cannot, however, be read from, or reduced to, those neurological discharges (Burke, “Dramatism” 10-11). Nor can one speak to such physical and chemical interactions in and of themselves and expect to persuade them to do one’s bidding. The relationship between biochemistry and symbolic action is mysterious enough that the notion of language as “magic spell” is not foreign to Burke’s dramatism (Philosophy 1-8).

Deacon uses the term “magical,” too (Incomplete 10). His project, though, is to dispel that mystery as much as possible. The subtitle of his recent book is, after all, “How Mind Emerged from Matter.” Still, Deacon admits to an irreducibility in his scheme as well, and the primary locus of that enigma is not surprising: “Absence has no components, and so it can’t be reduced or eliminated. Or, to be a bit less cryptic: Constraint is the fact of possible states not being realized, and what is not realized is not subject to componential analysis. Reductive analysis can thus irretrievably throw away information about the basis of higher-order causal power” (Incomplete 204, emphasis added).

Equally irreducible for Deacon is each level of living “sentience” to a lower-level of sentience that serves as support. Deacon asserted:

Although there is a hierarchic dependency of higher-order forms of sentience on lower-order forms of sentience, there is no possibility of reducing these higher-order forms (e.g., human consciousness) to lower-order forms (e.g., neuronal sentience, or the vegetative sentience of brainless organisms and free-living cells). This irreducibility arises for the same reason that teleodynamic processes in any form are irreducible to the thermodynamic processes [as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics] that they depend on. (Incomplete 508)

Put more generally, Deacon said: In Incomplete Nature, “I repeatedly show why we cannot reduce either life or mind to material substrates” (207, 508; Deacon, “Response”). Science cannot satisfactorily probe the absential via physics or chemistry.

On the other side of the coin, “action” is not possible without “motion,” Burke maintained (“Dramatism” 10). Deacon said the same thing, differently phrased: e.g., animal activities are “not . . . independent of thermodynamic change”; they “still have these [mechanistic] processes as their ground” (Incomplete 347, 361, 370).

Summary Review

Based on his biological and neuroscientific investigations, Deacon has posited four features of even single-celled living beings that function, in effect, as precursors of the dramatic action Burke warranted as the distinguishing traits of the “symbol-using animal” (Burke, Religion 40; Burke, Language 16). More to the point, Deacon has homed in on one characteristic of these primitively sentient life forms from which the other three attributes devolve. That protean sensibility is a feel for the “absential,” as he calls it, an “enigmatic” orientation toward what is “incomplete” about itself, what is “not there,” that generates “order” through “constraint,” “purpose” of a kind, and an incommensurability with anything material, tangible, or “componential.”

The trajectory of implications can go something like this: If self-organizing and self-perpetuating living “order,” then a capacity for “constraint” or “restriction” of a kind built into the organisms in question, that factors out all sorts of otherwise possible results, were “spontaneous” nature in control. If “constraint” or “restriction” in the way such living organisms operate, then of necessity a negative sensibility, a taking note of a “difference which makes a difference” in terms of generating conditions “favorable” or “unfavorable” to continued existence, a tropism toward “correction” of circumstances not right. If such an active sense of the negative, then “purpose” (Burke, Grammar 294-97; Deacon, Incomplete 23, 273). There can be no “constraint,” leading to “order,” indicative of “purpose,” without an overarching intuition of the what-is-not. Negative sensibility of some variety, awareness of the vitally “missing” or the “absent,” is thus the lynchpin of orderly living being. Burke appears, normally, to place that informing negative intuition only in the symbolizing animal. Deacon puts some form of the negative, enigmatically attenuated in the nonsymbolic to be sure, in all sentient life forms, and defines all living organisms as sentient (Incomplete 485-507).

The upshot: Nonsymbolic animals, with or without brains, certainly do not “act” like symbol-users. Just as certainly, and brought boldly into academic awareness by Terrence W. Deacon, nonsymbolic animals do not “move” like stars, clouds, tides, or geologic plates. Burke’s action/motion distinction, inconsistently articulated to be sure, may stand in special need of revision in light of Deacon’s “absential[ism].”

What Deacon Uniquely Adds to Current Research on Animal “Activity”

Much contemporary biology touches on what “lower” animals do that looks different from spontaneous physical mechanism. Does any of it approach Deacon as nascent dramatic precursor? Only in part: First, concepts of negation are mostly missing from this research. That is one notion Deacon introduces. Second, complex avians and mammals are the focal concerns in the biology of “agency-minus,” not single-celled organisms. Deacon appears to move the discussion about nonsymbolic animal activity and communication in the direction of negation-based discriminations across all living nature. That broadening of reference is another of Deacon’s contributions.

The concept of “information” illustrates the way Deacon’s formulations both articulate with and differ from those of standard study of nonsymbolic animals and their behavior (Incomplete 371-91). “Information” is a generative principle, or focus of debate, in this field of research in general. “Information” is, for Deacon, a “relationship” term. The “sign medium” itself is not of central import (Incomplete 379, 374). An animal’s warning signal or mating call has “meaning” only in respect to an “irregularity,” or potential irregularity, that has teleodynamic significance. It is not just a “difference” in expectation. It is a “difference which makes a difference” in terms of perceived purposes of survival and/or reproduction. The “significan[t]” difference is not “something missing” that merely “stand[s] out with respect to a tendency.” That missing tendency “must also stand out with respect to another tendency that interprets it . . . which is the ground of this expectation; a[n] [end-directed, consequence-oriented] projection into the future” (Incomplete 377, 392-420, emphasis in original).

In studies of animal communication in the large, a debate over the concept of information is at the fore. Some biologists give the notion credence. Some do not. The focal dialectics are “information” vs. “manipulation,” “information” vs. “signaling,” “linguistic metaphor” vs. “nonlinguistic metaphor,” “cortical” vs. “non-cortical” or “subcortical,” “cognitive” vs. “non-cognitive,” “mutualistic” vs. self-serving. Those who claim information’s conceptual utility often use terms that echo part of Deacon’s theory. Terms like “referential signals,” “mental representations,” “prediction,” “correlation,” and, in particular, “cognitive” activity, correspond with Deacon’s account (Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 4-25; Font and Carazo, “Animals in Translation” 1; see, in Stegmann, Animal Communication Theory, the five chapters under “Varieties of Information” 41-148; e.g., Scarintino, “Animal Communication” 53-88; Wiley, “Communication” 113-32).

The advocates of “manipulation” and mere “influence” in animal relationships emphasize “automatic reflexive reactions” and “affect induction,” not cognition. This is “an explicitly noninformational approach.” “Signals evolved in order to prompt receivers to behave in ways beneficial to the sender,” as per the “selfish gene” hypothesis of Richard Dawkins. Even in respect to primate vocalizations, the “unsophisticated nature of signal processing” is asserted. Information theory overall superimposes human language and thought processes on nonsymbolic living nature, illegitimately, the “non-cognitive” side in the debate contends (Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 15-25; Dawkins and Krebs, “Animal Signals”; Dawkins, Selfish Gene; Owings and Morton, Animal Vocal Communication, “emphasiz[ing] the role of motivation and emotion more than . . . the role of information-processing systems” 40; Johnstone, “Evaluation of Animal Signals” 155-78; Font and Carazo, “Animals in Translation” 1-6; Randall, Owren, and Ryan, “What Do Animal Signals Mean?” 233-40).

In nonsymbolic animal research in general, questions are occasionally asked about hominid “protolanguage” precursors to homo sapiens, concerning “communication about absent objects/events” (Gibson, “Language or Protolanguage” 57). Very little terminology related to “absentialism” surfaces directly, though, in research on avians or subhuman mammals, much less single-celled creatures. Uniquely, it would seem, the negative, with its many echoes of drama, infuses all living operations in the evolutionism of Terrence Deacon.


Despite the many corroborations it affords Burke’s thought in respect to what Deacon calls the “symbolic species,” a ponderable point of contention exists between Terrence Deacon’s evolutionary theory and Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic philosophy of language. At its core is Deacon’s potent demonstration, or postulation, of a negative ubiquity, as it apparently suffused and suffuses the behavior of all nonsymbolic life forms (Incomplete 480). To borrow Aristotle’s term, even if Deacon would explain the machinations of that term differently, an “entelechial” purposivness of a kind extrudes in animate beings in general, not just in the symbol-using animal, Deacon’s fundamental claim. As a result, four “precursors,” as Deacon calls them, of symbolic action in such animal life anticipated in some “enigmatic” way the full-blown drama of human striving: that negative “absential” and the agent-act-to-purpose trajectory negative inducement originated, terms of a kind for “order” that seem to make sense when applied even to the minimally sentient, and an incommensurable, nonreductive aspect to it all, as to purely physical causation. Burke’s usually, not always but usually, unqualified contrast between symbolic action and nonsymbolic motion may therefore necessitate some revision on the motion side of this dialectical pairing. Too often, Burke’s dichotomy places nonsymbolic animals, plants, and the processes of inanimate physical nature all in the same “motion” bin. Deacon’s postulate of two dislocations, two discontinuities, in evolutionary history puts Burke’s customary formula in some doubt.

 Hence, Deacon’s claims about the “absential,” the “teleological,” the veritable “end-directedness” of preverbal living nature that, it appears, profoundly changed the natural history of planet Earth, might require Burke scholars to revisit the action/motion theme, perhaps thusly: In his treatment of Darwin’s evolutionism, Burke’s makeshift notions of “action-minus” and “agent-minus” may serve as a good start to such a revision: Not “action/motion,” but rather “action/action-minus/motion” would, in light of Deacon, afford a more accurate and serviceable encompassment of “recalcitrant” living reality (Burke, Grammar 157, 237; Burke, Permanence and Change 255-61).

“Action” minus what? Infinite goading, eternal longing, guilt-cum-morality, all implicit in the human intuition of an infinite negative, a negative that extends in space and time without limit---still but distant intuitions at the end of a yet-evolving trajectory in the natural history of animate beings? Of the symbolizer’s negative, Burke has said, “You can go on forever saying what a thing is not” (Religion 19, emphasis in original; Appel, “Implications” 51-52; Appel, Burkean Primer 44-51). Surely, the nonsymbolic negative will remain difficult for symbolizers, drawn into metaphysical speculations by a negative that knows no bounds, to get entire hold of.

Where the preliminary purposefulness, or teleological tendencies, of Deacon’s theory may have come from, in the case of nonsymbolic living beings, also poses a dilemma. Deacon argues for an intermediate “morphodynamic,” or “form-generating,” step. Morphodynamic regularities mark a stage of development between the basic homeodynamic, or billiard-ball, causation of unfeeling, uncaring, entropic physics and chemistry, and the teleodynamics of sentient, nonsymbolic animal life. This level is intermediate to the appearance of those living beings. Inanimate snow crystals and the hexagonal convection cells in a heated liquid, for two examples, become “spontaneously more organized and orderly over time,” via “perturbation” between two morphodynamic, or nonliving, systems (Incomplete 235-63, 305, 462, 550; Deacon, “Emergent Process of Thinking” 3). The crystals and convection cells display pre-teleonomic, teleonomic, or pre-teleological dispositions, it would appear, as precursors to life. Such operations fall under the heading of “self-organization” as theoretical addendum to, and modification of, the standard, one-sided, Neo-Darwinian emphasis on natural selection as driving evolutionary force. How convincingly Deacon closes this divide between inanimate and animate is for scientific peers to assess.5

However it emerged from brute matter, primordial life as Deacon describes it came trailing clouds of “agent[ial]” mystery, if not the glory of Wordsworth’s poem (Incomplete 479-80, 509; Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality” 232-34). That primitive life seems protoactive, protoaware, at least protosensitive to something not there that functions as telos. Deacon most emphatically underscores this supramaterialism at the core of the case he makes in a climactic and profound reversal: In the last sentence of the last chapter of Incomplete Nature, Deacon confessed that his book should actually have been subtitled, “How mind . . . emerge[d] from [those absentially-charged, or negatively-charged] . . . constraints on matter” (538, emphasis added).

“Incidently,” Burke said (actually not so “incidently”), “Logology would treat Metaphysics as a coy species of theology” (Religion 24n). As I offered before, speculation along those metaphysical lines leads to the possibility that “coy” theologian may apply to Terrence Deacon, as well as to Burke (“’Symbolic Species,’” “Coy Theologian”; Booth, “Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet”; Booth, “Kenneth Burke’s Religious Rhetoric” 25; Booth’s Plenary Lecture at the Third Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society, May, 1996, which served as basis for these two publications). Arthur N. Prior cited establishment philosophers who have called even the linguistic negative “metaphysically embarrassing,” let alone one as ostensibly unexplainable and ontologically confounding as Deacon’s (“Negation” 459). A pre- to proto-“drama” of a sort, devolving from a pre-symbolic tropism toward negation and end-directedness of an admittedly “enigmatic” kind, suggests realms of transcendence Neo-Darwinians understandably ignore (Incomplete 31-34). In The Symbolic Species, Deacon speculated that, when all is said and done, the “universe . . . is . . . nascent heart and mind” (484). Here, the birth metaphor speaks of something normal, inherent in the nature of things. If heart and mind are thus “potential” enough in “totality[‘s]” “’nonverbal’ ground,” can the “verbal” itself be far removed (Burke, Rhetoric 290)?


The author wishes to thank Professor Terrence W. Deacon for his gracious help in facilitating research for this essay, as well as the KBJournal editors and reviewers for their careful reading and useful comments.


1. It is acknowledged that this inquiry serves more as conduit and application of Deacon’s scientific anthropology, than criticism of it. I, the author, claim no expertise in the disciplines by which Deacon reached his conclusions. The distinguished chair Deacon holds in academe, and the considerable evidence of his international standing as stellar scientist and theorist, are the ethical foundations for the assertions here made about his comparative relevance to Burke’s thought.

As for Deacon’s academic bona fides, Incomplete Nature in particular has been called a “tour de force,” “stunningly original,” “a huge breakthrough,” “the missing link between mind and brain,” a “cutting edge . . . complete theory of the world,” its analysis “Kuhn[ian] . . . revolutionary science,” promising, in fact, “a revolution of Copernican proportions” and “a profound shift in thinking . . . [to] be compared with . . . [those of] Darwin and Einstein” (Incomplete, i-iii).

Since the appearance of Incomplete Nature, Deacon has been accorded distinguished lectureships at various universities and professional schools in both Europe and the U.S., including venues in Holland, Norway, Denmark, and Atlanta, Georgia (e.g., Deacon, “On Human (Symbolic) Nature”; Deacon, “Naturalizing Teleology”). Deacon delivered four lectures in Norway and two in Holland in December, 2014 (Correspondence with the author, February 15, 2015, “Re: Update on Incomplete Nature”). The Symbolic Species Evolved, edited by Schilhab, Stjernfelt, and Deacon, considered The Symbolic Species a seminal work on the origins of language and human nature (see 9-38).

2. Crusius called the categorical distinction between “nonsymbolic motion” and “symbolic action” the “basic polarity” in Burke’s philosophy. It subsumes or supersedes “mind-body, spirit-matter, superstructure-substructure . . . thought and extension” (164).

3. In his typically elliptical style, Burke makes the same connection between the pentad and the terms for order, as he calls the guilt-redemption cycle: “There is a gloomy route, of this sort: If action is to be our key term [implying the other pentadic terms that go with “act”], then drama, . . . But if drama, then conflict, And if conflict, then victimage [i.e., “sacrifice,” and all the other terms of that guilt-redemption cycle implied by it, including “conflict”]. Dramatism is always on the edge of this vexing problem, that comes to a culmination in tragedy, the song of the scapegoat” (Language 54-55, emphasis in original).

4. Deacon’s post, personal correspondence, of 29 Sept. 2018, continues as follows:

“I try to exemplify the distinction between teleodynamics and teleonomy with the Old Faithful geyser example. A geyser exemplifies accidental teleonomy to the extent that it regulates water temperature and pressure within certain precise parameters. But this regulation has no constitutive bearing on its form or material details.

“In the same sense, a missile guidance system might enable the missile to track a target and even compensate for the evasive maneuver of a target plane, but this behavior does not contribute to the organization, construction, or maintenance of its mechanism. Its behavior only appears to exemplify final causality, because this is something entirely imposed extrinsically by design and observer interpretation.

“The term ‘teleonomy’ can be glossed as ‘behaving in a way that appears end-directed,’ but is not intrinsically teleological. It is purely descriptive of the dynamical tendency that can be produced by an algorithm or thermostat.

“In contrast, even a virus is organized so that its effect on a host will be to generate the work of making and perpetuating this viral form. . . . Its end-directedness and normativity are intrinsic, not an observer-imposed gloss.

“Thus a virus is teleodynamic, even though there is some debate about whether to call it alive. Teleology (and to some extent entelechy) envisions an explicit representation of an end state and implies a tendency to achieve it.

“Again, considering the virus, there is no explicit representation of itself or its form, but its every feature has evolved to help produce it. Aristotle somewhat ambiguously imagines that entelechy is something like an oak-tree-target-tendency that is represented in an acorn. I would be happy to consider my concept of teleodynamics to be a modern refinement of entelechy, without the connotations of a plan or representation. And teleodynamics is not an essence. It is just a kind of ontologically circular causal organization. I suspect that people tend to collapse my notion of teleodynamics and teleonomy because both are consistent with materialist chemistry and physics, and it is assumed that if I am not making a vitalist claim, I must be making a reductionistic claim. Indeed, I am denying both” (“Re: One More Time”).

5. Inorganic self-organization as precursor to life and modification of the Neo-Darwinian reliance on random genetic variation dates, at least, to physicist, engineer, and astronomer Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe; the Santa Fe Institute (founded in 1984); and University of Pennsylvania biochemist Stuart Kauffman’s book, The Origins of Order.

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