Critical Vitalisms Working Group | Emergence, Mechanism, and Life

For our second meeting, we will be joined by Professors Suzanne Guerlac and Terrence Deacon to discuss the interdisciplinary resonances of the term “emergence” in relation to the thinking of life in the current moment. The Oxford English dictionary defines emergence as “The process of coming forth, issuing from concealment.” Starting here, moving through emergence’s theoretical appearance as an alternative to mechanistic models of living processes, and its conceptual centrality today for theories of complex systems and information, we hope to open a space of dialogue between Professor Deacon’s conception of emergent dynamics in thinking through the origins and physicality of teleological processesan approach informed by his fascinating theory of a Peircean semiotics that extends beyond the human–and Professor Guerlac’s examination of how the terms “emergence” and “life” are used in contemporary biology, a perspective oriented by Henri Bergson’s interrogation of the difference in kind (as opposed to degree) between the living and the non-living. Keeping in mind Frédéric Worms’s call, in our first meeting, to persistent criticality with regards to thinking ‘life’ in relation to the present, we now seek to engage across the aisle, bringing science and philosophy into conversation around a common (or perhaps radically divergent) idea.   

We ask participants to read in advance Professor Guerlac’s article “Time of Emergence/Emergence of Time: Life in the Age of Mechanical (re)Production” and two chapters from Deacon’s 2013 book Incomplete Nature.

Please email critical_theory@berkeley.edu to register and receive readings.