The Key to Explaining Life and Mind? Unlikelifying

To get good work done, we make bad work unlikely.

Posted Dec 12, 2018

Science will remain no substitute for spirituality until it explains spirit – in other words, agency, will – what Darwin admitted he couldn't explain – life’s struggle for existence. It’s no more to be found in natural selection or DNA than in some imagined supernatural being, force or power.

The struggle for existence is something different from nothing but chemistry. What? The answer makes intuitive sense. So much sense it’s odd that we don’t have a good word for it.

An accurate term would be “unlikelifying.” While alive, we make death unlikely and before we die, we pass on our unlikelifying to offspring.

Everything degenerates, but organisms are different. We organisms unlikelify our own degeneration. We make it unlikely that we’ll peter out and fall apart.

Life’s struggle to regenerate is what remains after degeneration is made unlikely. We are self-regenerative unlikelifications, preventions that prevent themselves from ending.

The paradox of the sciences is that there’s more than one. If there’s nothing new under the sun – no new matter or energy – why would we need different sciences? If it’s all just matter in energetic motion, why aren’t biology and psychology just physics?

Some would argue that they are. You hear it in arguments that your emotions are nothing more than triggered hormones and neurochemicals, that DNA is just a chemical that explains life, or that natural selection, the degeneration of organisms, proves that life doesn’t struggle for existence.

Researchers who don’t buy this reductionistic collapse of the life and social sciences into the physical sciences argue that real differences “emerge.” Psychology emerges from biology which emerges from chemistry which emerges from physics. Life by this reckoning is something different that emerges from nothing but chemistry.

So what is emergence? How does emergence happen?

The answer, again, is unlikelification, some possibilities becoming less likely and as a result, other possibilities becoming more likely.

You unlikelify death all the time, consciously and unconsciously. Driving, you unlikelify crashes. Eating you unlikelify starvation and poisoning. Cooperating, you unlikelify conflict,  but its more than that. Right now, without thought or feeling, your body, through its many regenerative activities is unlikelifying the degeneration of your ability to unlikelify.

What you care about is your go-there’s, but how you achieve them is through a bunch of don’t-go-there’s, some conscious, some felt, but many as unconscious as a plant’s don’t-go-there’s.

At core, your will is your won'ts, emergent from chemistry. In the next video, I illustrate how life’s proactive unlikelifying, its struggle for existence, its struggle to prevent its own degeneration could have emerged from chemistry.


Deacon, Terrence (2011). Incomplete Nature: The emergence of mind from matter. NYC, NY: Norton.

Sherman, Jerermy (2017). Neither Ghost Nor Machine: The emergence and nature of selves. NYC, NY: Columbia University Press.