Dear FISers,

In previous posts I have disparaged using language as the base model for
building a general theory of information.
Though I realize that this may seem almost heretical, it is not a claim
that all those who use linguistic analogies are wrong, only that it can be
causally misleading.
I came to this view decades back in my research into the neurology and
evolution of the human language capacity.
And it became an orgnizing theme in my 1997 book The Symbolic Species.
Early in the book I describe what I (and now other evolutionary biologists)
have come to refer to as a "porcupine fallacy" in evolutionary thinking.
Though I use it to critique a misleading evolutionary taxonomizing
tendency, I think it also applies to biosemiotic and information theoretic
thinking as well.
So to exemplify my reasoning (with apologies for quoting myself) I append
the following excerpt from the book.

"But there is a serious problem with using language as the model for
analyzing other

species’ communication in hindsight. It leads us to treat every other form
of communication as

exceptions to a rule based on the one most exceptional and divergent case.
No analytic method

could be more perverse. Social communication has been around for as long as
animals have

interacted and reproduced sexually. Vocal communication has been around at
least as long as frogs

have croaked out their mating calls in the night air. Linguistic
communication was an afterthought,

so to speak, a very recent and very idiosyncratic deviation from an ancient
and well-established

mode of communicating. It cannot possibly provide an appropriate model
against which to assess

other forms of communication. It is the rare exception, not the rule, and a
quite anomalous

exception at that. It is a bit like categorizing birds’ wings with respect
to the extent they possess or

lack the characteristics of penguins’ wings, or like analyzing the types of
hair on different mammals

with respect to their degree of resemblance to porcupine quills. It is an

anthropocentric bias—perhaps if we were penguins or porcupines we might see
more typical wings

and hair as primitive stages compared to our own more advanced
adaptations—but it does more to

obfuscate than clarify. Language is a derived characteristic and so should
be analyzed as an

exception to a more general rule, not vice versa."

Of course there will be analogies to linguistic forms.

This is inevitable, since language emerged from and is supported by a vast
nonlinguistic semiotic infrastructure.

So of course it will inherit much from less elaborated more fundamental

And our familiarity with language will naturally lead us to draw insight
from this more familiar realm.

I just worry that it provides an elaborate procrustean model that assumes
what it endeavors to explain.

Regards to all, Terry

On Wed, Feb 7, 2018 at 11:04 AM, Jose Javier Blanco Rivero <> wrote:

> In principle I agree with Terry. I have been thinking of this, though I am
> still not able to make a sound formulation of the idea. Still I am afraid
> that if I miss the chance to make at least a brief formulation of it I will
> lose the opportunity to make a brainstorming with you. So, here it comes:
> I have been thinking that a proper way to distinguish the contexts in
> which the concept of information acquires a fixed meaning or the many
> contexts on which information can be somehow observed, is to make use of
> the distinction between medium and form as developed by N. Luhmann, D.
> Baecker and E. Esposito. I have already expressed my opinion in this group
> that what information is depends on the system we are talking about. But
> the concept of medium is more especific since a complex system ussualy has
> many sources and types of information.
> So the authors just mentioned, a medium can be broadly defined as a set of
> loosely coupled elements. No matter what they are. While a Form is a
> temporary fixed coupling of a limited configuration of those elements.
> Accordingly, we can be talking about DNA sequences which are selected by
> RNA to form proteins or to codify a especific instruction to a determinate
> cell. We can think of atoms forming a specific kind of matter and a
> specific kind of molecular structure. We can also think of a vocabulary or
> a set of linguistic conventions making possible a meaningful utterance or
> discourse.
> The idea is that the medium conditions what can be treated as information.
> Or even better, each type of medium produces information of its own kind.
> According to this point of view, information cannot be transmitted. It can
> only be produced and "interpreted" out of the specific difference that a
> medium begets between itself and the forms that take shape from it. A
> medium can only be a source of noise to other mediums. Still, media can
> couple among them. This means that media can selforganize in a synergetic
> manner, where they depend on each others outputs or complexity reductions.
> And this also mean that they do this by translating noise into information.
> For instance, language is coupled to writing, and language and writing to
> print. Still oral communication is noisy to written communication. Let us
> say that the gestures, emotions, entonations, that we make when talking
> cannot be copied as such into writing. In a similar way, all the social
> practices and habits made by handwriting were distorted by the introduction
> of print. From a technical point of view you can codify the same message
> orally, by writing and by print. Still information and meaning are not the
> same. You can tell your girlfriend you love her. That interaction face to
> face where the lovers look into each others eye, where they can see if the
> other is nervous, is trembling or whatever. Meaning (declaring love and
> what that implies: marriage, children, and so on) and information (he is
> being sincere, she can see it in his eye; he brought her to a special
> place, so he planned it, and so on) take a very singular and untranslatable
> configuration. If you write a letter you just can say "I love you". You
> shall write a poem or a love letter. Your beloved would read it alone in
> her room and she would have to imagine everything you say. And  imagination
> makes information and meaning to articulate quite differently as in oral
> communication. It is not the same if you buy a love card in the kiosk and
> send it to her. Maybe you compensate the simplicity of your message by
> adding some chocolates and flowers. Again, information (jumm, lets see what
> he bought her) and meaning are not the same. I use examples of social
> sciences because that is my research field, although I have the intuition
> that it could also work for natural sciences.
> Best,
> JJ
> El feb 7, 2018 10:47 AM, "Sungchul Ji" <>
> escribió:
>> Hi  FISers,
>> On 10/8/2017, Terry wrote:
>> " So basically, I am advocating an effort to broaden our discussions and
>> recognize that the term information applies in diverse ways to many
>> different contexts. And because of this it is important to indicate the
>> framing, whether physical, formal, biological, phenomenological,
>> linguistic, etc.
>> . . . . . . The classic syntax-semantics-pragmatics distinction
>> introduced by Charles Morris has often been cited in this respect, though
>> it too is in my opinion too limited to the linguistic paradigm, and may be
>> misleading when applied more broadly. I have suggested a parallel, less
>> linguistic (and nested in Stan's subsumption sense) way of making the
>> division: i.e. into intrinsic, referential, and normative
>> analyses/properties of information."
>> I agree with Terry's concern about the often overused linguistic metaphor
>> in defining "information".  Although the linguistic metaphor has its
>> limitations (as all metaphors do), it nevertheless offers a unique
>> advantage as well, for example, its well-established categories of
>> functions (see the last column in *Table 1*.)
>> The main purpose of this post is to suggest that all the varied theories
>> of information discussed on this list may be viewed as belonging to the
>> same category of ITR (Irreducible Triadic Relation) diagrammatically
>> represented as the 3-node closed network in the first column of *Table 1*
>> .
>> *Table 1.*  The postulated universality of ITR (Irreducible Triadic
>> Relation) as manifested in information theory, semiotics, cell language
>> theory, and linguistics.
>> *Category Theory*
>> *   f            g*
>> *   A -----> B ------> C     |                           ^
>>     |                            |     |______________| **   h*
>> *ITR (Irreducible Triadic Relation**)*
>> *Deacon’s theory of information*
>> *Shannon’s*
>> *Theory of*
>> *information*
>> *Peirce’s theory of signs*
>> *Cell language theory*
>> *Human language (Function)*
>> A
>> *Intrinsic *information
>> Source
>> Object
>> Nucleotides*/
>> Amion acids
>> Letters
>> (Building blocks)
>> B
>> *Referential *information
>> Message
>> Sign
>> Proteins
>> Words
>> (Denotation)
>> C
>> *Normative *information
>> Receiver
>> Interpretant
>> Metabolomes
>> (Totality of cell metabolism)
>> Systems of words
>> (Decision making & Reasoning)
>> f
>> ?
>> Encoding
>> Sign production
>> Physical laws
>> Second articulation
>> g
>> ?
>> Decoding
>> Sign interpretation
>> Evoutionary selection
>> First and Third articulation
>> h
>> ?
>> Information flow
>> Information flow
>> Inheritance
>> Grounding/
>> Habit
>> *Scale* *Micro-Macro?* *Macro* *Macro* *Micro* *Macro*
>> *There may be more than one genetic alphabet of 4 nucleotides.  According
>> to the "multiple genetic alphabet hypothesis', there are n genetic
>> alphabets, each consisting of 4^n letters, each of which in turn
>> consisting of n nucleotides.  In this view, the classical genetic
>> alphabet is just one example of the n alphabets, i.e., the one with n = 1.
>> When n = 3, for example, we have the so-called 3rd-order genetic alphabet
>> with 4^3 = 64 letters each consisting of 3 nucleotides, resulting in the
>> familiar codon table.  Thus, the 64 genetic codons are not words as widely
>> thought (including myself until recently) but letters!  It then follows
>> that proteins are words and  metabolic pathways are sentences.  Finally,
>> the transient network of metbolic pathways (referred to as
>> "hyperstructures" by V. Norris in 1999 and as "hypermetabolic pathways" by
>> me more recently) correspond to texts essential to represent
>> arguement/reasoning/computing.  What is most exciting is the recent
>> discovery in my lab at Rutgers that the so-called "Planck-Shannon plots" of
>> mRNA levels in living cells can identify function-dependent "hypermetabolic
>> pathways" underlying breast cancer before and after drug
>> treatment (manuscript under review).
>> Any comments, questions, or suggestions would be welcome.
>> Sung
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Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley
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