Hi Terry,  and FISers,

Can it be that "language metaphor" is akin to a (theoretical) knife that, in 
the hands of a surgeon, can save lives but, in a wrong hand, can kill?

All the best.


From: Francesco Rizzo <13francesco.ri...@gmail.com>
Sent: Thursday, February 8, 2018 2:56:11 AM
To: Terrence W. DEACON
Cc: Fis,; Sungchul Ji
Subject: Re: [Fis] The unification of the theories of information based on the 
cateogry theory

Caro Terry estensibile a tutti,
è sempre un piacere leggerTi e capirTi. La  general theory of information è 
preceduta da un sistema (o semiotica) di significazione e seguita da un sistema 
(o semiotica ) di comunicazione. Tranne che quando si ha un processo 
comunicativo come il passaggio di un Segnale (che non significa necessariamente 
'un segno') da una Fonte, attraverso un  Trasmettitore, lungo un Canale, a un 
Destinatario. In un processo tra macchina e macchina il segnale non ha alcun 
potere 'significante'. In tal caso non si ha significazione anche se si può 
dire che si ha passaggio di informazione. Quando il destinatario è un essere 
umano (e non è necessario che la fonte sia anch'essa un essere umano) si è in 
presenza di un processo di significazione. Un sistema di significazione è una 
costruzione semiotica autonoma, indipendente da ogni possibile atto di 
comunicazione che l'attualizzi. Invece ogni processo di comunicazione tra 
esseri umani -- o tra ogni tipo di apparato o struttura 'intelligente, sia 
meccanico che biologico, -- presuppone un sistema di significazione come 
propria o specifica condizione. In conclusione, è possibile avere una semiotica 
della significazione indipendente da una semiotica della comunicazione; ma è 
impossibile stabilire una semiotica della comunicazione indipendente da una 
semiotica della significazione.
Ho appreso molto da Umberto Eco a cui ho dedicato il capitolo 10. Umberto Eco e 
il processo di re-interpretazione e re-incantamento della scienza economica 
(pp. 175-217) di "Valore e valutazioni. La scienza dell'economia o l'economia 
della scienza" (FrancoAngeli, Milano, 1997). Nello mio stesso libro si trovano:
- il capitolo 15. Semiotica economico-estimativa (pp. 327-361) che si colloca 
nel quadro di una teoria globale di tutti i sistemi di significazione e i 
processi di comunicazione;
- il sottoparagrafo 5.3.3 La psicologia genetica di Jean Piaget e la 
neurobiologia di Humberto Maturana e Francesco Varela. una nuova epistemologia 
sperimentale della qualità e dell'unicità (pp. 120-130).
Chiedo scusa a Tutti se Vi ho stancati o se ancora una volta il mio scrivere in 
lingua italiana Vi crea qualche problema. Penso che il dono che mi fate è, a 
proposito della QUALITA' e dell'UNICITA',  molto più grande del (per)dono che 
Vi chiedo. Grazie.
Un saluto affettuoso.

2018-02-07 23:02 GMT+01:00 Terrence W. DEACON 
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 
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 

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 

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 
<javierwe...@gmail.com<mailto:javierwe...@gmail.com>> 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.



El feb 7, 2018 10:47 AM, "Sungchul Ji" 
<s...@pharmacy.rutgers.edu<mailto:s...@pharmacy.rutgers.edu>> 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 

Category Theory

   f            g
   A -----> B ------> C
    |                           ^
    |                            |

ITR (Irreducible Triadic Relation)

Deacon’s theory of information


Theory of


Peirce’s theory of signs

Cell language theory

Human language


Intrinsic information



Amion acids

(Building blocks)


Referential information






Normative information



(Totality of cell metabolism)

Systems of words
(Decision making & Reasoning)




Sign production

Physical laws

Second articulation




Sign interpretation

Evoutionary selection

First and Third articulation



Information flow

Information flow




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 

Any comments, questions, or suggestions would be welcome.


Fis mailing list

Fis mailing list

Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley

Fis mailing list

Fis mailing list

Reply via email to