Dear colleagues,


In the first half of this month, we have a heated discussion about the 
relationship among Information, Language, and Communication started by Sung. I 
am simply summing up part of the different opinions as follows:


Sung: Without a language, no communication would be possible. Encoding, 
decoding, information (flow) are essential for communication.

Part of the related different opinions:

Terry: (In this way), one must use the term "language" in a highly metaphoric 
sense. Communications take place in the following situations, are there 
languages? Such as scent, music, sexual display of some animals, smile, frown, 
pattern of colors of a flower that attracts bees, dog's bark, walk of a 
depressed person, hiccup after eating. There is a serious problem with using 
language as the model for analyzing other species’ communication in 
hindsight.…… It is an understandable anthropocentric bias.

Javier: Not every communication process involves coding/decoding and meaning. 
so they could not be simply paralleled to language. For instance, there is no 
coding/decoding process when I communicate to my dog. It does not understand my 
speaking, and I do not understand its barking. Yet still both of us interact. I 
would not define communication as information transfer. There is no information 
"traveling" from one place to another, from sender to receiver. The system 
itself becomes the medium of information production and processing.

Xueshan and Stan: The hierarchy idea is not only suitable for different species 
which communication take places between them, from elementary particle(?), 
molecule(?) to cell, brain(human, other animals), plant(?), even other 
different planets(?). It is also suitable for different information carrier. 
Stan think the carriers can be layered as {language {signal {information}}}, 
Xueshan think they can be layered as {substrate {signal {information}}}, here 
we simply consider sign, signal, symbol, token, marker and so forth as the same.

Gordana: It might be possible to develop a general theory of language …… with 
different levels of cognition which communicate and process information in 
order to survive. As in biology there are different kinds of organisms there 
are also different kinds of “languages”. There are small languages communicated 
in relatively simple ways between simple agents (like cells) and big languages 
used by complex agents like humans.


(In all the above discussions, we all omitted the Sung’s deep layer analysis of 
cell language and category theory).



Arturo: I suggest to fully REMOVE from the TRUE scientific adventures the 
terms: "symbol", "signal", "marker", "information".

Howard: Information is anything a receiver can interpret. Information is in the 
eye of the beholder.

Javier: Information and meaning are not the same.

Christophe: I take communications as related to meaning generation.

Mayank: Can we not make conceptual leap from networks, information, 
communication, and language to sound?

Koichiro: Focusing upon languaging comes to shed light on the communication in 
time between whatever parties.


Best wishes,



From: Stanley N Salthe [] 
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 11:44 PM
Subject: Re: [Fis] The unification of the theories of information based on the 
cateogry theory

Xueshan -- My {language {signal {information}}} is meant apply only to a system 
that has language. That is, my assertion would be that no information can be 
gained in such a system that has not passed through a linguistic filter. The 
idea is that in such a system language dominates everything. Perhaps this has 
not been definitively demonstrated as yet. I suppose it would depend upon, for 
example, whether or not we consider our bodily reaction to, for example, having 
just burned our finger to have been ‘informationally mediated. If not (which 
seems possible to me) then my supposition might be OK. But if we think that 
neuron communications mediate information, then I am wrong. 




On Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 6:31 AM, Xueshan Yan < 
<> > wrote:

Dear Javier and Dear Stan,



1. I very much agree with you as follows:

“I think that only signals can be transmitted, not information. Information can 
only be gained by an observer (a self-referential system) that draws a 

A Chinese scholar Dongsheng Miao’s argument is: There is no information can 
exists without carrier, i.e. No naked can exists.

I think both of you two are expressing a principle of information science.


2. According to Linguistics, the relationship between language and 
communication is:

Language is a tool of communication about information.

Of course, this is only limited to the human atmosphere. So I think that all 
(Human) Semiotics ((Human) Linguistics), (Human) Communication Study should be 
the subdisciplines of Human Informatics.



Dear Xueshan,

Thanks for sharing your interesting remarks and references. I think no one 
really wants to deny the crucial role the language metaphor has played in the 
thinking of communication and information models. But I believe the crucial 
point is to distinguish between language and communication. Language is for us 
humans the main communication medium, though not the only one. We tend to 
describe other communication media in society and nature by mapping the 
language-like characteristics they have. This has been useful and sucessful so 
far. But pushing the language metaphor too far is showing its analytical 
limits. I think we need to think of a transdisciplinary theory of communication 
media. On the other hand, I agree with you that we need to check the uses of 
the concepts of signal and information. I think that only signals can be 
transmitted, not information. Information can only be gained by an observer (a 
self-referential system) that draws a distinction.  





According to Peirce, language is only one of the systematic signs. Here we 
consider sign, signal, symbol as the same thing. So, more precisely in my 

{signal {information}},   or   {substrate {signal {information}}}

But not

{language {signal {information}}}

If you remember, in our previous discussions, I much appreciate the 

The hierarchy idea is very important to our study which is initially introduced 
by Pedro, Nikhil and you.


Xueshan -- I think one can condense some of your insights hierarchically, as:

In a system having language, information seemingly may be obtained in other 
ways as well. It would be a conceptually broader category. Thus (using the 
compositional hierarchy):

        [information [language [signal]]]

Meaning that, when a system has language, all information will be understood or 
construed by way of linguistic constructs. 

(Here I am using ‘signal’ as being more specific than Peirce’s ‘sign’, where:

        [sign [information [...]]] ) 

Then, more dynamically (using the subsumptive hierarchy):

        {language {signal {information}}}

Information in a languaged system is derived by way linguistic formations, so 
that, even though it is an extremely broad category, information (informing) 
only emerges by way of linguistically informed transformations.



Best wishes to all,



El feb 10, 2018 5:23 AM, "Xueshan Yan" < 
<> > escribió:

Dear Colleagues,

I have read the article "The languages of bacteria" which Gordana recommended, 
and has gained a lot of inspiration from it. In combination with Sung's 
comparative linguistics exploration on cell language and human language, I have 
the following learning feelings to share with everyone:

In this article, the author recognized that bacteria have evolved multiple 
languages for communicating within and between species. Intra- and interspecies 
cell-cell communication allows bacteria to coordinate various biological 
activities in order to behave like multicellular organisms. Such as AI-2, it is 
a general language that bacteria use for intergenera signaling.

I found an interesting phenomenon in this paper: the author use the concept 
information 3 times but the concept signal (signal or signaling) 55 times, so 
we have to review the history and application of “information” and “signal” in 
biology and biochemistry, it is helpful for us to understand the relationship 
between language, signal, and information.

The origin of the concept of signal (main the signal transduction) can be 
traced back to the end of the 1970s. But until 1980, biochemist and 
endocrinologist Martin Rodbell published an article titled: “The Role of 
Hormone Receptors and GTP-Regulatory Proteins in Membrane Transduction" in 
Nature, in this paper he used the "signal transduction" first time. Since then, 
the research on signal transduction is popular in biology and biochemistry.

As for any information transmission system, if we pay more attention to its 
transmission carrier instead of its transmission content, we are used to 
employing "signal transmission" instead of "signal transduction". From the 
tradition of the early use of information concept, the signal transduction 
study of cells is only equivalent to the level of telecommunications before 
1948. Outwardly, before the advent of Shannon's information theory, the central 
issue of telecommunications is "signal" rather than "information". After that, 
the central issue of telecommunications is "information" rather than "signal".

According to the application history of information concept, nearly all the 
essential problems behind the concepts of communication, messenger, signal and 
so on may be information problems. Just as the language problem what we are 
discussing here, our ultimate goal is to analyze the information.


For the same reason, I recommend another two papers:

1. Do Plants Think?  (June 5, 2012, Scientific American)


2. Plants Can Think, Feel and Learn  (December 3, 2014, New Scientist)


>From which we can judge whether or not a plants informatics can exists.


Best wishes,



From:  <> 
[mailto: <>] On 
Behalf Of Sungchul Ji
Sent: Thursday, February 8, 2018 9:10 PM
To: Francesco Rizzo < <>>; Terrence W. DEACON < <>>
Cc: Fis, < <>>
Subject: Re: [Fis] The unification of the theories of information based on the 
cateogry theory


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 < <>>
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 
< <> > 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" < 
<> > 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











*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.




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Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley

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