Publication 922

Pattee H. H. (2008) Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages. Biosemiotics 1(2): 147–168. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/922
All sciences have epistemic assumptions, a language for expressing their theories or models, and symbols that reference observables that can be measured. In most sciences the languages in which their models are expressed are not the focus of their attention, although the choice of language is often crucial for the model. On the contrary, biosemiotics, by definition, cannot escape focusing on the symbol-matter relationship. Symbol systems first controlled material construction at the origin of life. At this molecular level it is only in the context of open-ended evolvability that symbol-matter systems and their functions can be objectively defined. Symbols are energy-degenerate structures not determined by laws that act locally as special boundary conditions or constraints on law-based energy-dependent matter in living systems. While this partial description holds for all symbol systems, cultural languages are much too complex to be adequately described only at the molecular level. Genetic language and cultural languages have common basic requirements, but there are many significant differences in their structures and functions. Relevance: The paper expresses the classical epistemological mind-matter problem at the simplest evolutionary level, which begins with self-replication. At this level I call it the symbol-matter problem, and I discuss the physical and epistemic conditions for symbol systems and languages to arise.

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