Re: Semiotics and biology/evolution (was Re: [pcp-discuss:] Fwd: "Intelligent Design")

From: Cliff Joslyn (
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 19:58:13 BST

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    At 08:17 AM 6/6/00 -0500, you wrote:
    >Hi, Cliff!
    >>I think it's important to make three distinctions:
    >>*) Dynamical systems, which have bounded, generally continuous, phase
    >>spaces and are describable in terms of dynamical equations and
    >>trajectories within basins of attraction
    >>*) What Kampis calls "component systems", which begin with chemistry, and
    >>include genetics and language. In these systems a finite collection of
    >>atomic parts are joined in discrete combinations to fill an indefinitely
    >>extendable, and combinatorially vast, space, with each new "production"
    >>possibly possessing "emergent" properties.
    >>*) Semiotic systems, which (to my mind) necessarily involve issues of
    >>decision and control as a variable constraint over variation (to invoke
    >>Francis'es definition of a meta-system transition) by a system bounded
    >>from, but coupled to, an environment in virtue of its input-output
    >>relation, and thus describable in terms of its achieving "its" "goals".
    >These are not different systems but DIFFERENT LANGUAGES that can be used
    >to describe systems.

    The duality in semiotic systems between models and their referrents is
    something which is very difficult to get a handle on. I construct a model
    of a system using a particular modeling language (e.g. a component system).
    I then ASSERT the properties of the model to be those of the referrent
    (e.g. a particular chemical system). I know in advance that this movement
    is limited and bounded, but while I operate within that modeling
    environment, I simply take it to be true within that frame of reference. So
    I assert that these are BOTH difference languages AND different kinds of
    systems, depending on where one draws that boundary.

    >However, some languages are more useful for describing
    >one kind of systems, and other languages are more useful for describing
    >another kinds of systems. Let us consider the set of all systems, S. Then
    >there are subsets of systems S1, S2, and S3 that can be described by
    >physical language, component-systems language, and semiotic language.
    >These subsets definitely intersect (not just S1 and S2, and S2 and S3, but
    >S1 and S3). The picture is actually more complicated because each system
    >has parts and these parts can be also described using these languages.
    >It may happen that the whole system is better described using semiotics, and
    >subsystems are better described using physics.

    Yes, I agree.

    >>>Semiotics is just a high-level language that can substiture
    >>>attractors and differential equations.
    >>I believe it would be a mistake to invoke semioitcs JUST for that
    >>purpose, relegating it just to the analysis of our MODELS, rather than
    >>also their REFERRENTS. My hope is that we could work towards a real
    >>science of semiotic systems, identifying what distinguishes them from
    >>other classes of systems, what principles they all have in common, how
    >>they relate to dynamical and combinatorial systems which are also NOT
    >>semiotic, etc.
    >I did not say that I would like to use semiotics just for this purpose.


    | Cliff Joslyn, Member of the Technical Staff (Cybernetician at Large)
    | Distributed Knowledge Systems Team, Computer Research Group (CIC-3)
    | Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mail Stop B265, Los Alamos NM 87545 USA
    |     (505) 667-9096
    V All the world is biscuit-shaped. . .

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