Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Semiotics is central to understanding life

The problem of sign and sign systems (semiotic systems, symbol systems) is key to understanding what is life from a scientific point of view.

What is the problem of sign? It is the problem of realization of the logical relation between the sign and the denoted. It arises in any material system which controls its state. It arises whenever measurements of state are performed. This is because the process of measurement is part of control. The laws of motion are different from physical states in that the former is a representation of the motion of matter from state to state.

The process of measurement as part of control relies on a symbolic representation of states that is stored in the memory of a measuring device. The controller then reads the symbolic representation mapping it back to states of the controlled system. The process of measurement cannot be described by the laws of motion, according to John von Neumann and Howard Pattee. Measurement is not reducible to the laws of motion.

Examples of sign systems are: natural languages, traffic code, the codon table (aka the genetic code). In the genetic code, signs are DNA nucleotides, the denoted is the amino acids of proteins synthesized, while the conceptual context is the functional proteome of the offspring organism.

The problem of sign cannot be resolved at the level of the physical implementation of sign systems, i.e. it is not solvable in terms of physics or chemistry alone. Likewise, the problem of message interchange is irreducible to the organization of a message marshalling medium. Indeed, semantically the same message can be relayed in various technical ways: as ASCII code over a computer network, with paper and ink, by gestures, words, as the Morse code over the telegraph wire, etc. Nonetheless, the meaning of the message still remains the same. Consequently, the problem of information interchange is not reducible to physics.

If the problem of sign is to be adequately solved, it must be done with tools of a different level than physical or chemical interactions of matter. A proper toolkit should make use of utility, semantics, pragmatics, concept, context and such like categories. Notably, these notions are part of system analysis and semiotics, not physics or chemistry and they belong to a different level of abstraction altogether. 

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