The European Physical Journal Special Topics

, Volume 226, Issue 2, pp 207–228 | Cite as

Self-organisation of symbolic information

  • R. FeistelEmail author
Regular Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Information in Physics and Beyond


Information is encountered in two different appearances, in native form by arbitrary physical structures, or in symbolic form by coded sequences of letters or the like. The self-organised emergence of symbolic information from structural information is referred to as a ritualisation transition. Occurring at some stage in evolutionary history, ritualisation transitions have in common that after the crossover, arbitrary symbols are issued and recognised by information-processing devices, by transmitters and receivers in the sense of Shannon's communication theory. Symbolic information-processing systems exhibit the fundamental code symmetry whose key features, such as largely lossless copying or persistence under hostile conditions, may elucidate the reasons for the repeated successful occurrence of ritualisation phenomena in evolution history. Ritualisation examples are briefly reviewed such as the origin of life, the appearance of human languages, the establishment of emergent social categories such as money, or the development of digital computers. In addition to their role as carriers of symbolic information, symbols are physical structures which also represent structural information. For a thermodynamic description of symbols and their arrangements, it appears reasonable to distinguish between Boltzmann entropy, Clausius entropy and Pauling entropy. Thermodynamic properties of symbols imply that their lifetimes are limited by the 2nd law.


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© EDP Sciences and Springer 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea ResearchWarnemündeGermany

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