Clues from Molecular Symbol Systems

  • Howard Hunt Pattee
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 7)


Natural selection operates on living systems through their function and behavior. The biological structures constraining this behavior always involve fortuitous elements, or frozen accidents, as well as essential principles. In order to distinguish the accidents from the principles we must refer to some theory of living systems. Similarly, in order to distinguish which biological constraints on linguistic form are fortuitous and which are fundamental, we must refer to some theory of symbolic systems. A theory of symbols must address the process that relates the symbol vehicle to its referent or meaning. At the level of natural language we have many facts, but still have great difficulty incorporating them in a theory of language. However, at the level of the gene the relation of symbol structures to their referent function is better understood. A careful look at this elementary symbol system may provide some clues to basic principles of language at higher levels. In particular, we consider the articulation of the discrete, rate-independent, linear symbol strings, which generate continuous, rate-dependent, three-dimensional functions through the folding transformation. We suggest that this complementary interaction of constraints and laws involves general principles that are elaborated in higher linguistic forms.


Deep Structure Symbol System Symbolic Activity Word String Symbol String 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard Hunt Pattee
    • 1
  1. 1.Binghamton UniversityVestalUSA

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