H O M E
| F E E D B A C K
the "logic of the molecular syntax" to molecular pragmatism. In:
Evolution and Cognition, Vol 1/No 2, Seite 148 - 168, 1995, Vienna
University Press, Wien.
From the "logic
of the molecular syntax"
to molecular pragmatism
deficits in Manfred Eigen's concept of language and communication
employs the terms language and communication to explain key
recombination processes of DNA as well as to explain the
self-organization of human language and communication: Life
processes as well as language and communication processes are
governed by the logic of a molecular syntax, which is the exact
depiction of a principally formalizable reality.
The author of
the present contribution demonstrates that this view of Manfred
Eigen's cannot be sufficiently substantiated and that it must be
supplemented by an approach based on linguistic pragmatics.
semantics, pragmatism as structural and organizational principles in
living nature as used by Manfred Eigen and in a molecular pragmatism.
"nucleic acid language", recognition sequences", "translation
process", amino acid language", "immune responses", "intercellular
communication", etc. owe their status as irreplacable core concepts
in molecular biology not to an introduction into biochemistry and
molecular biology by linguists, communication experts, or language
philosophers. Rather, they were independently coined by molecular
biologists to explain observed phenomena and were clearly invoked
due to the strong analogy to processes of human communication.
attempt to show that the use of these key concepts in biochemistry
and molecular biology - when viewed under the premises envisioned by
these fields - is problematic. To exemplify this problem I refer to
the terms "language" and "communication" as used by Manfred Eigen.
His research has had a substantial and lasting influence on
biochemistry and molecular biology as well as on evolutionary theory.
Numerous researchers in these disciplines use the language and
communication concepts in the same or similar context as Manfred
paper is part of a broader, interdisciplinary argumentative strategy
seeking to demonstrate that living nature is structured and
organized in a linguistic and communicative manner. The
methodological basis for this approach lies in a modern philosophy
of language pragmatism and its links with modern semiotics.
1. Manfred Eigen's use of the terms "language" and "communication"
1.1. Molecular recognition processes and their significance for
In the book he
coauthored with Ruthild Winkler, "Das Spiel. Naturgesetze steuern
den Zufall" (EIGEN/WINKLER. 1987)*, Eigen refers to a language
concept which clearly leans on that of information theory,
particularly John v. Neumann's idea regarding a self-reproducing,
intelligent automaton. For Eigen it is beyond doubt that life in the
biological sense originated according to the laws of physics and
chemistry; it need only be investigated with sufficient rigor under
these aspects for its function and therefore its genesis to be
exactly defined. The goal of this research approach is to provide
techniques with which organisms can be created artificially. In
Eigen's mind, this artificial creation of life does not involve an
entirely "de novo" creation, but rather a distinct improvement of
genetic manipulation techniques.
information concept is central to Eigen's position: it best
describes and explains the storage of all the structural features of
an organism in the chromosomes. According to Eigen, genetic
information is laid down in the form of a molecular text which, in
the case of humans, has the scope of a well-stocked private library
(207). In the context of genetic manipulation, this very aspect of a
genetic text encompassing the entire genetic information of an
organism prompts Eigen to raise the problem of how to "track down
and exchange" (ibid.) the detailed information that codes the
substructures of an organism.
identification of such substructures poses no problem for Eigen,
since "the relative arrangement of the individual genes, the gene
map, as well as the syntax and semantics of this molecular language
are (...) largely known today" (ibid.). The problem to be resolved
is one of "engineering" (208), i.e., the techniques required to
modify the genetic text. Eigen compares this with the problems in
organ transplantations, only that molecular dimensions are involved
and therefore the corresponding "micro-tools" (ibid.) are required.
On the other hand, "gene transplantations" need not be specially
developed, but merely discovered, since the entire instrumentarium
has already been produced by nature. This range of tools need only
to be isolated from living organisms in order to be applied. The
naturally produced instrumentarium to manipulate the genetic text
consists of restriction enzymes, which cut the genetic text at
specific sites. "The site consists of a palindrome-like sequence of
six letters of the genetic text" (208f.). Eigen specifically lays
down his conception of this identification process: "The restriction
enzyme recognizes a palindrome-like symmetry of the genetic text"
to identify specific text sequences must be strategically applied by
researchers who wish to carry out genetic manipulations. The
restriction enzymes should be able to carry out their identification
and text cutting techniques at any site.
genetic molecular language makes use of four different 'letters',
one can envision a multitude of cohesive recognition characters,
depending on the length of the symmetrical recognition zone" (209).
The exact nature of the recognition process by the restriction
enzymes is not yet known. We do know, however, that the enzymes
recognize the palindrome-like sequences as cutting sites and that
this is the general rule "by which genetic texts are marked for the
specific recognition by the executive function of the proteins"
1.2. Self-organization and the logic of "self-reproducing automatons"
For Eigen, the
principle of self-organization lies behind the organization of
biological structures. He uses the human brain and its function to
exemplify this principle. The brain consists of nearly 10 billion
nerve cells, each of which develops approximately 10 000 to 100 000
specific contact sites with adjoining cells. The goal is to find the
basic rule governing this complexity - that principle of hierarchic
organization which enables cells to differentiate such a complex
Among the many
explanatory models, Eigen sides with that of A. Turing: Turing
postulated a universal computing device (similar to the human brain)
which, upon exact instruction, "calculates the value of supplied
functions" (215) and is capable of independently discovering general
mathematical procedures, so-called algorithms. The computing device
would store these and use them as a basis for new operations,
enabling it in principle to derive any calculatable function in a
series of finite calculating steps. The device therefore stores all
the initially entered computational rules along with all the newly
derived ones and uses both in every algorithmic operation. The most
significant advance of A. Turing's approach, in Eigen's opinion,
involves John v. Neumann's concept of a "self-reproducing automaton".
Eigen describes Neumann's idea, which represents a "mathematically
exact" refinement of Turing's idea, in the following manner:
consumes free energy - it either uses electrical current or is
powered by an internal combustion engine; in short, it could not
function without this metabolism. A specific operational task of the
v. Neumann automaton is self-reproduction. The first model from the
year 1950 was entirely realistic in its conception: The machine runs
back and forth in a huge spare-parts warehouse and compiles the
components necessary for its own replication. Most importantly, it
also reproduces its own construction plan or blueprint. Its progeny
should, after all, also be equipped with the self-reproduction
capability. Herein lies the possibility to perfect the v. Neumann
automaton, an idea that has long been taken up by theorists:
selective alteration of the program enables continuous improvement
and an expanded range of application in the sense of Darwinian
the theoretical construction of the self-reproducing automaton to a
reality in which these automatons comply with Darwin's theory of
biological evolution. According to Eigen, v. Neumann achieves this
by referring to the individual components of the automaton as cells
and then assigning each cell a certain number of states which
largely consist of relationships to neighboring cells. This
simulation of the nerve cell network in the human brain would give
rise to an optimal number of interconnections; these, in turn, would
enable the quantity of calculations that the Turing machine requires
to solve its problems. "In principle, the automaton is capable of
carrying out any desired calculation" (217). The cellular
organization of the brain follows exactly this principle and is thus
comparable to a cell automaton. Brain function, and thus speaking (thinking),
are brain computations analagous to those of the self-reproducing
Eigen, an artificially constructed organism would require features
resembling those of the above automaton. With this concept, Eigen
has, in fact, set his sights on explaining the origin of life, or of
organisms, through self-organization. This would require:
a) a memory
large enough to develop the algorithms;
b) a number of
adaptive capabilities permitting continuous changes in and expansion
of the program;
intrinsic evaluation scheme within the machine.
evaluation scheme is a prerequisite for the machine to be able to
select the correct development from an array of theoretically
possible variants. "Nature, through the development of receptors
that register environmental signals and through the development of
nervous systems that can process and store such signals, has found a
more economic way" (225) than a machine whose construction is guided
by the principle that improved construction plans benefit not the
present, but only future generations.
economic approach enables learning processes that impart
significance even to important changes within one and the same
organism. The learning process of such biological systems
demonstrates how the reproduction, evaluation, and modification of
the elementary processes in the learning system function as
selective processes. Eigen does recognize the importance of "evaluation"
for his automaton model of life.
automaton must therefore have an inherent, independently active
evaluation scheme that 'motivates' it to do certain things and
refrain from doing others. It requires a pleasure and a pain center;
it would have to experience fear and delight. This, at least, is how
an 'animate' being learns" (ibid.).
the evaluation function as a mental phenomenon. It thus ranks as a
fundamental, computable function; one need only to definitively
pinpoint the corresponding centers in the human brain to
differentiate and reproduce the principles behind the operating
mechanisms and, in Eigen's sense, to integrate them into a
self-reproducing automaton. From the cognitive standpoint at least,
no difference from humans would remain.
1.3. Levels of self-reproduction: Eigen's implicit epistemology
variety that characterizes nature could not have been the result of
a uniform principle of self-organization. Rather, various levels of
self-organization must be assumed. In Eigen's opinion, Popper's
3-World-Concept, which J. Eccles applied to the organization of
brain performance, is best suited for such a differentiation.
the world is divided into World 1 - the objects - to which our
questions pertain. This encompasses the energy of the cosmos, the
structure and actions of all organisms and all human brains, but
also includes the objects artifically created by humans along with
material substrates of human creativity (works of art), tools,
machines, books, etc.
contains purely subjective knowledge, the experience of perception,
thought, emotions, remembrances, dreams, creative imagination, i.e.,
the imaginative faculty. This world of the subjective is distinct
from the world of objects and from World 3.
harbors knowledge in the objective sense - the cultural heritage
recorded on physical media and covering the fields of philosophy,
theology, natural science, history, literature, art and technology,
yet also including the theoretical systems of scientific problems
and critical arguments.
envisions a world whose materiality can be found in World 1 (including
the materiality of the human beings that devised this system). His
perceptive experience of this concept and the existence of the
thinker as subjective "self-awareness" corresponds to World 2.
Finally, World 3 encompasses that which the thinker thinks, as an
intellectual substrate (insofar as it has been recorded in a book or
considers this interpretation model of the world to accurately
reflect reality - a reality from which the rules governing the
self-organization at the various levels (Worlds 1,2,3) should be
able to be extracted.
formed from disordered, unorganized matter. This requires the
development of a molecular language with which information can be
ordered and transferred. This, in turn, presupposes a genetic memory
enabling a program as complex as that of the human bauplan to
develop in a stepwise manner" (287).
processes of World 1. The quality of human thought and feeling would
derive from the function of neuronal stimulatory patterns of the
brain, which are the material expression of subjective feelings.
process in the central nervous system of (higher) animals takes
place in an analagous manner. A communication medium, an 'inner
language' for transferring and processing the environmental
impressions received by the sensory organs, is necessary here as
well. These are encoded in the form of electrical stimulation
patterns in the network of nerve cells. The electroencephalogram is
an externally inferable (weak) echo of the uninterrupted, highly
diverse communication between nerve cells" (ibid.)
after all, is the very instance that carries out the evaluatory
process that decides on the efficiency of the information-processing
system: it filters the "correct" information from a wealth of
potentially important information.
localized in the network of switch contacts or synapses is
responsible for a selective evaluation of incoming information. The
resulting continuous modification of the memory structure, the
engram, determines the makeup of the subjective experience
comprising World 2" (287f.).
opinion, subjective experience, or the totality of the relationship
between subject and world, is based on the continuous change of
existing rules by newly developed ones; this parallels the automaton
model of calculating devices that function algorithmically. (Here,
Eigen provides an implicit transcendental foundation of the
constitution of subjective experience).
3 is reserved for the products of the human intellect, including the
development of a language which can be employed to proceed
independently in the automaton-theoretical sense.
organisms, man alone has developed a language built on logical
principles; it serves to transmit, exchange, and recombine the
rather limited subjective experience and thoughts conveyed by the
sensory organs" (288).
considerably expands the horizon of traditional evolutive processes:
human language liberates mankind from Darwinian constraints and
enables him to partake of the cumulative experience amassed during
cultural development. In lower evolutionary levels, on the other
hand, new combinations always only benefit the following generation,
never those who gave rise to the new combination. This world of
information storage in books and other documents of the human
intellect, this is World 3.
element in the competition between self-reproducing structures is
the intrinsic evaluation scheme. The essentiality of this principle
is not based on the principles of self-organization alone; it is
also coupled with the "conditions forced upon us" (289) by the real,
evaluation scheme of mental information, together with stimulus
processing controlled by a nerve center, is a product of evolution.
It was initially based solely on the selection of advantageous,
genetically pre-programmed behavioral patterns. The development of
evaluation centers in which pain, fear, and pleasure are localized
expands the latitude for the directed response to environmental
stimuli of all kinds. (...). Only in humankind does the evaluation
scheme of mental information attain individual independence"
self-organization levels of the 3 worlds also correspond to the
evolutionary levels. It is interesting to note that cognitive
processes are the result of subjective brain processes, while the
relationship between subject and external world can be interpreted
as an input-output system from the standpoint of information theory.
This is the opinion of Eigen.
1.4. Structures of language
explanatory model for the self-organization of intercommunicating
organisms leans distinctly on the mathematical theory of
communication - the information theory. He repeatedly presents both
molecular and human language as a reflection of one reality and
deduces the function of language from the material conditions of
of `language_ is equally important for the material
self-organization of organisms, for human communication, and for the
evolution of ideas. A prerequisite for the development of a language
is an unambiguous symbol assignment. In the molecular language it
involves defined physico-chemical interactions; in communication
between humans it is based on phoneme allocation and its graphic
fixation. The allocation of meaning to the symbol combinations as
well as their mutual relationships stem from an evolutionary process
based on functional evaluation. According to Chomsky, the inherent
structure of all languages exhibits common features which reflect a
functional logic based on the mode of operation of the central
nervous system; this parallels the molecular mechanisms which gave
rise to the genetic language" (291).
becomes the product of language-producing organs. These organs are
structured according to the principles of self-organization and form
a functional logic of the network hierarchy of brain cells. Their
logic, in turn, structures the language. The allocation of meaning
to the symbol combinations, i.e., the sense of a sentence, arises
from evaluation criteria of a functional nature, that is, it
develops from an agreement reached in the course of intersubjective
information exchange; depending on the symbol arrangement, this
agreement could have taken on a completely different form.
Language is a
symbol arrangement formed according to physiological criteria, to
which meaning is then attributed. It clearly mirrors - and this is
one of the key points in Eigen's conception of language - reality in
its syntax, which obtains its structure from the organization of the
nerve cell network. Eigen's language model aims at a quantification
evaluation and allocation of meaning to expressions and contemporary
usage represent marginal conditions or are merely supplementary, not
essential constituents of language.
1.5. The information concept: the constitution of meaning through
syntactic structures as the logic of material reality
For Eigen, the
information concept is closely allied with the concept of form or
gestalt. Information is, so to speak, an abstraction of gestalt or
its representation using the symbols of a language. "Just as the
essence of a gestalt combines concreteness and functionality,
information also has two complementary aspects: a quantitative,
numerical one and a qualitative one examining the meaning and
significance of the symbol arrangement". (292)
special interest in the information concept, particularly as it
pertains to the quantitative aspect, i.e., what is the minimum
amount of information required to enable exact identification of the
symbol arrangement. This measure of information is equivalent to the
amount of "yes-no-decisions" necessary to identify all the symbols
of a sequence" (ibid.). In principle, every wholly unknown text can
thus be deciphered by quantifying its symbol arrangement. The text
itself is irrelevant, e.g., in the event that speakers formulated it
with different intentions or as an expression of various intents.
Only the actual symbol sequence is of import.
Eigen recognizes a differentiation between an "absolute,
quantifiable" and a "sense-providing, semantic information aspect"
(294). The latter is responsible for the complexity of language.
This complexity, however, is itself the result of the complexity of
the brain (Eigen, in accordance with Bar-Hillel): the semantic
aspect is thus the result of the syntax of the network hierarchy of
according to Eigen, the "scheme of language communication" can be
characterized by a flow diagram in which A represents a source of
information of practically unlimited productivity.
"Communication diagram" (from: EIGEN/WINKLER. Fig. 56; 1975, p. 294)
is compiled in B. There, the "incoming environmental information"
(294) from the sensory organs - after "evaluation" based on "programmed"
mechanisms - is combined with the experience stored in memory.
Finally, the information from A, which is produced in B, is sent
through C in the form of physical signals.
This user of a
linguistic sign is mirrored by a receiver, who receives and
evaluates this information in an analogous manner in the reversed
sequence C', B', and A'. The key step in this communication model,
the one involving the transfer of information, is that between C and
C'. Actually, it only involves technical processes such as the
coding of information to enable mechanical processing. The
information theory is primarily concerned with this aspect along
with the structural implications in the domain B and B'. The
information theory clearly distances itself from the problems
surrounding A and A' and relegates this topic to psychologists and
philosophers. For Eigen, aspects such as sensory experience (=
communicative experience (= comprehension) are processes which take
place in the centers B' and A' as opposed to in A itself.
regarding the discovery of those laws governing the central nervous
system of humans is, for Eigen, one of physics according to the the
rules of nature. Eigen remains convinced that the function of the
central nervous system can, in principle, be quantified by
sufficiently thorough research. It is erroneous to conclude that
full quantification of brain
not possible since humans would simultaneously be the subject and
object of such research, and that this would involve an apriori of
understanding principally hindering quantification (296).
powers of consciousness are, rather, interrelationships between the
complementary halves of the brain, which are joined together through
200 million nerve fibers and which can transmit 4 Million Million
electrical impulses per second. This quantity no doubt suffices to
explain all functions.
1.6. The allocation of symbols and meaning in the human language
of spoken language in symbols and letters also involves specific
allocations. "Symbol arrangement in speech is clearly defined in
every case. The reason behind the relatively large number of letters
lies in the functional requirements of phonetically based everyday
languages" (298). In this case the letters of the alphabet have
arisen from the abstraction of approx. 50 phonemes.
computer languages it is more expedient to use only two symbols.
"The mechanically relayed interrelationship between transmitter (C)
and receiver (C') is based on the unambiguity of symbol allocation"
allocation of symbols to individual sounds in speech is clear, then
Eigen considers the allocation of meaning to the various symbol
sequences to be equally unambiguous. This process, however, is far
from complete, as evidenced in the language of poetry, where new
meaning is conferred through plays on phonemes. The combination of
words into sentences is an allocation problem as well, with a sheer
incalculable number of sentence combinations.
Eigen draws on
Noam Chomsky's language interpretation, in which "sentence
structures, if we disregard the specific peculiarities of the
individual languages, exhibit parallels that indicate a universal
regularity evidently originating in the organization of the human
brain" (301). Eigen (along with Chomsky) refers here to the
structures of a universal syntax, a general syntax configuration "as
may have underlain the acquisition of speech in evolution" (ibid.).
The intrinsic rules of Chomsky's generative grammer - the production
and transformation rules - are of particular interest to Eigen. The
fact that a consequent formalization of speech reveals discrepancies
vis-÷-vis colloquial usage is only a marginal problem for Eigen. The
reality of the informal language that we normally deal with, however,
is characterized by its open-endedness, whereas Eigen's
formalization postulate presupposes a closed language system.
the relationship between language and reality such that language
reflects a formalizable reality. The reality of objects is subject
to the same laws as the materiality of our bodies and the
self-organization of our brains. This brain is necessary to enable
and determine both consciousness and language. Overall reality
reflects a universal syntax which, in certain organisms, appears in
the form of speech.
1.7. Molecular semantics
illustrates the relationship between the language symbols and the
designated object (the semantic level of language) by comparing
human language with the molecular language of biological organisms.
He takes a cue from a quote by C. F. v. Weiz—cker ("The relationship
between chromosome and the developing individual appears to be such
that the chromosome speaks and the individual listens"; 304). The
conclusion: in the individual, the "communication channel" from
chromosome to organism is one-sided and can be more accurately
described as an issuing of commands. Intermolecular communication -
the "discourse" (ibid.) between molecules - is restricted to the
phenotypic level in the form of an "'object language' oriented
toward functional optimum criteria" (ibid.).
On this level,
Eigen detects analogies between this "phenotypic, molecular
functional language" and "phonetically based spoken languages"
language requires an equally "expressive alphabet". Eigen refers
here primarily to the 20 amino acids and their various functions, a
protein alphabet which is to be compared with human language. The "words"
of the protein language, the amino acid sequences, represent all the
executive functions within organisms such as reaction mediation,
control, and transport. "As in linguistic word combinations, several
- approx. four to eight - symbols combine to form a cooperative unit"
(ibid.). Eigen attaches importance to the circumstance that these
functionally operating symbols in protein languages are not merely
rowed linearly but are "arranged according to their respective
chemical task in a specific spatial coordination" (ibid.). Specific
chain elements between the amino acids are responsible for this
spatial coordination. Enzymes themselves are word elements of the
amino acid language.
active center - the actual three-dimensional word correlate of the
protein language - comprises no more characters than the number of
verbs in spoken language, the protein molecule must unite a total of
between one to five hundred chain elements within itself in order to
form such an active center. Each one of these molecules represents a
particular task and one could describe the enzymes as the 'verbs' of
the molecular language" (305).
and functional coordination of all organizational and production
processes within an organism is, according to Eigen, the result of
the functionality of this language. Heredity marks the limits of
"All words of
the molecular language are combined to a meaningful text, which can
be broken down into sentences. The transmission of this text from
generation to generation and the information flow between the
legislative and the executive branch within the cell cannot be
accomplished with the protein alphabet, which is geared toward
functional efficiency" (305).
the legislative branch with the nucleic acid language; it is
structured according to economical considerations, much as the
alphabet of a computer "or some other type of mechanical information
transmission". This alphabet uses a codeword consisting of three
nucleic acids for each letter of the amino acid. The allocation from
codeword to letter is
this is not true in the other direction: numerous amino acids have
more than one codeword. Rather than using 2 characters as in the
case of computers or telex codes, this language uses 4 characters
because its construction was based not on logical criteria but on a
natural process linked with the protein alphabet (ibid.). The
manifold structures of biological species, their diversity and
differentiation, could only have evolved through sequence
combinations involving four letters; a simple pair of letters would
have been insufficient. This nevertheless weakened the "'teleonomic'
demand for a high level of economy in the transfer of genetic
information and for a universal concept of the encoding enzymatic
machinery" (305 ).
1.8. "The vector character of the communication flow from chromosome
the direction of this dialogue, Eigen refers to Arthur Kornberg and
his tenet "DNA-RNA-PROTEIN-everything else" (306). According to the
above 3-World-Concept and Eigen's 3-World-Language Model, the
Kornberg equivalent can be stated as follows: DNA is the storage
site, the memory for genetic information. RNA transmits this
information, and the protein is the executive form of the
information. "Everything else", the life process itself, is a
communication, reading, and comprehension on this level merely means
binding (= recognizing) the complementary molecular building blocks
(=language symbols) and linking them into a macromolecular ribbon (=
Fig. 2 Figure
text from: EIGEN/WINKLER. 1975, p. 300
In the above
diagram, William G. Moulton characterizes the communication system
of human language. Its relation- ship with the formal representation
in Fig. 1 of this paper is indicated.
As a rule, the
information transfer in the outlined language model of Moulton flows
from A to C and in the present case also from the DNA to RNA: At the
same time, reversals of this direction have been recorded, for
example in retroviral infections where RNA sequences develop first
and are subsequently copied into DNA sequences. Since DNA is the
more stable form, it has been speculated that RNA sequences are
they would have contributed substantially, as a language, to the
genesis of the nucleic acid language; DNA would thus represent the
more stable, reliable form of fixing RNA creations and using them in
reproduction (specifically, in hereditary transmission). In Eigen's
words, "initially, in the phase of de-novo synthesis, a great many
phantasy products apparently develop. Under selection pressure,
however, only the best adapted sequence becomes chosen (...). The
best adapted sequence is that which can be reproduced the quickest
and most accurately and also has the greatest stability" (308).
opinion, "a clear divergence of roles between geno- and phenotype"
took place, especially in the differentiation of the translation
mechanism from DNA to RNA. Eigen answers the question regarding the
subject of the translation - the subject of the language sign usage
in the production of those phantasy products in the de-novo
synthesis - both holistically and materialistically: Molecular
semantics provides language signs with meaning according to physical
representation of phenotypic reality in the genetic language (in an
analogy to the memory capacity of the mind we can refer to it as 'genetic
reflection') is a consequence of evolution in toto. We are dealing
with the generation of information. This applies to information in
our brain as well: it can only arise in an evolutive manner, i.e.,
on the basis of selection. In this case, however, the underlying
elementary processes we are dealing with involve time scales of
1.9. "Understanding" as a reversal of information generation
poses the question of whether information reveals itself to us as
something already in existence or whether it is an actual creation.
In his opinion, information is both creation and revelation. These
features provide the process with its evolutive quality.
that is received is meant to be understood. It must therefore 'reveal'
its meaning, i.e., relate to existing experience or conventions and
reproduce these. At the same time it can also enrich our experience.
The subsequent establishment of a connection, the integration, the
understanding becomes an act of creation" (310).
distinction between the absolute aspect of information (i.e., the
logical depiction of reality through clear symbol allocation) and
the semantic aspect (the symbol's actual meaning) could be
eliminated "as soon as one could consider and express all the
factors in the probability distribution that are important for its
meaning" (ibid.). The reversal of the
generation process would guarantee an adequate and comprehensive
understanding of information: all of the individual factors
contributing to its development, and their interrelationships, could
be reconstructed. Understanding in this sense would mean
systematically narrowing down the probability distribution of
semantic alternatives until only a single alternative remains. This
would represent both the absolute and the semantic aspect of the
This type of
information gain - information as a message clearly understood to
convey information - has been quantitatively defined by Shannon and
R«nyi, who, in Eigen's words, "started out by considering the
probability distribution before and after the arrival of an
additional piece of information and calculated the median
information gain by comparing the modified individual probabilities"
an information-containing expression would involve a process in
which all the possible alternative meanings of that information,
with one exception, could be "attributed a probability of
realization equal to zero". Narrowing a probability distribution
down in this manner can be achieved physically only through
event causes an initially conceivable condition, characterized by a
certain probability, to become unstable; it collapses. A new
situation, leading to the exclusion of previously conceivable
alternatives, arises" (311).
communications model has its basis in formalizing criteria and would
not be possible without the maxims of the picture theory of language.
Even the reflection on thought (described in philosophy as
transcendental reflection) is considered to be a process of
self-organization that is principally quantifiable and, through the
construction of learning machines, qualitatively modifiable as well.
develops a brain based on mathematical and physical (obeying an
inner logic) natural laws; this brain derives the lawfullness within
itself from a universal syntax and functions according to this
syntax. Phoneme allocation enables a correct depiction of reality in
a formalized scientific language. The brain mirrors its own
principles of organization in this
is merely the endpoint of a biological evolution which began on the
lowest molecular level and thus, from the evolutionary point of view,
was initially defined by the nucleic acid language.
advantageous mutant arising from a reading error (i.e., from a
statistical fluctuation) in the genetic program can lead to the
irrevocable collapse of a previously stable population. The 'new'
information owes its genesis to an irreversible event; it stems from
an "evaluation of meaning" (this is , after all, what selection
represents). One can concur with Karl Popper in saying: Certain
alternatives which were previously possible become falsified. An
analagous process must take place in the brain when an observation
is made or a message is read" (311).
At this point,
Eigen draws an analogy between molecular information and human
communication: both have a common process of information generation
in which symbol allocation is subject to a selection, i.e.,
evaluation, process where possible meanings are irreversibly
eliminated until only a single one remains. In his view, the
understanding of meaning on both the molecular and human level
involves a reduction to zero of all possibilities of realization,
with the exception of one alternative. Molecular semantics and the
semantics of human languages (at least in the case of formalized
scientific language) are based on a selection process, a
Popper's falsification criterium in science theory, originally
designed to decide on the quality of quantifiable theories, is
itself not amenable to theoretical discussion and does not represent
a falsifiable evaluation model; rather, it is an expression of a
reality in information-perception in which the brain lends
expression to its own form of organization along with the underlying
1.10. Molecular genetics and generative grammer
draws attention to the discrepancies arising from the "juxtaposition
of molecular and phonetic language" and which reflect "the different
nature of function". This no doubt indicates that Eigen does not
entirely dismiss the pragmatic aspect of the language sign usage,
although he attributes only marginal importance to the user of
linguistic signs. "Each language primarily reflects the
characteristic features of the respective, underlying communication
The term "communications
machinery" is used by most of the top researchers in the fields of
biochemistry and molecular biology; it can also be encountered in
connection with terms such as "protein synthesis machinery"
(DARNELL. 1985) or in slightly modified form as "evolutionary
mechanism", "communication mechanism between molecules" (PRIGOGINE.
and "enzyme machinery" (DELBŲCK. 1987). This demonstrates a broad
consensus that v. Neumann's automaton theory, or the mathematical
theory of communication, can serve as an undisputed basis for the
explanation of all living phenomena.
Let us return
to the differences between the molecular and phonetic language. The
respective language structures differ much in the same way that the
different functions in the molecular and phonetic fields lead to a
different "communication machinery".
expression form of genetics are sentences whose structure is
determined by control functions. Thus, in the operon segment of the
bacterial genome, numerous functionally interrelated structural
genes are united by control units, so-called operators. The entire
genetic description of the bacterium, the genome, consists of such
sentences, which are interconnected within a single giant molecule.
The chromosomes of more highly developed organisms have a highly
regionated structure which is clearly visible even under the
electron microscope; the details of its 'syntax', however, remain
largely unknown" (314).
clearly expresses what biochemists and molecular biologists
interpret their observations to be. He describes the biological
structures that code the organism's structure and developmental plan
as a genetic message "fixed in sentences". The form of the genetic
information corresponds with control functions.
construction of phonetic languages also exhibits general structural
principles. As determined by Chomsky, the inherent structure of
phonetically articulated sentences relects structures of a universal
grammer "which are intimately related to the 'generative' organ of
language, the brain" (314). New sentence combinations, formed to
promote understanding in the discourse between members of a social
environment, are the result of generative, syntactic operations of
the brain. When human beings reflect on their cognitive abilities,
the brain forms syntactic sentence structures using these underlying,
universal syntactic rules. Accordingly, self-knowledge in humankind
is a depiction of brain functions through generative syntactic
operations of the brain.
between molecular genetics and phonetic languages, coupled with the
universal generative grammer common to both (as a manifestation of
the logic inherent in the material) leads Eigen to the conclusion
"At any rate
one can say that the prerequisite for both great evolutionary
processes of nature - the origin of all forms of life and the
evolution of the mind - was the existence of a language. The
molecular communication system of the cell is based on the
reproductive and instructive features of nucleic acids as well as on
the catalytic efficiency of proteins" (314f.).
At the same
time, the similarities and dissimilarities of molecular genetic and
phonetic languages go beyond this. Memory capability, in particular,
clearly demonstrates these differences in forms of communication and
language usage: While antibody formation in the immune system takes
place independently in each individual, memory involves regulated
interactions between antibody molecules and learned features. Memory
takes place on the molecular level.
individual immune system therefore has its own language. The 'vocabulary'
is determined by the spectrum of antibody-producing cells. The
correct usage of this language emerges from a learning process and
is subject to constant modification" (328).
organization of the immune memory is a regulated interaction process
between all protein individuals (enzymes) involved in the immune
response. Even minute deviations from these rules endanger the
efficiency of the immune response and consequently the survival of
the entire organism. It is the network of these interactions which
enables an immune response flexible enough to adapt to new
requirements, to modify itself, and to build upon and expand the
stored memory of previous immune responses. The immune response can
thus always incorporate the stored experience and improve its
as the epitome of the evolution of the central nervous system, form
a similar structural network to organize memory capability. As
opposed to the indirect interaction of protein individuals in the
immune system, the cells of the central nervous system are directly
interconnected - via synapses as switch contacts - and interact by
means of electric impulses and chemical substances. The interaction
is more complex and is considerably more rapid.
electric communication over greater distances can be effected at
much greater speeds than chemical communication involving material
transport. Learning processes which require hours or days in the
immune network take place in fractions of a second in the brain. At
the same time, the fixation of that which is 'experienced' or 'learned'
is again a material process" (329).
between the nerve cells, the synapses, are extremely adaptable. "They
develop, vanish, and constantly change their contact features as a
result of the communication" (329).
In the central
nervous system, memory and recollection, learning capacity, and
imagination are fixed as specific stimulatory patterns and can
therefore be rapidly recalled as information or informational
context; the process of reading and transcribing genetic information
involves entirely different mechanisms. Only the stable storage
takes somewhat more time because complex information can only be
recalled through a specific circuitry and this requires organizing a
functional network of synapses and specific (informationally
adequate) network structure.
the highest metabolism of all cells in the body; that is, they
continuously produce ribonuleic acids and proteins, yet not to store
the information within these molecules, but to employ them in
developing a modifiable, functional network" (331).
this description and interpretation of observed phenomena through
the information theoretical model is self-referential. It is obvious
to him that these conditions for potential self-organization in the
various networks - both molecular, molecular-cellular, and
intercellular types along with all their functions in the realm of
genetics, in the immune system and in the central nervous system -
are the same as the conditions of their scientific description.
Eigen can make
no distinction between the language of the observation of events and
the language of the theory about the interpretation of these
observations. The preconditions for self-organization "mirror
themselves in the uniform structure of the theoretical approaches
used in their description" (331 ).
2. Philosophical implications of Manfred Eigen's language and
between the molecular and human language, as undertaken by Eigen, is
problematic because Eigen believes he is able to fully explain human
language and language in general by means of an implicit depictional
theory. In his interpretation of language and communication, the
pragmatic aspect, i.e., the relationship between language signs and
the user of these signs, is reduced to a marginal condition in the
theory of language, while the semantic aspect is reduced to rules of
a universal syntax.
When viewed in
this light, Eigen's usage of the terms language and communication
takes on a purely metaphorical character that can only be avoided if
these terms are understood and used in their broader sense.
Summarizing Eigen's language concept reveals the following features:
2.1. Language as a quantifiable set of signs
behaves according to physically determinable natural laws. These can
be expressed using the language of mathematics. The formal,
technical language of mathematics is alone capable of realistically
describing these natural laws. Language in its fundamental sense is
language as a formalized sign language. The "natural laws" are
explications of an implicit logical order in nature. Language
depicts this logical order through the logical structure of the
linguistic sign system. The essential element of a language is
therefore its syntax. Only through the syntax does the logical
structure of a language as a depiction of the logical structure of
nature come to light. Language as an image of lawfully structured
reality is principally quantifiable because it is mathematicizable.
Scientific research must concentrate on this aspect if it seeks to
aspect of language initially comprises an incidentally developed or
combined symbol sequence which only gained significance in the
course of specific selection processes. Here, substance in meaning
corresponds to natural substance because the selection processes
have evaluative function.
We merely need
to study and explain all the possible criteria in the genesis of
natural substance in order to unmistakably understand the substance
of meaning. In Eigen's language communication model, language as a
communication medium between communicative subjects remains an event
of private and monologic character: language as an arbitrary
sequence of linguistic signs whose meaning is derived from selection
processes does not convey substance but merely structure. These
structures can be expressed in binary codes (yes/no decisions). The
linguistic signs are variables whose syntax is subject to laws
governing the linguistic sign-using organ or the macromolecules. The
brain of humans, for example, is endowed with these variables and
combines them to reflect synapse network logic. The variable sign
syntax of the brain must be filled with experiences of a personal
nature and thus constitutes an individualized evaluation scheme.
between communication partners, one side encodes the news he/she
wishes to convey in phonetic characters; the receiver must then
decode and interpret the message based on personal experience.
Understanding messages shared between transmitter and receiver is
possible since a uniform logical form - a universal syntax - lies
hidden behind every language. Messages are therefore apriori
intersubjective in form and structure, while the interpretation of
content remains a purely private matter. The formal structure of
species-specific languages is intersubjectively identical; therefore,
only scientific formal languages, such as those used in mathematics
and physics, can be properly designated as languages capable of
accurately representing conditions of reality.
2.2. Language as an algorithmic decision-making process
of that organ which syntactically combines the language symbols
according to its own structure most closely corresponds, in Eigen'
opinion, to cybernetics, i.e., the theory of information-processing
systems (while abstracting the manner of its realization). The
functional units "central nervous system", "brain", and even "macromolecule"
consist of a
limited number of elements and a limited number of
interrelationships between these elements; these make up the
structure, the so-called systems structure, of these units.
Since we are
dealing with living systems, active systems are present as well, i.e.,
there are elements in systems which mutually exert or endure active
influence. The relational structures can be of a
chemical-particulate and energetic nature or purely informational.
Some of these systems will regulate themselves and react to
particular environmental influences with greater or lesser success.
Those reacting more successfully optimize their
reproduction. In the course of evolution, precisely those biological
species which have best adapted to altered environmental conditions
have prevailed. Certain types of systems create irreversible
processes through self-organizational behaviour, leading to the
preservation rather than the degeneration of successful structures;
these structures continue to attract other evolutionarily successful
structures, which enhances the complexity of the system and in turn
optimizes its adaptability.
along with their description by means of language, are depictions of
a reality structured by natural laws. Since both the logic of the
describing and that of the theory-forming language corresponds with
the logic of the system, the relationship between the elements of
the system can be represented in an abstract, formal, and
unambiguous manner. It is important to determine the relationship
among the language signs, as their relationship reflects the
relationship of order in the realm of nature.
The quality of
the syntax is evident in the concept of information. Since messages
based on reality can be formally represented, they can be coded with
2 characters (0 and 1). This unit of measure enables the information
content of a particular message to be determined with regard to the
available number of available characters. This furnishes a
calculatable, average information content of a letter of an alphabet
below which one cannot drop without rendering letter identification
decodes and privately interprets the received information (albeit
according to intersubjectively identical rules of an underlying
logic common to all languages). Information theory therefore also
involves information processing, i.e., various transformations of
particular messages into other sentence structures according to
specific transformation rules as determined by a machine.
self-regulating and information-processing cybernetic systems are
considered to be the realization of algorithms. An algorithm defines
that method by which, in a finite number of steps, a problem can be
solved. Machines can calculate those functions for which an
algorithm exists. Since reality is structured by a logical order
subject to natural laws, the logical form of language (mirroring the
logical form of reality) must be expressible in binary codes. Every
message, every information, is calculatable and every problem is
solvable algorithmically. Principally, an optimally constructed
machine would be equipped with a more optimal syntax than humans.
2.3. Humankind as a learning machine
viewpoint of man as a machine, humans clearly represent an optimal
model: they fulfil all those preconditions for the algorithm
development that a conventional machine cannot deliver, i.e.,
criteria for information evaluation based on the real, social
environment. Humans, and all other biological systems, resemble a
learning machine capable of internally producing a syntactically
correct image of the environment by interacting with this
environment, of correcting this image through repeated interactions,
and thus of changing the behavior toward the environment. Such
learning systems are able to continuously optimize their
adaptability. The learning efficiency is mirrored in a history of
advantageous selections. This type of selection history is the
history of the optimal realization of algorithms.
human consciousness can be best represented cybernetically because
the brain - as the "learning machine" in this model - understands
reflection is a self-reproducing, dynamic, self-regulating behavior,
a (transcendental) reflection of the machine; language, the common
logical form of reality and reflection medium, is the precondition
for its existence.
processes of consciousness are learning machine functions based on
the input-output principle. Decoding the rules governing brain
organization makes the decoding of all conceivable conscious
processes possible. This appoach transforms consciousness into an
observable, accurately and unambiguously describable and
brain is structured in such a manner that it can transform the
syntax inherent on its molecular level up into the phonetic level:
The constitution of a formal language by the brain enables this "learning
machine" to recognize itself as a constitution of reality and to
reflect on itself.
theoretical viewpoint becomes relevant for Eigen. Accordingly,
scientific research must be viewed as being analogous to the
adaptive behavior of organisms to their environment: one can
therefore refer to the (biological) evolutionary character of
knowledge gain. The self-reproduction of the learning automaton is
reflected in all levels of biological reality. Popper's 3-World
concept enables Eigen to explain language in every sense, from the
nucleic acid language to that of human reason.
differences between these two languages stem from the continuous
development process of biological structures, based on the model of
a self-reproducing and self-regulating automaton that functioned as
a realization of algorithms. This enabled the steady optimization of
problem-solving strategies in organisms, eventually leading to the
constitution of a central
a precursor ultimately giving rise to the brain and its enormous
storage and information-processing capacity. Language enabled
implementation of this evolutionary plan (from the amoeba to
Einstein): this medium forms, transforms, stores, expands, and
why Eigen sees language as the prerequisite for the development of
all forms of life, as well as for the evolution of the mind. A
uniform fundamental structure, the logic of the universal language,
lies behind all living phenomena as well as behind the construction
of the formal language which exactly reproduces this logic of
reality (comprising both being and the discourse-on-being). Thus,
the structure of information-forming and -processing systems such as
the brain, the central nervous system, or the immune system mirrors
"in its uniform basic structure, the theoretical approaches applied
in its description" (331).
3. Deficits in the picture theory of language
systems are not closed, as Eigen purports, nor are they principally
fully determinable. Furthermore, language is the result of
communicative interactions in dialogue situations rather than the
result of constitutive achievements of the individual persons.
Communicating with one another, sending messages, understanding
expressions is not a private coding and decoding process, but rather
an interpretation process arising from a mutual adherence to rules
by communicating partners who agree on the rules.
The ability to
abide by these rules is innate, the skill in complying with
particular rules is acquired through interactions and relies on
norms of interaction to utilize words in sentences. Information
cannot principally be quantified as message content: statements made
by social individuals in situational contexts are not closed and
thus are principally not fully formalizable. The attempt to
construct a purely representational language is doomed to failure
because formal artificial languages do not exclusively contain terms
that are unambiguous. This pertains to terms that cannot be
confirmed through observation. Specifically, scientific statements
are not attributable to immediate sensory experience, i.e., the
language game used to describe observations does not mirror the
brain activity during the perception of reality.
world-depicting standard language must remain a mere postulate
because it cannot logically substantiate itself. Too many
theoretical concepts, too many scientific criteria that are
principally not formalizable (e.g., "progress in the cognition
process", "practicability", etc.), point to the limits of
formalizability. The very identity between artificial language and
its form renders it incapable of reporting on itself, something that
presents no problem when using informal speech. Language is an
intersubjective phenomenon in which several individuals can share,
alter, reproduce as well as renew the rules of language usage. The
basis and aims of this usage are defined by the real social
environment of interacting life forms. The user of a linguistic sign
cannot be comprehended according to the speaker-outside world model.
Rather, this requires reflection on the interactive circumstances to
which the user has always been bound, circumstances which provide an
underlying awareness enabling him/her to understand statements made
by members of the real environment. The user of formal artificial
languages - before appreciating the purpose of the usage - has also
developed this prior awareness in the course of interactive
processes with members of the real social environment.
Speech is a
form of action, and I can understand this activity if I understand
the rules governing the activity. This means I can also understand
an act that runs counter to the rules. Everyday language usage
reflects everyday social interactions of the constituent individuals.
The prerequisite for fully understanding statements is the
integration of the understander in customs of social interaction and
not merely a knowledge of formal syntactic-semantic rules. A prior
condition for all formalizations in scientific artificial languages
is a factual, historically evolved, communicative experience. This
very precondition becomes an object of empirically testable
hypothesis formation in Eigen's language model. At this point,
however, Eigen's model becomes paradoxical because he seeks to
theoretically grasp language with tools that are themselves
attempt to reconstruct universal systems of rules within an
empirical theory of language (rules that have developed over the
course of evolution, are genetically transmitted, and then "awakened"
through social interaction) is founded on a "generative grammer"
which itself is based on the mathematical analysis of formal systems
(CHOMSKY. 1964 a, 1964 b). He attributes the rules governing
sentence construction to the level of syntax, semantics, and
phonology. To him, these rules are rules of a formal system. Chomsky
himself, however, concludes that formal systems are principally
incapable of doing justice to the complexity of sentence structure:
sentences do not appear to be produced linearly, which should be the
case in formal systems. According to this model, the generating
system of rules must exclude real communicative acts and
interactions and, with it, precisely the apriori of practical
language model, which is rooted in information theory, clearly
reveals that Eigen equates the form of theory language with the form
of language used to describe reality (experience). This implies the
equation of formalized scientific languages with the language used
to describe observations. Previous attempts to specify all the rules
governing the translation of every term in theory-language into
terms of observational languages have been unsuccessful. Not all
concepts of theory language can be transposed into concepts of the
situation is encountered in the attempt to absolutize mathematics as
that pure formal language whose every ramification might become
fully transparent. This led GÓdel to formulate the "Unvollst—ndigkeitssatz"
("incompleteness theorem") in his work "Ųber formal unentscheidbare
S—tze der principia mathematica und verwandter Systeme" (GŰDEL.
1931). GÓdel investigated a formal system by applying arithmetic and
related deduction methodologies. His aim was to convert the
metatheoretical statements into arithmetic statements by means of a
specific allocation procedure. More precisely, he strived to convert
the statements formulated in a metalanguage into the object language
S by using the object language S. This led GÓdel to two conclusions:
the assumption that system S is consistent, then it will contain one
formally indeterminable theorem, i.e., one theorem is
inevitably present that can be neither proved nor disproved
within the system.
the assumption that system S is consistent, then this consistency of
S cannot be proved within S.
of determinability and calculability is closely allied with the
algorithm concept, whereby Eigen seems to postulate that algorithms
are not only concepts of theoretical language, but also depict (decision-)
behavior in the realm of biology and therefore are amenable to
empirical analysis. Indeed, he is convinced that everything can be
represented in the form of algorithms and can thus, in principle (after
sufficiently thorough analysis), be determined. Yet Eigen never puts
this to the test, i.e., he never states the conditions under which a
branch of mathematics would be indeterminable. Namely, a field of
formalized artificial language is indeterminable when no algorithm
can be provided to help decide - for a particular formula of a
formalized artificial language and involving a finite number of
steps - whether this formula is universally valid or not.
branches of mathematics are considered indeterminable. Herein lies
the consequence of this indeterminability theorem for the automaton
theory of A. Turing and J. v. Neumann: a machine can principally
calculate only those functions for which an algorithm can be
provided. Functions lacking an algorithm are not calculatable.
cybernetic, self-controlling machine is the realization of a formal
system. Eigen assumes that the evolution of self-reproducing and
self-organizing organisms represents the realization of the syntax
of a universal language underlying the order of the world. This
universal syntax, as a representation of mathematically expressible
reality, is also the formal
basis for the
evolution of these organisms. For every one of these machines, as in
the case of every organism, there must be an indeterminable formula.
precisely by means of a non-formal language that this formula can be
shown to be true or false; this non-formal language is the very tool
that enables the language itself to be discussed. The machine is
unable to do this because no algorithm is available with which a
cybernetic machine can determine its underlying formal system.
Systems theory is principally
fulfil the demands that Eigen places on it.
The fact that
the paradoxes arising within an object language cannot be solved
with that language led to a differentiation between object language
and metalanguage. Nonetheless, paradoxes can also appear within
metalanguage; these can only be solved by splitting into
metalanguage, meta-meta language and soforth in an infinite number
of steps. This unavoidable gradation of metalanguages necessitated
resorting to informal speech, developed in the context of social
experience, as the ultimate metalanguage. It provides the last
instance for deciding on the paradoxes emerging from object- and
metalanguages. Neither the syntax nor the semantics of a system can
be constituted within that particular system without resorting to
the ultimate metalanguage.
to provide logic and mathematics with apriori validity is no longer
tenable: an unambiguous linguistic fundament of science, one beyond
further inquiry and supporting itself through direct evidence,
cannot be secured. Language proves to be a perpetually open system
with regard to its logical structures and cannot guarantee
definiteness from within itself. This is the very conclusion that
Eigen disputes with his language model.To briefly summarize this
(a) There can
be no formal system which is entirely reflectable in all its aspects
while at the same time being its own metasystem.
acts and interactions are principally unlimited in their
possibilities. There will always be lines of argumentation that lie
outside of and have no connection with an existing system.
Principally, every system can be transcended argumentatively. Newly
emerging language games and rules may develop as novel
structures which are foreign to previous systems and not merely a
further step in a series in prevailing elements. These very
discontinuities enable totally new language applications.
ultimate metalanguage, informal language, provides indispensible
evidence about the communication practice of subjects in the real
environment; the operator of formalizations is himself an integral
part of this. Reverting to this everyday type of communication
reveals information about the subjects practising this usage. In
this sense, pragmatism becomes the theoretical basis both for formal
operating and for a non-reductionistic language theory.
Eigen (representing molecular biology and biochemistry) fails in his
attempt to use the language and communication concept to explain
observed biological phenomena and processes. Eigen is correct in
recognizing that language and communication were and continue to be
indispensible for the origin of life, the development of biological
species diversity, as well as for the specifically human capacity
for thought, speech, and action; at the
same time, he
is unable to provide an adequate foundation of these two terms. This
casts doubt on the entire explanatory model for living nature as
provided by the biological disciplines.
question is: how can the use of the terms language and communication
be expanded so that both concepts provide not only a sufficient
explanation, but also an understanding of living nature?
4. Language pragmatism as a basis for a semiotically expanded
language and communication concept in behavioral, socio-, and
insurmountable explanatory deficits in the picture theory of
language, as determined above in Manfred Eigen's usage of the terms
"language" and "communication", require an expansion of the
explanatory horizon he forwarded. The inability of cybernetic
systems theory or information theory to establish and justify the
application of either concept to explain central processes and
structures of living nature is apparent; further usage in the sense
of Manfred Eigen would make this approach liable to criticism as an
anthropomorphism or would reduce it to mere metaphorical character.
In my opinion, the expanded explanatory horizon for the application
of "language" and "communication" to explain and understand living
nature could take on the following form:
4.1. Language as a medium of understanding. The apriori of the
situation of understanding
communicate with each other by means of linguistic signs can
correspond by coordinating their behavior. They represent real forms
of life in a real, animate world. Language is necessary as an
intercommunication medium for the overall organism, not only
externally to develop optimal action criteria, but also internally
to explore optimal reaction criteria.
of either external or internal communication can seriously endanger
the survival of the organism as a whole, even if the pathways are
completely different. The ability of organisms to adapt to changing
environmental conditions is not the only result of successful
internal and external communication. The creativity, nonlinearity,
and productive scope of new genetic texts, which serve as the
construction and development plans for organisms, indicate the
avenues that language and communication open up. Indeed, their
realization is difficult to explain without the assumption of
sign-mediated communication processes.
self-organization in autocatalytic processes and the creativity of
human intellect require language and commmunication as the
realization medium. From this perspective, language and
communication serve as a precondition for the possibility of life (versus
non-living matter), the evolution of biological species, and for the
cultural evolution of human reason; Manfred Eigen is entirely
correct in this respect.
Since users of
linguistic signs can combine a finite number of characters with a
finite number of rules to carry out an infinite number of
sign-mediated communication processes, language and communication
become the structural and organizational medium for biological
species. Sign-mediated communication processes allow leaps in the
evolution of biological species to be understood because such leaps
are ultimately creations of genetic text combinations; these have
not developed from random, undirected changes in the genetic text,
but rather were initiated by protein individuals (enzymes) which are
highly competent in the combination and recombination of genetic
text sequences. They are so highly competent that gene manipulators
rely almost exclusively on this competence.
the pragmatic intercommunication situation also helps us understand
the leaps in scientific knowledge, whose critical phases are
discontinuous and nonlinear (KUHN. 1970). While Manfred Eigen points
out the similarities in such discontinuous and nonlinear processes,
he is unable to explain this similarity on the basis of his language
enables constatative and regulative language activity (or language
behavior in nonhuman biological individuals) much more so than mere
generative language activity (or -behavior). They help organize the
everyday social environment in which organisms are immersed
throughout their individual lifespans. Nonetheless,
linguistic-sign-utilizing individuals are equally capable of
conducting generative language activities or -behavior; here, new
activities or new behavior, new rules, are constituted which
themselves normatively orient further activities or behavior
Linguistic-sign-using individuals are principally able to create
entirely new activities, new behavior, completely new texts,
completely new genetic texts in different realms (macro-level:
domain involving phenomena of sensory perception; micro-level:
domain of molecular interactions). These creations do not logically
evolve from existing networks according to pre-existing rules;
rather, they constitute something new, something foreign to that
already in existence. This is precisely what Eigen's language model
cannot explain, because Eigen neglects the constitutive capability
of the pragmatic situation. He thus eliminates the preconditions for
his own theory development.
4.2. No generative grammar without generative pragmatism Generative
grammar states that every sentence of a language (initially the
underlying structure and then, with the help of transformation rules,
the overlying structure) can be created.
linguistic-psychological theory of human language would be an
empirical science whose object of study would be the preconditions
for its existence. This would further raise the prospect for
providing a linguistic foundation of logic - the question
difference between analytic and synthetic judgements would then lend
itself to a linguistic solution. However, logic can hardly be
founded by an explanatory, empirically testable theory (which itself
The attempt to
understand the subconscious adherence to grammatical rules when
expressing and interpreting remarks as an extension of naturally
governed behavior is doomed to failure: how linguistically competent
individuals adhere to rules of grammer cannot be equated with how
water crystallizes into ice or melts again to liquid form. Following
rules of grammar in speech (or writing) can itself become the topic
of speech and can be intentionally altered, distorted, or even
violated. This very creativity to change rules forms the much valued
artistic quality of linguistic endeavor and enables poetic and
speculative language usage along with novel types of rationality,
thought patterns and lifestyles. The difference between rules of
grammar and natural laws is unbridgeable. Humankind cannot determine
the degree of its adherence versus nonadherence to natural laws; we
can, however, define this relationship with regard to grammatical
rules at will. Even the rule-altering creativity in the realm of DNA
indicates that natural laws cannot explain rule changes, i.e.,
innovation at the level of genetic text sequences. This pertains to
those changes stemming from the activity of protein individuals
competent in text modification, not to deformations of genetic text
sequences arising randomly from external influences (for example
radioactive radiation, chemically induced mutations, etc.).
communication is a regulated interactive event between interactive
individuals. The rules of sign usage are therefore a component of
social norms, of normative activity or behavior, for which the
interactive event is constitutive. This interactive event should not
be reduced in a behaviouristic manner, since the interpreter himself/herself
is a member of the social community that intersubjectively made
interpretation experiencable. Interaction events are principally
grasped subjectively before they can become the topic of objective
description or explanation.
particularly, the discussion about norm consciousness is not
reducable to internalized or innate rule adherence. The constitution
of this norm consciousness is the consequence of a social
interactive event in a real environment. Equally, Eigen's postulate
of an evaluation function that selects the universal grammar from
all possible alternatives, shifts transformation grammar in the
direction of a theory of (finitely deciding) automatons and thereby
relates to a possible algebra of linguistic computer programs. The
aim of such a theory may well be the successful computer simulation
of human language behavior, as was planned by A. Turing and J. v.
Neumann and which an entire generation of researchers from numerous
scientific disciplines has since set their hopes on. In this case
one must systematically avoid confusing the simulation of human
speech with speech itself. Even if machines could simulate how
humans abide by rules, they themselves do not actually follow such
rules, but "merely function in accordance with certain formal
procedures" (SEARLE. 1984). The
simulates certain formal characteristics of mental processes.
employing the term information (or: information processing) for such
entirely divergent phenomena as the adherence of humans to rules on
the one hand and the simulation of human rule adherence on the other,
Eigen glosses over the confusion between human rule adherence and
"as if" human rule adherence by machines.
mechanical "as-if" simulation could be transcended if a successful
communication took place between computer and human subject, for
example in the form of a non-formalizable self-reflection. This
would, however, principally exclude GÓdel's indeterminability
4.3. From (privatistically conceived) generative grammar to apriori
pragmatic speech situations
language model interprets language as a monologic conveyance of
information. According to Eigen, the fact that the speaker has a
command of linguistic sign utilization (rules of language usage) is
not due to co-constitution through a learning process involving
social interaction in which socially integrated individuals master
the meaning of linguistic signs in real-life communication
situations. Rather, this is determined exclusively by its apriori
identity with the logic behind the "system" central nervous system
or brain. Thus, the social interaction process would merely
stimulates this innate capability; in reality this shared
rule-understanding is an instinct-analogous process.
theoretical perception of the information exchange process purely as
message transmission neglects the constitutive contribution of those
involved in the interaction process; communication is reduced to the
genetically acquired language competence of the respective
communication partner. Accordingly, each of these participants
carries all the linguistic prerequisites apriori within him/herself,
specifically within the language-forming organ. Both speaker and
listener are viewed as entirely separate individuals. Although both
are equipped with the same program, i.e., they abide by the same
natural laws and can therefore establish a quasi-intersubjectivity
about the validity of identical meanings, they remain entirely
privatistic in their conception. Thus, the precondition for the
constitution of meaning is not the apriori involving the
understanding among individuals that share and communicate in a
ultimate factor lies in the phonetic process between C and C' (Fig.
1), where information is conveyed between a speaker and a listener
who use their individually given language competence and the apriori
identical language to put their individual thoughts into words and
to code them or, vice-versa, to decode and understand the contained
in the real environment communicate with each other about something
(e.g., the coordination of behavior), Eigen argues that the meaning
of this "something" is ultimately constituted through syntactic
rules. My aim here is to demonstrate how and why the meaning of this
"something" is constituted in pragmatic speech situations.
In a theory of
language based on pragmatism, the sentences and texts of idealized
speakers in syntactic/semantic theories are replaced by the remarks
of speakers in idealized speech situations. The theory of speech
competence must be supplemented by a pragmatism of the speech
situations (theory of communicative competence); this can clarify
language is used to achieve understanding about something, i.e.,
under which conditions the contexts of activity or behavior
constitute meanings of linguistic expressions.
pragmatic, inherent structure of such communication situations can
reveal, under scrutiny, why a speaker shows what he/she means with
what he/she says (VOSSENKUHL. 1982). These meanings are in no way
formalizable, and every operator of a formalization has presupposed
and applied these pragmatic conditions long before actually knowing
what formalization is. The underlying pragmatic structure provides a
means of principally understanding even grammatically irregular
sentences in speech situations; a purely grammatical analysis of
such an anomaly may very well be confronted with insolvable
paradoxes. The pragmatic level also provides hermeneutic access to
an understanding of the rule-changing creativity process, which
enables the sign user to design and express entirely new sentences,
to conduct new activity, to develop new behavior - all in no way
logically derivable from pre-existing states. Grammatical competence
can never be fully separated from the communicative competence
constituted in speech situations: assuming one without the other
cannot adequately explain a sign-mediated communication (APEL (Ed.).
1976 a; HABERMAS. 1985; SEARLE. 1976; ).
reliance on Chomsky's generative grammar in no way eliminates the
deficits of his
4.4. The constitution of meaning and understanding through real
Eigen's language model shows that his language and communication
concept is insufficient to comprehend and reconstruct human language
usage and requires amendment through pragmatic points of view.
Indeed, these pragmatic viewpoints of language usage largely
determine our understanding of the adherence/non-adherence to
grammatical and semantic rules. This is particulary evident in the
attempt to analyse unconventional language usage (WUNDERLICH/MAAS.
1972; WUNDERLICH. 1976).
intercommunication situation is characterized by a complementarity
that is indispensible for the constitution of meaning or, in Eigen's
words, for the evaluation scheme and the allocation of meaning to
symbol combinations. Sign-mediated communication can only extract
meaning from signs within a setting involving a reciprocal
confirmation between language usage and daily life; for the
sign-using subject, this transparent framework enables meaningful
expression and permits successful intercommunication about a chosen
topic. The pragmatic sign-usage situation is ultimately constitutive
for the meaning of language application and speech behavior.
Wittgenstein termed this situation "language game" and K.O. Apel
very aptly differentiated this term as "a 'life-form', a functioning
unit of language usage, living expression, behavioral custom, and
worldly openness (APEL. 1976 a, p. 321).
only be grasped in the framework of (real or fictitious)
participation in such language game. Language game even exists, or
so we as humans can assume, in those cases where conspecific
individuals exhibit species-specific behavior that takes on sign
character whose particular meaning can be understood by the language
game participants of that species. This remains valid even when we
consider the differences between human and non-human, sign-mediated
communication. An example is that specifically human quality in
which the rules governing the sign-mediated communication are
concurrently maintained as rules in the reflective consciousness and
can often even be formulated as explicit rules.
constitutes itself through the specificity of the actual
intercommunicative situation (whose purpose may be sociality or the
coordination of activity or behavior); no one can seriously dispute
such behavioral coordination in non-human biological individuals.
The pragmatic approach also explains how the same linguistic signs
can take on different meaning in the various language games. Shifts
in linguistic sign meaning are an integral and important component
in specific language game situations.
In the process
of communicative interactions, norms - which serve to orient our
activity and govern behavior - can be nullified or modified. The
pragmatic language usage of individuals involved in species-specific,
sign-mediated communication processes (language game, etc.) enables
the change, expansion, and transformation of proven and conventional
sign meanings. This gives rise to the possibility, even the
probability, of an evolutive self-organization of organisms, one
that involves a discontinuous differentiation of ever more complexly
structured organisms, initially via intra-organismic communication
self-organization cannot in fact be explained or even understood (as
Eigen postulates) as an algorithmic process; rather, it is a
regulated, sign-mediated (and consequently linguistic) communication
process between a) the protein individuals of a biological organism,
b) conspecific individuals, c) conspecifics and external environment.
self-organization is an evolutive possibility when intra-, inter-,
and meta-organismic communication function in an equally
complementary fashion and when they can claim language-mediated,
of how to constitute irreversible processes - in particular with
respect to a competent expansion or advantageous alteration of the
genetic text through enzyme proteins - would hardly be possible:
without assuming this complementarity, how could one understand the
acquisition of a social interaction competence, much less the
genetic fixation of specific, crucial experiences (WILSON. 1985)?
communication in non-human languages is also clearly oriented toward
pragmatic conditions; it constitutes meaning and significance here
as well. Examples include the bee language as well as inter- and
intracellular communication (FRISCH. 1971, WITZANY. 1993 b).
4.5. No intra-
and intercellular, sign-mediated communication processes
code which is fixed in DNA and read, copied, and translated in gene
expression gains importance as a genetic text only if real
sign-users are available to read, copy and translate it into the
amino acid language. This gene expression, along with all of the
related subprocesses is neither mechanistic nor mysterious and
vitalistic. Rather, it is the result of
regulated interactions and highly specific behavior coordination
between numerous types of enzyme proteins (WATSON. 1983).
clear the text for reading, implement the copying into the three
types of RNA, search the text for superfluous text passages, cut
these out, to a certain extent repair damaged sections using rougher
and finer techniques (excision- and postreplication repair), and
complete the entire process of normal gene expression (HOWARD-FLANDERS.
protein individuals are themselves coded as genetic sequences, yet
enzyme proteins themselves always clear genes for reading and thus
ensure the reproduction of all necessary enzyme proteins. This
allows numerous generations of specific enzyme protein types to
exist within the life-span of an organism, beginning at the onset of
employed in the reproduction of the enzyme types is the same in all
organisms in which genetic texts must be read, copied, and
translated into the amino acid language. Every cell of the entire
organism stores the complete genetic construction plan in the form
of the genome, although only those text passages required for the
function of the particular cell association are expressed. This also
means that the specificity of the cell association is decisive for
evaluating those passages (within the total genetic text) that are
to be read, copied, and translated. Every organ, i.e., every
specific cell association in which specifically associated cells
must carry out a function for the complete organism (in a complex
coordination with other organs), requires regulated interactions in
order to fulfil the demands placed on it by the organism (e.g.,
raised pulse rate after physical exercise).
appreciate how complex the execution of this sign-mediated
communication is in specific communication situations and within
specific requirement profiles (WITZANY. 1993 a). The communication
between cells of a cell association (organ) is irrevocably limited
to this context, i.e., the irreversibility is genetically fixed and
virtually guarantees abidance by the rules that govern the
reproduction of cell-association-specific progeny: we can be certain
that liver cells reproduce only new liver cells.
At the same
time, the specific position within a cell association determines the
expression of those genes which code for the (punctual) reproduction
of a cell in precisely this specific position. The actual position
of a cell in the real environment is the evaluation criterium for
the gene-expressing enzyme to express exactly that segment of the
total genetic text which
reproduction of a cell in that and no other position (GEHRING.
specific cell communication between cells of a cell association
further enables the production of proteins required for the various
functions (e.g., metabolism function) within the complete organism.
The required proteins are not infrequently produced by very
different cell associations via very cell-association-specific
communication processes (WITZANY.
1993 b). The
rules of these sign-mediated communication processes, both of the
intra- and intercellular type, are followed, occasionally even newly
constituted, by real users of linguistic signs. They (the rules) are
not only structured by the syntax of the genetic text, but also by
the real environment of the complete organism; this itself
constitutes situational contexts and contexts of experience, or
finds itself within such contexts, and is primarily responsible for
imposing special tasks/demands on cell associations.
task-accomplishing strategies can be (but need not be) genetically
fixed as experiences. This indicates that text-generating enzyme
proteins use specific stimulatory patterns of the organism, which
are the result of situational contexts in a real environment, as a
basis for their text generating activity. Such stimulatory patterns
may be neuronal or may
combination with chemical messenger substances as text-generating
stimulatory patterns. Interestingly, evidence for this was provided
not by socio- or molecular biologists, but by biochemists (BONNER.
1983; WYLES/KUNKEL/WILSON. 1983; WILSON. 1985).
synthesis probably takes place in all organisms in the same manner.
Otherwise one would not be able to arbitrarily combine the mRNA,
tRNA and ribosomes of completely different species of organisms in a
cell-free environment. The nucleic acid language is governed by a
common syntactic law, yet the real environment of protein
individuals, of the cell components and cell associations, as well
as of those organisms whose life is maintained by these cell
associations, determine the use of this language; they initiate the
generative, sign-mediated communication processes (i.e., not random
mutations due to radiation or mutagenic agants) in which this
language is changed, transcended in its meaning, newly combined, or
its complexity increased or reduced. Real environments and the
interacting, rule-abiding individuals that constitute them are
co-constitutive for the sentence structure of the genetic texts
(WITZANY. 1993 b, 1994).
molecular pragmatism, neither the logic of the molecular syntax nor
the molecular semantics that Eigen deduces from it could be
understood; furthermore, their explanation would remain
reductionistic. Understanding the language of nature (nucleic acid
language) requires a molecular semiotics (WITZANY. 1993 a) that
analyses and interprets the molecular interaction processes as sign
processes (semioses). This would reverse the omission of the actual
sign users in the intra- and intercellular communication processes
and would incorporate their co-constitutive role in the structure of
the genetic text and its expression.
This level of
insight must be attained before one can legitimately refer to a
language of nature: then we are no longer dealing with an
explanatory model operating with metaphorical terms, but have an
approach that enables us to understand and substantiate the
conditions that establish the possibility of living organisms.
As long as
molecular biology considers language to be an apriori for the
evolution of organisms and, ultimately, also of human intellect, it
has grasped language only syntactically/ semantically.
standpoint of language philosophy, we can legitimately refer to a
language of nature in the evolution of organisms and in the
evolution of human reason only after incorporating the pragmatic
dimension of sign utilization and thus including both the real
environment of the sign user and an understanding of its life-form.
example of how linguistic signs are constituted with meaning through
the pragmatic usage context is provided by chemical messenger
substances whose structure is the same but whose meaning differs in
different communication processes. Thus, the same chemical messenger
can assume an entirely different messenger function as a hormone
than as a neurotransmitter in the communication between nerve cells.
constitution of immunological memory is yet another example of how
the interaction competence of the B-lymphocytes is co-constituted
through pragmatic interaction:
successfully warding off an infection, the B-lymphocytes which
helped organize the defense remain present in the body as an immune
memory. In the event of a renewed infection the immune response can
proceed much more rapidly and more effectively. The immune response
itself, however, is not genetically fixed, merely the structure of
those proteins that organize the immune response. The immune
response is the result of a complex identification and interaction
process (TONEGAWA. 1985). On the other hand, the constitution of the
immunoglobulins, in their incredible diversity, is the result of the
variable combination of respective DNA sequences.
Here as well,
sequence segments are not changed and combined automatically or
randomly, but rather through enzyme proteins with combinatory
competence. Using relatively few, variable sequence regions and
following only a few rules, they produce a sheer endless number of
easily distinguishable identification proteins, which help organize
a successful immune response. Highly complex interaction forms and
mutually complementary communication types (intra-,inter-, and
meta-organismic communication), not random sequence mutations, have
led to the development of such an immune response competence. If the
organization and structuring of such relatively simple biological
processes is controlled
complex enzyme sign processes, then how much more plausible is the
assumption that such sign processes are involved in actual
evolutionary processes, in which much more complex symbol processes
proteins in particular, which combine and recombine genetic texts,
provide evidence for an evolutionarily acquired competence in text
processing. More specifically, recombination enzymes identify
particular recognition sequences as such and use this ability to
carry out combinatory operations on the genetic text; in this manner
they cut out semantically significant text sequences from the text
assemblage and insert them somewhere else in the assemblage. The
sequence combination itself is governed by syntactic rules; the
exact nature of their combination is under the influence of
pragmatic conditions. The real environment of the affected cells and
molecular structures of a complete organism form the evaluation
function which constitutes the actual text combination as a meaning
involving the "language of nature", as applied by molecular
biologists, should not be rejected out of hand. Nevertheless, to
justify referring to a language of nature in the
language-philiosophical sense requires an expansion of the
reductionistic language concept of molecular biology. This would
enable an understanding of living nature based not on metaphors but
on a reconstruction of historical intercommunication situations and
forms. The discussion about the language of nature opens new
interpretation possibilities for observations in the realm of living
nature - avenues that would principally be closed to reductionistic
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