Re: Meaning generation

Ton Maas (
Sat, 26 Jul 1997 16:14:39 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102804afffb16e146c@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Sat, 26 Jul 1997 16:14:39 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: Meaning generation

>> I doubt anyone will ever be capable of distinguishing where 'inherited'
>> sequences stop and 'learned' sequences start.
>Undoubtedly true. That's a common situation in science (at least where
>I work). But it's a disastrous mistake to leap from that to the
>conclusion that there's no distinction and no reason to consider the
>two kinds of phenomena separately. There are behaviors that are
>completely wired in (e.g. peristalsis). There are behaviors that
>have absolutely no genetic basis (e.g. circumambulating a religious
>site in a clockwise direction). There are areas of behavior where
>both kinds of factor are involved (e.g. mating behavior, social
>hierarchies, parts of language). But we won't come closer to an
>understanding of these phenomena by pretending that there really
>isn't any difference between the two types of pattern.

Although I appreciate what yo're trying to do/say, I guess there is a more
fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. In his seminal article, "Not
One, Not Two" (CoEvolution Quarterly, Fall 1976), Franciso Varela
introduced the Star statement, according to which logical opposites such as
masculin/feminin and nature/nurture should be viewed according to the
formula *=X/the process leading to X. The star and the slash are
injunctions. "*" means: "Observe the problem and its components", while "/"
means: "consider the problem and the interaction between its components".
In more conventional terms: so-called opposites are usually not of the same
logical type. They are not mutually exclusive but the one ecompasses the
other. According to this logic there is no such thing as strictly
"inherited behavior" or "learned behavior". There is no learning without
inheritance, but once learning is introduced into the game, the whole game
becomes something else. Consider the relationship between analog and
digital communication: Can we lie without words? You might say that yes,
indeed you can, but at a more fundamental level lying is impossible without
some form of digital (verbal) communication. Organisms that lack digital
communication, cannot lie, but once you've introduced digital
communication, it *becomes* possible to lie not only with words, but also
without them. It therefor doesn't suffice to ask whether actual
communication is analog or digital, because after the introduction of
digital communication, that distinction becomes rather meaningless. Both
"analog" and "digital" have become abstractions that cannot be found in
their pure form. Even mechanically printed text has analog features (ask
any professional typographer).



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