Sociological approaches to ecological uncertainty (version 2)
Symbolism and Physiology

In 'Myth Today', Barthes formalises the relationship between symbol code and myth code, in mathematical terms the relationship between language and meta-language used by Hofstadter. Barthes shows that an infinite number of symbols can be signify the same myth (check terminology). Baudrillard's hyperreality and Derrida's circles of meaning had the same implications to semiotics as Cantor's paradox and Russell's paradox had to set theory.

In semiotics, one implication is that perfect classification codes cannot exist.

(Note: In Cantorian or naive set theory, Cantor shows that some infinities can be larger that other infinities so there could never be a universal set (and then drove himself mad with his continuum hypothesis). In Axiomatic Set Theory, Russell's paradox introduces the same problem. Godel formalises it.)

(Note: In physics the question is, 'why this universe out of the infinite number of possible universes?')

The path that Eco offers out of here is plurality of languages. While Foucault emphasises that the roots of myth are also material and contextual. His work focuses on the way in which power is materially embodied; both in the bricks of the panoptican prisons and mental institutions and the physical actions or inactions of the living bodies within those walls.

A sociological approach to physiology might then follow this path:

A recognition of DNA as a symbolic code within chemical connections between physical elements and their emergent properties.

A recognition of multiple symbolic codes within an organism; chemosmotic metabolism, protein computation, intracellular signaling, endocrine signals, signal cascades, second messengers, neurons, etc.

A recognition of physical elements signifying symbolic meanings in the physical contexts of the organism.

A recognition and physical elements having different meanings in context of different symbolic codes.

A recognition therefore of multiple interactions between symbolic codes.

A Sociological approach might then say

Instead of looking at physiology as 'genetics - hormones - neurons' a recapitulation of embryonic development, look at the other physical symbols in physiology and look at how they relate to each other. Two good examples of this are in the chemosmotic approach to heart beat regulation and in neuroendocrine research.

An element that has been cropping up a lot in my reading has been Calcium, it plays a part in many physiological systems: mitotic cell division, muscle contraction, heart regulation, neuron plasticity. In this way it has symbolic meaning in three of the most studied areas of biology. Its physical identity as an chemical element and functions at the cellular level, make it about the most reduced material symbol you could find in biology.

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Written 3/5/99
Created 30/5/99