Human ecology

Symbols in biology

I've been trying to find a good example that isn't either trivial (human language), complex (protein interactions) or with highly contested implications (DNA-protein translation). The best I've come up with is the knee-jerk reflex-arc.

Knee Jerk Reflex

Source: Toole & Toole (1987) "Understanding biology for advanced level", Hutchinson, London.

In this example, the stimulus is symbolised in forms that are embodied in chemical and physical processes. Some of the signifying processes are as follows... At each point in this chain, the physical embodiment of the signal (the concentration wave, the acetylcholine transmission, etc.) signifies the stimulus that caused the initial muscle stretch. These physical entities can have other meanings in other cellular contexts.

From this, I would say that acetylcholine and calcium act as symbols in biological systems.

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Written 1/9/99
Created 5/4/00
Last modified