The Evolution of Complexity - Abstracts.

Branching: The Biological Basis of Symbol Formation.

By Chuck Henry

  • Dr. Charles Henry
  • Box 20
  • Vassar College
  • Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 12601
  • USA
  • Full paper


    Branching, or brachiation, occurs in a variety of phenomena, including objects and processes. Four examples would be botanical brachiation, evidenced in tree limbs, veins, and root systems; speciation itself; brain neurological arrangement; and language modification, as in creole, slang, and more broadly, symbol formation.

    Branching represents in part an attempt to intersect with another (needed) source or system: leaves for water and sunlight; speciation as itself a result of intersection with the environment and the strengthening of characteristics most suited for continued adaptability; brain neurostructures as intersecting, it is now believed, with a variety of systems in the formulation of thought and memory; and language modification as the evidence of a incorporating other linguistic systems in order to be understood by a diverging audience.

    In lingusitic symbol formation, branching occurs as when evidence exists of intersecting semiotic realms that enrich, transform, and re-stabilize a concept. Analogously, in art, image symbolism or iconology is possible only if an individuated image or sign is understood as the nexus of often highly divergent explanations and meanings (a cross, a swastika), or an image is contextualized by associations (another form of brachiation). Magritte's paintings, in fact, are studies of precisely this process.

    Some important aspects of brachiation are:

    1. it is a phenomenon that occurs in objects as well as outside of objects
    2. it is a key aspect of science (botany, neurology) and a part of art (language, literature)
    3. it unites art and science
    4. perhaps most intriguingly, brachiation in lower life forms can be described as both a result and a process of adaptibility responding to the prior intersection of systems necessary for the brachiating system's survival. In higher forms of life, the biological tendency of branchiation may give rise to what we term in philosophy 'will' and 'desire': conscious attempts at intersecting an object or process.<
    Other factors of this phenomenon are more elusive: what are, for instance, the forces at work to limit branching in biology and language/artistic symbolism? Regarding limiting conditions: in language this is partly accomplished by grammar; is there a corresponding phenomenon in the biological world? Is grammar inherent to branching systems What is the relationship between branching and form? Can this relationship be modelled mathematically?

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