Howard H. Pattee and the Physics of Symbols

In my opinion, the scientific observations of theoretical biologist Howard H. Pattee are very relevant for the future progress of science.

A special issue of Biosystems journal (Volume 60, No: 1-3) was dedicated to his work. The editor was Luis Mateus Rocha.

L.M. Rocha [2] explains that Howard H. Pattee’s approach to science “stems from a long, thorough, and attentive observation that complex evolving systems cannot be fully described by any one single, neat, extreme theory or another, but require instead several complementary models – a characteristic that indeed grants them the status of complex”.

A summary of Howard H. Pattee’s views can be found in his paper “Physics of Symbols: Bridging the Epistemic Cut” [1]

Few quotes from Howard H. Pattee:

“Physical systems require many levels of models, some formally irreducible to one another, but we must still understand how the levels are related. Evolution also produces hierarchies of organization from cells to societies, each level requiring different models, but the higher levels of the hierarchy must have emerged from lower levels. Life must have emerged from the physical world. This emergence must be understood if our knowledge is not to degenerate (more than it has already) into a collection of disjoint specialized disciplines.” – [1] 

“There are fundamental reasons why physics and biology require different levels of models, the most obvious one is that physical theory is described by rate-dependent dynamical laws that have no memory, while evolution depends, at least to some degree, on control of dynamics by rate-independent memory structures.” – [1]

I have been trying to develop the concept of cognitive core which has similarities to Pattee’s “memory structure”. I argue that cognitive cores are important in all structures not just the biological ones. In my view, all elementary particles have cognitive cores. Moreover, the “information is physical” discussion in Quantum Mechanics is related to cognitive cores. So, it seems to me that even in physics we need the memory structures (cognitive cores, information, codes) for deeper understanding of physical phenomena.


[1] Howard H. Pattee, “The Physics of Symbols: Bridging the Epistemic Cut”, Biosystems Vol. 60, pp. 5-21 (2001)

[2] Luis M. Rocha, “The Physics and Evolution of Symbols and Codes:Reflections on the Work of Howard Pattee”, Biosystems Vol. 60, pp. 1-4 (2001)
This entry was posted in biology, science and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.