Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Remarkable Howard H. Pattee - Update and Links

Howard Pattee has had a profound effect on the intellectual lives of many of his students. He continues to do so via his latest book, Laws, Language and Life, his online papers, and his postings on blogs, including Biosemiosis and The Virtual Philosophy Club.

He was Chairman of my PhD Committee at Binghamton University (1996) and became an enduring friend, communicating via email and my Blog. His classic 1973 book Hierarchy Theory - The Challenge of Complex Systems is available on E-Bay.


In a recent email, Howard updated his current situation, writing, in part:
We are still functioning well for our age. I just had my 88th birthday celebrated only by the two of us going to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I can still walk straight on smooth level ground, but I need trekking poles on trails to feel secure. ...

It is good to hear that my brain still interests some of your bloggers. I have been contributing to the Biosemiosis Blog and reading real books, so I haven't followed The Virtual Philosophy Club. ...

For anyone interested further, I think the best summary of my scientific work is the Historical Introduction to my collected papers, Laws, Language, and Life. Springer priced the book out of the market, which is only their problem since most of my papers are available at

I agree that publishing on Internet is now the most effective to promote your ideas. ...

This weekend is maximum Fall color, so Williamstown is full of tour buses. Do you remember freezing weather?

Best wishes to you both.



Postings by Howard: (Click the highlighted links below)

Biosemiotics Ira suggested that I try to summarize the field of BIOSEMIOTICS ― the study of how symbol systems control living organisms and societies. I’ll try to do this in a series of short posts of less than 750 words. Then you can ask questions if I am unclear, make comments or disagree with what I have said. Hopefully, we can clear up the problems, and go on to the next post. ...

Has Language Become Parasitic? I have been reading about recent studies on the origins of language, The First Word by Christine Kenneally. She tells about many empirically undecidable narratives, but there is clearly no consensus. There is not even evidence that the current technically enhanced use of human language has any evolutionary survival value. We use language for fun and profit, but those concepts do not correlate with biological fitness. ...

The TED Talks - "Memes" and "Temes" Why is natural selection inevitable, in spite of brains, language, and technology? Before discussing this topic, listen to Susan Blackmore’s TED talk ...

Authority vs Reason Joel said, "Too often quoting authority leads to questioning credentials (as we have seen) and obscuring the real issues. It's a waste of mental energy. I'd rather deal with arguments themselves." My first instinctive response was to agree wholeheartedly. I associate authority with church dogma, bureaucratic red tape, and conservative principles....

Are We Losing Our Minds? Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel, the world's largest chip maker, recently explained, "As a global employer, I have the luxury of hiring the best engineers anywhere on earth. If I can't get them from MIT, I'll get them from Tsing Hua." In fact, MIT is also getting some good students from Tsing Hua. Americans are not facing the fact that our economic recovery and our military superiority depend on maintaining our scientific and intellectual leadership. Presently, our average students in math and science rank very low compared to most of the developed nations. For years we have tried to cure this problem by imposing standards, testing, eliminating unions, and spending money. So far these attempts have been ineffective. Why is this?...

Howard Pattee on Independent Living Howard Pattee and his wife have about a decade of experience in an Independent Living situation at Sweetwood, Williamstown, MA. Sweetwood is located in a relatively rural area of Massachusetts near Williams College, and has 70 apartments...

Postings About Howard: (Click the highlighted links below)

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 1 - His 2008 Paper Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard (who is still paying the price for being Chairman of my PhD committee nearly two decades ago :^). He has given me his permission to share his comments on my email critiques of his 2008 paper, and I plan to do so in subsequent postings in this "Dialog with Howard Pattee" series...

The above link is to the first in a multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.
Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability
Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy
Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism
Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions

Postings With Comments Written By Howard: )Click on the highlighted link below)

Howard's Comments on Various Blog Topics


Click HERE for Google search for Biosemiosis Blog plus Howard Pattee 

LINK TO SPECIAL PATTEE ISSUE OF BIOSYSTEMS (Click the highlighted link below)
(Luis Rocha and I were contemporary PhD students of Howard's.)


Read This First ! (Click the highlighted link below)

Historical Introduction to Laws, Language, and Life by Howard Pattee.
Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols, epistemology, quantum measurement, complementarity, hierarchy theory, and artificial life―with contemporary commentaries by Howard Pattee and Joanna RÄ…czaszek-Leonardi.

Introduction―What these papers are about ...

The types of questions I discuss in these papers are entitled to be called classical questions, because in one form or another they have been on philosophers’ minds for well over 2000 years.They arise from the three foundational concepts in the book’s title. The first concept is natural law, by which I mean the inexorable events over which living organisms have no control; or as the physicist Wigner expressed it, a lawful event gives “the impression that it could not be otherwise.” The second concept is life, and its essential characteristic of individual organisms with variable heritable controls allowing them to generate a world of endless novelties where, as the biologist Dobzhansky says, “nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The third concept is language, in which I include all those symbol systems that are necessary for life,evolution, and thought, as well as for control, communication, and models of reality. The genetic language, animal languages, natural human languages, mathematics, formal logic, and computer languages are examples. ... READ MORE

Then Download and Read These Papers (Click the highlighted links below)

Historical introduction to LAWS, LANGUAGE AND LIFE
Always lurking behind our extensive scientific knowledge of laws, language, and life are the classical philosophers’ epistemological questions: By what criteria and actions do the concepts in our individual subjective brains conform to... more
Abstract:Evolution requires the genotype-phenotype distinction, a primeval epistemic cut that separates energy-degenerate, rate-independent genetic symbols from the rate-dependent dynamics of construction that they control. This... more
Research Interests: 
A conversation between Howard Pattee and Kalevi Kull
Biosemiotics distinguishes life from inanimate matter by its dependence on material construction controlled by coded symbolic information. This irreducible primitive distinction between matter and symbol is necessary for open-ended... more
ABSTRACT − Biosemiotics recognizes that life is distinguished from inanimate matter by its dependence on material construction under the control of coded symbolic description. This distinction between matter and symbol extends from the... more
Research Interests: 
Discussion from a Canadian Broadcasting Company program IDEAS, "Physics and Beyond, Conversations in Physics and Biology" conducted by Paul Buckley and David Peat. Other conversations with Bohm, Dirac, Heisenberg, Penrose, Prigogine,... more
Abstract The necessary but not sufficient conditions for biological informational concepts like signs, symbols, memories, instructions, and messages are (1) an object or referent that the information is about, (2) a physical embodiment... more
Abstract The question is posed as to whether the behavior of living matter gives us any reason to reconsider fundamental physical principles. How is the problem of language likely to influence our concepts of physics? The problems of... more
A macroscopic physical system which represents a classification process requires a non-holonomic constraint. . A molecular representation of a non-holonomic constraint requires a specific rate control process or tactic catalysis. It is... more
I would like to try, if not an entirely new path, at least a new detour in approaching the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, as well as the more general problem of how physical description is dependent on the epistemological... more
Abstract Foundational controversies in artificial life and artificial intelligence arise from lack of decidable criteria for defining the epistemic cuts that separate knowledge of reality from reality itself, e.g., description from... more
Abstract A theory of emergent or open-ended evolution that is consistent with the epistemological foundations of physical theory and the logic of self-reference requires complementary descriptions of the material and symbolic aspects of... more
Abstract. I describe the simplest living organism, the cell, as a symbol-matter system―an observable case of how a natural representation using a word processing format constrains the real-time behavior of a material organism. My purpose... more
Abstract ― Physical laws and semiotic controls require complementary modes of conceptualization and description. Laws are global and inexorable. Controls are local and conditional. Life originated with semiotic controls. Semiotic... more
Complementarity is an epistemological principle derived from the subject-object orobserver-system dichotomy, where each side requires a separate mode of description that is formally incompatible with and irreducible to the other, and... more
The general concept of information does not belong in the category of universal and inexorable physical laws but in the category of initial conditions and boundary conditions. Boundaryconditions formed by local structures are often called... more

Ira Glickstein