Complex Systems View at the Emergence of Communication from Cells to Societies

Contributed article in our business series. Enjoy! – Kimberly

The unifying theme of this book is that communication is an underlying fabric of life, as fundamental as matter and energy are to our world and, more importantly, to our understanding of the world.  This book is also a non-exhaustive account of interesting, out of pattern communication and social behaviors that we can observe in animals, or in the biological world; among us, humans, and between us humans and other species.

While we know that communication is fundamental to life, in any form or shape it comes on our planet, the goal of this book is to show that there are aspects of communication that can be universal and transferable from one species to another and that it is what enables collective behavior in social animals and humans. At the same time, there are aspects of communication that are unique to each species or ecosystem, that communication has evolved both alongside the genetic evolution, the social evolution that is characteristic to a subset of living species, and the cultural evolution that is characteristic not only to humans, but also to whales, dolphins, primates, elephants, and many more.

Moreover, this book points towards the need of a more fundamental theory of communication. In order to understand the future of language, the development of artificial intelligence and perhaps even the development of interspecies communication we need to pay attention to the fundamentals of communication in a way that is usable and transferable into practice, by trying to dance around the tautologies and ubiquitousness of this phenomenon that is so universal, yet so poorly described in universal terms, and that is so fundamental, yet lacking a robust fundamental theory or fundamental platform of research.

Claude Shannon is well known for laying out the foundations of information theory several decades ago. Every model of information diffusion and information exchange has essentially followed Shannon’s theory of quantifying information and information exchange as sender-message-receiver. But in the natural and social world, information is essentially characterized not only by quantity, but also by subjectivity, individual interpretation and meaning, characteristics that have been largely left aside from the information diffusion models, including many social and biological models of information exchange. The research presented in this book revisits Shannon’s theory and shows how we can start to model and quantify subjectivity and meaning in information by using principles from the economics of information and complex systems. It also shows how, using an economic approach, we can model internal adaptation and selection communication mechanisms both for the sender and receiver. The author shows that these mechanisms, under specific conditions that replicate physical and informational/cognitive decays in DNA, lead to communication emergence.

This book is a start towards understanding the role of communication in various life forms and technologies, from cells to societies, thus creating a roadmap for an integrated theory of communication.

Anamaria Berea, PhD
Research Affiliate
Center for Complexity in Business
Robert H. Smith School of Business
University of Maryland

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