The Information Tetrahedron is a visual aid for understanding translation. It is a model of the material conditions required to translate any form of recorded information, including the information recorded in DNA. The translation of an informational medium enables the production of effects that are not determined by the material properties of the medium being translated. Instead, those effects are determined elsewhere within the system of translation. This relational architecture – with one arrangement of matter evoking an effect, while another arrangement of matter determines what the effect will be – establishes a physical discontinuity in the system. This discontinuity allows for the production of effects that are not limited by local dynamics. Such effects can only be derived from the contingent organization of the individual systems that translate information.
The products of these systems include communication, sensory perception, replication, homeostasis, evolution, and culture. These examples reflect the entirety of the living kingdom, and are completely absent in the remaining inanimate world.
See also: An Easy Understanding of Semiosis
- To organize the first living cell implies the capacity to specify objects among alternatives. In short, the capacity to construct a cellular object made of x, y and z, requires the capacity to specify x, y, and z among other objects. Given that no physical object inherently specifies any other object, the act of specification is accomplished by the use of a representational medium (i.e. memory).
- Nature demonstrates unambiguously how a representation is established in the natural world. An object is established as a representation when a second object physically determines what is being represented (i.e. its referent) and the natural discontinuity between the representation and its referent is preserved by the organization of the system.
- This discontinuous association is a semiotic mechanism. It establishes the physical independence (non-determinism) required for a system to specify referents that are not derived from the properties of the representation. A system that is capable of discontinuous association is limited only (in principle) by what is physically possible. This open set of potential outcomes is the physicochemical basis of both the origin and diversity of form in the living kingdom.
- Because the effects of translation are not determined by local dynamics, they are subject to error, change, and noise. A rational distinction is therefore made between the functional and non-functional output of semiotic systems. Functional products are described as being the result of information; non-functional products are generally described as being the result of error and noise.