The Ladder of Cognition: Abstract Operation, Molecular Biology, Sytems Science



AK Mukhopadhyay, 2017

To download a pdf, please click here*.



Bioinformatics of transition from signal to knowledge, experience and wisdom appears opaque. This transition has been described through four hierarchically nested specific operations to structurize the ladder of cognition. Cells could be classified according to their level in the cognitive ladder. The specific substrate proteins as required for desirable level of cellular cognition show a remarkable similar pattern in dynamical hierarchical structure in concurrence with ontological ladders in informatics, mathematics, logic and linguistics. Within the cell, several factors together make the cognitive and decision-making system labyrinthine, where molecules respond to their intangible operators as the strings respond to the fingers of a sitar player. There emerges the broad outline of organization in the design of unified systems science. The outcomes have promises for pathology and molecular medicine, cell biology and synthetic biology, psychology and psychiatry, artificial intelligence and bio-robotics.



  • The ladder of cognition is dynamically structurized with four hierarchically nested operations.
  • A remarkable similarity is observed between the ladder of cognition and the ontological ladder in informatics, mathematics, logic, linguistics and the ladder in nature’s currency.
  • Proteins, which are likely to offer substrate support for cognition also show similar pattern.
  • The broad outline of organization in the design of a unified systems science has emerged.



Cognition is generally thought to be a function of the nervous system. Even an ant with only 250,000 neurons rescue their wounded from battles [1]. Cellular cognition, on the other hand, is a developing discipline. “Bacteria are small but not stupid” [2]. Like human beings connected through facebook, the bacteria have phagebook for social networking [3]. Even the phages are seen to make group decision [4]. Like an individual, a single cell is wise, experienced and intelligent, has knowledge and can build up information from the signal originating out of ligand-receptor interaction. Are cells ‘clouds’ and ‘continuum’ and the function to be described as ‘unfolding’ and ‘dynamics’? Are we describing cell ‘state’ or cell ‘type’? Are there really laws of biology? Craig Mak raises these issues in the recent editorial of Cell Systems [5]! Molecular signal networking keeps every organelle of a cell informed about its wisdom, experience and knowledge. As a result, the language of response of a cell becomes ideology-neutral, solution-centric and holistic. The mechanism for this kind of cellular response and the behavioral repertoire as required, are based on informatics, which is still opaque. The discipline of informatics has been shuttling between signal and information. Digital computer works on the basis of binary arithmetic and Boolean algebra. Geometry and Symmetry are yet to be used in informatics. Neuroscience speaks of sensation, perception and conscious experience. Only the disciplines of linguistics and philosophy cover the whole spectrum from signal to wisdom, although without any scientific basis. Is it possible to address the mechanism by which the signal is converted into information, information transits to knowledge, knowledge transforms into experience, and the experience sublimes as wisdom? In reverse, in the downstream, are there operations, which can explain how the wisdom is distributed homogenously within the cell reflecting the experience and knowledge throughout? Could any known physicochemical process explain such processes or do we need new framework for such coherent understanding where, as Heisenberg puts it, “physics and chemistry belong as limiting case”? “Electrical and biological circuits are not directly parallel”. Therefore, we are to go beyond physical circuitry [6]. If we say that entire cell-signaling network works automatically, then the process of enquiry ceases. A cognitive dead end is reached. By trusting solely on self-organization we skirt the real issue, the emerging patterns in the biological complexity [7] and ignore the difference between self-organizing and life-organizing systems. Could the existing frail linguistic ladder of cognition be used for explaining cellular and molecular cognition? Could different cells be classified on the basis of their behavioral skill that in turn depends on their power of cognition? The objectives of this scientific narrative are to define different milestones on the path from signal to experience, understand the possible operational process from one milestone to the next, and to develop a framework of cognitive ladder supported by existing evidence in science and which is further verifiable by experiments. The larger goal is to unfold the design of organization for a unified systems science.




Having accepted the linguistic ladder of cognition and its in-built hierarchy as our initial substrates, the milestones within the spectrum of the ladder is defined and so also the pathway. Following this, operations from one milestone to the next have been designated and thereafter described in detail.


Defining the Milestones


Cognition starts with attending a signal, the first milestone in the path. The last milestone is the point of wisdom. Information, knowledge and experience are three more milestones in between. The milestones could be abbreviated asSigl. → Infn. → Knlg. → Expc. → Wsdm.The milestones could be described as follows.

  1. The signal: Signal in science is designated by an energy frequency i.e., as energy in space per unit of time. Information’s space-time construct is signal. Signal works in physical, measurable, sensible plane. Signal has no meaning of its own. It is non-intentional. In terms of knowledge, signal, like data, represents merely factual knowledge.
  2. Information: Information is the unit of communication between two conscious systems. It carries the ‘meaning’ extracted from the signal in a specific context. Information is transphysical, not totally within the physical plane of matter energy, space and time. Information, as known today, is digital. It is ‘Shannonian’ information that reduces mathematical uncertainty. Information in terms of knowledge is informative knowledge.
  3. Knowledge: By knowledge, it is generally meant formative or the ‘textbook’ knowledge. Several interrelated information acquire a specific architectural invariance and irreducibility in knowledge. Therefore, knowledge can be used by the systems without further deliberation on it. Knowledge carries the meaning of information in the context of the systems as a whole.
  4. Experience: Experience is dynamically piled-up interactive knowledge of several spheres that within the systems have survived the challenges of symmetry-breaking processes in life. Experience is environment-seasoned with socio-cultural bias, but systems-confined. Experience is transformative knowledge. It is like hard currency for use in long-term survival and growth of the systems.
  5. Wisdom: Wisdom, the sublime knowledge, is the final essence of a large number of similar experiences of not merely one system but of several systems and is therefore, useful globally. In terms of information, wisdom is crystal information at a point. With the highest degree of accuracy and limited by error in given action, wisdom is in sync with the world, carrying always a worldview.


Defining the Pathway


The process of transition of signal to wisdom could be looked as progressive refinement of ‘meaning’. Knowledge is the ‘meaning’ in the context of the whole system. Experience is the ‘meaning’ of knowledge in the context of the environment the systems live in. Wisdom carries the final meaning in sync with world transition of tangible physical to sub-physical intangible begins when signal transits to information. By sub-physical it is meant for which there is not yet a tool to measure any activity. The whole process covers a gradual transition from measurable quantity to acquisition of quality, from progressive integration to a state of becoming integral within the systems. The process is a movement from the laws of cause and effect, linear and circular causality, to the ‘categorical imperative’ of Immanuel Kant, a movement from epistemology to ontology! The upstream movement, in philosophical language, is gradual transcendentalization of nature while the downstream is progressive naturalization of the transcendental. This is the transition from signal processing Boolean logic to concept processing fuzzy logic to knowledge processing formal logic followed by inferential logic in experience and hermeneutics of conscious system, which includes non-verbal communication activities as well. In the language of mathematics this is a movement from arithmetic/algebraic expression to geometric representation to symmetry acquisition and then to have symmetry-manifold (?super-symmetry) that finally culminates in ‘pointification (dynamically in ‘moment’ification). The transition is conducted by hierarchically nested four specific operations.


Designation of the Operations


The operation between Sigl and Infn is designated as operation I, between Infn and Knlg as operation II, between Knlg and Expc as operation III and between Expc and Wsdm as operation IV.


Operations in Detail


Operations are described individually one by one.


Operation I: Simply stated it looks like conversion of signal into information, conversion of space-time construct of information into Shannonian information. Signal is represented by energy frequency. Frequency is expressed as space per unit time. Space and time together constitute “form”. By an outside-in maneuver, this “form” from the physical plane goes inside information. As a result (Figure 1), we get a process-structure together, as information, where ‘action’ indicates etymologically, a process [8].


Further detail


Operation I is on the phase transition of signal into information where a meaning, a concept is developed from the percept. This conversion of percept into a concept concurs with transition of arithmetic into geometry.

To read the full article, please see the PDF*.


*© Author. Hyperlinked with permission from Author.