[language] Linguists Decipher Warning Message in Genome]

H.M. Hubey hubeyh at mail.montclair.edu
Wed Sep 25 04:38:28 UTC 2002

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Linguists Decipher Warning Message in Genome

February 1, 2039

BOSTON--A group of researchers at MIT's Chomsky Institute announced
yesterday independent confirmation of their discovery of a series of
messages encoded in apparently dormant or unused sections of the human
genome. "We're able to report replication of our results by at least three
independent teams," explained the team's project director Klara Tulip. "We
hence feel quite confident about the results and felt that they were
significant enough to warrant preliminary public release."

Exploiting evolved, mathematical models derived from iterative analyses of
network-available audio, video and text files in more than 200 languages,
the team scanned files in the Human Genome Library for patterns consistent
with the presence of a "semantic system." "We were actually using the Genome
Library as a control data-set to be sure that our model wasn't producing
false positives," explains Tulip. "We'd developed a mathematical and
algorithmic formulation of a meta-language descriptive of all known human
linguistic systems and needed to test it against some non-random data that
we assumed had no semantic content. We we're stunned to find that the genome
contains sequences consistent with an implied linguistic system."

Within days of discovering the presence of "semantic sequences" the team had
also isolated a "Rosetta Stone" enabling them to partially decipher and
translate a number of passages. "The genome appears to contain a linguistic
system of remarkable economy," notes Tulip. "Like a coded message that
includes detailed instructions for how it is to be decoded."

Though declining to reveal the full results of their analysis, noting that
some 97% of the human genome consists of biologically unused sequences with
"a statistically significant chance of containing decipherable semantic
content," the team did release translations of a "number of passages of
public interest," including the warning "NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY END

Among other messages, the team isolated at least 42 varied repetitions of
the instruction to "[not] fold, spindle, or mutilate" and two apparently
inconsistent warranties, one claiming "absence of defect in material or
workmanship for 180 days from formulation" and one disavowing "all
warranties of fitness for use except as otherwise required." "Our initial
analysis has uncovered a number of repetitions, counter-factuals, and
internal- inconsistencies suggesting that these genomic messages are a
product of the same evolutionary forces driving reproduction of the
non-semantic portions of the genome," observes Tulip.

Responding to news of the team's discovery, critics, including a number of
prominent linguists and bioinformaticians, characterize the research as a
Rorschach Test revealing more about the researchers' assumptions than about
the meaning of human genes. "You have to look closely at their model, at
what their meta- linguistic model assumes about the world," notes Harvard
Professor of Statistics Joseph Climb. "If you go into the world with a
sufficiently abstract model of 'language' you'll start finding Shakespeare
inside rocks and twigs."

Discounting such criticism as "mathematically unsophisticated," project
leader Tulip points to the astronomical odds against "a chance consistency
that would permit our model to identify such a vast pool of semantically
significant sequences. Our genome has something to say. The real question is
why--what evolutionary purpose could these messages serve?"

M. Hubey

hubeyh at mail.montclair.edu /\/\/\/\//\/\/\/\/\/\/http://www.csam.montclair.edu/~hubey

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