I’ve been thinking about attributes that are unique to humans (not just far more developed in humans than other species) and aside from trivial things like chins, the only ones I can think of are art and language, but I’m not certain of either of these. Some songbirds sing for no apparent reason, which might suggest they have an intrinsic aesthetic sense.

As for language, what separates it from communication, I would argue, is grammar. It seems fairly clear that the other examples of what we would typically call communication in nature are not grammatical. But then I thought about DNA. People often speak metaphorically about DNA as a “programming language”. So, is that more than just a metaphor? That is, does DNA have clear lexical units, whose arrangement determines the relations between them? That is, is DNA, in whole or in part, grammatical?

There is a similar question here, but the answers are too ambiguous in the use of the word “language” for my purposes. For example, English is undeniably a language. We could take all valid English sentences and order them as in a dictionary. This assigns each sentence a natural number. We could then assign the number the meaning of the corresponding English sentence. It would be fair to call this a “code”, but hard to call it a “language” in the strict sense: the digits of the numbers and their organisation would not really have meaning. In comparison, in English, the word “biology” has a specific reference, or placing an adjective before a noun has a specific meaning. I’m not talking about DNA “meaning” what it’s encoding in the sense that it knows what it’s doing, that is of course nonsense. Rather I’m using the word meaning in the sense that lexical units of DNA and ways to organise them would denote specific things, for example, specific ways to fold part of a protein, or bond amino acids. Just like how a computer doesn’t know what it’s code says, but still, in the psuedocode:

while n>1:
    if n even:
        n = n/2
        n = 3n+1
print “Yes”

every term has a clear meaning, and their arrangement combines these meanings according to clear rules.

This may be an incredibly misguided question. I’m not a biologist.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It would not be fair to call anything to do with DNA a "code" unless you are referring to the Genetic Code. In molecular biology (which predates modern computer programming) it does NOT mean encoded information and cannot be used in this way in scientific language. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jul 22, 2022 at 9:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Bio.SE, Thomas. If you haven't yet, please take the site tour and read the guide on asking a good question. Generally, this forum is dedicated to answering specific questions about biological systems or concepts. Your question strikes me as philosophical, and your edit, while clarifying your point, does not do much to rectify the fact that any and all answers would be speculative and/or opinion-based. $\endgroup$
    – acvill
    Jul 22, 2022 at 15:05


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