The Three Little
Pigs : Chemistry of
linguistics, language, language acquisition, language evolution,
atoms and words, molecules and thoughts, Pattern
Theory, Ulf Grenander, Mark Baker, Peter Jusczyk,
Complexity, Simplicity. Less-is-more.
often treated in terms of complexity reaching a certain
approach can be advocated in terms of simplicity.
fundamental principles of chemistry, it looks for
very simple systems
phase spaces, governed by simple local rules and capable of increasing
by simple steps. It is hypothesized that the initial stage
acquisition is a natural example of emergence
difficult to reconcile evolving systems with the axiom of closure,
which is the
of mathematics butleaves no place to evolutionary novelty.
Chemistry, however, accommodates the concept
of novelty quite well. This
e-paper continues, in a freewheeling fashion, the examination of
language as a
system from the point of view of a chemist who happens
“What if the words were atoms?” It
the parallel between cognitive and chemical systems. A
conceptual groundwork for chemistry and linguistics,
as well as
all other discrete combinatorial systems, is borrowed from the atomism
(Ulf Grenander). As an
text of The Three Little Pigs is decomposed into triplets of
and some local principles of generator
identification and categorization
are examined. The principle of local equilibrium
between the category
and its entries
is discussed against the background of basic chemical ideas.
If words were atoms: an
The mind and the flask
New and the
I don’t know
where and bring me I don’t know what 19
the mind an enzyme?
emergence of mind
The chemistry of the Three Little Pigs
If words were atoms:
examination of language as a quasi-molecular system from the point of
view of a
chemist who, inspired by the book by Mark C. Baker The Atoms of
 , quite seriously asks, “What if the words were atoms?”
happens to be myself. My motivation comes from the time when I, a
student at a
chemistry department in the mid-1950’s, learned for the first time
Norbert Wiener and his previously forbidden in the Soviet Russia
By the same time, facing a large body of chemical publications and
develop some passive skills in foreign languages, I felt the pull of
linguistic cosmos. Thirty years later I had learned, by mere accident,
Ulf Grenander and his Pattern Theory (PT) [2, 3] and the theory
embrace all available to me knowledge.
want to look at
cognition with the eyes of neither a mathematician, nor an engineer,
linguist, nor a cognitive scientist, but a chemist. My intuition tells
chemistry may be relevant at least for one reason. Molecules and
observable, are configurations in PT.
contribute to the area is, first of all, the unique experience with
structural change over time, which hardly any other science possesses
comparably pure form. Another little used angle of vision, also
chemistry, is the evolutionary one, but, again, not in the common
sense. It is
not that “everything evolves” but that everything grows on a
scale from very simple structures by very simple steps up to an
complexity. Thirdly, the eye-catching but often misunderstood principle
catalysis has a very general extra-chemical meaning.
another subtle reason. We do not know whether it is essential for the
its cells to be a chemical system. If we knew, we could probably
human mind has been so stubbornly resisting any integral computer
for at least half a century of computer science.
other science, can efficiently master enormous complexity by simple
means and a
Spartan stock of ideas. Taking to account the chemical origin
and tracing the origin of species, mind, and society back to the
cradle, we may expect to notice in the oblique light some new shadows
in the frontal glare of computer science.
previous e-paper [ 4] with a tentative Appendix as an illustration of
chemistry-inspired concepts regarding the first language acquisition by
children and the Poverty of Stimulus argument. I decomposed a fragment
Three Little Pigs into 1-neighborhoods of words, i.e., the word and
right and left neighbors, and tried to derive syntactic classification
non-algorithmic manner through primitive local operations, ignoring the
impressive achievements of Neural Networks, algorithmic Part-of-Speech
corpus-based and context-based categorization, and other contemporary
to language processing. As before, I am interested here only in
parallels between language and chemistry in the light of Pattern
always from the position and with habits of a chemist.
the program If Words Were Atoms,
I am making here the next step within a larger program
Chemical View of the World, see [
4, 5 ] . where some relevant literature was collected from distant
knowledge. It is the larger program
that could be an excuse for numerous digressions from the immediate
references to distant times and places on the map of knowledge.
The main idea can be presented in
the following way. The natural complex systems, especially, life, mind,
language, society, and culture, all emerged at some elusive point. The
dominating point of view is that order emerges in a dynamical system
parameters exceed some threshold .
This is certainly true, as far as the
origin of order in some physical and chemical systems is concerned, but
is no way to derive a particular kind of order, for example, origin and
evolution of language, from the general systemic ideas about order. We
derive regularities from observing particular systems, but we cannot
particular systems from the regularities, unless we have a conceptual
between particularities and regularities. This bridge naturally exists
chemistry and follows from the idea of atomism. Pattern Theory is, in
sense, a meta-chemistry, i.e., a mathematical foundation for the study
prevalent direction in the study of emergence starts with complexity,
the alternative idea is advocated here in terms of simplicity.
science of simplicity, possibly complementary to the science of
with very simple systems in tiny phase spaces, governed by simple local
and capable of increasing their complexity by simple steps. On its
toward complexity, simplicity is
not bound by the axiom of closure that makes mathematics and logic
Chemical systems, having served as the cradle of life and life’s
expansions into mind and society, are the natural source of such ideas.
hypothesized that language acquisition is one of possible
Unlike the origin of life and society, not to mention the universe, it
perfectly observable in small children.
suggest that the simple origin is a necessary condition of unfolding of
complex system and it should be included into the definition of the
open system and taken to account in designing realistic simulations of
mind, and society.
of two parts: one is about principles and the other one with
far as the style of this paper is concerned, if it appears tousled, it
about the excitement of the adventure.