IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Signal Reactions & Symbol Reactions
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, October 2, 2005 - 11:14 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


Could a "signal reaction" be thought of as a response to the syntax of a sentence, utterance,.?

And could a "symbol reaction" be thought of as a response to the meaning of a sentence,.?

The first question deserver a qualified "no" answer. Examples of responses to "syntax" would seem to be such cases where a non-native speaker "gets it wrong", and the native speaker listener experiences some confusion, annoyance, inclination to correct, or other near immediate response. In all these cases, the information has already been processed and compared to the expected standard and generated an exception error that gets interpterted by other orientations in the experience of the listener.

Regarding the second question, all responses are to the evolved "meaning" to the organism of the stimulus. Even reflex reactions depend on a genetic history of needing to react quickly to something, the result of which, has an effect on the individual. Jerking away from pain reduces the probability of greater injury; evolution has abstracted that the "meaning" of something that causes pain is "dangerous", and must be avoided, so even reflex reactions are to the "significance" of the stimulus.

We are accustomed to characterize reactions on a time to respond scale with short resonse times labeled "signal reactions" and long response times labled "symbol responses".

The continuum going from signal reaction to symbol response can be understood in terms of semantic reactions. See http://www.xenodochy.org/gs/sr.html for a more in depth discussion.


I see a "symbol reaction" as a reaction to something that is not 'there.'

It's "not there" in a physical sense, but is "is there" in the sense that it can be measured by questionnaires and noting the consistence of answers from different people. "It" has "virtual existence" in what I refer to as our "semantic environments".


... 'nature' in general has little to no 'ability' to interpret symbols. ....

Humans do, though. They see what is not immediately there. They see 'things' as standing for other 'things' at times....

Not just humans. Dogs and other animals "read" the territorial marking made by other memebers of their species. Birds and others respond to various calls (danger, territory, mating, etc.) in terms of the "meaning" of the calls. The vast majority of living organisms respond to stimuli in terms of the "meaning" or significance of the stimulus to the organism. I would speculate that for lower species on the phylogenetic scale the predominance of reactions are signal reactions and conditioned responses, but our ape cousins can exhibit rudimentary delayed reaction symbol responses. Washoe was the chimp who learned to sign.


For instance, every night before she went to bed Washoe would brush her teeth and the sign "toothbrush" would be signed to her. One day Washoe went into the bathroom and signed "toothbrush" by herself with no provocation.

In addition to thinking of signal reaction and symbol response in the context of semantic reaction, we should remember the higher context in which semantic reactions occur - the nervous system processing of stimuli. See my six-stage information processing model which discusses the integration of general semantics and the attitude theory of emotion at http://www.xenodochy.org/gs/tfka.html - comments always welcome.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 20, 2005 - 11:24 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

All reactions whether signal or symbol (other than simple reflexs) are to the "meaning" or "significance" of the stimulus. The typical use of "signal" reaction is to describe an "unthinkingly" quick response or reply. "Pushing someone's buttons" often evokes signal reactions. If you've seen it before, and you quickly say ho-hum, another one, without taking the time to look to see if it's different, you've produced a signal reaction. By the same token, if you've never seen it and your immediate response is, "Wow, that's really cool", it could still be a signal reaction, if you have not taken the time to look it over.

For meaning or significance see these.