On 4 November 2020, CRESIDA’s Professor Stuart Semple presented a webinar in our CRESIDA seminar series titled ‘Geladas, genes and the clouds of Venus – compression as a fundamental principle of biological information systems’.
A fundamental goal of the life sciences is to identify universal biological principles – the basic rules of organisation that underpin diverse natural phenomena. I will argue that one way to identify such principles is to explore the universality outside our own species of the common statistical patterns of human language known as linguistic laws. I will firstly describe two linguistic laws, Zipf’s law of abbreviation and Menzerath’s law, and explain the tests we have carried out to see if they hold in non-human primate vocal communication. I will then describe the common mathematical principle that we have demonstrated to lie behind these two laws, and explain why we feel this may be a universal principle underpinning not only primate vocal communication, including human language, but also biological information systems much more broadly…both on this planet and elsewhere in the universe.