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mathematics

mathematics

Language and

Language and morphogenesis Since the 60s, Thom stood in an exchange of ideas with the British biologist Waddington and he adapted the idea of a morphogenetic field to the mathematical tools he had helped to develop (he got the Fields medal for mathematics in 1958). Such morphogenetic fields are typical for embryogenesis. embryogenesis. Thom expanded this biological concept to language which he understood as a collective organism (a view also prominent in 19th century grammars). In his article: “Linguistics as a morphological discipline” (1974) he even postulates that morphologic principles operative in nature (physics, chemistry, biology) become even clearer and better visible in higher organisations, e.g., language. 8

The catastrophe controversy The more immediate controversy concerned the popularised applications of Zeeman (mainly those in the domain of psychology and sociology). As many defenders of Zeeman contributed to this controversy, its results remained open. The epistemological position of Thom led to a controversy on the aims of science and the merits of qualitative vs. quantitative models. As a general consequence many of the contributions of Zeeman to physics, theoretical biology, economics, neurology were soon recognized as standard techniques of modelling or precursors of standard models, whereas his applications to psychology and sociology remained controversial. Thom’s very radical revitalization of “Naturphilosophie “ Naturphilosophie” ” was further developed by Petitot and redefined in the context of Husserl’s phenomenology and Kant’s critique of reason (cf. Petitot, Petitot, 1992). 9

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