Signals are Minimal Causes


Although the definition of ‘signal’ has been controversial for some time within the life sciences, current approaches seem to be converging toward a common analysis. This powerful framework can satisfactorily accommodate many cases of signaling and captures some of its main features. This paper argues, however, that there is a central feature of signals that so far has been largely overlooked: its special causal role. More precisely, I argue that a distinctive feature of signals is that they are minimal causes. I explain this notion, suggest some strategies for identifying its instances and defend its relevance by means of conceptual and empirical considerations.

forthcoming in Synthese