Upshot: In our response we focus on how different types of systems are related from a constructivist perspective, and specifically on the relation between communicational social systems and embodied agency.
Maturana and Varela’s notion of autopoiesis has the potential to transform the conceptual foundation of biology as well as the cognitive, behavioral, and brain sciences. In order to fully realize this potential, however, the concept of autopoiesis and its many consequences require significant further theoretical and empirical development. A crucial step in this direction is the formulation and analysis of models of autopoietic systems. This article sketches the beginnings of such a project by examining a glider from Conway’s game of life in autopoietic terms. Such analyses can clarify some of the key ideas underlying autopoiesis and draw attention to some of the central open issues. This article also examines the relationship between an autopoietic perspective on cognition and recent work on dynamical approaches to the behavior and cognition of situated, embodied agents. Relevance: The article focuses on the theory of autopoiesis and related concepts such as structural coupling and cognitive domain.
Ten years ago, a group of researchers, led by Francisco Varela, were proposing an alternative vision of the immune system main behavior and function. I was part of this group. This new vision saw the immune system not as behaving distinctively with self and non-self or according to any dichotomy imposed a priori and from outside (the self-recognition vision), but rather as behaving in a unique way. From this indifferent behavior, any external impact would progressively been treated in two different ways, reactive and tolerant, but now, consequently and from inside the system (the self-assertion view). This paper will recall, through a very artificial simulation, the difference existing between these two visions. Also at that time, we believed that, from an engineering perspective, this new vision, emphasizing more the adaptability and the need for endogenous constraints than the recognition and the defensive ability, although less obvious to accept than the classical defensive one, should be more beneficial. These last ten years proved that we haven’t been convincing enough, and in this paper I resume the crusade.
In this paper we criticize the “Ashbyan interpretation” (Froese & Stewart, 2010) of autopoietic theory by showing that Ashby’s framework and the autopoietic one are based on distinct, often incompatible, assumptions and that they aim at addressing different issues. We also suggest that in order to better understand autopoiesis and its implications, a different and wider set of theoretical contributions, developed previously or at the time autopoiesis was formulated, needs to be taken into consideration: among the others, the works of Rosen, Weiss and Piaget. By analyzing the concepts of organization and closure, the idea of components, and the role of materiality in the theory proposed by Maturana and Varela, we advocate the view that autopoiesis necessarily entails selfproduction and intrinsic instability and can be realized only in domains characterized by the same transformative and processual properties exhibited by the molecular domain. From this theoretical standpoint it can be demonstrated that autopoietic theory neither commits to a sharp dualism between organization and structure nor to a reflexive view of downward causation, thus avoiding the respective strong criticisms.
Upshot: The reader presents a unique collection of the most important works in biosemiotics. It spans 880 pages, describing classical and modern theories, with excerpts from the most significant papers on the topic of biosemiotics, as well as suggesting further reading on the topic.
The following basic question is studied here: In the relatively stable molecular environment of a vertebrate body, can a dynamic idiotypic immune network develop a natural tolerance to endogenous components? The approach is based on stability analyses and computer simulation using a model that takes into account the dynamics of two agents of the immune system, namely B-lymphocytes and antibodies. The study investigates the behavior of simple immune networks in interaction with an antigen whose concentration is held constant as a function of the symmetry properties of the connectivity matrix of the network. Current idiotypic network models typically become unstable in the presence of this type of antigen. It is shown that idiotypic networks of a particular connectivity show tolerance towards auto-antigen without the need for ad hoc mechanisms that prevent an immune response. These tolerant network structures are characterized by aperiodic behavior in the absence of auto-antigen. When coupled to an auto-antigen, the chaotic attractor degenerates into one of several periodic ones, and at least one of them is stable. The connectivity structure needed for this behavior allows the system to adopt particular dynamic concentration patterns which do not lead to an unbounded immune response. Possible implications for the understanding of autoimmune disease and its treatment are discussed.
Plant growth, development and reproduction are fundamental concepts in biology; yet there is a recorded lack of motivation for young people to grapple with these concepts. Here we present the “DigitalSeed” toy for making investigations around these concepts more accessible to children through hands-on digital interaction. This is part of an on-going project investigating improved ways of learning involving digital media. To date, this project has addressed the learning of 4–5 year olds, but it is anticipated that the project could be extended to older children in mainstream and special needs education. In the case of older children, specific curricula requirements would be addressed, although this is a secondary goal. Relevance: The relevance to constructivism is that it provides an alternative approach to a difficult topic, viz., plant nutrition, where the learner must navigate between two realities: the virtual and the “real.”