In this article, we would like to discuss some aspects of a theoretical framework for Artificial Life, focusing on the problem of an explicit definition of living systems useful for an effective artificial construction of them. The limits of a descriptive approach will be critically discussed, and a constructive (synthetic) approach will be proposed on the basis of the autopoietic theory of Maturana and Varela.
An approach which has the purpose to catch what characterizes the specificity of a living system, pointing out what makes it different with respect to physical and artificial systems, needs to find a new point of view – new descriptive modalities. In particular it needs to be able to describe not only the single processes which can be observed in an organism, but what integrates them in a unitary system. In order to do so, it is necessary to consider a higher level of description which takes into consideration the relations between these processes, that is the organization rather than the structure of the system. Once on this level of analysis we can focus on an abstract relational order that does not belong to the individual components and does not show itself as a pattern, but is realized and maintained in the continuous flux of processes of transformation of the constituents. Using Tibor Ganti’s words we call it “Order in the Nothing”. In order to explain this approach we analyse the historical path that generated the distinction between organization and structure and produced its most mature theoretical expression in the autopoietic biology of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. We then briefly analyse Robert Rosen’s (M, R)-Systems, a formal model conceptually built with the aim to catch the organization of living beings, and which can be considered coherent with the autopoietic theory. In conclusion we will propose some remarks on these relational descriptions, pointing out their limits and their possible developments with respect to the structural thermodynamical description.
This article addresses the issue of defining the universal properties of living systems through an organizational approach, according to which the distinctive properties of life lie in the functional organization which correlates its physicochemical components in living systems, and not in these components taken separately. Drawing on arguments grounded in this approach, this article identifies autonomy, with a set of related organizational properties, as universal properties of life, and includes cognition within this set.
This paper examines two questions related to autopoiesis as a theory for minimal life: (i) the relation between autopoiesis and cognition; and (ii) the question as to whether autopoiesis is the necessary and sufficient condition for life. First, we consider the concept of cognition in the spirit of Maturana and Varela: in contradistinction to the representationalistic point of view, cognition is construed as interaction between and mutual definition of a living unit and its environment. The most direct form of cognition for a cell is thus metabolism itself, which necessarily implies exchange with the environment and therefore a simultaneous coming to being for the organism and for the environment. A second level of cognition is recognized in the adaptation of the living unit to new foreign molecules, by way of a change in its metabolic pattern. We draw here an analogy with the ideas developed by Piaget, who recognizes in cognition the two distinct steps of assimilation and accommodation. While assimilation is the equivalent of uptake and exchange of usual metabolites, accommodation corresponds to biological adaptation, which in turn is the basis for evolution. By comparing a micro-organism with a vesicle that uptakes a precursor for its own self-reproduction, we arrive at the conclusion that (a) the very lowest level of cognition is the condition for life, and (b) the lowest level of cognition does not reduce to the lowest level of autopoiesis. As a consequence, autopoiesis alone is only a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for life. The broader consequences of this analysis of cognition for minimal living systems are considered.
This article revisits the concept of autopoiesis and examines its relation to cognition and life. We present a mathematical model of a 3D tesselation automaton, considered as a minimal example of autopoiesis. This leads us to a thesis T1: “An autopoietic system can be described as a random dynamical system, which is defined only within its organized autopoietic domain.” We propose a modified definition of autopoiesis: “An autopoietic system is a network of processes that produces the components that reproduce the network, and that also regulates the boundary conditions necessary for its ongoing existence as a network.” We also propose a definition of cognition: “A system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint.” It follows from these definitions that the concepts of autopoiesis and cognition, although deeply related in their connection with the regulation of the boundary conditions of the system, are not immediately identical: a system can be autopoietic without being cognitive, and cognitive without being autopoietic. Finally, we propose a thesis T2: “A system that is both autopoietic and cognitive is a living system.”
Context: Although the theory of autopoietic systems was originally formulated to explain the phenomenon of life from an operational and temporal perspective, sociologist Niklas Luhmann incorporated it later within his theory of social systems. Due to this adoption, there have been several discussions regarding the applicability of this concept beyond its biological origins. Problem: This article addresses the conception of Luhman’s autopoietic social systems, and confronts this vision with criticism both of the original authors of the concept of autopoiesis and of other social theorists in order to elucidate the main problems of this debate and its possible solutions. Method: The objectives of the article are reached by means of a theoretical reconstruction of the main issues of the debate on the concept of autopoiesis. The main method used for the research is the use of documentary sources to discuss the arguments. Results: We claim that it is justified to extend the concept of autopoiesis from its biological origin to other disciplines, and to develop its interdisciplinary character, following the spirit of systems theory and constructivism. Implications: Our results are useful for promoting the development of new interdisciplinary research in the field of systems theory and constructivism. Important changes to practice should be made, namely, the development of new research methods, new concepts and perspectives. Constructivist content: The concept of autopoiesis is one of the fundamental concepts of the constructivist epistemology. The discussion proposes a radical understanding of this concept in order to realize all its explanatory potential.
This article focuses on an artificial life approach to some important problems in machine learning such as statistical discrimination, curve approximation, and pattern recognition. We describe a family of models, collectively referred to as semi-algebraic networks (SAN). These models are strongly inspired by two complementary lines of thought: the biological concept of autopoiesis and morphodynamical notions in mathematics. Mathematically defined as semi-algebraic sets, SANs involve geometric components that are submitted to two coupled processes: (a) the adjustment of the components (under the action of the learning examples), and (b) the regeneration of new components. Several examples of SANs are described, using different types of components. The geometric nature of SANs gives new possibilities for solving the bias/variance dilemma in discrimination or curve approximation problems. The question of building multilevel semi-algebraic networks is also addressed, as they are related to cognitive problems such as memory and morphological categorization. We describe an example of such multilevel models.
Excerpt: This chapter will take a broad view on autopoiesis and relate it to the different disciplines for explanation. Section 7. 1 will shortly describe the concept of autopoiesis as a different way of looking at systems from both a closed systems view and an open systems view. Section 7. 2 pays attention to three main principles of autopoiesis that govern the development of systems. That results in Section 7. discussing the interaction of autopoietic systems with their environment. Section 7. 4 explores perception and cognition. A slight different theory is presented in Section 7. 5: allopoiesis for systems that do not have all properties of autopoietic systems.
Densmore explores the relationship that nine participants have with recurring, every-day problems. Employing hermeneutic phenomenology and second-order cybernetics as background, he reveals that a recurring problem is experienced as a describable, diagrammable phenomenological entity. Densmore shows how recurring problems are similar to the living systems described by Humberto Maturana (1970). He uses Max van Manen’s method of hermeneutic phenomenology (2014) to probe the structure of the recurring problems and their connection to the people who experience them. He suggests that the structure of these problems can be similar to the structure of living systems. The implication is that problem solving seems to be a struggle between two recursive, autopoietic systems: the solver and the recurring problem itself. The thesis concludes by highlighting recommended areas of future research and inquiry.