Abstract: My intent in this essay is to reflect on the history of some biological notions such as autopoiesis, structural coupling, and cognition, that I have developed since the early 1960's as a result of my work on visual perception and the organization of the living. No doubt I shall repeat things that I have said in other publications (Maturana & Varela, 1980, 1988), and I shall present notions that once they are said appear as obvious truisms. Moreover, I shall refine or expand the meaning of such notions, or even modify them. Yet, in any case, the reader is not invited to attend to the truisms, or to what seems to be obvious, rather he or she is invited to attend to the consequences that those notions entail for the understanding of cognition as a biological process. After all, explanations or demonstrations always become self evident once they are understood and accepted, and the purpose of this essay is the expansion of understanding in all dimensions of human existence.
Context: In 1974, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela published De Máquinas y Seres Vivos. Autopoiesis: La organización de lo vivo in Santiago, Chile as a little book. A second edition of this publication was proposed in 1994, and the present document is a recent translation of Maturana’s reflections “twenty years after.” Problem: The book clearly enunciates what it means to say that living systems are molecular autopoietic systems, and this Preface reflects on the shift of understanding from earlier notions of self-referred or auto-referred systems to the concept of autopoiesis. Implications: The Preface describes the systemic quality that is human living and human sense-making. It marks what we can retrospectively see as the bridge between the explicitly biological studies of Maturana (and Varela), and the later, more anthropological and therapeutic work of Maturana with Gerda Verden-Zöller between 1989 and 1994 and, especially, with Ximena Dávila Yáñez since the year 1999. Results: The underlying understanding implicit in this document outlines in great clarity the implications of Maturana’s fundamental insights. It presents both a logical and passionately argued case for mutual respect, grounded in scientific findings in biology. The Preface is a clear vision of why Maturana’s work has been so influential for reflexivity and constructivism.
This paper summarizes some initial empirical results from a new computer model (artificial chemistry) which exhibits spontaneous emergence and persistence of autopoietic organization. the model is based on a system originally presented by Varela, Maturana, and Uribe. In carrying out this reimplementation it was found that an additional interaction (chain-based bond inhibition), not documented in the original description by Varela et al., is critical to the realization of the autopoietic phenomena. This required interaction was rediscovered only following careful examination of (unpublished) source code for an early version of the original model. The purpose of the paper is thus two-fold: firstly, to identify and discuss this previously undocumented, but essential, interaction; and secondly, to argue, on the basis of this particular case, for the importance of exploiting the emerging technologies which support publication of completely detailed software models (in addition, of course, to conventional publication of summary experimental results).
Maturana and Varela developed the concept of autopoiesis to explain the phenomena of living organisms. They went further and postulated theories concerning the nervous system and the development of cognition. These theories have radical conclusions concerning human thought, language, and social activity. This paper aims to introduce these ideas and to explore the main implications. It also discusses the application of these cognitive theories in three separate domains – computer systems design, family therapy, and the Law.
This article discusses the empirical limits of the concept of autopoiesis of law in world society today. The argument is based principally on observation of the problems of reproduction of the legal system in peripheral countries’. The central thesis of the article is that, in the countries of ‘peripheral modernity’ the reproduction of the legal system is blocked by a wide variety of social factors, in such a way that one can speak more of the allopoiesis than the autopoiesis of law. Beginning with a biological concept, the article considers the sociological concept of autopoiesis, and then analyzes the concept of autopoiesis of law. Based on this theoretical parameter, the argument about the allopoiesis of law in the ‘peripheral countries’ is presented. Finally, the article returns to the central theme of the allopoiesis of law in ‘peripheral countries’ and points to the indications of a normative concept of autopoiesis of law in the theories of Niklas Luhmann and Gunther Teubner.
In this paper, we attempt to describe Autopoietic Systems using a mathematical framework of Metabolism-Repair Systems. Our description does not strictly re ect pure autopoiesis, and can only represent quasi-autopoietic systems. However, we believe that this attempt will spur discussions on the formal description of autopoiesis and the relation to mental and social systems, and so on, and we dare to propose a rough model.
First I present what is called the “core” of gestalt psychology: the “law of natural order.” It postulates a principle of self-organization. For Fritz Perls, the founder of gestalt therapy, the principle of “organismic self-regulation” is central to his theory of therapy. Furthermore I show similarities and differences between gestalt psychology and gestalt therapy on one hand and the theory of autopoiesis by Maturana and Varela on the other. After defining the goal of gestalt therapy as turning power relations into love relations, I explain the main concept in gestalt therapy “contact” and compare it with “structural coupling” in the theory of autopoiesis. At the end I quote part of a session with Fritz Perls, demonstrating some aspects of the therapeutic process and I show consequences of the theory for the relation between therapist and client.
The concept of autopoiesis was proposed 40 years ago as a definition of a living being, with the aim of providing a unifying concept for biology. The concept has also been extended to the theory of knowledge and to different areas of the social and behavioral sciences. Given some ambiguities of the original definitions of autopoiesis, the concept has been criticized and has been interpreted in diverse and even contradictory ways, which has prevented its integration into the biological sciences where it originated. Here I present a critical review and conceptual analysis of the definition of autopoiesis, and propose a new definition that is more precise, clear, and concise than the original ones. I argue that the difficulty in understanding the term lies in its refined conceptual subtlety and not, as has been claimed by some authors, because it is a vacuous, trivial or very complex concept. I also relate the concept of autopoiesis to the concepts of closed systems, boundaries, homeostasis, self-reproduction, causal circularity, organization, and multicellularity. I show that under my proposed definition the concept of a molecular autopoietic system is a good demarcation criterion of a living being, allowing its general integration into the biological sciences and enhancing its interdisciplinary use. Relevance: The article deals with autopoiesis and related concepts.