In this paper, I describe what I consider to be some of the similarities between semiotics and second-order cybernetics. Particular attention is paid to the importance of interpretation and recursion in both fields. A distinction is made between the concept of representation in representational realism and representation as the stand-for relationship. Two models derived from cybernetic theory, ‘a recursive theory of communication’ and ‘levels of experience, ’ are discussed from a semiotic perspective and possible educational implications are described
I review here my personal and scientific interactions with Francisco Varela, starting from our meeting in 1983 in Alpbach, Austria, a momentous meeting, which was also the place where the Mind and Life Institute and independently the Cortona week were conceived. Later on, the scientific cooperation focussed on autopoiesis and permitted to arrive at the experimental autopoiesis on the basis of the self-reproduction of micelles and vesicles. I then briefly describe how Francisco, based on the complementary notion of cognition, was able to draw the bridge between biology and cognitive sciences. The main keywords here are enaction and embodied mind. From here, and towards the end of his life, Francisco focussed mostly on neurobiology, where he introduced the notion of neurophenomenology centred on first-person reports. However, his seminal work on autopoiesis was instrumental to conceive the new field of research on the minimal cells, which is briefly described. I conclude with an overview of the meaning of the work of Francisco for life sciences at large.
Excerpt: Francisco Varela’s work is a monumental achievement in twentieth-century biological and biophilosophical thought. After his early collaboration in neocybernetics with Humberto Maturana (autopoiesis), Varela made fundamental contributions to immunology (network theory), artificial life (cellular automata), cognitive science (enaction), philosophy of mind (neurophenomenology), brain studies (the brainweb), and East-West dialogue (the Mind and Life conferences). In the course of his career, Varela influenced many important collaborators and interlocutors, formed a generation of excellent students, and touched the lives of many with the intensity of his mind, the sharpness of his wit, and the strength of his spirit. In this essay, I will trace some of the key turning points in his thought, with special focus on the concept of emergence, which was always central to his work, and on questions of politics, which operate at the margins of his thought. I will divide Varela’s work into three periods – autopoiesis, enaction, and radical embodiment – each of which is marked by a guiding concept; a specific methodology; a research focus; an inflection in the notion of emergence; and a characteristic political question that specifies a scale of what I will call “political physiology” – that is, the formation of “bodies politic” at the civic, somatic, and “evental” scales. These terms refer to the formation of political states, politically constituted individuals, and their intersection in political encounters respectively.
This paper analyzes the causes and motives for the transition to a communication-based theory of social systems in the late work of Niklas Luhmann. In the first part of this paper, I present a brief sketch of advances in the field of cybernetics and systems research. I give special attention to some basic concepts introduced by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela: autopoiesis, organizational closure and enaction. In the second part, I discuss how these ideas may contribute to a ‘conceptual revolution’ in the social and behavioral sciences. In the late work of Niklas Luhmann, attempts to incorporate the idea of autopoiesis in his own social theory resulted in the preference for a communication-based, instead of an action-based, theory of social systems. Moreover, given the current transition to the information age or the knowledge society, it can also be argued that structural changes in society nowadays favor the rise of a communication-based theory of social systems.