Castoriadis’s encounter with autopoiesis was a decisive factor for his philosophical trajectory. Its influence can be seen on four interconnected levels of his thought: his reconsideration of Greek sources for his later interpretation of trans-regional being as self-creating; his rethinking of objective knowledge; his ventures into philosophical cosmology; and his re-evaluation of the living being, especially in light of his dialogue with Varela. In brief, Castoriadis’s engagement with autopoiesis was significant for his shift towards an ontology of radical physis. His shift to radical physis does not point so much to a rejection of the project of autonomy, however, as, paradoxically, its simultaneous radicalization and relativization.
Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: We agree on the need to explore a concept of social autopoiesis that goes beyond a strictly human-centered concept of social systems as autopoietic communicative systems. But both Hugo Urrestarazu and Niklas Luhmann neglect the importance of semiosis in understanding communication, and this has important implications for the question of a more general approach to social systems.
Consideration is given to the relevance of recent discussions of auto¬poiesis to the study of self-organizing systems. Mechanisms that could underly the physical realization of an autopoietic system are discussed. It is concluded that autopoiesis does not, by itself, provide the essential ingredient whose omission has prevented SOS studies from being more productive. Two other important missing ingredients are discussed.
In this paper we argue for the possibilities of applying the concept of autopoiesis to the information systems of modern organizations. Modern organizations in today’s rapidly changing, turbulent and complex environment are virtual, open, heterarchic and autopoietic. The main question we try to address in this paper is how to support these organizations with an adequate information system. We show that it is possible to develop autopoietic information systems that should be able to respond to the challenges of modern organizations.
The concept of “autonomy,” once at the core of the original enactivist proposal in The Embodied Mind (Varela et al. in The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991), is nowadays ignored or neglected by some of the most prominent contemporary enactivists approaches. Theories of autonomy, however, come to fill a theoretical gap that sensorimotor accounts of cognition cannot ignore: they provide a naturalized account of normativity and the resources to ground the identity of a cognitive subject in its specific mode of organization. There are, however, good reasons for the contemporary neglect of autonomy as a relevant concept for enactivism. On the one hand, the concept of autonomy has too often been assimilated into autopoiesis (or basic autonomy in the molecular or biological realm) and the implications are not always clear for a dynamical sensorimotor approach to cognitive science. On the other hand, the foundational enactivist proposal displays a metaphysical tension between the concept of operational closure (autonomy), deployed as constitutive, and that of structural coupling (sensorimotor dynamics); making it hard to reconcile with the claim that experience is sensorimotorly constituted. This tension is particularly apparent when Varela et al. propose Bittorio (a 1D cellular automata) as a model of the operational closure of the nervous system as it fails to satisfy the required conditions for a sensorimotor constitution of experience. It is, however, possible to solve these problems by re-considering autonomy at the level of sensorimotor neurodynamics. Two recent robotic simulation models are used for this task, illustrating the notion of strong sensorimotor dependency of neurodynamic patterns, and their networked intertwinement. The concept of habit is proposed as an enactivist building block for cognitive theorizing, re-conceptualizing mental life as a habit ecology, tied within an agent’s behaviour generating mechanism in coordination with its environment. Norms can be naturalized in terms of dynamic, interactively self-sustaining, coherentism. This conception of autonomous sensorimotor agency is put in contrast with those enactive approaches that reject autonomy or neglect the theoretical resources it has to offer for the project of naturalizing minds.
This paper describes a transdisciplinary theoretical-practical research, which address on the discussion about the possible applications of Multi-agent Systems, underlying the Maturana and Varela’s autopoietic concept considering the achievement of emergent results as heuristics to creativity. Autopoiesis (from the Greek “auto” which means “itself” and “poiesis” which means “creation”) describes the autonomous systems, able to self-reproduce and self-regulate, while iterating with the environment. In order to explore those concepts, we present Zer0, a game that invites the player to drift in a universe ruled by geometric shapes. Through interactions with other shapes, the player is able to evolve from a single line shape to more complex ones. Zer0 is a multi-agent system able to compose emergent music in real time. As interactions occur, chain reactions create the game soundtrack. There are two main agents involved: the player and the other shapes. While the player enjoys the ride, the other shapes are trying to interact with each other in order to expand their lifespan. The communication between agents is made through generated pulses, which are emitted by them and also serves as sonar, in order to perceive the environment.
The aim of this paper is to present synthetically the central concepts and fundamental laws of Niklas Luhmann’s “Theory of Autopoietic Social Systems” and “Theory of Functional Social-Autopoietic Systems.” To do this we outline the conceptualization of notions like time, communications, observations, elements, relationships, complexity, connection, operation, environment, function, code, program, generalized symbolic media and their interrelationships and place within the laws of the theory. The guiding questions of this paper are: What entities do Luhmannian theory tell us about? How do these entities behave within the laws of the theory? And finally, the practical evaluation over the aims and goals of Luhmann’s theoretical program:, for which purposes? Relevance: The document presents, in a clear way, the central concepts of Luhmann’s theory of autopoiesis and its relevance to the study of social phenomena.
This paper analyzes Humberto Maturana’s understanding abour the objectivity of scientific knowledge through a critical dialogue with other contemporary epistemological constructivist theories. The two subjects discussed are the relations between knowledge-reality and knowledge-society, which are the most common senses that guide the philosophical discussion about objectivity. This paper also includes a systematization of the main theses of Matuana’s biology of cognition, and a brief evaluation of the role of the notion of “autopoiesis” for the understanding of objectivity.
The attempt to define living systems in terms of goal, purpose, function, etc. runs into serious conceptual difficulties. The theoretical biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela realized that any such attempt cannot capture what is distinctive about them: their autonomy and unity. Goal, purpose, etc. always define the system in terms of something extrinsic, whereas living systems are unique because they maintain their unitary continuity of pattern despite the ceaseless turnover of their components. So, system-closure is a prerequisite of their adequate conceptual comprehension. Maturana and Varela themselves found that system-closure pertains exclusively to their organization, i.e. the set of relations among system-components which unify them. For living systems this comprises the relation between the system-components and the processes which they undergo. This relation is self-referential because it is closed, i.e. it essentially (re)produces itself. \\While this model worked very well in the biological domain, attempts to extend it to the social domain met with serious conceptual obstacles. The reason for this is that Maturana did not make a consistent enough application of it. He understood the components of social systems biologically (individuals, persons, etc.) and the relations between them socially (language). This inconsistency ruptured the system’s organizational closure. Consequently organizational closure (autopoiesis) can be maintained only when both the components of social systems and their processes are of the same type: social. This interpretation can be found in the work of Niklas Luhmann who recognizes that the components of social systems are not persons, individuals, actors or subjects but communicative actions themselves. This preserves the organizational closure of the system and permits the concept of autopoiesis to be used as a powerful instrument of social analysis.