In this article I will outline the basic theoretical assumptions of two examples of the confederative and the integrative views of the living – respectively Ganti’s Chemoton theory and Maturana and Varela’s autopoietic theory – by showing that they are both consistent perspectives, but they differ in the accounts they make of the role of organization in biological systems. In doing so I will also put into evidence how the choice between these two theoretical frameworks is strictly connected to the problem of structure and function in living organisms and entails different strategies of investigation.
In this article a constructivist framework is proposed in order to integrate emergentist thought with systemic studies on biological autonomy – specifically: the autopoietic theory - which are focused on the role of organization. A particular attention is paid to the role of the observer’s activity, especially to the different operations he performs in order to identify the pertinent elements at each descriptive level and to the relationships between the different models he builds from them. An epistemological notion of emergence as non-derivability – that of “complex emergence” – is introduced, that allows a) a distinction between autonomy and self-organization, and b) a reinterpretation of downward causation not as a direct or indirect influence of the whole on its parts, but instead as an epistemological problem of interaction between descriptive domains.
In this article, we would like to discuss some aspects of a theoreticalframework for Artificial Life, focusing on the problem of an explicit definition of livingsystems useful for an effective artificial construction of them. The limits of a descriptiveapproach will be critically discussed, and a constructive (synthetic) approach will beproposed on the basis of the autopoietic theory of Maturana and Varela.
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.
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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Homeostats for the 21st Century? Simulating Ashby Simulating the Brain” by Stefano Franchi. Upshot: The target article proposes that Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat and ultrastability lead to a view of living systems as heteronomous, passive “sleeping” machines and thus are in fundamental conflict with concepts of autonomy developed by Jonas, Varela and others. I disagree, arguing that (1) the maintenance of essential variables within viability limits is not a passive process for living systems and (2) the purpose of Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat was to investigate adaptivity, a subject that is related to, but clearly distinct from, autonomy. As such, I find Ashby’s work on adaptivity to be neither in opposition to nor in direct support of modern concepts of biological autonomy and suggest that a productive way forward involves the investigation of the intersection between these two fundamental properties of living systems.
The contribution of the theory of autopoiesis to the definition of life and biological theory affirms biological autonomy as a central notion of scientific and philosophical inquiry, and opposes other biological approaches, based on the notion of genetic information, that consider reproduction and evolution to be the central aspects of life and living phenomenology. This article reviews the autopoietic criticisms of genetic information, reproduction, and evolution in the light of a biology that can solve the problem of living organization.
In sociology, there has been a controversy about whether there is any essential difference between a human being and a tool, or if the tool–user relationship can be defined by co-actor symmetry. This issue becomes more complex when we consider examples of AI and robots, and even more so following progress in the development of various bio-machine hybrid technologies, such as robots that include organic parts, human brain implants, and adaptive prosthetics. It is argued that a concept of autonomous agency based on organismic embodiment helps to clarify the situation. On this view, agency consists of an asymmetrical relationship between an organism and its environment, because the continuous metabolic and regulatory activity of the organism gives rise to its own existence, and hence its specific behavioral domain. Accordingly, most (if not all) of current technologies are excluded from the class of autonomous agents. Instead, they are better conceptualized as interfaces that mediate our interactions with the world. This has important implications for design: Rather than trying to help humans to achieve their goals by duplicating their agency in artificial systems, it would be better to empower humans directly by enhancing their existing agency and lived experience with technological interfaces that can be incorporated into their embodiment. This incorporation might be especially facilitated by bio-machine hybrid technology that is designed according the principles of biological autonomy and multi-agent coordination dynamics.
We very much appreciate that Maturana (2011) responded to our article, where we had made an attempt to excavate some of the hidden conceptual context in which the idea of autopoiesis had originally been formulated (Froese & Stewart, 2010). Our investigation was motivated by the growing interest in autopoiesis and related ideas among a new generations of researchers in cognitive science, driven by the increasing popularity of the enactive approach to cognitive science (Stewart, Gapenne, & Di Paolo, 2010). This enactive paradigm has been developed as an alternative to the traditional cognitivist-computationalist paradigm, and it is remarkable for its serious consideration of first-person experience and biological autonomy, two important domains of human existence that have so far been neglected in cognitive science.
Purpose: This target article explicates mathematical themes in the work of Varela that remain of current interest in present-day second-order cybernetics. Problem: Varela’s approach extended biological autonomy to mathematical models of autonomy using reflexivity, category theory and eigenform. I will show specific ways that this mathematical modeling can contribute further to both biology and cybernetics. Method: The method of this article is to use elementary mathematics based in distinctions (and some excursions into category theory and other constructions that are also based in distinctions) to consistently make all constructions and thereby show how the observer is involved in the models that are so produced. Results: By following the line of mathematics constructed through the imagination of distinctions, we find direct access and construction for the autonomy postulated by Varela in his book Principles of Biological Autonomy. We do not need to impose autonomy at the base of the structure, but rather can construct it in the context of a reflexive domain. This sheds new light on the original approach to autonomy by Varela, who also constructed autonomous states but took them as axiomatic in his calculus for self-reference. Implications: The subject of the relationship of mathematical models, eigenforms and reflexivity should be reexamined in relation to biology, biology of cognition and cybernetics. The approach of Maturana to use only linguistic and philosophical approaches should now be reexamined and combined with Varela’s more mathematical approach and its present-day extensions.