Mingers, J. (1995) Self-Reproducing Systems. New York: Plenum Press.

1.3. Overview of This Book

This book is divided into three main sections: autopoiesis in the physical domain, theories of cognition, and applications within particular disciplines. In Part I, Chapters 2 and 3 develop the essential idea of autopoiesis as an explanation of living systems and the implications of this idea in general and for biology in particular, including a debate about whether there could be nonmolecular living systems. Chapter 4 illustrates various formalisms relevant to autopoiesis, in particular Varela's extension of Spencer Brown's "Laws of Form," and a computer model of autopoiesis.

In Part II, Chapters 5 and 6 develop the cognitive theories of the early papers, showing how the evolution of a nervous system generates new domains of interaction culminating in language, description, and the observer. Chapter 7 discusses the philosophical implications of the original work and Maturana's more recent development of radical constructivism. It includes a comparison of Maturana with phenomenologists such as Husserl and Heidegger, and concludes with a critical interpretation of his position through Bhaskar's critical realism.

Part III consists of chapters about the application of autopoiesis to various disciplines. Chapter 8 covers sociology and organization theory, including discussion of Maturana's own social theory, a comparison with Giddens' structuration theory, and a detailed analysis of Luhmann's theory of society as autopoietic communication. Chapter 9 looks at the development of Luhmann's interpretation of law and the debates this has engendered. Chapter 10 considers the impact of Maturana's later theories on family therapy, where constructivism has again led to serious debate. Chapter 11 focuses on Varela's recent development of the cognitive theories into a view of cognition as embodied and enactive and the relationship of this view to cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and computing.

The book concludes (Chapter 12) with an appreciation of the importance of autopoiesis and a summary of the main points of debate.