reading … (#1)

A friend of mine has recently recommended me an interesting subject of study, which will also constitute the starting point of my online notes. While I could never go back and record my previous “n” years of reading into something equivalent to today’s blogs, notes of such being lost in the many hand-written notes filed away in my basement (as far as recording online capabilities is concerned), I will try to commit every new item of interest to me (for details on what I really care about – please read my blogroll area) to this easy-to-use bookmark/reference online place … so here it goes …

autopoiesis – fascinating subject (thanks, Calin!). As term, this was first set up by Chilean scientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela:
“an autopoietic system is organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components that:
1. through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them;
2. constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they [the components] exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network” [Varelia – 1979]

Dr. Randall Whitaker reveals something that I feel is one of the most important issues related to autopoiesis amazing breakthrough:

“What makes ‘autopoiesis’ distinctive as a definition for living systems?

If you go back and check most definitions (e.g., in a biology textbook), you are likely to find nothing more coherent than a list of features and functional attributes (e.g., ‘reproduction’, ‘metabolism’) which describe what living systems do, but not what they are. Because it is framed with respect to the constitution of a living system (as a specific class of systems), autopoiesis is a unique means for defining living systems in terms of their essential character (as opposed to their subsidiary features).”


Evan Thompson in: Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varel
has the followings to say:

Living is cognition.
This proposition comes from Maturana and Varela’s theory of autopoiesis (Maturana and Varela, 1980). Some have taken the “is” in this proposition as the “is” of identity (living = cognition) (Stewart 1992, 1996), others as the “is” of predication or class inclusion (all life is cognitive) (Bourgine and Stewart, in press; Bitbol and Luisi, forthcoming). The origins of the proposition go back to Maturana’s 1970 paper, “Biology of Cognition” (Maturana 1970). There he used the concept of cognition widely to mean the operation of any living system in the domain of interactions specified by its circular and self-referential organization. Cognition is effective conduct
in this domain of interactions, not the representation of an independent environment. In Maturana’s words: “Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous system” (Maturana 1970 p. 13).
Francisco later came to prefer a different way of explicating the “living is cognition” proposition: “Living is sense-making.”
1. Life = autopoiesis. By this I mean the thesis that the three criteria of autopoiesis – (i) a boundary, containing (ii) a molecular reaction network, that (iii) produces and regenerates itself and the boundary – are necessary and sufficient for the organization of minimal life.
2. Autopoiesis entails emergence of a self. A physical autopoietic system, by virtue of its operational closure, gives rise to an individual or self in the form of a living body, an organism.
3. Emergence of a self entails emergence of a world. The emergence of a self is also by necessity the emergence of a correlative domain of interactions proper to that self, an Umwelt.
4. Emergence of self and world = sense-making. The organism’s world is the sense it makes of the environment. This world is a place of significance and valence, as a result of the global action of the organism.
5. Sense-making = cognition (perception/action). Sense-making is tantamount to cognition, in the minimal sense of viable sensorimotor conduct. Such conduct is oriented toward and subject to signification and valence. Signification and valence do not pre-exist “out there,” but are enacted or constituted by the living being. Living entails sense-making, which equals cognition.



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