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Autopoietic Theory. Self-organization. or Exploring the science of wholeness that nurtures the human spirit. Introduction Simplistic version of Maturana and Varela’s (M&V) Autopoietic Theory Description of M&V’s Qualitative Chemistry Example

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Autopoietic theory
Autopoietic Theory



Exploring the science of wholeness that nurtures the human spirit.

Autopoietic theory

  • Introduction

  • Simplistic version of Maturana and Varela’s (M&V) Autopoietic Theory

  • Description of M&V’s Qualitative Chemistry Example

  • McMullin’s Recent Implementation’s of M&V’s Qualitative Chemistry Example

  • Fields that use Autopoietic Theory


  • Autopoietic Theory

    • Cognition can be described as a biological system containing an observer and observed unities within a medium interacting in the closed system defined by the nervous system.

    • This system is self-organizing and self-rebuilding/self-maintaining.

  • Autopoietic Phenomenon

    • The self-organization/self-rebuilding of any dynamic system with a simple interaction rule set and unities limited to local knowledge.

Autopoietic theory1
Autopoietic Theory

  • The Biology of Cognition.

  • Chilean biologists Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, 1970’s.

  • Randall Whitaker,

  • Randy McMullin,

Cyclic paths in life theory
Cyclic Paths in Life Theory

  • Essential circularity in a living system.

    • Unbroken network of connected components with no start or stop.

  • Essential circularity in unity’s internal operation

    • Move out of one environment into another, given certain conditions we survive.

  • Essential circularity in a unity’s interaction with it’s media (environment).

The biology of cognition
The Biology of Cognition

  • Attempt to develop a theory explaining cognition that avoided the existing cyclic paths.

    • Must use cognitive abilities to describe cognitive abilities.

  • First theory in biology that describes living systems by something other than arbitrary characteristics (e.g. metabolism, growth, reproduction).

  • All previous theories ignore the cyclic nature of life and describe it in a linear fashion.

Autopoietic theory basics
Autopoietic Theory Basics

  • Auto – Self.

  • Poiesis – Greek for production.

  • Phenomenological view.

    • The Schrodinger’s Cat of the social sciences

      • Physics: Things exist in all possible states until they are observed at which point they exist in one.

      • Philosophy: Nothing exists until it is observed.

Autopoietic theory components 1
Autopoietic Theory Components (1)

  • Observer: The biological system that can pick out specific unities to observe and therefore learn about the system.

    • The observer has its own biases so two observers may not observe the same ‘result’ from the same system.

  • Unity: the most elementary object of perceptual / cognitive reference. Simple or composite.

  • The observer may choose the behavioral view and see the composite unity as a simple unity or the recursive view and see the composite unity as its individual parts.

    • True result from behavioral view: The whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Autopoietic theory components 2
Autopoietic Theory Components (2)

  • Domain:

    • All possible states of relation between the unities in the system (domain of interaction).

    • All relations among observed systems and the unities.

  • Structures: The actual simple unity components and relations within a composite unity.

  • Organization: The set of relations defining a composite unity. Specifies a category called an identity.

Structure vs organization
Structure vs Organization

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Cyclic paths embraced
Cyclic Paths Embraced

  • "Everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him- or herself"

    • “The qualification of all 'knowledge' with respect to a given observer is both the epistemological foundation and the explanatory focus of autopoietic theory”

      • epistemological: branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge.

  • "All knowing is doing, and all doing is knowing."

    • “The observer's 'cognition' is a process involving the entirety of her interactivity, not just abstract mentation. As such, cognition cannot be segregated from praxis.”

      • mentation: thinking, mental activity.

      • praxis: practical application of a branch of learning, or an established practice.

M v qualitative chemistry
M&V - Qualitative Chemistry

  • Three particles (Substrate-Catalyst-Link):

    • S: substrate particles.

    • K: catalyst particles.

    • L: link particles.

  • Rules of interaction:

    • S + S = L, in the presence of K.

    • L + L = bonded L, in the presence of K, maximum two bonds per L particle (forms a chain).

    • L = S + S, spontaneous decay (rare occurrence).

Mcmullin scl cellular system
McMullin: SCL Cellular System

  • Linked “Link” particles are stationary.

  • Substrate can pass through the “Links”.

  • Link particles and the catalyst cannot. bmcm-ecal97.html

Mcmullin implementation
McMullin – Implementation

  • SCL program was implemented with SWARM software from Santa Fe Institute.

  • Implementation of M&V’s originally published rule set resulted in consistent failures.

  • Found same failures for two other independent unpublished groups: Zeleny and Lizana.

  • Original M&V papers were not complete in their description of the algorithm/rule set implemented.

Scl original rule set
SCL – Original Rule Set bmcm-ecal97.html

Mcmullin implementation with new rule
McMullin – Implementation with New Rule

  • M&V original FORTRAN code listing was found, re-keyed and tested.

  • Different results than in current implementations - resulted in analysis of code.

  • Found a rule in the code that was not present in the M&V publications.

    • Can only bind a link particle to another link particle if

      • it is not part of an existing chain, or

      • the free particle is not adjacent to more than one member of the chain. No spiraling.

Scl new rule fail
SCL – New Rule - Fail bmcm-ecal97.html

Scl new rule succeed
SCL – New Rule - Succeed bmcm-ecal97.html

Autopoiesis in the field
Autopoiesis in the Field

  • Immunology, psychology, management science, human-computer interaction, family therapy, sociology, economics, postmodern philosophy, public administration, software engineering, artificial intelligence, sociology, and psychotherapy.

  • Networks: software agents that rebuild after a catastrophic event without central control.

  • Robot/Nanobots: rebuild themselves within a structure as they are needed. Medicine, auto construction units.

Autopoiesis for the commoner
Autopoiesis for the Commoner

  • “Autopoiesis is a concept (from biology) that has extraordinary implications . It describes the spontaneous, self-organising, holistic nature of living systems rather than the simplistic mechanisms we often use to manipulate and control. It's a cornerstone of the science of wholeness which provides insights into living together more harmoniously and a link between the scientific and the spiritual.”