Autopoiesis Theory


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An examination of the literature on the topic of autopoietic, or self-producing systems, presented to accompany a research paper in Complex Systems 501 at the University of Michigan.

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Autopoiesis Theory

  1. 1. Autopoiesis Theory Andrea Wiggins CSCS 501
  2. 2. Autopoietic Systems <ul><li>Definition of living systems from Maturana & Varela </li></ul><ul><li>Autopoietic systems are constantly self-producing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Autonomous & self-referential </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Must produce own boundary within which it generates its own components through structural and organizational coupling </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Structural Coupling <ul><li>Autopoietic systems are structurally defined, organizationally identified </li></ul><ul><li>System’s structure determines its organization & effects of perturbation on organization </li></ul><ul><li>Inextricably coupled to environment, structure reacts to environment through compensation or adaptation </li></ul>
  4. 4. Organizational Closure <ul><li>Organizational closure does not imply independence from environment or other systems </li></ul><ul><li>But all activity must maintain autopoiesis or else the system will disintegrate: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All processes are processes of self-production; the system's activity closes in on itself. (Mingers) </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Boundaries <ul><li>Necessary for organizational closure, separating ‘in’ from ‘out’ </li></ul><ul><li>Necessary for autonomy, defines system as separate from other systems </li></ul><ul><li>Must be a product of self-production, generated & maintained by the system </li></ul><ul><li>Restatements from Maturana & Varela: semi-permeability </li></ul>
  6. 6. Boundary Conditions <ul><li>Not quite the same thing as a physical boundary, but consider skin, with its topologically exterior digestive tract… </li></ul><ul><li>This interpretation allows the boundary to function as a regulatory mechanism in structurally-coupled interactions </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Fuzzy’ boundaries are more broadly applicable and better resemble cellular boundaries </li></ul>
  7. 7. Higher-Order Systems <ul><li>Like Holland’s multiagent aggregates, but more strictly defined </li></ul><ul><li>Initially, 1st-order AS comprised of 1st-order AS: 2nd-order AS </li></ul><ul><li>M & V recant (together): metacellulars are aggregates of 1st-orders </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ are second-order autopoietic systems also first-order autopoietic systems?” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organization seems key </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Autopoiesis Applied <ul><li>Besides biology: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Neural systems: more of a special case </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cognition, including Game of Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social Autopoiesis Theory (Luhmann) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Configuration/Steering Theory </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Public administration, policy science </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Law, family therapy </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Literary ‘Autopoetics’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ You know you have found an autopoetic system when you find together more autonomy and more dependence, more closure and more openness.” </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Metacellulars <ul><li>Emergence of metacellulars/higher-order AS is underexplained </li></ul><ul><li>Enaction as coemergence of AS with structural couplings to environment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Idea is problematic in view of the role of structural couplings in adaptation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>No real discussion of how this happens… </li></ul>
  10. 10. Higher-Order Emergence <ul><li>If a 2nd-order AS is a 1st-order AS composed of 1st-order AS’s, then… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Autopoietic systems develop components that are autopoietic, or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiple interacting autopoietic systems become an autopoietic system (or…?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why else would this happen except as adaptation, which only happens in reaction to environmental perturbation? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Chicken-or-egg conundrum </li></ul>
  11. 11. Conclusions <ul><li>Subtlety of conceptual underpinnings </li></ul><ul><li>Definitions are not settled </li></ul><ul><li>Problematic in application to other theoretical areas </li></ul><ul><li>Adopting boundary conditions concept helps, as does loosened definitions </li></ul><ul><li>Coemergence is a convenient explanation that requires more scrutiny </li></ul>
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