Autopoiesis

 
 Editor
Aguado, Juan Miguel
 Incorporated contributions
J.M. Díaz Nafría
 Usage domain
system theory, cibernetics, theory of social systems
 Type
concept
 French
Autopoïèse
 German Autopoiesis 
 
(αυτο-ποιησις, ‘auto (self)-creation’), neologism introduced in 1971 by the Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to designate the organisation of living systems in terms of a fundamental dialectic between structure and function. Although the term emerged in biology, afterwards it came to be used in other sciences as well. Its use by the sociologist Niklas Luhmann is worth pointing out. It can be said that →the UTI takes and reproduces the concept in more differentiated categories (→self-restructuring, self-reproduction and self-recreation).

For Maturana and Varela, autopoiesis is a fundamental condition for the existence of living beings in the continuous production of themselves. According to Maturana (Transformation in coexistence), “living beings are networks of molecular production in which the produced molecules generate, through their interactions, the same network that creates them”. Autopoietic systems are those that show a network of processes or operations that characterise them and which have the capacity to create or destroy elements of the same system as a response to the disturbances of the medium. Within them, even if the system changes structurally, the network that characterises them would remain invariable during its whole existence, maintaining its identity.

For Luhmann, autopoiesis means a new theoretical paradigm, which, if applied to social systems, has a self-referential nature that does not restrict itself to the structural level; the nature itself constructs the elements that make it up. So, whereas in biological systems self-reference corresponds to self-reproduction, in social (or psychic) systems, it is constituted through meaning (Sinn), which, in its turn, is produced by the “processing differences” which permit to “select” from the “meaning offer” (Mitteilung). According to the Luhmannian interpretation, “communica-tion” (Kommunikation) melts the difference between “information” (Information), the “meaning offer” (Mitteilung) and “understanding” (Verstehen) (in which each part differentiates the other two and leads them towards a unity), where the information is but a selection within the “meaning offer” through a connection between differences. Therefore, there would not be strictly a transmission of information between emitter and receiver; instead, the first one makes a suggestion for the selection of the second one, so that the information for both is different, although, in any case, it is constituted through communication pro-cesses.
 
References
  • MATURANA, H. y VARELA, F. (1980), Autopoiesis and cognition: the realization of the living, Dordrecht, Reidel.
  • MATURANA, H. y VARELA, F. (1996), El árbol del conocimiento. Las bases biológicas del conocimiento humano, Madrid, Debate.
  • LUHMANN, N. (1989). Essays on self-reference, New York, Columbia University Press.
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Incorporated entries
J.M.Díaz Nafría (20/02/2009)
 
(αυτο-ποιησις, ‘auto (self)-creation’), neologism introduced in 1971 by the Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to designate the organisation of living systems in terms of a fundamental dialectic between structure and function. Although the term emerged in biology, afterwards it came to be used in other sciences as well. Its use by the sociologist Niklas Luhmann is worth pointing out. It can be said that →the UTI takes and reproduces the concept in more differentiated categories (→self-restructuring, self-reproduction and self-recreation). 
For Maturana and Varela, autopoiesis is a fundamental condition for the existence of living beings in the continuous production of themselves. According to Maturana (Transformation in coexistence), “living beings are networks of molecular production in which the produced molecules generate, through their interactions, the same network that creates them”. Autopoietic systems are those that show a network of processes or operations that characterise them and which have the capacity to create or destroy elements of the same system as a response to the disturbances of the medium. Within them, even if the system changes structurally, the network that characterises them would remain invariable during its whole existence, maintaining its identity.

For Luhmann, autopoiesis means a new theoretical paradigm, which, if applied to social systems, has a self-referential nature that does not restrict itself to the structural level; the nature itself constructs the elements that make it up. So, whereas in biological systems self-reference corresponds to self-reproduction, in social (or psychic) systems, it is constituted through meaning (Sinn), which, in its turn, is produced by the “processing differences” which permit to “select” from the “meaning offer” (Mitteilung). According to the Luhmannian interpretation, “communica-tion” (Kommunikation) melts the difference between “information” (Information), the “meaning offer” (Mitteilung) and “understanding” (Verstehen) (in which each part differentiates the other two and leads them towards a unity), where the information is but a selection within the “meaning offer” through a connection between differences. Therefore, there would not be strictly a transmission of information between emitter and receiver; instead, the first one makes a suggestion for the selection of the second one, so that the information for both is different, although, in any case, it is constituted through communication pro-cesses. 
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