Volume 7 · Number 1 · Pages 48–67
Autopoietic Systems: A Generalized Explanatory Approach – Part 2

Hugo Urrestarazu

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Context: In this paper I expand aspects of the generalized bottom-up explanatory approach devised in Part I to expound the natural emergence of composite self-organized dynamic systems endowed with self-produced embodied boundaries and with observed degrees of autonomous behavior. In Part I, the focus was on the rules defined by Varela, Maturana & Uribe (VM&U rules), viewed as a validation test to assess if an observed system is autopoietic. This was accomplished by referring to Maturana’s ontological-epistemological frame and by defining distinctions, concepts, and abstractions necessary to describe dynamic systems in any observational domain. This approach concentrates on pure causation flow rather than on domain-specific interaction mechanisms. Problem: It is essential to analyze the requirements imposed by the VM&U rules on the “intra-boundaries” phenomenology for compliance with the self-production capabilities expected from an autopoietic system. Beyond what is merely implied by the compact wording of the VM&U rules, a key point needs to be addressed explicitly: how to describe some “peculiar” capabilities that the components should be endowed with to participate in new component production (as macro-molecules do in the biological domain) so that system’s self-production can be assessed. Method: Using this approach, I first describe the process of constituting self-organized dynamic structures provided with embodied boundaries. Then I explain how a capability of self-organization emerges and how this results in ephemeral configurations that may evolve into self-regulated long-lasting dynamic system stability within a continuous causation flow inside the boundaries, up to the emergence of some “specialized” subsets of components. This explication allows us to distinguish the medium, the boundaries, and the core of a self-organized dynamic system and to focus attention on the “intra-boundaries” phenomenology that should be at the heart of self-production capabilities, as prescribed by the 5th and 6th VM&U rules. Results: I propose an abstract, domain-free description of the “peculiar” composition and decomposition transformation capabilities that components should possess while subject to state transitions triggered within the “intra-boundaries” causation flow. This is combined with a discussion concerning the “intra-boundaries” causation structure’s possible topological layouts that could be compliant with the 6th rule. Implications: The above-mentioned results allow us to improve our analytic criteria when observing dynamic systems existing in non-biological domains in order to assess their autopoietic nature. They also reveal that the task of consistently identifying possible non-biological autopoietic systems is harder than merely identifying self-organized dynamic systems provided with boundaries and some observable autonomous behavioral capabilities in a given observational domain. More implications will be discussed further in Part III.

Key words: autopoiesis, dynamic system, self-organization, self-production, boundary, autonomy, operational closure, causation, structure determined, meta-molecular, embodiment, interaction network, organizational invariance


Urrestarazu H. (2011) Autopoietic systems: A generalized explanatory approach – part 2. Constructivist Foundations 7(1): 48–67. http://constructivist.info/7/1/048

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