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Randall Whitaker
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  ENCYCLOPAEDIA AUTOPOIETICA
An Annotated Lexical Compendium on Autopoiesis and Enaction

Enola Gaia

RELEASE Version 1.0.1
5 April 2003
     


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adaptation

Maturana (1978) distinguishes between two distinct classes or categories of adaptation -- ontogenic adaptation and evolutionary adaptation. Both categories of adaptation "...arise through the selection of the structures that permit the autopoiesis of the living system in the medium in which it exists." (Maturana, 1978, p. 38) The difference is based on the fact that ontogenic adaptation is the "...coupling of the changing structure of a structurally plastic autopoietic unity to the changing structure of the medium..." (Maturana, 1978, p. 38), whereas evolutionary adaptation is the "...history of successively produced, historically connected unities generated through sequential reproductive steps..." (Maturana, 1978, p. 38) Adaptation "...always results from sequences of interactions of a plastic system in its medium that trigger in the plastic system structural changes or changes of state that, and any instant, select in it a structure that either matches (is homomorphic to) the structure of the medium in which it operates (interacts or behaves) as such a system, or disintegrate it." (Maturana, 1978, p. 39)


Cf. : ontogenic adaptation, evolutionary adaptation


admissible symbolic descriptions

Varela (1979) draws a distinction between operational explanations and symbolic explanations (Cf. comparison under the entry for explanation). Although he notes a preference for operational description / explanation in dealing with autonomous systems, he also points out that (a) strict adherence to this approach might be problematically dogmatic, and (b) symbolic forms of description / explanation can be economical (compared to the sort of literal or mechanistic generative simulation required for the operational approach).

He then explores the question of when and how symbolic explanations are permissible and useful in addressing autonomous systems. The first step is scrutinizing the notion of a symbol, because "...in order to understand fully how the cognitive domain of such a system can operate and be modified, we must look at the dynamic regularities that arise within the system and that can be treated as symbolic events." (Varela, 1979, p. 81) This leads to delineation of two primary features of 'symbols' in natural systems, of which the one relevant here is:

"Internal Determination. An object or event is a symbol only if it is a token for an abbreviated nomic chain that occurs within the bounds of the system's organizational closure. In other words, whenever the system's closure determines certain regularities in the face of internal or external interactions and perturbations, such regularities can be abbreviated as a symbol, usually the initial or terminal element in the nomic chain."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 79-80)

Varela then invokes the example of nitrogen base triplets 'encoding' an amino acid in a cell's protein sequences. This is 'encoding' only in the sense that the triplet's occurrence is correlated with a repetitive pattern discernible in the actual / causal (i.e., 'operational') dynamics of the cell. "But such a dynamic pattern occurs entirely within the bounds of the cell's closure; the cell itself contains the 'interpretation' for the symbol. We then chose the triplet as the symbol for the amino acids by abbreviating the long sequence of chemical steps from the internal recursion where such chemical reactions normally operate." (p. 80)

In (seemingly arbitrarily) associating triplets with amino acids, an observer is using a sort of explanatory shorthand by ignoring at least some of the operations which realize the pattern of dynamics thus denoted. "To the extent that this ignoring is based on the regularities of the dynamics of an autonomous system, this symbolic description is admissible, and it plays a useful role in the study of autopoietic systems on a larger time scale ... In the molecular examples of admissible symbols, their underlying causal chains are still apparent and accessible, and we can switch from one type of description to the other with a certain ease." (p. 80)


Cf. : explanation, operational explanations, symbol, symbolic explanations


aggression

As delineated in contradistinction with love: "... the domain of those behaviors through which the other arises denied as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself." (Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)


allo-

A combinatoric term derived from the Greek allos ("other; different") and used to generate a variety of terms in autopoietic theory such as allo-referred, allonomy, allopoiesis, allopoietic, etc. In this usage, the prefix allo- typically serves to contrast a root term with another instanced prefixed by auto-.


Cf. : auto-


allo-referred (systems)

An early construct used by Maturana to denote those systems "...that could only be characterized with reference to a context." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xiii) The opposite of self-referred (systems).


allonomy

A term with the literal meaning of "external law", synonymous with the notion of "control". The opposite of autonomy (in the sense of "self-law"). (Varela, 1979, p. xi) Varela uses this term to distinguish a duality of "control" (or capacity for control) evidenced by systems -- i.e., those which are "controllable" from without (allonomy) and those whose control is a function or effect of their own constitution (autonomy).

In The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991), the term heteronomy is apparently used as a synonym for allonomy.


Cf. : autonomous description, autonomy , control, control description, heteronomy


allopoiesis

A term formed by the combination of allo- ("other") and -poiesis ("creation"). The state or character of systems whose operation results in something other than the maintenance of their defining organization . This term is mainly invoked to establish a contrastive alternative to the autonomy and autopoiesis evidenced by living systems (the primary focus of Maturana and Varela's work).


Cf. : allopoietic machine / system


allopoietic machine / system

Systems which "...have as the product of their functioning something different from themselves." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135; Varela, 1979a, p. 15). Such systems can be defined as components of a subsuming supersystem in which they play the part of a functional contributor. By virtue of this "component" status, allopoietic machines can be described in terms of "purpose" (their role in the larger context), and they may be ascribed "inputs" and "outputs" (with respect to that same context). Allopoietic machines are therefore delineated with respect to a teleology -- something not ascribable to an autopoietic unity . They are therefore members of the class of allo- referred systems (to use Maturana's early terminology).

Allopoietic machines are therefore construed as such icogdo an observer. They "...have an identity that depends on the observer and is not determined through their operation, because its product is different from themselves; allopoietic machines do have an externally defined individuality." (Varela, 1979, p. 15) This last feature derives from the fact that an allopoietic machine's "boundaries are specified by an observer, who by specifying its input and output surfaces, specifies what pertains to it in its operations." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 81; Cf. : Varela, 1979, p. 15) "Since the changes that allopoietic machines may suffer without losing their definitory organization are necessarily subordinated to the production of something different from themselves, they are not autonomous." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 80; Varela, 1979, p. 15)

Since the ascription of allopoiesis is a functional attribution, "...an observer can describe an autopoietic component of a composite system as playing an allopoietic role through the realization of the larger system that it contributes to realizing through its autopoiesis." (Varela, 1979a, p. 52). Such an ascription neither addresses nor negates the autopoietic status of the machine so treated. "In fact, autopoietic and allopoietic descriptions of a system are complementary pairs, depending on the observer's needs. They are a particular instance of ... the universal duality between autonomous and control descriptions..." (Varela, 1979, p. 16) Cf. : autopoietic machine.


Cf. : allopoiesis, allopoietic role, autonomy , autonomous machine, autopoiesis , autopoietic machine / system, purpose


allopoietic role

A term used to denote the functional participation of a system (especially an autopoietic system) in a larger supersystem, such that the participating system can be characterized by an observer as an allopoietic machine or submachine serving as a component of the supersystem. Phrased another way, an observer ascribes an allopoietic role to a system (participating in a subsuming network or system) when the operation of the subject system (in the context of the subsuming one) appears to have a purpose other than the maintenance of its (the subject system's) own organization .

Because (by definition) an autopoietic machine's function is defined and determined by its own organization (and the maintenance of that organization), any analogous reference to an autopoietic role is descriptively meaningless.


Cf. : allopoietic machine, autopoietic machine, machine, submachine


ambience

A general term used to denote the medium or milieu in which living systems are realized. (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9) More specifically, the ascription of 'ambience' connotes that within which a subject unity is embedded. This implies that whatever character the ambience may evidence interpenetrates or subsumes both the subject unity and whatever else is apprehended as its environs. Such observer-ascribed "environs" are distinguished in the literature (when distinguished at all) as the environment. As such, 'ambience' comes close to being a construct connotative of an objective substrate for an observer's distinction / eduction of a given subject unity.

Ultimately, however, neither Maturana nor Varela explicitly embrace this connotation of objective status. Because their delineation of 'ambience' is qualified with respect to realization, the ambient ascribed by an observer of a living system's ontogeny is a descriptive construct of the observer, and not a definitive feature of the system's organization . (See Also: Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 99) Varela (1979) occasionally refers to this construct as ambient.

For the sake of illustration, it is safe to say that ambience is equivalent in connotation to that which Winograd and Flores (1986) denote as the specific construct 'medium':

"...[W]e use the term 'medium' rather than 'environment' to refer to the space in which an organism exists. This is to avoid the connotation that there is a separation between an entity and its 'environment.' An entity exists as part of a medium, not as a separate object inside it."

(Winograd & Flores, 1986, p. 43, footnote 7)

Winograd and Flores' connotation of 'medium' being all-subsumptive (i.e., of both the system and its environs) matches the connotations given 'ambience' by Maturana and Varela (1980).

NOTE: In later (e.g., post-1985) writings, Maturana has commonly employed the term medium as an apparent surrogate for environment, although some passages can be interpreted as connoting something more like ambience. As such, it is not safe to blindly equate Maturana's later allusions to 'medium' with either Winograd and Flores' precise usage of that term or to Maturana and Varela's (1980) precisely-delineated construct of 'ambience.'

Figure AmbEnv illustrates the variant delineations of 'ambience', 'environment', and 'medium'. This figure is located within the entry for 'environment'.


Cf. : ambient, environment, medium


ambient

A synonym for ambience occasionally used by Varela in Principles of Biological Autonomy (1979).


Cf. : ambience


analytic (explanatory paradigm)

A label used by Varela (1979, p. 10) to connote rational explanations framed with respect to reduction of phenomena to atomic elements. A synonym for scientific reductionism. The opposite of synthetic explanatory approaches.


"Anything said is said by an observer."

A famous (and thematically central) quotation attributable to Humberto Maturana. This declaration set the stage for constructing a theory of cognition which focuses upon the cognitive system which both evidences this "cognition" and which is in fact attempting to describe and explain it. It occurs in the earliest documents of the literature base: Neurophysiology of Cognition (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4) and Biology of Cognition (Maturana, 1970b, reprinted as the first section of Autopoiesis and Cognition - Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 8).

This phrase is sometimes quoted as "Everything said is said by an observer...", as in the passage: "Everything said is said by an observer to another observer who can be himself or herself." (Cf. Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : observer


asymmetry

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 101) to denote the form of duality for which his Star statement / operator applies -- i.e., a form in which the two terms are reciprocally related across levels of referentiality (as opposed to within one such level -- i.e., symmetry).

A more detailed overview of the context for this dichotomy (as well as Figure SymAsym illustrating it) can be found in the entry for Star.


Cf. : complementarity, Star, symmetry


auto-

A combinatoric term derived from the Greek auto- (connoting "self"; "same") and used in the generation of much of the theory's terminology. In this usage, auto- typically distinguishes a root term from the complementary prefix allo- ("other") to denote reference or applicability to the same object or process (as opposed to a distinguishable other).


Cf. : allo-


autonomous description

Per Varela (1979), one of the two major classes of system description (the other being control descriptions).


autonomous machine (system)

Any machine / system exhibiting autonomy (in Varela's specific sense). A member of the class which subsumes autopoietic systems. This general class is defined by organizational closure in these systems' constitution. In the following two definitions (with some variation in phrasing), Varela states autonomous systems are:

A. "...mechanistic (dynamic) systems defined as a unity by their organization. We shall say that autonomous systems are organizationally closed. That is, their organization is characterized by processes such that (1) the processes are related as a network, so that they recursively depend on each other in the generation and realization of the processes themselves, and (2) they constitute the system as a unity recognizable in the space (domain) in which the processes exist." (Varela, 1979, p. 55)

B. '...defined as a composite unity by a network of interactions of components that (i) through their interactions recursively regenerate the network of interactions that produced them, and (ii) realize the network as a unity in the space in which the components exist by constituting and specifying the unity's boundaries as a cleavage from the background...' (Varela, 1981a, p. 15)


Cf. : autonomy , autopoiesis , autopoietic machine / system, organizational closure


autonomy

1.

The definitive quality of the class of systems subsuming autopoietic systems. This general class is defined by organizational closure in these systems' constitution. The concept is defined indirectly, through definition of the autonomous machine / system which exhibits this quality. The difference between autonomy and autopoiesis is that autopoietic systems must produce their own components in addition to conserving their organization and specifying their boundaries in the space of realization.


2.

"Autonomy is the distinctive phenomenology resulting from an autopoietic organization: the realization of the autopoietic organization is the product of its operation."

(Varela, Maturana & Uribe, 1974, p. 188)

In the early literature, a label connoting "The condition of subordinating all changes to the maintenance of the organization. Self-asserting capacity of living systems to maintain their identity through the active compensation of deformations." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135) In this early, generic sense the term connoted "...the central feature of the organization of the living" (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xvii; also see Maturana, 1980a, p. 45) Although it is obviously closely related, this early usage of the term should not be construed as precisely synonymous with Varela's (1979) more rigorous (and distinct) usage (1. above).


3.

In generic usage, the notion of self-guidance or self-control -- literally, "self-law." (Varela, 1979, p. xi). The opposite of allonomy or control.

Regardless of the specific above-cited nuance employed, 'autonomy' is the central principle or heuristic around which Maturana and Varela's theories revolve. As a subject for scientific enquiry, 'autonomy' entails a significant divergence from conventional models and techniques. Much of Varela's solo work during the 1970's concentrated on developing new tools with which to address systems as autonomous machines. In doing so, he laid out a map relating (a) the characterization of a system (in and of itself) as either autonomous or allonomous (subject to extrinsic control) versus (b) the mode of representation by which said system is modeled (either in terms of its closure or its observed interactions). This summary overview of the methodological landscape is reproduced in Table CharRep below.


TABLE CHARREP:
Varela's Overview of System Characterization versus System Representation

Adapted from Varela (1979)
(p. 206, Table 13.1)
BASIS FOR REPRESENTATION:
BASIS FOR
CHARACTERIZATION:
Closure Interaction
Autonomy
  • identity
  • connectivity
  • indefinite recursion
  • eigenbehavior
  • stability
  • perturbations - compensations
  • cognitive domain
  • resilience
  • ontogenesis
Control
  • coordination of parts
  • hierarchical levels
  • finite recursion
  • signal flow
  • state transitions
  • black box
  • dissipative structures
  • input - output

Table CharRep is but a sketch of elements methodologically relevant to the study of systems as autonomous unities. The reader is invited to compare this Table's contents in relation to (e.g.) the dichotomy between the recursive and behavioral views of particular unities, the distinction between symbolic and operational explanations, and other constructs concerning observation / description / explanation.


Cf. : autonomous machine / system, autopoiesis , autopoietic machine (system), closure, Closure Thesis, organizational closure


autopoiesis

1.

The theoretical construct definitive of the manner of operation of that class of systems that includes living systems. This term, combined from the Greek auto- (self) and poiesis (creation/production), was coined by Maturana in (approximately) 1972 (Cf. Maturana's comments in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xvii):

"The Word 'Autopoiesis' ... [The essay 'Autopoiesis - The Organization of the Living' ] ...was written in 1972, as an expansion of the section on 'Living System' in the 'Biology of Cognition'. The writing of this essay was in fact triggered by a conversation that Francisco Varela and I had in which he said: "If indeed the circular organization is sufficient to characterize living systems as unities, then one should be able to put it in more formal terms." I agreed, but said that a formalization could only come after a complete linguistic description, and we immediately began to work on the complete description. Yet we were unhappy with the expression 'circular organization', and we wanted a word that would by itself convey the central feature of the organization of the living, which is autonomy. It was in these circumstances that one day, while talking with a friend (José Bulnes) about an essay of his on Don Quixote de la Mancha, in which he analyzed Don Quixote's dilemma of whether to follow the path of arms (praxis, action) or the path of letters (poiesis, creation, production), and his eventual choice of the path of praxis deferring any attempt at poiesis, I understood for the first time the power of the word 'poiesis' and invented the word that we needed: autopoiesis. ..."

(Maturana, Introduction, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xvii.)

Often loosely translated as 'self-creation' or 'self-production', the term connotes the process or dynamic by which an autopoietic machine / system maintains its autopoietic organization (via intrinsic processes of production of components realizing this particular organization). More specifically, autopoiesis is attributed to a machine (delineated as a a network of processes) which through that network of processes produces the components that:

"(1) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and

(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."

(Varela, 1979, p. 13)

In the primary literature, autopoiesis is not directly defined as a process. Instead it is defined indirectly, on the basis of how an 'autopoietic machine' operates. There are, in fact, very few instances in the primary literature where 'autopoiesis' is substantively treated in and of itself, and then only as a process characteristic of 'self-production' or 'homeostatic organization' -- constructs themselves framed mechanicistically with respect to the subject system's architectonics. For example, Varela (1979, pp. 24-26) comes closest to addressing 'autopoiesis' directly in the course of discussing productions of relations in a given system:

"What makes this system a unity with identity and individuality is that all the relations of production are coordinated in a system describable as having an invariant organization. In such a system any deformation at any place is compensated for ...by keeping its organization constant as defined by the relation of the productions that constitute autopoiesis. The only thing that defines the cell as a unity (as an individual) is its autopoiesis, and thus, the only restriction put on the existence of the cell is the maintenance of autopoiesis."

(Varela, 1979, p. 26, emphasis in the original)

"...[A]utopoiesis may arise in a molecular system if the relations of production are concatenated in such a way that they produce components specifying the system as a unity that exists only while it is actively produced by such concatenation of processes. This is to say that autopoiesis arises in a molecular system only when the relation that concatenates these relations is produced and maintained constant through the production of the molecular components that constitute the system through this concatenation."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 26-27)

NOTE: Given the above distinctions and qualifications about the nature and origin of the construct 'autopoiesis', the details on what makes a composite unity (system) 'autopoietic' are therefore to be found under the entries for autopoietic machine and autopoietic organization.

The strict, though indirect, definition of autopoiesis proposed in the early papers was intended to provide a basis for overcoming vague or problematical characterizations of living systems -- particularly those which represented vitalistic explanation of biological phenomena. As Maturana (1980a, p. 45) put it, the construct of autopoiesis:

"...resulted from the direct attempt ... to provide a complete characterization of the organization that makes living systems self-contained autonomous unities, and that makes explicit the relations among their components which must remain invariant under a continuous structural transformation and material turnover."

This passage reinforces the viewpoint that it is the constitutive organization of an autopoietic system which is primary in delineating autopoiesis. This is reflected even in the less formal popular account given in The Tree of Knowledge (Maturana & Varela, 1987, 1992):

"When we speak of living beings, we presuppose something in common between them; otherwise we wouldn't put them in the same class we designate with the name 'living.' What has not been said, however, is: what is the organization that defines them as a class? Our proposition is that living beings are characterized in that, literally, they are continually self-producing. We indicate this process when we call the organization that defined them an autopoietic organization."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 43, emphasis added)

Having said that, Maturana and Varela proceed (as they have consistently done in the more formal literature) to delineate the autopoietic organization as the basis for 'indicating' the process of 'autopoiesis.'

These last quotations illustrate a point which has proven somewhat problematical over the years. As mentioned at the outset, 'autopoiesis' has in fact been delineated and formally defined in terms of the constitution and operational character of an autopoietic machine or system. This definitional approach was entirely consistent with the mechanicistic perspective from which Maturana and Varela initially proceeded. To have invoked an ephemeral 'autopoiesis' (e.g., as a processual or qualitative referent) would have arguably entailed sliding into the sort of vitalistic explanation which they explicitly opposed and stringently avoided.

In other words, 'autopoiesis' is an abstract construct known solely in relation to a machine / system of a particular constitution which maintains its key constitutive character over time. Strictly speaking, autopoiesis has not been positively defined as a type of process in and of itself, even though it is clear in the context of its primary literature (e.g., Maturana & Varela, 1980) that it is the dynamic or process evidenced by, and reciprocally preservative of, the autopoietic organization / autopoietic machine. Nonetheless, it became common practice (even on occasion by Maturana and Varela themselves) to allude to 'autopoiesis' as a rhetorical shorthand connoting (in terms of process) the constitutive and operational details of a particular system. This is most evident when addressing the dynamics of an autopoietic system -- i.e., when the processes manifest in the autopoietic network comprise the referential foreground, and the mechanics of the network itself are relegated to the background.

Given the above-cited conditions, it is possibly understandable, though definitely somewhat ironic, that this indirectly- or allusively-defined shorthand term should become the de facto label for the essence of Maturana and Varela's work, as well as a common label for that work itself (Cf. 2. below). So long as such invocations retain (or at least can be linked to) the sort of mechanicistic context in which the process 'autopoiesis' is definitively framed, this is not problematical. What is problematical is explanatory invocation (and reliance upon) the process or dynamic of 'autopoiesis' absent this context. To invoke 'autopoiesis' (e.g., as 'self-production') without concomitantly explaining the constitutive elements of the system(s) for which such invocation is made, is to deny any basis for evaluating the applicability of the construct (as it was defined originally). The most well-known example of such an invocation would be that of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who adopted 'autopoiesis' as a processual construct in analyzing social systems, yet never (to date) bothered to explain what in his view are the key constitutive elements (e.g., 'organization', 'structure') by which such an application might be assessed in terms of Maturana and Varela's clear-cut definitional criteria.

The explanatory risk in invoking 'autopoiesis' absent attention to the machine / system manifesting it has two distinguishable (but admittedly intertwined) components. The first is that an observer may simplistically project the feature 'autopoiesis' onto a unity with which she has insufficient or imperfect observational engagement upon which to base its ascription. Phrased another way, stripping the processual construct away from the machine manifesting it opens the possibility of its mistaken attribution to something only partially or indirectly observed. Varela (1979) provides some illustration for this type of risk in writing of recognizing an autopoietic system (as distinct from autonomous systems in general):

"In general, the actual recognition of an autopoietic system poses a cognitive problem that has to do both with the capacity of the observer to recognize the relations that define the system as a unity, and with his capacity to distinguish the boundaries that delimit this unity in the space in which it is realized (his criteria of distinction). Since it is a defining feature of an autopoietic system that it should specify its own boundaries, a proper recognition of an autopoietic system as a unity requires that the observer perform an operation of distinction that defines the limits of the system in the same domain in which it specifies them through its autopoiesis. If this is not the case, he does not observe the autopoietic system as a unity, even though he may conceive it."

(Varela, 1979, p. 54)

The second, but related, explanatory risk has to do with ascribing autopoiesis to systems with which the observer / explainer may have 'proper' observational engagement, but for which the observer ignores addressing the key features of the autopoietic organization by which the process of autopoiesis is defined. Varela (1979) also addresses this issue in passing, during his discussion of ascribing autopoiesis to other (autonomous) systems (i.e., systems of similar apparent constitution or apparent mode of operation, but not 'living systems'). Varela notes that other systems, being autonomous, entail:

"...assertion of the system's identity through its functioning in such a way that observation proceeds through the coupling between the observer and the unit in the domain in which the unity's operation occurs.

What is unsatisfactory about autopoiesis for the characterization of other unities ... is also apparent from this very description. The relations that characterize autopoiesis are relations of productions of components. ... Given this notion of production of components, it follows that the cases of autopoiesis we can actually exhibit, such as living systems or model cases ..., have as a criterion of distinction a topological boundary, and the processes that define them occur in a physical-like space...

Thus, the idea of autopoiesis is, by definition, restricted to relations of productions of some kind, and refers to topological boundaries. These two conditions are clearly unsatisfactory for other systems exhibiting autonomy." [...of which Varela specifically mentions animal societies and human social institutions -- Ed.]

(Varela, 1979, p. 54, emphasis in the original)

The difference between autonomy and autopoiesis is that autopoietic systems must produce their own components in addition to conserving their organization . Autonomous machines need only exhibit organizational closure, and they are not required to produce their own components as part of their operation.


Cf. : allopoiesis, allopoietic machine, autopoietic machine, machine.


2.

A label sometimes used to denote the body of Maturana and Varela's theoretical work.


Cf. : autopoiesis theory, autopoietic theory, theory of autopoiesis.


autopoiesis theory

A label for the body of Maturana and Varela's theoretical work, occurring rarely in the writings of other authors alluding to their theories.


Cf. : autopoiesis (2.), autopoietic theory, theory of autopoiesis.


autopoietic closure

A term invoked by Maturana (1978) in summarily characterizing autopoietic systems. He states autopoietic closure "... is the condition for autonomy in autopoietic systems in general, and that it "... is realized through a continuous structural change under conditions of continuous material interchange with the medium." With regard to the thermodynamic constraints relevant to the physical space, "... autopoietic closure in living systems does not imply the violation of these constraints, but constitutes a particular mode of realization of autopoiesis in a space in which thermodynamic constraints are valid."

This term is used only within one paragraph in this paper, and as such it's somewhat difficult to discern whether it is being used as (a) a summary term for the 'mode of closure' evidenced in autonomous / autopoietic systems generally, or (b) a specific analogue to more clearly delineated constructs such as operational closure or organizational closure. Because the term is invoked specifically to discuss autonomy , one might make a case that it connotes organizational closure. However, there is no evidence beyond this to suggest such a linkage between the two constructs.


Cf. : closure, operational closure, organizational closure


autopoietic machine (system)

A machine / system which is a member of the class of autonomous systems and which meets the requirement of being organized (defined as a unity ) as a network of processes of production, transformation and destruction of components that produces the components which:

(i) through their interactions and transformations regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it as a concrete unity in the space in which they exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135, Cf. : Varela, 1979, p. 13)

Any unity meeting these specifications is an autopoietic machine / system, and any such autopoietic system realized in the physical space is a living system. The particular substantiation of a given unity -- its structure -- is not a sufficient factor for making the system "living". The key feature of a living system is maintenance of its organization, i.e, preservation of the relational network which defines it as a systemic unity. Phrased another way, '...autopoietic systems operate as homeostatic systems that have their own organization as the critical fundamental variable that they actively maintain constant.' (Maturana, 1975, p. 318)

Varela, Maturana & Uribe (1974) provide a concise set of criteria for determining a machine is an autopoietic machine, arranged as a 6-point key by which one may proceed step-by-step in evaluating autopoiesis for a given unity.

This key is available in the form of the Autopoiesis Checklist at this Website:

http://www.enolagaia.com/Checklist.html


Autopoietic machines are the opposite of allopoietic machines, which are defined in terms of a purpose other than maintenance of their own organization. However, an observer can ascribe allopoietic ( allo-referred) status to an autopoietic machine within a subsuming context. Autopoietic machines may be described or manipulated as components of "...a larger system that defines the independent events which perturb them ... [and] can in fact be integrated into a larger system as a component allopoietic machine, without any alteration in its autopoietic organization." (Varela, 1979, p. 16) (See Also: higher-order, second-order, third-order) Conversely, an observer may analytically decompose an autopoietic machine, treating each of its "...partial homeostatic and regulatory mechanisms as allopoietic machines (submachines) by defining their input and output surfaces." (Varela, 1979, p. 17) Such a decomposition does not sum up (as a collection of allopoietic submachines) to an appropriate description of autopoietic machines, because it "...does not reveal the nature of the domain of interactions that ... [autopoietic machines] ... define as concrete entities operating in the physical universe." (Varela, 1979, p. 17)


Cf. : autonomy , autopoiesis , autonomous machine (system), machine


autopoietic network

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 13) to denote that "...particular network of processes (relations) of production of components ..." which characterizes an autopoietic machine / system.


autopoietic organization

The generic term denoting the organization characterizing autopoietic machines / systems. The term "...simply means processes interlaced in the specific form of a network of productions of components which realizing the network that produced them constitute it as a unity." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 80)


Cf. : living organization, organization , organization of the living


autopoietic space

"An autopoietic organization constitutes a closed domain of relations specified only with respect to the autopoietic organization that these relations constitute, and thus it defines a space in which it can be realized as a concrete system, a space whose dimensions are the relations of production of the components that realize it."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135)

Note that this "autopoietic space" is not isomorphic with the general physical space which is the context for realization of the composite unity . Perhaps the best interpretation is to consider an autopoietic space to be analogous to a state space (a depictive construct for a system's attributes). Maturana and Varela (1980, pp. 90 ff.) ascribe three dimensions to the autopoietic space, corresponding to the three classes of relations of production.


Cf. : domain, relations of production, space


autopoietic system

A synonym for autopoietic machine.

See autopoietic machine


autopoietic theory

A label for the body of Maturana and Varela's theoretical work. This label was chosen by Whitaker (1992) to denote this work, and it is the label of choice used in The Observer Web.


Cf. : autopoiesis (2.), theory of autopoiesis, autopoiesis theory, biology of cognition, Santiago theory


autopoietic unity

A synonym for autopoietic machine used particularly in Varela, Maturana & Uribe (1974).

See autopoietic machine


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background

A term occasionally invoked in the sense of 'foreground vs. background' to connote that from which a unity is brought forth via an act of distinction. For example:

"The fundamental operation that an observer can perform is an operation of distinction, the specification of an entity by operationally cleaving it from a background."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 55)

As such, this term is used more or less colloquially, and not as a formal alternative to (e.g.) ambience or medium.


basic circularity

A term occasionally invoked to connote the necessarily circular / cyclical nature of an organizationally-closed system or an aspect thereof. This term appeared frequently in the early literature with respect to living systems. (e.g., Maturana, 1970a, p. 5; Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. xiv, 9, 11, 18)

"All the peculiar characteristics of the different kinds of organisms are superimposed on this basic circularity and are subservient to it, securing its continuance through successive interactions in an always changing environment." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 5)

For a living system, "...its identity is maintained as long as the basic circularity that defines the system as a unit of interactions remains unbroken." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 5)


Cf. : circularity, circular organization


behavior

1. (With respect to a system observed):

"Any operation or change in operation of an organism in relation to an environment, in any domain in which the observer distinguishes this operation or change in operation, is a behavior or action in this domain."

(Maturana, 1989)

The "...changes of a living being's position or attitude, which an observer describes as movements or actions in relation to a certain environment." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 136) As such, behavior is an observer-ascribed description of the observed system's apparent transformations within the similarly observer-dependent environment in which the observation occurs.

"...[T]he behavior of an organism is only a description that the observer does of a sequence of postural changes (structural) that the organism exhibits in relation to the medium in which it is observed. These postural changes are expressions of the structural dynamics of the organism, and they appear with the participation of the nervous system when it exists."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

This last quoted passage points to the necessity of bearing in mind that behavior (as ascribed by an observer) must be qualified with respect to the same phenomenal domain juxtaposition as applies to any observation of a composite unity. The following passage illustrates this point, as Maturana discusses the linkage of the living system's two phenomenal domains of realization (as both simple and composite unity) through the cognitive domain of the observer:

"Behaviour, as a relation between a living system operating as a whole and the medium operating as an independent entity, does not take place in the anatomical/physiological domain of the organism, but depends on it. In other words, anatomical/physiological phenomena are necessary for behaviour to happen, but do not determine it because they are involved in the operation of only one of the participants of the dynamics of relations that constitutes it, namely, the living system. It is only the observer that conserves a double look by attending simultaneously, or in succession, to the structural dynamics of a system and to its relations as a whole, who can speak of a generative relation between the processes of the structural dynamics of a living system (anatomy and physiology) and the phenomena of its domain of behaviour."

(Maturana, 1995)

We often overlook these observer-dependent factors when we take observations of an organism's / system's apparent transformations to support an explanation of those transformational events in mentalistic or psychologistic terms. By doing so, we are in fact projecting onto the observed transformational events an explanatory mechanism which is an artifact of our observation. Maturana provides a lucid illustration of this in discussing perception:

"Since the observer distinguishes the organism as a system that moves in a medium, conserving necessarily its structural correspondence with it (adaptation) ... , the observer can distinguish behaviors that appear in the organism associated to its interactions. It is in this context of the association between behavior and medium configured by this distinction that the word perception is habitually used, supposing that such behaviors emerge from the determination of the organism (or of its nervous system), in the level of the sensorial encounter, by an external object."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

The expansion of this basic construct to encompass complex behavioral phenomena proceeds with regard to the typical allusions to circularity and domanial qualification:

"Every kind of behavior is realized through operations that may or may not be applied recursively. If recursion is possible in a particular kind of behavior and if it leads to cases of behavior of the same kind, then a closed generative domain of behavior is produced. There are many examples: Human dance is one, human language, another."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 52)


2. (With respect to the observer):

The "... referential and deterministic sequence of states of nervous activity, in which each state determines the next one within the same frame of reference." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 52) More generally, Maturana characterizes the fundament for an ascription of "behavior" (1. above) as the ongoing mediation of the nervous system between the organism's receptor and effector surfaces. (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 26)


3.

A term used in the more or less colloquial sense of an organism's "function" or "performance." (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 31)


4.

In one specific case, 'behavior' appears as a synonym for conduct (from which this term is more commonly distinguished). This occurs in Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 139):

"(v) Conduct or behaviour. The interactions in which it is seen to enter as well as the active relations that a living system is seen to adopt while operating (realizing its autopoiesis) within a given context, and which are described by an observer with reference to this context, constitute its conduct or behaviour."


Perhaps the most concentrated treatment of "behavior" -- particularly insofar as it is a phenomenon subject to observation -- is to be found in Maturana and Guiloff (1980). In this paper, the authors make a distinction between those behaviors which an observer might distinguish as acquired / learned versus innate / instinctive. They take care to point out that this distinction has no necessary bearing on the fundamental explanation of behavior put forth in autopoietic theory:

"If two living systems have isomorphic structures, then their respective domains of states as well as their respective domains of perturbations are also isomorphic, regardless of whether the structure of one living system was inherited while the structure of the other was acquired during its ontogeny. The result is that these two living systems under isomorphic systems of perturbations undergo isomorphic changes of states that are seen as equivalent conducts by an observer."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139)

In both cases, the observed behavior of each system is a result of their structure-specified responses to perturbation. This structural determination is the central (and only) explanation needed in the context of autopoietic theory.

"...[T]he distinction that we make between instinctive and learned behaviours has significance only if referred to the different origins of the individual structures of the organisms concerned (instinctive if inherited and learned if acquired during ontogeny), and not to the manner in which the structure of an organism determines its behaviour."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139)


Cf. : behavioral coupling, conduct, domain of behavioral phenomena


behavioral coupling

A phenomenon attributed to (e.g.) two autopoietic systems such that:

"...the autopoietic conduct of an organism A becomes a source of deformation for an organism B, and the compensatory behavior of organism B acts, in turn, as a source of deformation of organism A, whose compensatory behavior acts again as a source of deformation of B, and so on recursively until the coupling is interrupted."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 120)

For all practical purposes, this term can be considered an informal synonym for reciprocal structural coupling, albeit it a synonym framed from a distinct referential vantage. The primary basis for differentiating the constructs is that one is framed with respect to behavior and the other with respect to structure . The focus of the former is the organism's attitudinal (or other parametric) status with respect to its discerned environment, and the focus of the latter is the internal constitution of the organism.

The complementarity of referential framing evident between behavioral and structural coupling is analogous to that between deformation and perturbation. Perhaps it is no more than a derived effect of the literature's "ontogeny", but it's interesting to point out that the canonical 1970's treatments of behavioral coupling typically invoke deformation, whereas the more numerous treatments of structural coupling typically invoke perturbation. Crudely put for the sake of illustration, the former case invokes a structural status to explain something framed as an event, while in the latter case invokes an event to explain something framed with regard to the participating systems' structures.


Cf. : structural coupling, deformation, perturbation, consensual domain


behavioral view

One of the subcategories of cognitive point of view delineated by Varela.

As discussed by Varela (Goguen & Varela, 1978; Varela, 1979), one of two alternative observational vantages on a system and its operation(s) (the other being recursive view). The behavioral view "...reduces a system to its input-output performance or behavior, and reduces the environment to inputs to the system..." and the "...effect of outputs on environment is not taken into account...". In contrast, (with respect to a given system) the recursive view "...emphasizes the mutual interconnectedness of its components..." and "... arises when emphasis is placed on the system's internal structure." (Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34; Varela, 1979, p. 86)

"...[T]he behavioral view arises when emphasis is placed on the environment, and recursive view arises when emphasis is placed on the system's internal structure.

If [via the recursive view -- Ed. ] we stress the autonomy of a system Si ... then the environmental influences become perturbations (rather than inputs) which are compensated for through the underlying recursive interdependence of the system's components ... Each such component, however, is treated behaviorally, in terms of some input-output description.

The recursive viewpoint is more sophisticated than the behavioral, since it involves the simultaneous consideration of three different levels [i.e.: component / system-whole / environment -- Ed. ], whereas the behavioral strictly speaking involves only two [i.e.: system-whole / environment -- Ed. ]. ... [E]xpressing interest in how the system achieves its behavior through the interdependent action of its parts adds a new distinction, between the system and its parts."

(Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34)

The cognitive point of view (CPOV) conforming to the behavioral view is illustrated in Tableau BehView.

A summary illustration of the dichotomy between behavioral and recursive views can be found in Figure CPOV.

Both these illustrations can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html

Although the foundation for the behavioral / recursive view dichotomy can be discerned in the primary literature going back to Maturana (1970a), it is neither so explicitly addressed, nor even invoked, as in the Varela sources cited here. Maturana's subsequent analyses of phenomena such as languaging and (most particularly) the hierarchical evolution of self-consciousness through recursive linguistic behavior could have been considerably more lucid had this (or an equivalent) logical accounting for indexicality been employed.


Cf. : cognitive point of view, recursive view


being

1.
A term which appears colloquially in The Tree of Knowledge (Maturana & Varela, 1992) as an apparent synonym for 'object', 'entity', and/or 'unity'. Cf. p. 40:

"The act of indicating any being, object, thing, or unity involves making an act of distinction ... Each time we refer to anything ... we are specifying a criterion of distinction, which indicates what we are talking about and specifies its properties as being, unity, or object."


2.

Used in a more specific sense, a term connoting a specimen of a living system -- typically in the phrase "living being".

Nowhere in the primary literature is 'being' defined in such a way as to give it any special connotation distinct from 'unity' or 'entity'. Similarly, the primary literature does not explicitly address 'being' in any specific sense as an ontic unit (i.e., a being) or as an ontological state or quality of existence (i.e., being). As such, the often-suggested parallels or linkages between autopoietic theory and (e.g.) Heideggerian phenomenological philosophy are not explicitly suggested by any invocation of the term 'being' by Maturana and/or Varela.


Cf. : entity, unity


biological explanation

"A reformulation in terms of processes subordinated to autopoiesis, that is, a reformulation in the biological phenomenological domain." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135)


biological phenomenology

A term for the phenomenology characteristic of living systems, i.e.,"...the phenomenology of autopoietic systems in the physical space..." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135) Biological phenomenology is a specific instance of the general class of mechanical phenomenology -- "...a phenomenology of relations between processes realized through the properties of components" (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 112), and not the properties themselves. Varela (1979, p. 31) focuses the scope of application for this term when he claims, "All the biological phenomenology is necessarily determined and realized through individuals (that is, through autopoietic unities in the physical space), and consists in all the paths of transformations that they undergo, singly or in groups, in the process of maintaining invariant their individual defining relations."

"...[A]utopoietic unities specify biological phenomenology as the phenomenology proper of those unities with features distinct from physical phenomenology. This is so, not because autopoietic unities go against any aspect of physical phenomenology -- since their molecular components must fulfill all physical laws -- but because the phenomena they generate in functioning as autopoietic unities depend on their organization and the way this organization comes about, and not on the physical nature of their components (which only determine their space of existence."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 51)

Given this focus by Varela, the attribution of a biological phenomenology to a composite unity will be contingent on the level of composition at which autopoiesis is realized. In other words, a composite unity which either (a) subsumes components which (in and of themselves) exhibit autopoiesis and/or (b) exhibits autonomy as a whole may or may not exhibit a biological phenomenology, subject to certain conditions:

"[I]f a new unity is produced that is not autopoietic, its phenomenology, which will necessarily depend on its organization, will be biological or not according to its dependence on the autopoiesis of its components, and will accordingly depend or not depend on the maintenance of these as autopoietic units. If the new unity is autopoietic, then its phenomenology is biological and obviously depends on the maintenance of its autopoiesis, which in turn may or may not depend on the autopoiesis of its components."

(Varela, 1979, p. 31)

This passage is not restricted to higher-order autopoietic systems, in which autopoiesis is realized at two or more levels of composition. A higher-order autopoietic system would be of the sort addressed in the final sentence -- where the composite unity is autopoietic, provided the maintenance of the composite depended on the autopoiesis of its (autopoietic) components.


Cf. : component, higher-order (autopoietic system), biological phenomenon, mechanical phenomenology, phenomenology, statical phenomenology


biological phenomenon

The label for a subject of enquiry whose character is contingent upon, of reflective of, the constitutive nature of living systems. Although the usage of the term is more or less informal, it is important because it denotes the particular interpretive stance from which all of autopoietic theory proceeds.

The earliest paper in the primary literature (Maturana, 1970) begins by stating, "Cognition is a biological phenomenon and can only be understood as such; any epistemological insight in the domain of knowledge requires this understanding." (p. 3) This opening declaration paved the way for the theoretical development of the biology of cognition. Once the core construct of autopoiesis was introduced and fleshed out, biological phenomena themselves would then be delineated with respect to the product of their scrutiny:

"... [A] phenomenon is a biological phenomenon only to the extent that it depends in one way or another on the autopoiesis of one or more physical autopoietic unities."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135)

[Biological phenomena] "...are necessarily phenomena of relations between processes which satisfy the autopoiesis of the participant living systems. Accordingly, under no circumstances is a biological phenomenon defined by the properties of its component elements."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 113)

"...[A] biological phenomenon will be any phenomenon that involves the autopoiesis of at least one living being."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 52)


Cf. : biological phenomenology


biology of cognition

A label for the corpus of Maturana and Varela's seminal work during the 1970's. This label is the preferred nomenclature of Maturana and his colleagues in Chile.


Cf. : autopoiesis (2.), autopoiesis theory, autopoietic theory, Santiago theory, theory of autopoiesis


boundary

The interface which demarcates the extent of a system / unity in contrast to its subsuming medium of realization. For example, "the organism ends at the boundary that its self-referring organization defines in the maintenance of its identity." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 20)

The recourse to "boundaries" is based on the idea that autopoietic systems, through their processes of self-production, delineate a "topology" in the space of their operations. If the observer observes an autopoietic entity with respect to the dimensions in which its processes of topological production are manifested, this topological boundary is discernible via the closure of the entity's constituent processes. As such, the construct of "boundary" connotes the self-circumscription of an organizationally-closed system in the context of its environment (as ascribed by an observer). A "boundary" is not, then, strictly held to be a discernible "sheath" or "shell" (i.e., a bounding component of the system's structure ), though such structural manifestations of the system's boundary may be evident.


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calculus of indications

The label for the logical system introduced by George Spencer Brown in his book Laws of Form (1969; 1994), predicated upon the operator termed a 'mark' which denotes a distinction between 'marked' and 'unmarked' states. Varela (e.g., 1975, 1979; Varela & Goguen, 1978), by equating Spencer Brown's 'mark' with an operational viewpoint on distinction, explored the calculus of indications as a candidate tool for applying autopoietic theory. In doing so, Varela found it necessary to introduce a new logical operator denoting 're-entry' (within a nested series of marks) of a subsumed / subsequent mark back into the series at a point corresponding to a subsuming / precedent mark. The composite system of Spencer Brown's calculus, as augmented by Varela, was labeled the extended calculus of indications (ECI). According to Varela & Goguen (1978), even this ECI proved unwieldy in application (albeit sound logically). These two authors then sketched a reformulation of the extension of Spencer Brown's work to address the distinction of systemic unities as wholes. This subsequent modification of the calculus of indications was labeled the complete calculus of indications (CI).

Though intriguingly salient to autopoietic theory, the calculus of indications is external to the primary corpus of autopoietic theory, and it will not be discussed in any further detail within the Encyclopaedia. Readers interested in exploring this substantial campaign by Varela are encouraged to read Laws of Form, Principles of Biological Autonomy (Varela, 1979), and/or the papers cited herein. Additional materials relevant to the calculus of indications are listed in the Observer Web's Bibliography and Guide to Internet Resources.


causality

A notion which appears in some of Maturana's earliest writings, but which he strenuously excised thereafter, because it was inadequate and misleading. "It was inadequate because the notion of causality is a notion that pertains to the domain of descriptions, and as such it is relevant only in the metadomain in which the observer makes his commentaries and cannot be deemed to be operative in the phenomenal domain, the object of the description." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xviii)

More specifically, Maturana considered it misleading because it obscured:

  • "... the actual appreciation of the sufficiency of the notion of property as defined by the distinctive operation performed by the observer when specifying a unity ...

  • ... the understanding of the dependency of the identity of the unity on the distinctive operation that specified it.

  • ... the understanding of the phenomenal domains as determined by the properties of the unities that generate them

  • ... the non-intersection of the phenomenal domains generated by the operation of a composite unity as a simple unity in a medium and by the operation of its components as components."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xviii, vertical spacing added for readability)


changes of state

A term used colloquially throughout the primary literature to denote transformations or transitions undergone (or potentially undergone) by a composite unity. Only later has this term come to be treated as a specific piece of terminology in itself:

"We call the structural changes that occur in a system with conservation of organization, changes of state; and those that occur with loss of organization, disintegrations."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)


circular organization

An early (and generic) label describing the essentially recursive, cyclical nature of living systems (Cf. circularity). According to Maturana, the notion of this "circular organization" was the conceptual seed for what would later be formally termed autopoiesis (Cf. Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xvii). The following passage indicates that what was originally termed "circular organization" in essence became the formal term organization :

"Living systems as they exist on earth today are characterized by exergonic metabolism, growth and internal molecular replication, all organized in a closed causal circular process that allows for evolutionary change in the way the circularity is maintained, but not for the loss of the circularity itself. ... This circular organization constitutes a homeostatic system whose function is to produce and maintain this very same circular organization by determining that the components that specify it are those whose synthesis or maintenance it secures. ...Furthermore, this circular organization defines a living system as a unit of interactions and is essential for its maintenance as a unit ..."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9)


Cf. : autopoiesis , circularity, homeostasis, organization


circularity

1.

A term employed to connote closure, particular with respect to form (e.g., organization ) or dynamics (e.g., operations or processes). The construct of "circularity" occurs frequently in the literature as a description for a process or path which is closed upon itself (in the sense of eventually returning to the point of its origin). This in turn sets the stage for a necessary cyclicity in systems exhibiting such circular form: "The circularity of their organization continuously brings them back to the same internal state (same with respect to the cyclic process)." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 10)

Because autonomous and autopoietic systems exhibit organizational closure, circularity and cyclicity are important aspects of their description. "It is the circularity of its organization that makes a living system a unit of interactions, and it is this circularity that it must maintain in order to remain a living system and to retain its identity through different interactions." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 5; Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9) This explains why Maturana made circularity a central theme beginning with his earliest writings on a novel approach to analyzing living systems. "All the peculiar characteristics of the different kinds of organisms are superimposed on this basic circularity and are subservient to it, securing its continuance through successive interactions in an always changing environment." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 5)

Because such systems are self-organizing, -referential, -maintaining, etc., their operations cannot be fully explained without recourse to circularity. As such, "circularity" is a generic explanatory theme necessitated by the form of Maturana and Varela's approach, and it is a necessary theme in approaching self-organization . Jantsch (1980, Chapter 10) extensively explores circularity (and cyclicity) in this general sense.


Cf. : basic circularity, circular organization,


2.

A term connoting a paradoxical state of referential or explanatory "looping" -- specifically, that state of affairs confronting all scientific studies of cognition -- that the object of study (the human "mind") is also the instrument by which that study is conducted. Maturana alludes to this sense of circularity most succinctly in saying of cognition and language (as instruments of addressing cognition and language themselves):

"These two experiential conditions are my starting point because I must be in them in any explanatory attempt; they are my problem because I choose to explain them; and they are my unavoidable instruments because I must use cognition and language in order to explain cognition and language."

(Maturana, 1988a)

The most specific label for this particular sense (of referential / explanatory paradox) is fundamental circularity.


3.

A term used to negatively characterize a path of argumentation or course of reasoning -- typically on the figurative basis of said path's 'circling back on itself' to explain or demonstrate something which in fact was employed earlier as a foundational element. An example is the common colloquial indictment of 'presuming as given that which one sets out to prove'. Given the above-cited basic and fundamental circularities which Maturana and Varela's chosen foci entail, critics of their work have often claimed that their proffered line(s) of explanation, by virtue of following the circular contours of their subject matter, are guilty of this presumptively erroneous / fallacious method.

Frankly, most such charges appear to derive from a confusion of explanatory circularity (i.e, 'circular reasoning') with the above-cited intrinsic forms of circularity. To be fair, however, some further comments should be offered as a more substantive basis for rebuttal. Because Maturana's formulations of 'reason', 'rationality', and 'theory' all rely on the general construct of 'explanation', these comments will be framed with regard to this last, and most relevant, topic.

To the extent that 'circular reasoning' is isomorphic with 'explaining exactly what you already assume', one might well rebut such claims by pointing out that a priori assumptions (objects, values, claims) are relegated by Maturana (e.g., 1991) to the class of philosophical explanations -- the opposite of the class of scientific explanations into which he claims his theories properly fall. To the extent 'circular reasoning' connotes pre-specification of what is to be addressed, one must concede this is an intrinsic component of Maturana's scientific method (as the first element in his criteria of validation for scientific explanations). However, this would lead to 'circular reasoning' only to the extent that the phenomenon initially specified as the focus of explanation was itself employed as a component of its own explanation. Maturana specifically forbids such a thing when he writes: "A proposed explanation which explicitly or implicitly includes the phenomenon to be explained as a feature of the proposed system [i.e., model offered as the explanatory hypothesis -- Ed.], is not a scientific explanation." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137)


class

Several of the theoretical constructs (e.g., domain) are delineated with respect to "classes" of (e.g.) interactions. In this sense, the term "class" appears in the literature with its colloquial meaning of a delineating or definitive set. Most specifically, the construct of organization is repeatedly stated to define the "class" or "class identity" of the system to which it pertains.

"The organization of a system, then, specifies the class identity of a system, and must remain invariant for the class identity of the system to remain invariant: if the organization of a system changes, then its identity changes and it becomes a unity of another kind."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xx)

"...[T]he organization of a composite unity specifies the class of entities to which it belongs. It follows that the concept or generic name that we use to refer to a class of entities points to the organization of the composite unities that are members of the class."

(Maturana, 1978)

Another allusion to "class" concerns the character of cognition afforded by an autopoietic system's circular organization, "... which treats every interaction and the internal state that it generates as if it were to be repeated, and as if an element of a class. (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 49-50) Most specifically, when we as observers distinguish a composite unity , we are in effect distinguishing a class. "This situation, in which we recognize implicitly or explicitly the organization of an object when we indicate it or distinguish it, is universal in the sense that it is something we do constantly as a basic cognitive act, which consists no more and no less than in generating classes of any type." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 43)

Both the cited general and specific intersections of "class" and cognition imply a primary generality of orientational / referential / distinction-making behavior. Phrased another way, this implies that the observer observes from a fundamentally general stance, rather than lacing together multiple specific instances to arrive at the general. This implication is nowhere more explicitly reinforced than when Maturana and Varela state "... functionally, for a living system every experience is the experience of a general case, and it is the particular case, not the general one, which requires many independent experiences in order that it be specified through the intersection of various classes of interactions." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 49-50)

These allusions to "class" are invoked for the purposes of discussion and explanation. Nowhere in the literature is there an extensive treatment of whether (much less how) this could relate to (e.g.) discernment of "classes" by an observer in (e.g.) ordering her cognitive domain, making inferences, etc. As such, the notion of "class" is not pursued (to any great extent) in the direction of linking it to set-theoretical notions descriptive of cognitive (particularly inferential) phenomena. Such discussion is limited to only a few instances (e.g., Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 49 ff. -- Cf. : inference)

This relatively low attention to developing the role of "class" in autopoietic theory is not surprising, given that a dominant theme of the theory is the autonomy of the subject system. From such a perspective, it is sufficient to invoke the "class"-like character of interaction as the basis for behavioral / orientational flexibility. Fuller treatment of "class" in a formal (particularly a set- theoretic) sense lies beyond the scope of autopoietic theory's focus, because it would entail (a) requisite characterization of that lying beyond or outside the autonomous system, and (b) an allusion to some abstract feature of class subsumption -- in effect what Varela calls a symbolic description.


Cf. : inference, organization , unity


class identity

A term used to connote the character of a system as being one of (possibly multiple) such unities defined by its organization .


Cf. : class, identity, organization


closed system

A traditional cybernetics term connoting a system which is hermetically isolated with respect to environmental influence (e.g., impervious to external "feedback"), and hence not responsive or adaptive to its medium over time. The opposite of an "open system" (in the same traditional terminology).

Critics of Maturana and Varela have interpreted the defining closure of autonomous / autopoietic systems to indicate these are "closed systems" in the traditional sense. This is quite simply not the case, and results from (a) a misinterpretation of Maturana and Varela's terminology and (b) inattention to the manner in which the explanatory constructs underlying a traditional ascription of system "openness" (e.g., feedback) are addressed in autopoietic theory.

"Please note that when we speak of organizational closure, by no means do we imply interactional closure, i.e., the system in total isolation. We do assume that every system will maintain endless interactions with the environment which will impinge and perturb it. If this were not so, we could not even distinguish it."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 294, emphasis in the original)


Cf. : closure, feedback, organizational closure, stability


closure

The quality or property of a descriptive network N such that one or another of the constituent elements of N (depicted or described as mappings onto N) interconnect wholly within the confines (explicit or implicit) of N itself. This circumscribes the set of constituent elements (or a collective designatum depicted through this set) such that its extent corresponds to the extent of N. In a complementary fashion, this circumscription induces (or is intended to portray) a circumscription of N itself on the basis of the depicted constituent(s). The stereotypical examples in the literature are: (1) operational closure (where N is a network of constituent operations); and (2) organizational closure (where N depicts the network of processes constituting a system's organization ).

It is important to note that this property of 'closure' does not make autonomous / autopoietic systems 'closed' in the classic cybernetic sense of isolated from the environment or impervious to environmental influence. 'Closure' doesn't mean autonomous systems are unresponsive; it only means that their changes of state in response to changes in their medium are realized and propagated solely within the network of processes constituting them (as they are defined). The difference has more to do with the way a system is defined than how that system (once defined) operates.

"Please note that when we speak of organizational closure, by no means do we imply interactional closure, i.e., the system in total isolation. We do assume that every system will maintain endless interactions with the environment which will impinge and perturb it. If this were not so, we could not even distinguish it."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 294, emphasis in the original)

A fuller explanation of this point can be obtained in Varela (1979, pp. 56 ff.), who frames the issue in terms of delineating a systemic unity such that the scope of the defined unity subsumes all processes which operationally define it. For example, in organizational closure the network of defining processes is internal to the system as circumscribed. This includes those processes of system "feedback", which in traditional cybernetics are defined as external to a system -- in either the sense that (a) they are channels for "information" from without (i.e., the 'environment') or (b) they are defined as extrinsic or secondary to the constitutive nature of the system.


Cf. : feedback, organizational closure, operational closure, stability


Closure Thesis

"Every autonomous system is organizationally closed."

(Varela, 1979, p. 58, emphasis in the original)

"Every system-whole is organizationally closed."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 293)

The Closure Thesis is a central component of Varela's solo theoretical work of the 1970's. Both the 'system-whole' and 'autonomous system' constructs cited above denote composite unities of the sort which 'systems theory' has taken as its topical focus. The emphasis on organization clearly derives from the seminal work in delineating autopoietic machines, and the usage of that term is entirely consistent with its invocation here. The Closure Thesis represents an axiomatic basis upon which to extend the notion of 'organization' and its closure as evidenced in those systems (both natural and artificial) of interest to the stature of a feature definitive of those same systems. The following excerpt from Varela & Goguen (1978) summarizes the rationale for such an extension:

"Question: What have we learned from the descriptions of system-wholes in the last decade? Answer: That in order to account for the coherence of the observed systems, their constitutive interactions must be mutual and reciprocal, so as to become an interconnected network.

There seems to be plenty of evidence to substantiate this view of system-wholes. The traditional source of examples has been living systems. Surely in them the circularity of interconnectedness is more striking than anywhere else, both topologically and functionally. But, biological systems are not unique in this respect, and the current interest in ecological wholeness and world models are testimony to our growing understanding of this. ...

In terms of organization, then, empirical observation reveals that the system-wholes are organizationally closed: their organization is a circular network of interactions rather than a tree of hierarchical processes.

Conversely, then, if we are trying to make more precise our notion of a whole, we propose to make these empirical results a guideline. That is, we propose to take the circular and mutual interconnectedness of organization, or organizational closure, as the characterization of system-wholes."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, pp. 292-293, emphasis in the original)

This thesis was then developed in the light of organizational closure itself as well as the corollary constructs of (a) criteria of distinction / indication (by which a system-whole is identified by an observer), and (b) stability (as specifically re-defined). After addressing the criticisms typically leveled at their approach (cf. Note below), they conclude:

"In summary: we have the three interrelated notions of criteria of indication, systemic stability, and organizational closure. They appear related thus: given a criterion for distinction, system-wholes can be identified by their stable properties, and empirical experience tells us that such stability is due to organizational closure. Whence the Closure Thesis, that can be now restated in a second, less compact form:

Every (distinguishable) system-whole is (distinguishable through its stable properties arising from it being) organizationally closed."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 295)

NOTE: For more detailed discussion of Varela & Goguen's rebuttal of two conventional criticisms as they apply to the Closure Thesis, i.e.: (a) 'Are organizationally closed unities 'closed systems'?'; and (b) 'Aren't 'inputs' and 'outputs' necessary components of a system?', refer to the entries for operational closure and feedback, respectively.

By declaring the Closure Thesis and exploring its ramifications, Varela (alone and in concert with J. Goguen) generated a basis for critiquing classical cybernetics / engineering approaches to systems. In these earlier approaches, the systems' essential circularity is not acknowledged, or is acknowledged only in terms of imperfect constructs such as feedback. By not addressing circularity as an intrinsic element of their models, adherents of these approaches are left to lay out specifications of a system in 'linear' terms / referents -- a tactic only made possible by 'punctuating' (to use Bateson's terminology) circular paths and flows with constructs such as 'input' and 'output' so as to filter out circularity in favor of more tractable (if less faithful) models and schemata. Given the distortions which may ensue, this 'punctuation' may be more properly considered 'puncturing'.

The Closure Thesis requires one to prioritize the subject system's organizational closure, which in turn mandates direct attention to this circularity. What, then, might this connote for reforming systems analysis and engineering?

"The Closure Thesis, we submit, is a methodological guideline: if you are to study a system, assume it has a closed organization, analyze individual pathways until a reconstruction of the network is obtained, and then putting all of these circuits together simultaneously, see what kinds of stability they can generate. The i/o [i.e., input/output -- Ed.] approach is, in fact, a moment in this process, insofar as we fix certain modes of interaction with a purpose in mind."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 318)


Cf. : closure, feedback, organization, organizational closure, operational closure, stability, system, system-whole


coding

"A notion which represents the interactions of the observer, not a phenomenon operative in the observed domain. A mapping of a process that occurs in the space of autopoiesis onto a process that occurs in the space of human beings (heteropoiesis) and, thus, not a reformulation of the phenomenon."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 135)

The term "coding" is generally used to denote the symbolic inter-mappings associated with a cognitivist view of communication (e.g., the metaphor of the tube). The autopoietic account of communication as languaging denies that coding is the essence of such communicative interactions.


Cf. : communication, language, languaging, metaphor of the tube


cognition

"Cognition is a biological phenomenon and can only be understood as such; any epistemological insight in the domain of knowledge requires this understanding."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 3)

"Any understanding of the cognitive process must account for the observer and his role in it."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 4)

These two declarations from the earliest document in the literature base succinctly delineate the foundation for Maturana and Varela's autopoietic account of those events or phenomena we term "cognition". First, whatever cognition may be, it is most definitely a biological phenomenon -- i.e., it is a characteristic of those systems we label "living", and which have been made the province of biological science. Second, there is no explanation for "cognition" which avoids being discerned, analyzed, or expressed by one of the living systems manifesting that selfsame phenomenon. Addressing cognition as an impersonal or objective subject, absent grounding in the unavoidable groundedness of experience, cannot possibly encompass the topic.

Maturana and Varela proceeded from the perspective of individual organisms' cognitive activities as a function of their embodied experience. For them, cognition is a consequence of circularity and complexity in the form of any system whose behavior realizes maintenance of that selfsame form. This shifts the weight of discussion from discernment of those active agencies and replicable actions through which a given process ("cognition") is conducted (the viewpoint of cognitivism) to the discernment of those features of an organism's form which determine that entity's engagement with its milieu. In other words, cognition is a matter of interacting in the manner(s) in which one is capable of interacting, not processing what is objectively there to be seen. "Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)

In this view, cognition is a consequence of (structurally-realized and structurally-determined) interactions. "A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself, and the process of cognition is the actual (inductive) acting or behaving in this domain." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13) More specifically:

"... for every living system the process of cognition consists in the creation of a field of behavior through its actual conduct in its closed domain of interactions, and not in the apprehension or the description of an independent universe. Our cognitive process (the cognitive process of the observer) differs from the cognitive processes of other organisms only in the kinds of interactions into which we can enter, ... and not in the nature of the cognitive process itself."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 49)

In other words, the foundation for the autopoietic view of cognition is not "information" as some quantum commodity available in the environment. Owing to this, autopoietic theory diverges from some interpolations of J. J. Gibson's (e.g., 1979) otherwise similar ecological approach (Cf. Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, pp. 202-204). Unlike cognitivism, autopoietic theory does not rely upon a formalizable model of information or symbol processing (Cf. Varela, et al., 1991) to describe cognition as information processing or communication as a matter of coding. Autopoietic theory also diverges from "classical" cybernetics in the sense that it does not treat system behavior as being regulated by a traffic in "information" -- e.g., "feedback" -- See Also: Varela, 1979, p. 56).


Cf. : class, cognitive domain, description, explanation, inference, language, languaging, observer


cognitive domain

"The domain of all the interactions in which an autopoietic system can enter without loss of identity is its cognitive domain; or, in other words, the cognitive domain of an autopoietic system is the domain of all the descriptions which it can possibly make"

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 119)

This latter allusion to descriptions primarily applies only to an autopoietic system which can operate as an observer.

It is sometimes difficult to maintain a clear distinction between a system's cognitive domain and its domain of interactions (" the domain of all the deformations that it may undergo without loss of autopoiesis" (Ibid.)) or its phenomenological domain. This confusion derives in large part from the generality of their definitions. A phenomenological domain is a general explanatory construct denoting the realm specified by the properties of a unity or one or more classes of unities (Cf. Varela, 1979, pp. 46-47). Crudely stated, the phenomenological domain is the domain in which the unity is extant in and of itself -- the totality of its context of simple or static realization, and the background to its dynamic realization. A domain of interactions is a distinct explanatory construct denoting the realm specified by "...the particular mode through which its autopoiesis is realized in the space of its components, that is, by its structural coupling." (Varela, 1979, p. 47) Crudely stated, the domain of interactions is the domain in which the unity can act (change; undergo deformation). A cognitive domain, crudely stated, is the domain in which the unity can, and does, adapt in the course of its ontogeny.


Cf. : cognition, domain of interactions, description, phenomenological domain


cognitive phenomenon

A term employed colloquially to denote those capacities we associate with perception, thinking, and other aspects of a human's abilities -- particularly those aspects conventionally treated as symbolic information processing under the rubric of cognitivism. The personally-ascribed elements or events evidencing the character of semantic phenomena. A good illustration of this usage can be found in Maturana (1980a, p. 46), where he states an emphasis on systemic autonomy requires that one:

"...treat cognitive phenomena (such as language or perception) as structural phenomena by formulating them as phenomena of ontogenic or phylogenic adaptation, resulting from ontogenic or phylogenic structural selection, rather than as phenomena of transfer of information, communication, or meaning. These, as semantic phenomena, cannot be handled by biology."


Cf. : semantic phenomena


cognitive point of view / cognitive viewpoint

A pair of terms used by Varela to denote the particular perspective, viewpoint, or vantage established and maintained by an observer (-community) in the course of enquiry. The initial definition is given with respect to the form 'cognitive point of view':

"...[T]he establishment of system boundaries is inescapably associated with what I shall call a cognitive point of view, that is, a particular set of presuppositions and attitudes, a perspective, or a frame in the sense of Bateson ... or Goffman ...; in particular, it is associated with some notion of value, or interest. It is also linked up with the cognitive capacities (sensory capabilities, knowledge background) of the distinctor. Conversely, the distinctions made reveal the cognitive capabilities of the distinctor. It is in this way that biological and social structures exhibit their coherence..."

(Varela, 1979, p. 85; Goguen & Varela, p. 32)

Because the phrase 'cognitive point of view' is more commonly invoked by Varela than 'cognitive viewpoint', this will be the term employed for discussion herein. For the sake of economy, it will be abbreviated CPOV.

A CPOV, therefore, circumscribes the particular 'layout' or 'topology' of an observer's observing situation. This circumscription specifies the focus of observational engagement (i.e., where the observer's 'referential cross hairs' are targeted), and this in turn specifies the topology of the observer's immediately-accessible domain of referentiality. These constraining or qualifying features are best illustrated in the context in which the CPOV was originally introduced. In Goguen and Varela (1978), the discursive focus was on "...the role which distinction plays in the creation and recognition of systems." (Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 32) As such, they introduce and employ the notion of CPOV in the course of delineating how such observational constraints set the stage for a hierarchy of system levels (of discernment). This in turn set the stage for discussion of issues such as the dichotomies of autonomy / control and recursive / behavioral views on a system and its operations.

I've prepared a graphic summary illustration of this construct, including comparison of the behavioral and recursive subcategories.

This illustration can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html


Cf. : behavioral view, observer, observer-community, phenomenology, phenomenological domain, recursive view


cognitive system

"A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself ..."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)

This is the basis for the process of cognition, as delineated in autopoietic theory. It is important to note that this basic definition frames capacity for cognition in terms of a system's formal character (its organization ) insofar as this is reflected in the scope of events into which it can enter while maintaining this character. This divorces autopoietic theory's notion of cognition from those elements most commonly cited in conventional, cognitivistic accounts: "information", 'symbols', and the "processing" of these things as the hallmark of cognitive activity.


Cf. : cognition, cognitive domain


cognitive viewpoint

A synonym for cognitive point of view.


communication

1. [General usage]

Those "...coordinated behaviors mutually triggered among the members of a social unity." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 193) The phenomenon ascribed to the inter-organism behavioral coordination which an observer construes as communicative. (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 195)


2. [Specific usage, in contrast with simple "interaction"]

In this more specific usage, the term "communication" is employed to analyze what distinguishes "communicative" behaviors (See Also: 1.).

In this usage, communication is behavior entailing orientation which is contrastively opposed to simple or automatic "interaction" wherein interactors are basically triggering each other's responses. In communication (in this sense), one organism orients "...the behavior of the other organism to some part of its domain of interactions different from the present interaction, but comparable to the orientation of that of the orienting organism." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 27) Note that the orientation of interest is not necessarily to some external referent, but to some distinguishable subregion of the domain of interactions. "This can take place only if the domains of interactions of the two organisms are widely coincident; in this case no interlocked chain of behavior [i.e., no "interaction" in the simple sense -- Ed.] is elicited because the subsequent conduct of the two organisms depends on the outcome of independent, although parallel, interactions. (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 27-28)


Cf. : orientation


communicative

An attribution for "...those behaviors which occur in social coupling." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 195) Roughly speaking, one could associate communicative behaviors with second-order structural coupling, although Maturana and Varela don't make such an ascription in any strong or exclusive way.


communicative domain

"A chain of interlocked interactions such that although the conduct of each organism in each interaction is internally determined by its autopoietic organization, this conduct is for the other organism a source of compensable deformations."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)


Cf. : consensual domain, structural coupling, perturbation.


communicative explanations

A term used by Varela (1979) as a synonym for symbolic explanations.


Cf. : explanation


compensation

The term applied to connote the manner in which a unity responds to perturbations / deformations while maintaining its organization , its identity, and its integrity. The exogenous influences that the system thus survives are compensable. These are 'compensable' in the senses that (a) there is a range of 'compensation' bounded by the limit beyond which each system ceases to be a functional whole (i.e., it disintegrates) and (b) each compensatory iteration is impelled (to occur) by and/or affected (in its manner of accomplishment) by the status resultant from prior events in the unity's ontogeny.

Compensation is not "absolute" in the sense that any or all arbitrary parameters or ordering arrangements are recovered after deformation / perturbation. With regard to autopoietic systems in particular, compensation is sufficient if the unity or system's organization is preserved:

"...[A]ny deformation at any place is not compensated by bringing the system back to an identical state of its components as it would be described by projecting it upon a three-dimensional Cartesian space; rather it is compensated by keeping its organization constant as defined by the relation of the relations of production of relations of constitution, specification, and order which constitutes autopoiesis. In other words, compensation of deformation keeps the autopoietic system in the autopoietic space."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 92-93)


Cf. : perturbation, , ontogeny, compensatory change


compensatory behavior

That behavior of a system which effects a compensation with respect to perturbations or deformations. This construct is specifically invoked in discussing behavioral coupling among two or more autopoietic systems, wherein:

"...the autopoietic conduct of an organism A becomes a source of deformation for an organism B, and the compensatory behavior of organism B acts, in turn, as a source of deformation of organism A, whose compensatory behavior acts again as a source of deformation of B, and so on recursively..."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 120)


Cf. : behavioral coupling, compensation, deformation, perturbation, structural coupling


compensatory change

The changes an autopoietic system may effect or undergo while maintaining its identity and integrity. (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 99 ff.) Phrased another way -- all those modifications which a given system may tolerate via compensation (i.e., without disintegration). The two subclasses of compensatory change are conservative change and innovative change. Because this construct pertains to the status or character of the system (as opposed to the event(s) which affect it), it is closely linked to the notion of deformation.


Cf. : compensation, deformation, perturbation, conservative change, innovative change


complementarity

1.

A relation between descriptions such that they comprise a mutually defining duality -- i.e., that one is the obverse of the other, but neither is entirely addressable in isolation. Varela (1979) characterizes this duality as being based on "...how things are put together and related through our descriptions, not losing track of the fact that every 'it' can be seen on a different level as a process." (p. 100)

Varela (1976; 1979, pp. 99 ff.) spends a great deal of effort in characterizing the seemingly paradoxical manner in which complementarity recurs in systems-oriented enquiry. He distinguishes between (a) Hegelian-type dualities in which the elements' dichotomy is manifest within one level of reference / description and (b) those recursively resolvable dualities in which an apparent conflict of type (a) is resolved in terms of the conflicting elements constituting a unifying term at a 'higher' level. Type (a) complementarity is the type most widely addressed in 19th and 20th century studies. Type (b) complementarity is the object of Varela's Star schema.


2.

Any of the pairs of unities, constructs or attributes exhibiting complementarity (1.). A synonym for complementary pair.


Cf. : asymmetry, complementary pair, Star, symmetry


complementary pair

Any of the pairs of constructs or attributes exhibiting complementarity (1.). A synonym for complementarity (2.).


complex system

A phrase employed in Varela, Maturana & Uribe (1974) as an early label for composite unity.

"Every unity can be treated either as an unanalyzable whole endowed with constitutive properties which define it as a unity, or else as a complex system that is realized as a unity through its components and their mutual relations."

(Varela, Maturana & Uribe, 1974, pp. 187-188)

As such, this single invocation of the term does not provide a strong basis for equating it with the later usage of 'complex systems' generally as the subject matter of 'complexity studies.'


component

A term typically used generically to denote a discernible element participating in the composition of a composite unity . This term's ubiquitous occurrence in the primary literature is an indicator of its importance (which goes largely unaddressed). For example, it is in terms of relations among such "components" that compensatory change is delineated. Most importantly, it is in terms of "components" that definitions (particularly the earlier definitions) of the living organization are framed (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 48-49). As such, the "components" which constitute an autopoietic system are due that label on the basis of their actual participation in the realization of the system's autopoietic character, and not on the basis of an observer's ascription of their componential status with respect to the discerned unity. Because the subunits that an observer discerns in a composite unity ("parts", per Maturana -- Cf. : Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 48-49) derive from distinctions in her cognitive domain, they are not manifest in the same domain or space in which the discerned unity realizes (e.g.) autopoiesis. This qualification also pertains to the relations ascribed as holding among those parts -- the very relations which delineate the unity as a whole and define its (possibly autopoietic) character.

Analyses of composite unities (e.g., "systems") are therefore qualified with regard to two dichotomies among categories of explanatory phenomena, viz.: (a) "components" as essential constituents versus "parts" as sub-unities discerned by the observer; and (b) the "relations of production" definitive of an autopoietic machine versus what I shall term the "relations of discerned composition" by which the observer attributes part / whole relationship(s). (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 48-49) This explanatory "gap" cannot be overcome:

"In principle a part should be definable through its relations within the unit that it contributes to form by its operation and interactions with other parts; this, however, cannot be attained because the analysis of a unit into parts by the observer destroys the very relations that would be significant for their characterization as effective components of the unit."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 49)

NOTE: In this cited passage, Maturana is apparently using the term "unit" to mean the unity being analyzed (as discerned by the analyzing observer).

This "fractured" set of definitory constructs would seem to call into question both the epistemological status of the observer's analysis and the ontological status of the system(s) analyzed. Maturana's resolution is to ascribe the part / whole relationships entirely to the descriptive domain of the observer.

"Accordingly, in a strict sense a unit does not have parts, and a unit is a unit only to the extent that it has a domain of interactions that defines it as different from that with respect to which it is a unit, and can be referred to only ... by characterizing its organization through the domain of interactions which specify this distinction. In this context, the notion of component is necessary only for epistemological reasons in order to refer to the genesis of the organization of the unit through our description, but this use does not reflect the nature of its components."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 49)

This point is reinforced in a discussion of the explanatory nature of the key relations of specificity and relations of order which define an autopoietic space. These relations are stated to be explanatory necessities in ascribing autopoiesis, but they are not to be taken as literal reflections of an ontological status.

"...[W]hen we speak about relations of specification we refer to the specification of components in the context of that which defines the system as autopoietic. Any other element of specificity that may enter, however necessary it may be for the factibility [factual characterization] of the components, but which is not defined through the autopoietic organization, we take for granted. Similarly ... (r)elations of order refer to the establishment of processes that secure the presence of the components in the concatenation that results in autopoiesis. No other reference is meant, however conceivable it may be within other perspectives of description."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 89)


Cf. : part, context, description, organization , unity


composite unity

In the primary literature, the preferred term for a unity which can be distinguished as being constituted by a set of integral components. It is with respect to this term that the key concepts of organization , structure , and autopoiesis are framed. In fact, "...only a composite unity has structure and organization, a simple unity does not." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xx) A composite unity can be construed as a simple unity which has been made subject to subsequent operations of distinction:

"If we recursively apply the operation of distinction to a [simple] unity, so that we distinguish components in it, we respecify it as a composite unity that exists in the space that its components define because it is through the specified properties of its components that we observers distinguish it."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)

"A composite unity is a unity distinguished as a simple unity that through further operations of distinction is decomposed by the observer into components that through their composition would constitute the original simple unity in the domain in which it is distinguished. A composite unity, therefore, is operationally distinguished as a simple unity in a metadomain with respect to the domain in which its components are distinguished because it results as such from an operation of composition."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.iii.)

It is important to bear in mind that the notion of composite unity connotes a duality of distinguishability (as a whole; as a coherent set of components) on the part of an observer, which does not necessarily imply any absolute correspondence of referentiality in terms of (e.g.) space of discernment or constitutional integrability. The space or domain of eduction for a composite unity is not (and arguably cannot be) the same as that for the simple unity to which it corresponds. This is well-illustrated with respect to autopoietic systems:

"...[I]f an autopoietic system is treated as a composite unity, it exists in the space defined by its components, but if it is treated as a simple unity the distinctions that specify it as a simple unity characterize its properties as a simple unity, and define the space in which it exists as such a simple unity."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)

...and it applies to the general case of any composite unity:

"The organization of a system defines it as a composite unity and determines its properties as such a unity by specifying a domain in which it can interact (and, hence, be observed) as an unanalyzable whole endowed with constitutive properties. The properties of a composite unity as an unanalyzable whole establish a space in which it operates as a simple unity. In contrast, the structure of a system determines the space in which it exists as a composite unity that can be perturbed through the interactions of its components, but the structure does not determine its properties as an unity."

(Maturana, 1978)

As such, any scientist:

"... must distinguish two phenomenal domains when observing a composite unity: (a) the phenomenal domain proper to the components of the unity, which is the domain in which all the interactions of the components take place; and (b) the phenomenal domain proper to the unity, which is the domain specified by the interactions of the composite unity as a simple unity."

(Maturana, 1978)

....and such scientific observation of a living system entails two particular such phenomenal domains. This duality of domains of observation in turn distinguishes the manner (for each of the alternatives) in which the observer / scientist may observe (and hence, describe and explain) the subject system.

"...the first phenomenal domain, in which the interactions of the components are described with respect to the living system that they constitute, is the domain of physiological phenomena; the second phenomenal domain, in which a living system is seen as if it were a simple unity that interacts with the components of the environment in which its autopoiesis is realized, is the domain of behavioral phenomena."

(Maturana, 1978)

"If the observer chooses to pay attention to the environment, he treats the system as a simple entity with given properties and seeks the regularities of its interaction with the environment, that is, the constraints on the behavior of the system imposed by its environment. ... On the other hand, the observer may choose to focus on the internal structure of the system, viewing the environment as background -- for example, as a source of perturbations upon the system's autonomous behavior. From this viewpoint, the properties of the system emerge from the interaction of its components."

(Varela, 1979, p. 85) For most intents and purposes, the term 'composite unity' can be considered a synonym for 'system' (in colloquial usage) as it appears in the primary literature. In its colloquial usage, the classical cybernetics construct 'system' is always a composite unity. The canonical definitions of 'system' (e.g., by von Bertanlanffy) intersect solely with the convergence of parts into a discernible whole. The reverse (that they intersect with respect to deconstruction of the whole into specifiable parts) is not always tenable -- at least to the extent that one assumes integrability to be a defining attribute of a "system." This is largely because the notion of dynamic integrality typically presumed in invoking "systems" is not, in fact, a portion of the canonical definitions for that term. This issue was raised during the early days of the cybernetics movement, but its resolution was not accomplished by the time the construct 'system' had passed into popular usage.

As such, the most defensible ascribed correspondence between composite unity and 'system' is contingent upon a vantage from which the latter is taken as a whole.

"...[W]e can always treat a composite unity as a simple unity that does not exist in the space of its components, but which exists in a space that it defines through the properties that characterize it as a simple unity."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)


Cf. : organization , simple unity , structure , system, system-whole, unity


computer gestalt

A synonym for gestalt of the computer (Varela 1979, pp. xiii ff.) -- i.e., the metaphor by which the human mind is equated with a symbol-processing Turing machine. Therefore: A synonym for the metaphorical basis of computational cognitivism.


conduct

1.

A specific analytical term employed to circumscribe the character of an autopoietic system's behavior. It denotes any of the "...changes that an organism undergoes while maintaining its autopoiesis. ... The conduct of an organism is revealed to an observer by the changes that it causes in the ambience (including the observer) in which it exists." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 124)


2.

In more colloquial usage, a synonym for behavior in the most general sense. Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 139) explicitly equate the two terms: "(v) Conduct or behaviour. The interactions in which it is seen to enter as well as the active relations that a living system is seen to adopt while operating (realizing its autopoiesis) within a given context, and which are described by an observer with reference to this context, constitute its conduct or behaviour."


Cf. : behavior


connotation / connotative

Generally, these terms are used in their colloquial sense of "to imply or suggest" above and beyond any explicit signification. Most specifically, Maturana's (e.g., 1978) account of languaging is predicated on linguistic interaction being connotative (as opposed to denotative) in its nature, such that "...its function is to orient the orientee within his cognitive domain, and not to point to independent entities ..." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30) The reader is best advised to review Maturana (1970b), reprinted in Maturana & Varela (1980), pp. 13-14; 26-29, for a complete exposition.


Cf. : denotation / denotative, description, linguistic behavior, languaging, orientation


consciousness

Maturana's account for consciousness is developed on the basis of recursion, linguistic behavior, and distinction, as those constructs are specifically defined within autopoietic theory. The provision for consciousness dates back to the first delineation of the observer as a system capable of interacting with its own states as if they were perturbations triggered by the medium. However, it is only in later years that Maturana made this explicit by addressing 'consciousness' directly.

"...[T]he experience that we connote as we use the word consciousness, is one of self distinction as we distinguish ourselves making distinctions. And I maintain that that experience takes place as we operate in the distinction of the operation of distinction that recursively associates our bodyhood with the operations of distinction in which we participate as we operate in language alone or in our interactions with others. In other words, I consider that consciousness takes place as a particular relational dynamics when an organism operates as participant in a domain of recursive distinctions in language, and that it is not an entity or the property of an entity. I also consider that in order to be able to ascribe consciousness or self awareness to the operation of an organism, an observer must be able to claim that the organism to which he or she makes the ascription operates in second and third order recursive distinctions in language. Or, still other words, I claim that consciousness is an ascription that an observer makes to a living system if he or she thinks that its behaviour can only be understood as the self distinction of a self-distinction."

"Consciousness is not localized in the nervous system or in the body in general, it is lived as an experience in self consciousness, and it is lived only as long as there is in the living being that lives it the operationality that makes it arise as a fourth recursion in languaging. Furthermore, consciousness is lived as it is lived as an experience, and cannot be handled as an entity, or as a process, or as an operation in the nervous system, nor can it be attached to any structural feature of the nervous system, even though if the structure of the nervous system is altered the experience of consciousness is also altered or disappears."

(Maturana, 1995)

The allusions to specific 'orders' of recursion in linguistic behavior refer to the model Maturana provides in the above-cited essay, which outlines a progression of 'levels' or 'orders' by which recursion generates successively higher orders of behavioral engagement. For a more detailed illustration of this model, see the entry for self-consciousness.


Cf. : linguistic behavior, languaging, self-consciousness


consensual / consensuality

The term 'consensual' appears prominently in the core literature -- especially in Maturana's solo essays on linguistic behavior and related / derivative topics. In its earliest invocations, 'consensuality' was mainly invoked in explaining 'communicative' behaviors as they are reformulated from a mechanicistic vantage (e.g., Maturana, 1978), and consensual domain is one of the key constructs in that account. As such, 'consensuality' is commonly taken to refer to reciprocal structural coupling among languaging systems / organisms. While this is its primary manner of invocation, the term does have a more general basis:

"I call the behavior through which an organism participates in an ontogenic domain of recurrent interactions, consensual or linguistic according to whether I want to emphasize the ontogenic origin of the behavior (consensual), or its implications in the present state of the ongoing interactions (linguistic)."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.a.)

Accordingly, 'consensuality' is not limited in scope to linguistic interactions. It is the basis upon which languaging operates, when consensual action or activity appears (from an observer's vantage) to serve as a referent for further action / activity in the consensual domain thus established:

"When one or more living systems continue their co-ontogenic structural drift through their recurrent interactions in a consensual domain, it is possible for a recursion to take place in their consensual behavior resulting in the production of a consensual coordination of consensual coordinations of actions. If this were to happen, what an observer would see would be that the participants of a consensual domain of interactions would be operating in their consensual behavior making consensual distinctions upon their consensual distinctions, in a process that would recursively make a consensual action a consensual token for a consensual distinction that it obscures. Indeed, this process is precisely what takes place in our languaging in the praxis of living."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.b.)


Cf. : consensual distinction, consensual domain, linguistic behavior, languaging, self-consciousness


consensual distinction

A term used (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 121) to denote those distinctions drawn within a linguistic domain and subsequently employed as referential / orientational foci -- i.e., those linguistically-generated states which (through recursive interaction) can be addressed as the foci of further interactions. Because these consensual distinctions are "second-order" in the sense of being predicated on more basic distinctions, they constitute a metadomain "...that appears to an observer as a domain of interactions with representations of interactions." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 121) The ascription of such a metadomain is a defining attribute of an observer.


Cf. : consensual domain, distinction, linguistic domain, observer


consensual domain

A joint domain established during interaction between two structurally-coupling systems., which constitutes ".. a domain of interlocked (intercalated and mutually triggering) sequences of states, established and determined through ontogenic interactions between structurally plastic state-determined systems." (Maturana, 1975, p. 316)

"When two or more autopoietic systems interact recurrently, and the dynamic structure of each follows a course of change contingent upon the history of each's interactions with the others, there is a co-ontogenic structural drift that gives rise to an ontogenically established domain of recurrent interactions between them which appears to an observer as a domain of consensual coordinations of actions or distinctions in an environment. This ontogenically established domain of recurrent interactions I call a domain of consensual coordinations of actions or distinctions, or, more generally, a consensual domain of interactions, because it arises as a particular manner of living together contingent upon the unique history of recurrent interactions of the participants during their coontogeny."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.a.)

Because consensual domains are defined both by the structures of their participants and the history by which they came to exist, they are not reducible to descriptions framed only in terms of either.

"In each interaction the conduct of each organism is constitutively independent in its generation of the conduct of the other, because it is internally determined by the structure of the behaving organism only; but it is for the other organism, while the chain [of interactions] lasts, a source of compensable deformations that can be described as meaningful in the context of the coupled behavior."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 48 - 49)


Cf. : coupling, structural coupling, linguistic domain


conservative change

The subclass of compensatory change in an autopoietic system subsuming those instances where only intercomponential relations change (e.g., in response to perturbation). The opposite of innovative change.


Cf. : compensatory change, innovative change


constituted objectivity

The label for an explanatory path addressing cognitive process which qualifies explanation with respect to the biological foundations of the living system(s) exhibiting cognition. A synonym for objectivity-in-parenthesis. The opposite of transcendental objectivity (or objectivity-without- parenthesis).


constitutive ontology

A label indirectly employed in Maturana (1988a) to denote a fundamental referential stance (i.e., an ontology) consistent with the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, and lying within the domain of constitutive ontologies which this explanatory path entails. This specific term is directly quoted rarely, and its connotations are presented indirectly through the other cited terminology. In context, a constitutive ontology is the alternative to a transcendental ontology (as those terms are specifically used in the cited paper).


constitutive relations

1.

In specific usage, a synonym for relations of constitution (Cf. Maturana and Varela, 1980, pp. 90-91)


2.

This term is occasionally employed rhetorically to generally connote the relations through which a systemic unity is composed, without apparent allusion to the strict usage of 1. above.


constructivism

"For the constructivist, the dreams of reason denote a common denominator running through our language and logic, manifest as a wish for what we call 'reality' to have a certain shape and form. The wish has several dimensions.
...
Radical constructivism challenges this wish, thus taking on the unpopular job of shattering the fantasy of an objective reality. Constructivists argue that there are no observations -- i.e., no data, no laws of nature, no external objects -- independent of observers. The lawfulness and certainty of all natural phenomena are properties of the describer, not of what is being described. The logic of the world is the logic of the description of the world."

(Segal, 1986, pp. 3-4)

'Constructivism' is the general label for an epistemological position which (a) denies that individual knowledge directly accesses and unequivocally mirrors an 'objective reality' verbatim and (b) claims that individual knowledge is instead 'constructed' by the observer in response to the medium, but in terms and on terms of the observer's own constitutive features (e.g., modes of operation, conceptualizations, conceptual capacities).

NOTE:

Because Ernst von Glasersfeld's 'radical constructivism' is the most widely-known example (as opposed to an autonomous subcategory) of 'constructivism', information about 'constructivism' generally (including von Glasersfeld's views) is given here, and the Encyclopaedia entry for radical constructivism will concentrate on those points specific to von Glasersfeld's work and its relation to autopoietic theory. As such, citations from von Glasersfeld addressing 'radical constructivism' are invoked here as generally descriptive of 'constructivism' per se.

What is Constructivism?

The term 'constructivism' has been employed for some time in Western philosophy with connotations distinct from the epistemological constructivism discussed here. In addition, it has served as the label for one loose (or multiple similar -- take your pick) schools of thought and/or practice in the arts and architecture. What concerns us here is its current denotation of an epistemological stance, illustrated by the following representative passages:

"It is an unconventional approach to the problems of knowledge and knowing. It starts from the assumption that knowledge, no matter how it be defined, is in the heads of persons, and that the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience. What we make of experience constitutes the only world we consciously live in. It can be sorted into many kinds, such as things, self, others, and so on. But all kinds of experience are essentially subjective, and though I may find reasons to believe that my experience may not be unlike yours, I have no way of knowing that it is the same."

(Glasersfeld, 1995, p. 1)

"It deals with a topic that was already known to the pre-Socratics, but which in our day is gaining increasing practical importance, namely, the growing awareness that any so-called reality is -- in the most immediate and concrete sense -- the construction of those who believe they have discovered and investigated it. In other words, what is supposedly found is an invention whose inventor is unaware of his act of invention, who considers it as something that exists independently of him; the invention then becomes the basis of his world view and actions."

(Watzlawick, 1984, p. 10 (Foreword))

"Radical constructivism is uninhibitedly instrumentalist. It replaces the notion of 'truth' (as true representation of an independent reality) with the notion of 'viability' within the subjects' experiential world. Consequently it refuses all metaphysical commitments and claims to be no more than one possible model of thinking about the only word we can come to know, the world we construct as living subjects."

(Glasersfeld, 1995, p. 22)

Why is Constructivism a Difficult Perspective to Espouse?

Adopting a constructivistic epistemology requires a commitment of effort and patience on the part of scholars and students. This derives from the fact that Western philosophy (and the natural and social sciences which reflect it in their foundations) has been predicated on the presumption of a single objective reality whose assumed unequivocality has served as the 'fulcrum' for most of its theoretical underpinnings and, hence, its practical accomplishments. As such:

"Constructivism in its pure, radical sense is incompatible with traditional thinking. As different as most philosophical, scientific, social, ideological, or individual world images may be from one another, they still have one thing in common: the basic assumption that a real reality exists and that certain theories, ideologies, or personal convictions reflect it (match it) more correctly than others."

(Watzlawick, 1984, p. 15 (Introduction))

"Radical constructivism, thus, is radical because it breaks with convention and develops a theory of knowledge in which knowledge does not reflect an 'objective' ontological reality, but exclusively an ordering and organization of a world constituted by our experience."

(Glasersfeld, 1984, p. 25)

Who Exemplifies Constructivism?

In this section will be listed some representative examples of constructivist scholars. The criteria for inclusion in this listing include citation of (or linkage to) second-order cybernetics / autopoietic theory, explicit commitment (as opposed to vague allusion) to 'constructivism' as delineated here, and provision of substantial work which may prove fruitful for students of autopoietic theory to explore.

Precursors

Ernst von Glasersfeld (cf. his entry below) has been the constructivist most explicit in describing his 'line of descent' from and parallels with other thinkers. The following are the ones to whom he gives particular credit:

  • George Berkeley (whose 'solipsism' von Glasersfeld believes has been unfairly exaggerated)
  • Giambattista Vico
  • Immanuel Kant (for the noumena/phenomena distinction and the priority of the a priori categories)
  • Silvio Ceccato
  • Percy Bridgman (with respect to operational delineation of concepts)
  • Jean Piaget (whom von Glasersfeld identifies as his most important influence)
  • Edmund Husserl (with respect to elementary constructs)
  • Hans Vaihinger

Lynn Segal, in his book focused on constructivism (1986) adds to this list (e.g.):

  • Gregory Bateson
  • Warren McCulloch
  • Erwin Schrödinger

...and no list would be complete without mentioning the gestalt psychologists (e.g., Köhler), von Uexküll's biological research (now re-emerging as the basis for biosemiotics), and Merleau Ponty (the philosopher most explicitly linking epistemology and behavior to embodiment). Although arguably not a pure 'constructivist' himself, Richard Rorty has provided the single most cogent and detailed critique of objectivistic representationalism in his 1979 book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.

von Foerster

Heinz von Foerster is a key figure in the development of second-order cybernetics (in which the observer is taken to be an intrinsic component of any adequate description of a system) and in the trend toward constructivism within cybernetics and intersecting fields. A long-time colleague and friend of Maturana (who did research at von Foerster's Biological Computation Laboratory, University of Illinois), it was von Foerster who encouraged Maturana to write his emerging ideas in the form of a paper (Maturana, 1970a). Working on the issue(s) of systemic cognitive processes, it is von Foerster who first elucidated many of the constructs and positions which we now associate with 'constructivism' in the context of systems theory and cybernetics. Many of von Foerster's writings are difficult to obtain. Luckily, his classic essay 'On Constructing a Reality' is reprinted in Watzlawick (1984), and Segal (1986) is wholly focused on the development of constructivism with regard to von Foerster and his colleagues. These two publications fortunately make von Foerster reasonably accessible to the interested reader.

von Glasersfeld

Ernst von Glasersfeld (e.g., 1984; 1995) is the best-known current exponent of a constructivist epistemology. His radical constructivism has continuously evolved during his long career in psychology and education (cf. Glasersfeld, 1995). His seminal explorations of epistemological issues were undertaken in the context of learning, and the results originally published focused on education -- particularly mathematics education. Von Glasersfeld has been the constructivist most explicit in describing his 'line of descent' from prior thinkers, and the one most outspoken in contextualizing constructivism with regard to other work in Western philosophy and science. His 1995 book Radical Constructivism is a good overview of his career and his radical constructivism. Cf. the entry for radical constructivism.

Watzlawick

Paul Watzlawick is a well-known scholar and writer in the areas of psychology and psychotherapy. His interests in interpersonal communication led him progressively toward constructivistic orientations on epistemology. His 1976 book How Real is Real? is an excellent critique of epistemological objectivism for the popular audience. His edited collection The Invented Reality (Watzlawick, 1984) is perhaps the best available compendium on constructivist thinking.

Kelly

The American psychologist George Kelly (1955) developed a pragmatic perspective on everyday knowledge he termed constructive alternativism. Based on this, he devised a structural theory of personal epistemology based on personal constructs -- bipolar dimensions along which entities (elements) may be ranked. Kelly also developed a methodology (within the context of psychotherapy) for eliciting and refining a subject's personal constructs interactively -- repertory grid technique (RGT) -- which has been successfully applied in venues as formal as knowledge engineering for artificial intelligence design. Although Kelly explicitly avoided getting entangled in philosophical issues to any great depth, the person-specificity of the constructs he analyzed is readily mapped onto the general stance of epistemological constructivism. As such, Kelly is often cited as an example of constructivist thinking -- albeit one more concerned with practical applications (in psychotherapy) than in philosophy per se.


Cf. : epistemology, radical constructivism, solipsism


context

Generally, this term is used in its conventional sense of something surrounding or environing a referential object that adds to or gives that object its significance. However, Maturana makes it clear that "context" is generated in (and limited to) the cognitive domain of an observer capable of recursively making distinctions atop her basic process of distinction by which that object is brought forth.

"The entity characterized is a cognitive entity, but once is is characterized the characterization is also subject to cognitive distinctions valid in the metadomain in which they are made by treating the characterization as an independent entity subject to contextual descriptions."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xxiii)

Hence, the "meaning-giving" function attributed to the notion of "context" is itself a function of the observer's recursive cognitive process, not an extrinsic attribute of the environment in which the object is discerned.

This observer-induced characterization of "context" derives directly from the autopoietic analysis of the nervous system and its functions:

"...[I]n general, the organization and structure of a living system (its nervous system included) define in it a 'point of view', a bias or posture from the perspective of which it interacts determining at any instant the possible relations accessible to its nervous system. Moreover, since the domain of interactions of the organism is defined by its structure, and since this structure implies a prediction of a niche, the relations with which the nervous system interacts are defined by this prediction and arise in the domain of interactions of the organism."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 21)

In other words, the focusing of signification is directly contingent upon the embodiment of the observer.

Cf. : the discussion of the environment as the prime "context" for "beholding an autopoietic system" in its [distinct] ambience -- Maturana & Varela (1980, pp. 99). In this regard, the increasingly prevalent (in later years) tendency to employ medium in ways which blur the distinctions among these more strictly-defined constructs has some bearing on this view of context.

Figure AmbEnv illustrates the basic relations among ambience, environment, and medium (vis a vis variant delineations in the relevant literature). This figure is located within the entry for 'environment'.

Cf. : the discussion of the evaluation of relations of specificity and relations of order in a "context" (as delineated above), based on their status as referential notions pertaining to an observer (as opposed to relations of constitution). (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 89)

Cf. : the discussion of purpose being evaluable only within a context (as defined above) which is provided by an observer and is extant only in her cognitive domain. (Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 85-86)


Cf. : ambience, environment, medium


control

As used generically, the condition in which a system is guided or deterministically influenced from without -- a synonym for allonomy, and the opposite of autonomy (3.) (Cf. Varela, 1979, pp. xi ff.)

Cf. : allonomy, autonomy , control description


control description

Per Varela (1979), one of the two major classes of system description (the other being autonomous descriptions). In control description, the system is described / characterized in terms of it being deterministically influenced or guided by extrinsic factors.


Cf. : allonomy, autonomous description, autonomy , control description


cooperative conduct

A term employed by Maturana (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 32) to connote interactional behavior associated with (underlying?) linguistic interaction via a consensual domain. See the closing citation in the entry for cooperative domain (of interactions).


cooperative domain (of interactions)

A term used on two occasions (Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 50, 57) to connote (p. 50) the interactional domain upon or from which a consensual domain arises or perhaps (p. 57) the consensual domain itself. On the first occasion, Maturana describes the function of language as "... the creation of a consensual domain of behavior between linguistically interacting systems through the development of a cooperative domain of interactions." (p. 50) On the second occasion he again defines the function of language, but this time stating it as "...the creation of a cooperative domain of interactions between speakers through the development of a common frame of reference." (p. 57 -- note the omission of any allusion to consensual domain) In the first instance, it would appear reasonable to construe this "cooperative domain" as a transitional step to, or a basis for, a consensual domain (with the boundary conditions of the transition unspecified). In the second instance, it would appear to do no violence to the passage to replace the term "cooperative domain of interactions" with "consensual domain."

If there is a distinction to be made between a cooperative domain of interactions and a consensual domain, it would reasonably be based upon a distinction between general interactional behavior and specifically linguistic interactional behavior. Such a division is (weakly) alluded to in two passages in which Maturana states:

"Consensus arises only through cooperative interactions in which the resulting behavior of each organism becomes subservient to the maintenance of both."

and

"...[B]ecause the outcome of the interaction is determined in the cognitive domain of the orientee regardless of the significance of the message in the cognitive domain of the orienter, the denotative function of the message lies only in the cognitive domain of the observer and not in the operative effectiveness of the communicative interaction. The cooperative conduct that may develop between the interacting organisms from these communicative interactions is a secondary process independent of their operative effectiveness."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 32)


Cf. : consensual domain, domain of interactions


coordination

A term used more or less in its colloquial sense connoting 'orderly or harmonious arrangement', which has come to be the predominant referent for the basis of Maturana's account of language and languaging.

"When two or more autopoietic systems interact recurrently, and the dynamic structure of each follows a course of change contingent upon the history of each's interactions with the others, there is a co-ontogenic structural drift that gives rise to an ontogenically established domain of recurrent interactions between them which appears to an observer as a domain of consensual coordinations of actions or distinctions in an environment. ... I speak of coordinations of actions or coordinations of distinctions, according to whether I want to emphasize what takes place in the interaction in relation to the participants (coordinations of actions), or what takes place in the interactions in relation to an environment (coordinations of distinctions)."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.a)

As Maturana's reformulation of 'language' evolved, his original reliance on constructs such as 'cooperative domain of interactions' and 'structural coupling' faded in preference to the now-familiar 'coordinations of coordinations' (of action or beahvior). The seminal 1978 paper 'Biology of Language' in fact uses the term 'coordination' only once, and then generically:

"The conditions under which a conversation takes place (common interest, spatial confinement, friendship, love, or whatever keeps the organisms together), and which determine that the organisms should continue to interact until a consensual domain is established, constitute the domain in which selection for the ontogenic structural coupling takes place. Without them, a consensual domain could never be established, and communication, as the coordination of noncreative ontogenically acquired modes of behavior, would never take place."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 55, emphasis added)

As time went on, 'coordination' (of action / behavior) became a discrete construct at the center of Maturana's explanation of 'language'. By 'discrete' I mean that instead of referring to 'coordination' (a process, as is insinuated in the 1978 quote above) Maturana is speaking of 'coordinations' (unit manifestations of such a process, as in the 1988b passage quoted first in this entry). The following passages illustrate the progression during the decade following the seminal 1978 paper:

"The objects that two conversing observers describe, arise as such only in language as a manner of ontogenic coordination of conduct that results in some organisms from their ontogenic structural drifts in reciprocal structural coupling ... In other words, objects arise only in the particular coontogenic history of recurrent ontogenic coordination of conduct that language is (see Maturana, 1978, and Maturana and Varela, 1980)."

(Maturana, 1983, Section F.)

"Our world of cognition through perception is like that: we bring forth a world of distinctions through the changes of state that we undergo as we conserve our structural coupling in the different media in which we become immersed along our lives, and then, using our changes of state as recurrent distinctions in a social domain of coordination of actions (language), we bring forth a world of objects as coordinations of actions with which we describe our coordinations of action."

(Maturana, 1983, Section H.)

"An observer claims that language, or better, languaging, is taking place when he or she observers a particular kind of flow (that I shall describe below) in the interactions and co-ordinations of actions between human beings. As such, language is a biological phenomenon because it results from the operations of human beings as living systems, but it takes place in the domain of the co-ordinations of actions of the participants, and not in their physiology or neurophysiology."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 45)

"When two or more autopoietic systems interact recurrently, and the dynamic structure of each follows a course of change contingent upon the history of each's interactions with the others, there is a co-ontogenic structural drift that gives rise to an ontogenically established domain of recurrent interactions between them which appears to an observer as a domain of consensual coordinations of actions or distinctions in an environment. This ontogenically established domain of recurrent interactions I call a domain of consensual coordinations of actions or distinctions ... Furthermore, because an observer can describe such a domain of recurrent interactions in semantic terms, by referring the different coordinations of actions (or distinctions) involved to the different consequences that they have in the domain in which they are distinguished, I also call a consensual domain of interactions a linguistic domain. ... I speak of coordinations of actions or coordinations of distinctions, according to whether I want to emphasize what takes place in the interaction in relation to the participants (coordinations of actions), or what takes place in the interactions in relation to an environment (coordinations of distinctions)."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.b.)

'Coordination of action' is not, in the final analysis, an atomic construct (even though it has been progressively employed as if it were). A 'coordination of action / behavior' in the linguistic domain is a relational phenomenon reliant upon other relational phenomena realized in the bodyhood of the languaging subject. To refer to linguistic phenomenon solely in terms of such 'coordinations' is to employ a shorthand nomenclature concentrating on the behavioral / interactional aspects of the subject system without delving into the details of its structure and mechanics. There is no innate problem with such shorthand unless it obscures the relational phenomena upon which the conduct labeled by an observer as a 'coordination' is predicated. That there is something underpinning 'coordination' is well-illustrated by the following remark:

"In fact, aphasias and apraxias are, according to what I have said, necessary consequences of localized lesions that interfere with the generation, in the nervous system, of the relations of activity that give rise to the particular sensory-effector correlations involved in the coordinations of actions that constitute the human operation in a linguistic domain."

(Maturana, 1983, 'Note Added in Proof' / afterword)


Cf. : behavior, consensual, consensual domain, language, languaging, linguistic behavior, recursion, structural coupling


copying

A subclass of reproduction which is attributed "...whenever a given object or phenomenon is mapped by means of some procedure upon a different system, so that an isomorphic object or phenomenon is realized in it." (Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. 100)


Cf. : replication, reproduction, self-reproduction


cosmology

The label Maturana prefers to apply to his theoretical work (as opposed to a "philosophy"). Cf. Maturana's comments in Maturana & Varela (1980, p. xviii); Simon (1985). There is no place in the literature where the specific connotations of this label are explicitly explained, nor is there sufficient evidence upon which to compare it against either (a) Maturana's elaborated distinctions between scientific explanations and philosophical explanations or (b) Maturana's elaborated distinctions between the explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis.


coupling

A generic term for dynamic intersystem engagement involving reciprocal effect, manifest "whenever the conduct of two or more unities is such that the conduct of each one is a function of the conduct of the others." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136) This is qualified by the provision that the coupling unities maintain their identity throughout the engagement so labeled: "Coupling arises as a result of the mutual modifications that interacting unities undergo in the course of their interactions without loss of identity." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 107)

The most important application of this term is structural coupling, wherein the coupling engagement reciprocally affects the structure of each engaged system. A closely related, but distinctly framed, construct is behavioral coupling.


Cf. : behavioral coupling, structural coupling


creativity

The ascribed result of the unavoidably generative nature of the observer's "bounded but unlimited" cognitive domain. Owing to the constitutive recursion in the cognitive domain, the observer "...can in an endless recursive manner interact with representations of his interactions and generate through himself relations between otherwise independent domains." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 51)


criteria of validation

1. (...of scientific explanations)

Maturana's (1978; 1988a; 1988b) label for a set of four operational conditions which, if satisfied in the praxis of living of an observer, circumscribe the course of scientific method and the basis for acceptance (i.e., 'validation') of a scientific explanation. The criteria of validation thus delineate the standard by which explanations generated in (Maturana's formulation of) scientific method are judged viable.

Table CriofVal below provides a summarization of Maturana's primary expositions on the criteria of validation, as they appear in the three above-cited essays. It is interesting to note how, over the course of a decade, the description of each condition becomes (a) more qualified in general and (b) qualified with respect to other evolving constructs (e.g., praxis of living).


TABLE CRIOFVAL:
Criteria of Validation for Scientific Explanations
(per Maturana: 1978; 1988a; 1988b)

Maturana (1978)
p. 28
Maturana (1988a)
pp. 34-35
Maturana (1988b)
4.i.A
(A) SETTING THE EXPLANATORY FOCUS
[O]bservation of a phenomenon that, henceforth, is taken as a problem to be explained

...

[T]he observer specifies a procedure of observation that, in turn, specifies the phenomenon that he or she will attempt to explain.

The specification of the phenomenon to be explained as a feature of the praxis of living of the observer through the description of what he or she must do to experience it. The specification of the phenomenon to be explained through the stipulation of the operations that a standard observer must perform in his or her praxis of living in order to also be a witness of it in his or her praxis of living.
(B) GENERATING AN EXPLANATORY HYPOTHESIS
[P]roposition of an explanatory hypothesis in the form of a deterministic system that can generate a phenomenon isomorphic with the one observed

...

[T]he observer proposes a conceptual or concrete system as a model of the system that he or she assumes generates the observed phenomenon.

The proposition in the praxis of living of the observer of a mechanism that as a consequence of its operation would give rise in him or her to the experience of the phenomenon to be explained. The proposition, in the domain of operational coherences of the praxis of living of a standard observer, of a mechanism, a generative mechanism, which when allowed to operate gives rise as a consequence of its operation to the phenomenon to be explained, to be witnessed by the observer also in his or her praxis of living. ... [T]he phenomenon to be explained and its generative mechanism take place in different nonintersecting phenomenal domains in the praxis of living of the observer.
(C) POSITING RAMIFICATIONS OF THE EXPLANATORY HYPOTHESIS
[P]roposition of a computed state or process in the system specified by the hypothesis as a predicted phenomenon to be observed

...

[T]he observer uses the proposed model to compute a state or a process that he or she proposes as a predicted phenomenon to be observed in the modeled system.

The deduction from the mechanism proposed in (b) and of all the operational coherences that it entails in the praxis of living of the observer, of other phenomena as well as of the operations that the observer must do in his or her praxis of living to experience them. The deduction, that is, the computation, in the domain of operational coherence of the praxis of living of the standard observer entailed by the generative mechanism proposed in (b), of other phenomena that the standard observer should be able to witness in his or her domain of experiences as a result of the operation of such operational coherences, and the stipulation of the operations that he or she should perform in order to do so.
(D) SUBSEQUENT OBSERVATION / ASSESSMENT OF THE EXPLANATORY HYPOTHESIS
[The observer] ... attempts to observe the predicted phenomenon as a case in the modeled system. If the observer succeeds in making this second observation, he or she then maintains that the model has been validated and that the system under study is in that respect isomorphic to it and operates accordingly. The actual experience by the observer of those additional phenomena deduced in (c), as he or she perform in his or her praxis of living those operations that, according to what has also been deduced in (c), would be generated in it as he or she realises them. The actual witnessing, in his or her domain of experiences, of the phenomena deduced in (c) by the standard observer who actually performs in his or her praxis of living the operations stipulated also in (c).
Source material in the above table is quoted directly from the cited essays.


2. (...of philosophical explanations)

In contrast to the detailed treatment given scientific explanation over the years, Maturana is much broader in describing the criteria of validation for philosophical explanations:

"The criteria of validation of the explanations entailed in a philosophical theory can be many, provided they are internally logically consistent."

(Maturana, 1991)

Insofar as philosophical explanations are predicated on logical descent from a priori principles or tenets, their 'criteria of validation' are built into their starting point(s) and/or their method of derivation. The relative lack of creative and generative capacity Maturana ascribes to philosophical explanation (as a process) minimizes the necessity of describing a mechanism for obtaining or ensuring validation (beyond the reliance on a priori bases and presumptively coherent and complete rules / modes for derivation).

NOTE: Both the singular (criterion of...) and plural (criteria of...) forms occur in Maturana's writings. Perhaps because he most commonly refers to the set of criteria listed above, the plural form is the one most frequently encountered.


Cf. : The entry for theory, which provides a more detailed comparison of scientific versus philosophical explanations / theories.

Cf. : explanation, scientific explanation, scientific method


criterion of acceptability

That standard by which an observer assesses an explanation as either viable or not. To serve as an explanation (reformulation of the listener's praxis of living), the listener "...accepts or rejects a statement as a reformulation of a particular situation of his or her praxis of living with elements of other situations of his or her praxis of living..." and thus "...determines whether that statement is or is not an explanation." In doing this, the listener "...accepts or rejects a reformulation of his or her praxis of living as an explanation according to whether or not it satisfies an implicit or explicit criterion of acceptability that he or she applies through his or her manner of listening." This is an essential characteristic of an observer's explanatory operations: "...we observers never listen in a vacuum, we always apply some particular criterion of acceptability to whatever we hear (see, touch, smell...or think), accepting or rejecting it according to whether or not it satisfies such criteria in our listening." (quoted passages are taken from Maturana, 1988a, p. 28)

The criterion of acceptability is intimately linked to this manner of listening (a stance or disposition in the awaiting of an answer / explanation). The particular manner of listening in which a listener evaluates or receives a candidate explanation will entail a particular criterion of acceptability, and it will circumscribe (a)the set of viable (acceptable) explanations as well as (b) the set of observers of similar acceptance (and hence agreement).

NOTE: Both the singular (criterion of...) and plural (criteria of...) forms occur in Maturana's writings. Perhaps because he most commonly refers to a unary benchmark for acceptability, the singular form is the one most frequently encountered.


Cf. : explanation, manner of listening


criterion of distinction

A constraining or circumscriptive effect specified in the course of making a reference which "...indicates what we are talking about and specifies its properties as being, unity, or object." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 40). Given an act of distinction:

"To be sure, there are many ways to perform this subdivision of our experience. But some criterion of distinction is always present. Given some criterion, we distinguish and recognize things such as animals, galaxies or families. Some system-wholes appear to be quite universally distinguished (e.g., persons); others (e.g., nations) seem more variable. Every culture will select quite specifically which are the predominant criteria of distinction ..."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 293, emphasis in the original)

As used here, a criterion of distinction connotes a projective sort of circumscription which derives from an act of reference. This derivative or projective connotation distinguishes a criterion of distinction from a criterion of acceptability (of an explanation) in the sense that the latter is (or, at least, not uniquely other than) "given" -- i.e., not contingent upon a given situation per se.


Cf. : distinction, unity


criterion of internal connectivity (of a theory)

"A theory is an explanatory system that interconnects many otherwise apparently unrelated phenomena (experiences), which is proposed as a domain of coherent explanations that are woven together with some conceptual thread that defines the nature of its internal connectivity and the extent of its generative applicability in the domain of human actions. As such, a theory is valid for those who accept both the criterion of validation of the explanations that it entails, and the criterion of internal connectivity that makes it a fully coherent conceptual system."

(Maturana, 1991)

Just as a criterion of validation is the standard for what makes an explanation valid (for a given mode of explanation), the criterion of internal connectivity is the standard (or set of standards) for what makes a topically-coordinated set of explanations (i.e., a theory) valid with respect to the given mode of explanation.

Maturana employed this construct as a tool to differentiate between 'scientific' and 'philosophical' theories. More details on this dichotomy are given under the entry for theory.


Cf. : explanation, theory


cultural behavior

"...the transgenerational stability of behavioral patterns ontogenically acquired in the communicative dynamics of a social environment." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 201)


culture

Autopoietic theory's initial concentration on the architectonics of systems (e.g., their organization and structure) has led many to attempt application of Maturana and Varela's work to those human collectives which are delineated architectonically -- i.e., social systems, or 'societies' as these terms are employed in traditional sociology. The viability of such applications is left to the judgment of the reader (Cf. the entry for social systems). Whatever may be said for or against the applicability of Maturana and Varela's theories to social systems (taken as systems), there is little doubt that the individual-oriented cognitive and interactional aspects of autopoietic theory provide interesting points from which to address the persistent collective phenomenon emergent from human interactivities in the course of participants' praxes of living -- i.e., culture.

"A culture is a network of conversations that define a way of living, a way of being oriented in existence in the human domain, and involves a manner of acting, a manner of emotioning, and a manner of growing in acting and emotioning. One grows in a culture by living in it as a particular way of being human in the network of conversations that defines it. Because of that, the members of a culture effortlessly live the network of conversations that constitute it, as a natural and spontaneous background, like the one which is given and in which one finds him/herself by the simple fact of being, independently of the social as well as non-social systems to which one can belong."

(Maturana, 1989)

One aspect of a culturally-defined 'way of living' is the manner in which the cultural network of conversations operates to delineate its particularly-accepted 'manner(s)' by which participants enact their membership in a given culture. Varela & Goguen (1978) allude to one means for accomplishing this in terms of setting acceptable or conventional criteria of distinction by which the essential distinctions underlying cognitive and conversational activity are made and/or recognized:

"To be sure, there are many ways to perform this subdivision of our experience. But some criterion of distinction is always present. Given some criterion, we distinguish and recognize things such as animals, galaxies or families. Some system-wholes appear to be quite universally distinguished (e.g., persons); others (e.g., nations) seem more variable. Every culture will select quite specifically which are the predominant criteria of distinction ..."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 293, emphasis in the original)


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deformation

A term used to denote situational change induced in a system's state or structural configuration. "Deformation" is employed as an analogue to the construct of perturbation in describing the viable interactions of an autopoietic system. The terms are essentially applied to the same phenomena, and their invocations constitute nothing more than two slightly different "slants" or "perspectives" on those phenomena being explained. The terms differ in their explanatory focus, with "deformation" referring to configural shifts in the system perturbed, and "perturbation" referring to the action or event which induces such "deformation". Phrased crudely, "deformation" is an effect (discerned with respect to a subject system), while the associated "perturbation" is (at least to an observer) its cause.

Owing to the fact that deformation (in contrast to perturbation) refers to the subject system rather than to an event impinging upon it, this term is heavily invoked in discussion of a system's (particularly an autopoietic system's) ontogeny -- its history of structural transformation. A good illustration of this is Varela's (1979, p. 32) framing of both the potential and actualized ontogeny of an autopoietic system with respect to deformations which the system may withstand without loss of identity.

Deformation of an autopoietic system without loss of identity requires that the system's organization be preserved. The range of compensable changes which the system may tolerate without disintegration is therefore determined by the system's organization. In other words, although deformation is evidenced by change (even if only transient) in the system's structure , the range or scope of allowable / tolerable deformation is circumscribed with regard to its organization.

Because the manner and course of deformation will serve as primary evidence in observing a system's behavior, it is important to point out that deformation is not restricted to changes impelled by factors exogenous to the subject system. Because of the closure exhibited by autopoietic systems (e.g., the closure of the human nervous system), they are capable of deformation as a result of their own behavior.

"There are two sources of deformations for an autopoietic system as the appear to be to an observer: one is constituted by the environment as a source of independent events in the sense that these are not determined by the organization of the system; the other is constituted by the system itself as a source of states that arise from compensations of deformations, but that themselves can constitute deformations that generate further compensatory changes."

(Varela, 1979, p. 32)

This appearance (to the observer) results in a distinction between the system's and the observer's perspective on ontogeny (as a succession of deformations and compensatory changes). "In the phenomenology of the autopoietic organization these two sources of perturbations are indistinguishable, and in each autopoietic system they braid together to form a single ontogeny." (Varela, 1979, p. 32) In contrast, to the observer this ontogeny "...partly reflects [the system's] history of interactions with an independent environment." (Ibid.)


Cf. : compensation, compensatory change, perturbation, ontogeny


denotation / denotative

Generally, these terms are used in their colloquial sense of "explicitly and directly referencing an independent objective entity." More specifically, Maturana's (e.g., 1978) account of languaging is predicated on language being connotative rather than denotative. This in part derives from the fact that denotation (as an integral component of conventional explanations of communicative behavior) cannot, once you think about it, be considered as primary or fundamental:

"A language, whether in its restricted or in its generalized form, is currently considered to be a denotative system of symbolic communication, composed of words that denote entities regardless of the domain in which these entities may exist. Denotation, however, is not a primitive operation. It requires agreement or consensus for the specification of the denotant and the denoted. If denotation, therefore, is not a primitive operation, it cannot be a primitive linguistic operation, either. Language must arise as a result of something else that does not require denotation for its establishment, but that gives rise to language with all its implications as a trivial necessary result."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 50)

Maturana's exposition of linguistic behavior (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 13-14; 26-29) specifically elaborates on the denotative / connotative distinction when it draws a contrast between the denotative character of behaviors through which a cognitive system (organism) encounters its niche and those more 'connotative' behaviors via which an observer may orient another in the course of linguistic behavior within a consensual domain. Denotation, rather than serving as the foundation for such interactivity, is instead a convenient way of describing it:

"Within a consensual domain the various components of a consensual interaction do not operate as denotants; at most, an observer could say that they connote the states of the participants as they trigger each other in interlocked sequences of changes of state. Denotation arises only in a metadomain as an a posteriori commentary made by the observer about the consequences of operation of the interacting systems."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 50)


Cf. : description, linguistic behavior, languaging, orientation


description

Maturana (1970b -- reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980) distinguishes between Description ("first-order" behaviors realized between an organism and the domain of interactions it circumscribes within its medium -- i.e., its niche) and descriptions ("second-order" denotative, communicative behaviors icogdo an observer). Given the circularity of the nervous system's architecture, an organism may couple with (distinguish among, hence observe) its own behaviors (Descriptions) as unit entities. Such a coupling is realized "between organism and self-observing organism", so to speak (whereas the Descriptions are manifested in a domain realized between organism and medium). As such, an observer reflecting on her internally-educed behavior(s), like an observer of phenomena wholly extrinsic (i.e., completely realized in the medium), is operating with strict regard to descriptions. The use of the term "description" (in its specific denotative sense) will hereafter be taken to mean description as distinguished by Maturana (1970b).

The distinction between 'Description' and 'description' is a key to the original theoretical development of linguistic behavior as a matter of reciprocal orientation among interactors. The reader is best advised to review Maturana (1970b), reprinted in Maturana & Varela (1980), pp. 13-14; 26-29. In later writings (most particularly those of Maturana) this second-order sense of 'description' becomes the unique sense employed. For example:

"...[A]ll participants in a language domain can be observers with respect to the sequences of coordinations of actions in which they participate, constituting a system of recursive distinctions in which systems of distinctions become objects of distinction. Such recursive distinctions of distinctions in the happening of living in language that bring forth systems of objects, constitute the phenomenon of description. As a result, all that there is in the human domain are descriptions in the happening of living in language which, as happenings of living in language, become objects of descriptions in language."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.v.)


Cf. : distinction, linguistic behavior, languaging, object, orientation


destructive change

A construct defined implicitly by the definition of domain of destructive changes as any of "... those structural changes that a unity can undergo with loss of organization and therefore with loss of class identity." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97) Any change (of structural state) which results in disintegration.


destructive interaction

As defined implicitly by defining the domain of destructive interactions, any of "... those perturbations that result in a destructive change." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97) As defined implicitly by defining the instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions for a given composite unity, any of "... the different structural configurations of the medium that it admits at that instant in interactions that trigger in it its disintegration ...." (Maturana,1988b, 6.v.)


disintegration

1.
The termination of a composite unity occurring when its organization is disrupted beyond preservation of the character which defined that unity in its distinction. (Cf. Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xxi) Phrased another way, disintegration occurs when the system's organization is modified or disrupted to the point that it cannot maintain the circularity of internal states prescribed in its initial distinction (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 10). Maturana (1978) defines disintegration as "... changes of structure with loss of identity...".

This last version highlights one of the problems in addressing disintegration -- i.e., whether or not the essential indexicability (i.e., identity ) is preserved. The notion of what is the "identity" for a given composite unity must naturally be qualified with the circumstances of its discernment by an observer. It is the organization of a composite unity which determines its class identity, but the primary literature is never really clear on whether this factor (organization) somehow uniquely "identifies" a composite unity. It would seem straightforward to propose that it is the composite unity's structure (i.e., the specific components realizing it) which is by definition unique, and therefore uniquely indexicable. However, nowhere in the primary literature is this proposition explicitly stated.


2.

A term for a change of state resulting in loss of a composite unity's defining organization. In this sense, the term is used to connote that which leads to disintegration (1.), rather than the event itself. For example:

"We call the structural changes that occur in a system with conservation of organization, changes of state; and those that occur with loss of organization, disintegrations."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

It is this sense of the term which is invoked in Maturana's definition of instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations.


distinction

"Behind the simplest idea of a system, stands the basic act of splitting the world in what we consider separable and significant entities."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 293)

A very central notion in Maturana and Varela's work is distinction. "The basic cognitive operation that we perform as observers is the operation of distinction." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix). As the fundamental act of cognitive operation, distinction affords an observer the ability to "...specify a unity as an entity distinct from a background, characterize both unity and background with the properties with which this operation endows them, and specify their separability." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)

"A distinction splits the world into two parts, 'that' and 'this', or 'environment' and 'system', or 'us' and 'them', etc. One of the most fundamental of all human activities is the making of distinctions. Certainly, it is the most fundamental act of system theory, the very act of defining the system presently of interest, of distinguishing it from its environment."

(Varela, 1979, p. 84)

"The fundamental operation that an observer can perform is an operation of distinction, the specification of an entity by operationally cleaving it from a background. Furthermore, that which results from an operation of distinction and can thus be distinguished, is a thing with the properties that the operation of distinction specifies, and which exists in the space that these properties establish."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 55)

"An observer makes distinctions through operations that cleave a continuum and bring forth entities as distinguishable unities or wholes, specifying them and the background in which they exist. The observer exists by making distinctions of distinctions, and brings itself forth by making such distinctions in a recursive manner..."

(Maturana, 1983)

"The basic operation that an observer performs in the praxis of living is the operation of distinction. In the operation of distinction an observer brings forth a unity (an entity, a whole) as well as the medium in which it is distinguished, and entails in this latter all the operational coherences that make the distinction of the unity possible in his or her praxis of living."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.ii.)

Because the operation of distinction is thus characterized as the mechanism of eduction for any object of reference, it follows that autopoietic theory prioritizes the observer's vantage over any pre-given ontic absolute as the foundation for description and explanation. "Unity distinction ... is not an abstract notion of purely conceptual validity for descriptive or analytical purposes, but is an operative notion referring to the process through which a unity becomes asserted or defined: the conditions that specify a unity determine its phenomenology." (Varela, 1979, p. 31; Cf. : Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 96) This establishes a reciprocity of dependence between observer and observed -- a constraint which necessarily illuminates and mandates that reference to unities be qualified with respect to the context of discernment on the part of the observer and the context within which that unity is discerned as a coherent or unary focus.

The two senses in which the term "distinction" is employed both refer to this process of a unity 's assertion or definition. They differ in that one (1.) refers to the process by which a unity is defined by an observer, while the other (2.) invokes a unity's self-distinction through the topological effect(s) of its organizational closure.


1.

The act or process by which an observer recognizes a unity . Paralleling Spencer Brown (1969), Maturana and Varela use the term "distinction" to denote -- "...the pointing to a unity by performing an operation which defines its boundaries and separates it from a background." (Maturana, 1975, p. 325) Varela (1979a, p. 84) explains: "A distinction splits the world into two parts, 'that' and 'this', or 'environment' and 'system', or 'us' and 'them', etc. ..Certainly, it is the most fundamental act of system theory, the very act of defining the system presently of interest, of distinguishing it from its environment." This parallels in spirit the statements of Bateson (Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, New York: Bantam, 1988, p. 29): "...(P)erception operates only upon difference. All receipt of information is necessarily the receipt of news of difference..." Varela differentiates this sense of the term from 2. (below) by labeling it conceptual (1979, p. 30).

Distinction effects a complementary recognition of both unity and background. Through distinction, the observer

"...specifies a unity as an entity distinct from a background and a background as the domain in which an entity is distinguished. An operation of distinction, however, is also a prescription of a procedure which, if carried out, severs a unity from a background, regardless of the procedure of distinction and regardless of whether the procedure is carried out by an observer or by another entity."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xxii)

Distinction constrains the domain of discourse, because the act of distinguishing specifies (even if only implicitly) both something referred to and the context in which it is manifest as such. Because a unity is brought forth only through distinction, "...each time we refer to a unity in our descriptions, we are implying the operation of distinction that defines it and makes it possible." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 40)


2.

The act or process by which a unity effects or asserts its own separability from its ambience or background. This sense of "distinction" highlights the manner in which an autonomous / autopoietic system establishes, as the topological manifestation of its organizational closure, a literal or functional boundary delineating its extent with respect to its ambience. Varela differentiates this sense of the term from 1. above by labeling it physical (e.g., when realized in the physical space). (1979, pp. 30-31)

This second connotation of distinction pertains to the manner in which a unity may, through its own character or operation, accentuate its capacity for distinguishability from the ambience. This should not be taken to mean that an autonomous system necessarily "distinguishes itself" in the sense that it is somehow operating as an observer observing itself. Nor does it necessarily imply that self-assertion in the sense described above automatically controls the distinction of that same unity by an (external) observer. It would be safe, however, to note that such self-assertion would increase the probability of an (external) observer's distinctions corresponding to the unity's "self- distinctions" to the extent that (a) both sets of distinctions are manifest in a given phenomenal domain (including the intersection of two largely distinct phenomenal domains through the observer) and (b) this phenomenal domain was the same (or largely intersected with the one) in which the observer's distinction (of the self-asserting unity) was realized.


Cf. : criterion of distinction, unity


diversity

"Variations in the mode in which identity is maintained." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)


domain

A key concept extensively applied in Maturana and Varela's writings. The term generally connotes a 'realm' or 'sphere' circumscribing:

  1. the relations among observed systems and the unities (medium) with which they can be observed to engage (e.g., phenomenological domain) or

  2. the foregoing plus all potential states of relation and/or activity among the given unities (e.g., domain of interactions).

With respect to the phenomenology of living systems, the term is applied as a illustrative descriptor for the "world brought forth" -- a circumscription of experiential flux via reference to current states and possible trajectories. Maturana and Varela define a number of domains in developing autopoietic theory's formal aspects into a phenomenological framework.

Domains are most typically introduced to circumscribe exclusive realms or sets -- i.e., they serve as categorization constructs for sorting out unities and phenomena. The functional definition of domains by the unities and/or relations constitutive of them makes them definitional constructs which generate (by implication regarding entitative status, interrelationship, or prospective occurrence) their own discrete referential extent. This definitional reliance upon the constitutive elements provides a basis for differentiating domains in terms of differentials among unities and/or relations. As such:

"...[D]ifferent domains cannot explain each other because it is not possible to generate the phenomena of one domain with the elements of another; one remains in the same domain. One domain may generate the elements of another domain, but not its phenomenology, which in each domain is specified by the interactions of its elements, and the elements of a domain become defined only through the domain that they generate."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 55)

Owing to this "exclusivity", epistemological issues must be qualified with respect to both (a) the cognitive domain of the observer and (b) the domain(s) with which the observer is engaged at a given moment. "Any nexus between different domains is provided by the observer who can interact as if with a single entity ..." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 55) In so interacting, the observer can generate any of a potentially unlimited set of relations. These relations "... as states of neuronal activity arising from concurrent interactions of the observer in different domains (physical and relational) constitute the elements of a new domain in which the observer interacts as a thinking system, but do not reduce one phenomenological domain into another." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 55)

The term "domain" typically insinuates a realm of dynamics. Maturana and Varela conventionally reserve the term space for the static context in which unities are delineated. However, there are occasional instances in the literature where "domain" and "space" are apparently used as interchangeable terms denoting a general "realm" or "sphere" or "set". See the discussion under space (2.).


Cf. : space, domain of *, cognitive domain, explanation, phenomenological domain.


domain of allowable perturbations

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 33) to connote the set of all perturbations which a system can tolerate without disintegration.


Cf. : disintegration, domain of perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of behavioral phenomena

A term used by Maturana to denote the phenomenal domain of a living system, taken as a simple unity -- i.e., that domain "...in which a living system is seen as if it were a simple unity that interacts with the components of the environment in which its autopoiesis is realized..." (Maturana, 1978) The corresponding phenomenal domain for a living system, observed as a composite unity , is the domain of physiological phenomena.


Cf. : phenomenal domain, unity , simple unity , domain of physiological phenomena, behavior


domain of changes of state

One of four domains specified by the structure of a unity -- specifically, the class of "...all those structural changes that a unity can undergo without a change in its organization; i.e., with conservation of class identity." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97) Without using this particular label, Varela (1979, p. 13) characterizes the construct as: "... the domain of the deformations that the system can withstand without loss of identity (that is, maintain its organization) is the domain of changes in which it exists as a unity."


Cf. : domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, domain of perturbations, domain of states, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of compensations

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 16) as an apparent synonym for domain of changes of state or domain of allowable perturbations.


Cf. : domain of changes of state, domain of allowable perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of constitutive ontologies

A domain of fundamental explanation circumscribed by adherence to the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis -- i.e., qualification of explanations for cognitive capacities with respect to the biological character of the living system evidencing them. Constitutive ontologies make "existence" contingent upon the observer's acts of distinction within her praxis of living (as opposed to the objectivity presumed in the domain of transcendental ontologies associated with the path of objectivity-without-parenthesis). Within this domain, that which validates explanations for an observer "...is the actual operational coherences that constitute them in his or her praxis of living, regardless of the criterion of acceptability used." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 33)

The label "constitutive" derives from the claim that an observer "constitutes" her 'reality' through her praxis of living. This "constitutive" character affords the potential for diverse explanations, no one of which can claim primacy by virtue of "objectivity." Maturana introduces these points by laying out three claims pertaining to observers operating under the rubric of constitutive ontologies:

  • "...[E]verything that the observer distinguishes is constituted in its distinction, including the observer him- or herself, and it is as it is there constituted." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 33)

  • "...[E]ach domain of explanations, as a domain of reality, is a domain in which entities arise through the operational coherences of the observer that constitutes it..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 33)

  • "...[I]n the domain of constitutive ontologies there are as many different legitimate domains of reality as domains of explanations an observer can bring forth through the operational coherences of his or her praxis of living, and everything an observer says pertains to one." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 33)

This last point entails a position that "...every statement that an observer makes is valid in some domain of reality, and none is intrinsically false." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 33) This contrasts with the exclusivity of "validation" presumed in the domain of transcendental ontologies associated with the path of objectivity-without-parenthesis. In that other path, explanations or statements which conflict with (or fail support from) the presumptively "objective" universum are dismissed or denigrated as "false."


Cf. : domain of transcendental ontologies, explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis


domain of destructive changes

One of four domains specified by the structure of a unity -- specifically, the class of "... all those structural changes that a unity can undergo with loss of organization and therefore with loss of class identity." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97)


Cf. : domain of changes of state, domain of destructive interactions, domain of perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of destructive interactions

One of four domains specified by the structure of a unity -- specifically, the class of "... all those perturbations that result in a destructive change." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97)


Cf. : perturbation, domain of changes of state, domain of destructive interactions, domain of perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of existence

This term is most closely associated with (and most explicitly discussed) in two of Maturana's papers published in the same year (1988a; 1988b). Although both papers cover much of the same theoretical territory, their tones and foci are notably divergent. In both contexts, Maturana employed the terms "domain of existence" and "domain of reality" to connote an analogue to the unary "objective" world (the universum) which serves as the foundation for the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis and its associated domain of transcendental ontologies. In Maturana (1988a), these two labels are used almost colloquially (i.e., without unique definition or denotative specification), and they appear in places to serve as nearly-interchangeable terms. In the other cited paper, however, it would appear that "domain of existence" is taken to be the more general and/or more formal of the two:

"...[E]very distinction specifies a domain of existence as a domain of possible distinctions; that is, every distinction specifies a domain of existence as a versum in the multiversa, or, colloquially, every distinction specifies a domain of reality."

(Maturana, 1988b, 10.vi.)


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, constitutive ontology, transcendental ontology, domain of reality, universum, multiversum


domain of explanations

A term employed by Maturana (e.g., 1988a, p. 28) to connote that set or realm of explanatory answers (reformulations of the listener's praxis of living) which may (or can) fulfill the implicit or explicit criterion of acceptability by which the answer(s) are evaluated as explanations for a given question. Such a domain of explanations is defined (circumscribed; specified) by a "...manner of listening of the observer that constitutes a criterion for accepting explanatory reformulations of the praxis of living..." (Ibid.)


Cf. : explanation, praxis of living, manner of listening, criterion of acceptability


domain of interactions

"The set of all interactions into which an entity can enter..." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4). In later writings, this is usually qualified to subsume all interactions into which the entity can enter without loss of its organization (i.e., without disintegrating). By the time of Autopoiesis and Cognition, the definition had been fleshed out as follows:

"The domain of interactions of an autopoietic unity is the domain of all the deformations that it may undergo without loss of autopoiesis. Such a domain is determined for each unity by the particular mode through which its autopoiesis is realized in the space of its components, that is, by its structure. It follows that the domain of interactions of an autopoietic unity is necessarily bounded, and that autopoietic unities with different structures have different domains of interactions."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 118-119)


Cf. : cognitive domain; phenomenological domain, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of ontogenic adaptations

A term used in Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 141) to denote that domain pertaining to structural coupling between a structure-specified system and its medium. For this class of ontogenic structural coupling, the construct is an analogue to the consensual domain pertaining to structural coupling between / among organisms.


Cf. : consensual domain, ontogeny, structural coupling


domain of ontogenic transformations

The set of all the historical paths of change that an autopoietic unity can traverse, given the form of its autopoietic realization and the phenomenology thus determined. "The domain of the homeostatic trajectories through which it can maintain its autopoiesis." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 97) "[T]he domain of the homeorhetic trajectories through which it can maintain its autopoiesis." (Varela, 1979, p. 31)


Cf. : biological phenomenology, domain of interactions, domain of changes of state


domain of perturbations

One of four domains specified by the structure of a unity -- specifically, the class of "... all those interactions that trigger changes of state." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 97) This construct therefore has a broader scope than that of domain of allowable perturbations.


Cf. : domain of allowable perturbation, domain of changes of state, domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of physiological phenomena

A term used by Maturana to denote the phenomenal domain of a living system, taken as a composite unity -- i.e., that domain "...in which the interactions of the components are described with respect to the living system that they constitute..." (Maturana, 1978) The corresponding phenomenal domain for a living system, observed as a simple unity , is the domain of behavioral phenomena.


Cf. : phenomenal domain, unity , composite unity , domain of behavioral phenomena


domain of reality

A term used to denote the realm of ultimate ontological (as opposed to ontic) referentiality, particularly as it pertains to the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis. This term is most closely associated with (and most explicitly discussed) in two of Maturana's papers published in the same year (1988a; 1988b). Although both papers cover much of the same theoretical territory, their tones and foci are notably divergent. In both contexts, Maturana employed the terms 'domain of existence' and "domain of reality" to connote an analogue to the unary "objective" world (the universum) which serves as the foundation for the explanatory path of objectivity-without- parenthesis and its associated domain of transcendental ontologies. In Maturana (1988a), these two labels are used almost colloquially (i.e., without unique definition or denotative specification), and they appear in places to serve as nearly-interchangeable terms. In the other cited paper, however, it would appear that "domain of existence" is taken to be the more general and/or more formal of the two:

"...[E]very distinction specifies a domain of existence as a domain of possible distinctions; that is, every distinction specifies a domain of existence as a versum in the multiversa, or, colloquially, every distinction specifies a domain of reality."

(Maturana, 1988b, 10.vi.)


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, constitutive ontology, transcendental ontology, domain of existence


domain of relations

"[T]he set of all relations (interactions through the observer) in which an entity can be observed..." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4; Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 8) This construct does not connote an 'objective' logical or referential space, because it "...lies in the cognitive domain of the observer." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4) In the earliest accounts of an observer's eduction of a unity / entity, the domain of relations was linked to this fundamental act through the domain of interactions entailed in it. "An entity is an entity if it has a domain of interactions; and if it has a domain of interactions, it has a domain of relations." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4)

This term occurs infrequently, and then only in the earliest publications. As time went on, it faded from the literature, as did the domain of relations' invocation in describing the observer's eduction of unities.


Cf. : domain of interactions, interaction, entity, unity , unit of interactions


domain of states

A phrase occurring in Maturana and Guiloff (1980) apparently connoting that set of system states corresponding to or specified by that same system's domain of transitions of states. That domain comprising those states which the system "...may adopt at any instance of internal or external perturbation." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 138)


Cf. : domain of changes of state, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


domain of transcendental ontologies

A domain of fundamental explanation circumscribed by adherence to the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis -- i.e., ultimate reference to a unary and objective universum to which all observers are presumed to have access directly via perception and / or indirectly via reason. Within this domain, an observer:

"...claims that his or her explanations are validated by their reference to entities that he or she assumes to exist independently of what he or she does. Matter, energy, God, Nature, mind, consciousness, and so on, can be such entities, and there can be as many different transcendental ontologies as different kinds of entities different (or the same) observers may assume to exist independently of what they do, to validate their explanations."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 32)

For Maturana, objectivity entails exclusivity: "...different transcendental ontologies are exclusive, and each constitutes all that there is, specifying as it is brought forth by the observer the only objective domain of reality that he or she accepts as a foundation for his or her explaining." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 32) This exclusivity is a result related to that exclusivity by which objectivity-without-parenthesis affords a presumptive basis for demanding obedience by virtue of "objectivity." Statements, propositions, and / or explanations framed so as to fall outside the referential scope of a transcendental ontology (as well as those which conflict with or fail support from it) are rejected or denigrated as "false."


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-without-parenthesis, universum, parenthesis


domain of transitions of states

A phrase occurring in Maturana and Guiloff (1980) as an apparent synonym for domain of changes of state -- i.e., that domain circumscribing all the transformations which the given system may undergo without disintegration.


Cf. : domain of changes of state, domain of perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions, instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations, instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations, instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state


drift

The term or construct 'drift' appears repeatedly in the literature as a description for the manner in which ongoing (apparent) adaptation or evolution in a given factor or character is determined locally by conditions of the subject system (typically a living system) over time, and not determined 'globally' by virtue of some overriding teleological or optimizational mechanism.

"In daily life, such a course of structural change in a system contingent on the sequence of its interactions in the medium in which it conserves organisation and adaptation is called 'drift'."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 46)

A variety of types of such drift are invoked -- particularly in The Tree of Knowledge -- all of which play on this theme of local determination effecting change. The variation among these related terms is a variation of denotation for the factor or characteristic whose change is being explained by this construct.


Cf. : natural drift, ontogenic drift, phylogenetic drift, structural drift


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eigenbehavior

"Eigenbehaviors can be characterized as the fixed points of certain transformations. Consider an operation a, from a domain A to itself, a: A --> A. A fixed point for a is a value v ...[occurring in the range of A] ...such that a(v) = v."

(Varela, 1979, p. 171)

Much of Varela's attention during the mid-to-late 1970's was directed toward exploring mathematical means for addressing systemic autonomy, closure, and resultant forms of operation. One of the problems in modeling systems exhibiting closure and autonomy is that they are so characterized on the basis of the 'coordination' of their constituent elements and processes in manifesting the whole, as well as a 'simultaneity' (as opposed to a linear sequentiality) of the constituent processes in operation. Varela's (1979) approach to this modeling problem proceeded from the following basis:

"The self-referential and recursive nature of a network of processes, characteristic of the autonomy of natural systems, is captured by the invariant behavior proper to the way the component processes are interconnected. ... The (fixed-point) invariance of a network can be related explicitly to the underlying recursive dynamics; the component processes are seen as unfoldment of the unit's behavior."

(Varela, 1979, p. 170)

To address such invariant behaviors of a subject system, Varela proposed the label eigenbehavior:

"The name seems justified on several counts. First, the prefix 'eigen' carries from the German the connotation of 'proper' and 'self', and eigenbehavior is properly or self-determined behavior, i.e., autonomy. Second, the compound is a generalization consistent with the standard use of 'eigenvalue' and 'eigenvector' in linear algebra to denote certain fixed points of linear maps. Thirdly, in at least two fields the term eigenbehavior has been proposed to denote, in particular instances, exactly what from our point of view is a solution to some system's closure. [Jerne in immunology; von Foerster in cybernetics -- Ed.]"

(Varela, 1979, pp. 170-171)


emotion

As delineated by Maturana (e.g., 1988a, p. 42): "... body dispositions for actions..." -- i.e., basal inclinations reflective of the emoting organism's embodiment, its situated circumstances, and those potential acts determined by that embodiment as (so) situationally perturbed. From the biologically-focussed explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, an emotion ascribed to an observed organism by an observer "... through the distinction of a particular configuration in the flow of its actions is a particular dynamics of inner body dispositions (which, of course, includes the nervous system) that determines the domain of actions in which that being can operate at that moment." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 42)

It is important to note that this definition links the notion of 'emotion' to a specific referential ground with respect to the emotive organism's biological constitution, and not to an abstracted or transcendental state or orientation.

"In daily life we distinguish different emotions when looking at the actions and corporal posture or behavior of another being, whether it is our self, another person or a non-human animal. Furthermore, we also know that in daily life every emotion implies that only certain actions are possible to the person or animal that exhibits them. For these reasons, I maintain that what we distinguish as emotions, or what we connote with the word emotion, are corporal dispositions that specify at every moment the domain of actions of an animal (human or non human)..."

(Maturana, 1989)

"What we distinguish in daily life as we distinguish emotions are kinds of relational behaviors, not particular doings. And what we connote biologically as we speak of emotions referring to ourselves or to other animals, are body dynamic dispositions (involving the nervous system and the whole body) that determine what we or they can do or not do, in what relations we or they can enter or not enter, at any moment. As a result, different emotions can be fully characterized as different domains of relational behaviors or as dynamic body dispositions for relational behaviors."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

The simple fact that Maturana alludes to emotions at all perhaps explains why his cognitive theories have engendered widespread interest (and even enthusiasm) in psychotherapeutic circles.


Cf. : emotioning, mood


emotioning

A term used by Maturana to denote the ongoing course of those "bodily dispositions for action" which constitute emotions.

"...[E]motioning, as a flow of one emotion to another, is a flow of one domain of actions to another."

(Maturana, 1989)

Emotioning, then, connotes the ongoing or dynamic flow of experience with respect to emotions. The trajectory of emotion(s) which manifests this flow is the conceptual basis for addressing consensual interactivity. The instance of this most deeply explored by Maturana is that flow of human social activity (languaging) associated with language. For example:

"When we move within language in interactions with others, our emotions change according to an emotioning which is the function of the history of interactions that we have lived and in which our emotioning emerged as an aspect of our coexistence with others outside and inside languaging. At the same time, with the flow of our emotioning in a path that has resulted from our history of common life inside and outside language, we change our domain of actions and, therefore, the path of our languaging and of our reasoning changes."

(Maturana, 1989)


Cf. : emotion, language, languaging


enaction

"A history of structural coupling that brings forth a world" (Varela et al., 1991, p. 206). This is the term for the reciprocal process by which (1) an observer educes unities from her medium within the limits of her phenomenology (i.e., as constrained by her embodiment) and (2) the ontogenic coupling results in incremental regularization in the structure of the observer (her embodiment).

"The fundament of an enactive account is not an objective ontological substrate, but the phenomenology of the individual. Varela et al. (1991) define enaction in terms of two intertwined and reciprocal factors: (1) the influence of an actor's embodiment in determining the trajectory of behaviors; and (2) the historical transformations which generate emergent regularities in the actor's embodiment. These two aspects can be mapped onto two different usages of the English verb 'enact'. First is 'to enact' in the sense of 'to portray, to bring forth something already given and determinant of the present', as in a stage actor enacting a role. The second is 'to enact' in the sense of 'to specify, to legislate, to bring forth something new and determining of the future', as in a government enacting a new law. Objectivism makes its focus the first sense of enactment -- there is a pre-given world structuring and regulating the actor. Radical subjectivism takes as its focus the opposite sense of the term -- the existential enactor determines the world. When the actor (enactor) is herself reciprocally enacted, these processes intersect at a nexus which, if reified, might provide an obvious focus for enquiry. However, as Varela et al. (1991) point out, this nexus is ephemeral and groundless -- always simultaneously enacting and being enacted."

(Whitaker, 1992, p. 109)

"As a result, Varela et al. (1991, p. 116) describe their enquiry as concerning "...the processual transformation of the past into the future through the intermediary of transitional forms that in themselves have no permanent substance." (Ibid., footnote 237)

The groundlessness and reciprocity of enaction make it a difficult position to describe, much less defend, in the context of conventional Western views on (e.g.) epistemology. For centuries, the fundamental orientation to cognition has been how the organism can apprehend, decipher, and interact with an objective world whose ontological status is the presumptive firmament for all such enquiry. The recent work in constructivism (the epistemological position most commonly attributed to Maturana and Varela's work) emphasizes the innate capacities of the observer in apprehending a 'reality' neither denied nor claimed capable of direct knowledge. Such an approach (while certainly more attuned to Maturana and Varela's theories) may nonetheless be construable as lying one step off the 'middle way' which enaction purports to describe. One early clue to such a potential point of difference can be found in Varela (1984b), in which he can be interpreted as implying a distinction between constructivism (a la von Glasersfeld) and the 'middle way' he was already promoting. (Cf. the entry for epistemology -- especially Table Epist1)


Cf. : constructivism, enactive approach, enactive cognitive science, epistemology


enactive

An adjectival term introduced by Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) to denote what they perceive as a third (neither radically objectivist nor radically subjectivist) orientation to cognition and its study. This term was selected "...to emphasize the growing conviction that cognition is not the representation of a pregiven world by a pregiven mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs." (p. 9)


enactive approach

A term used colloquially in The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991) to denote their proposed stance on cognition -- one based on a 'middle way' between the conventionally-presumed extremes of objectivism and subjectivism. By relying on a fundamental critique of representationalism combined with evidence from empirical science, the "...enactive approach takes seriously, then, the philosophical critique of the idea that the mind is a mirror of nature but goes further by addressing this issue from within the heartland of science."


enactive cognitive science

The mode or perspective for cognitive studies proposed and propounded by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch in their 1991 book The Embodied Mind. Although the principles underlying enactive cognitive science clearly derive (at least in part) from autopoietic theory (by way of Varela), there are actually few points of reference to Maturana and Varela's earlier work.

Enactive cognitive science is presented as a third alternative to the currently-prevalent schools of thought labeled cognitivism and emergence. The former is that perspective emphasizing symbolization, representationalism, and the computer as a metaphor for a cognitive system. The latter is that perspective emphasizing behavioral / configurational emergence in parallel distributed networks, and this formal model inspired by the neural system as a metaphor for a cognitive system.

Because the definition of enactive cognitive science is accomplished primarily through comparisons and contrasts with the other two paradigms, it is best explained in the same manner. I have prepared two tables presenting the general and the specific comparative analyses presented in The Embodied Mind. The first (Table ECS1) offers a summary overview of the three cognitive science traditions. The second (Table ECS2) provides a summary of how these three traditions address the key questions which the authors delineated as the criteria for cognitive science as a coherent explanation.

These tables are available on the Enactive Cognitive Science in Context Focus File page here at The Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/ECSTables.html


Encyclopaedia Autopoietica

1.

The document you are currently reading.


2.

An ostentatious title employed with humorous intent to denote a compendium of lexically-arranged information compiled by Dr. Randall Whitaker on the theoretical work of Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela (autopoietic theory) and its derivatives.


Encyclopaedia Britannica

1.

A prestigious reference publication whose claim to comprehensivity is compromised by persistent refusal to make any mention of autopoiesis. (As reported in The Observer).


2.

A paradigmatic exemplar of an ostentatious label, and the inspiration for the title of this document.


entity

A term which occurs mainly in the colloquial sense of an object, thing or other discrete referent. In this colloquial usage, the term entity occurs throughout the primary literature, most particularly in Maturana's solo papers. This usage by Maturana dates back to his earliest papers on the biology of cognition:

"The observer beholds simultaneously the entity that he considers ... and the universe in which it lies ..."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 4)

"It is an attribute of the observer to be able to interact independently with the observed entity and with its relations; for him both are units of interaction (entities)."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 8 [originally from Maturana, 1970b])

This last citation illustrates an interesting point. In the earliest published literature, Maturana emphasized the linkage between an 'entity' and the interactions via which the observer engaged and/or educed it. This is the basis for equating entities with units of interactions:

"For the observer an entity is an entity (a unit of interactions) when he can describe it. To describe is to enumerate the actual or potential interactions and relations of the described entity. ... An entity is an entity if it has a domain of interactions ... The observer can define an entity by specifying its domain of interactions; thus, part of an entity, a group of entities, or their relations can be made units of interactions (entities) by the observer."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 4)

These allusions to an entity's domain of interactions, etc., would seem to be secondarily derivative (and hence distinguishable, if not distinct) from the more essential eduction or apprehension by which the observer discerns such an indexicable referent as (e.g.) a unity. With regard to the more recent literature, any distinction between 'entity' and 'unity' remains unspecified, and may be considered inoperative. Maturana (in particular) has consistently used this term in his post-1985 writings, returning to his original habit of invoking the term as an apparent surrogate for " unity ". For example:

"In the operation of distinction an observer brings forth a unity (an entity, a whole) as well as the medium in which it is distinguished..."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.ii.)

"A unity (entity, object) is brought forth by an act of distinction."

...and "distinction" is fundamental to:

"[T]he act of indicating any being, object, thing, or unity..."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 40, italics in the original)

This apparent synonymity is reinforced by the fact that there is little or no evidence to be found in these later writings that distinguish "entity" from 'unity', either in denotation or connotation. As a result, one is left to wonder if "entity" (especially as used by Maturana post-1985) connotes the observer-dependent status (of distinction / discernment) which explicitly qualifies the earlier term 'unity' and helps to distinguish it from the more colloquially-denotative usages of "entity."

For example, consider the following passage (from Maturana, 1988a, p. 32), wherein he states that an observer operating within the domain of transcendental ontologies (and hence subscribing to the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis):

"...claims that his or her explanations are validated by their reference to entities that he or she assumes to exist independently of what he or she does. Matter, energy, God, Nature, mind, consciousness, and so on, can be such entities, and there can be as many different transcendental ontologies as different kinds of entities different (or the same) observers may assume to exist independently of what they do, to validate their explanations."

In this particular passage, it is unclear whether "entity" is (a) used simply as a generic label for "any referent" or (b) specifically denotative of referents assumed to exist independently of the observer.

Based on the evidence of Maturana's earliest and latest writings on the subject, it would appear that 'entity' most commonly connotes a unity . If there is a distinction to be drawn between these two terms (as used by Maturana over his career), it would be that only in the earliest literature (e.g., Maturana: 1970a; 1970b) is 'entity' clearly equated with something observer-educed and therefore observer-contingent. Owing to (a) less detailed background specifications (for basic terms and concepts) in the most recent publications as well as (b) occasionally ambiguous allusions (Cf. above-cited passages) it is easy for a newcomer to overlook the observer-specified characteristics consistent with the most longstanding connotations of the term. This entails the risk that the newcomer would equate the term (especially as used by Maturana) with the colloquial usage connotative of objective existence (i.e., independence from the observer). However, the reader is referred to Maturana's (e.g., 1983) treatment of 'objects' to see that observer-contingency is still very much an explicit aspect of definition for even these most generic of referents.

There is one final point to be made in comparing 'entity' and 'unity'. Although 'unities' are subcategorized into simple unities and composite unities, the literature evidences no such distinction made among 'entities'. The most defensible position is that most typically 'entity' is an analogue for simple unity .


Cf. : unity , simple unity , composite unity , object


environment

1.

A specific term applied to denote the observer's delineation of the referential background within which an organism is observed to operate. "The observer beholds simultaneously the entity that he considers (an organism, in our case) and the universe in which it lies (the organism's environment)." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 4) This is not the same as the ambience in which the organism is actually manifest, and it is definitely distinct from the niche specified by the observed organism's organization . In the later literature (particularly Maturana's post-1985 writings) the related term medium is sometimes used as an apparent analogue to environment (though in other cases such parallel connotations are not so readily apparent -- Cf. : entry for medium).

An observer "brings forth" an ascribed environment in the course of educing a unity or entity. As such, the environment is not an a priori referential or ontological background extrinsic to the act of observation. Instead, it is generated as an indexicable referent in the course of observation. This is evident in the following passages:

"The observer beholds simultaneously the entity that he considers (an organism, in our case) and the universe in which it lies (the organism's environment)."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 4)

"The environment is defined by the classes of interactions into which the observer can enter and which he treats as a context for his interactions with the observed organism. The observer beholds organism and environment simultaneously and he considers as the niche of the organism that part of the environment which he observes to lie in its domain of interactions."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 10-11)

"Every structure determined system exists in a medium. ... The part of the medium in which a system is distinguished, that is, the part of the medium that is operationally complementary to it, I call its niche. The niche is always specified and obscured by the system which is the only one that can reveal it. Furthermore, I call environment the part of the medium that an observer sees surrounding a system while this obscures its niche."

(Maturana, 1983, Section D.)

Figure AmbEnv:  Ambience / Environment / Medium

Figure AmbEnv:
Variant Delineations / Connotations for Ambience, Environment, and Medium

Figure AmbEnv illustrates the ambience / environment distinction as it is outlined in Autopoiesis and Cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980). An observer distinguishes a unity (in this case, a simple unity ) from the ambience. The operation(s) of distinction by which the observer does this cleaves the unity from the contiguous background (ambience), thus leaving the "remainder" (as engaged by the observer) to referentially serve as an backdrop "environing" the unity. This environment, as a referential / indexical background, serves as the context in which the observer observes the unity.

As a description in the observer's cognitive domain, the environment is distinct from the ambience engaged by the organism and the niche delineated by such engagement.

"Niche and environment, then, intersect only to the extent that the observer (including instruments) and the organism have comparable organizations, but even then there are always parts of the environment that lie beyond any possibility of intersection with the domain of interactions of the organism, and there are parts of the niche that lie beyond any possibility of intersection with the domain of interactions of the observer."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 10-11)


Cf. : ambience, medium, niche, context


2.

The term 'environment' is sometimes used rhetorically in its colloquial sense of a setting within which a system operates -- i.e., that which environs the system.


epistemology

Autopoietic theory, in accordance with its origins within scientific biology, developed without much explicit linkage to numerous other fields upon which its tenets impinge. Perhaps the most obvious such field is philosophy. The primacy of the observer in autopoietic theory makes epistemology a central focus -- so much so that the theory might well be characterized as being grounded epistemologically rather than ontologically. The philosophical (especially the epistemological) ramifications of Maturana and Varela's work have been the focus of the majority of commentary directed at the theory.

To be fair, it can be said that (in the primary literature up through 1980), neither Maturana nor Varela expended any great effort to link or contextualize their theories with established and/or more familiar philosophical positions. As a result, it is no surprise that deconstructing and critiquing autopoietic theory from the standpoint of philosophy has become a major sport.

Although Maturana and Varela's relative silence is essentially complete with respect to conventional ontological issues, there are isolated places in the primary literature where explicit references to other epistemological positions are cited. The most explicit of these is Varela (1984b), in which he provides (p. 217, footnote 14) a sketch of four epistemological positions spanning the range from objectivism (requiring only direct perception) to outright solipsism. In the context of this article, Varela is attempting to delineate a "middle way" which he proposes can be pursued (presumably, the 'middle way' presented as the focus of enactive cognitive science in the 1991 book The Embodied Mind).

This delineation is pursued by reference to four stances or perspectives ranging from that one implicit in the representationist programme all the way to the other extreme of outright solipsism. Varela's relative ordering of selected positions (converted into tabular form) is presented in Table Epist1.


TABLE EPIST1:
A Mapping of Epistemological Positions

POSITION CITED PROPONENT(S) DESCRIPTION
Direct Perception J. J. Gibson; H. Barlow 'Information' is inherent in the environment, and the neural system operates as a device for picking up / receiving this 'information'
Computational / Representational Cognitive psychology, AI (e.g., J. Fodor, D. Marr) Computational description of cognition in terms of symbolic representations and logical manipulations over these representations
"THE MIDDLE LINE"
(between representationalism and solipsism)
Constructivism E. von Glasersfeld Primacy of interpreter's "internal guidance" over environmental factors
Solipsism Berkeley Everything is in the interpreter's head
[ This table, based on Whitaker (1992), is derived from Varela (1984b), p. 217, footnote 14 ]

One particular issue should be noted with respect to the table above. In the cited article, Varela was arguing for "a dialectical middle way ... between the Scylla of representationism and the Charybdis of solipsism, by planting ourselves firmly in the middle." (Varela, 1984b, p. 217) The most commonly cited epistemological analogue to autopoietic theory is von Glasersfeld's radical constructivism. Although von Glasersfeld has made some points about the correspondences between his work and that of Maturana and Varela, this favor has yet to be returned in kind. In fact, the brief allusion to von Glasersfeld in the article cited here is the most substantive such allusion written by either Maturana or Varela. In citing von Glasersfeld in the above-illustrated taxonomy, Varela writes of this position 'constructivism': "In this position one is already at the other side of the middle line..." (Varela, 1984b, p. 217, footnote 14) One might ask if von Glasersfeld's lying 'at the other side of the middle line' connotes that he (and, by implication, his radical constructivism) is: (a) positioned at some distance (no matter how small) from the 'middle way' Varela is promoting, and (b) if so, on what basis Varela distinguishes his preferred position from von Glasersfeld's. One clue (which surfaced years later) might be that by the time Varela's 'middle way' had evolved into the notion of enaction it entailed a groundlessness of primary reference (e.g., 'world', 'observer') with which constructivism (to the extent it is 'grounded' in the individual and her capabilities) could be seen to conflict.

Within the scant written corpus addressing both von Glasersfeld and Maturana / Varela, this is the only point at which an apparent disjunction is insinuated. In other writings (from both camps), and in writings of third parties referring to both, there are no substantial indications of a disjunction perceived by anyone concerned.


Cf. : constructivism, radical constructivism, representation, representationist programme, solipsism


essence (of a system)

An early term denoting what later came to be formalized as organization . Like the similar tentative label 'theory' (of a system), this term was later abandoned in favor of 'organization.'


Cf. : organization , theory 2. (of a system)


ethics

"Every human act takes place in language. Every act in language brings forth a world created with others in the act of coexistence which gives rise to what is human. Thus every human act has an ethical meaning because it is an act of constitution of the human world. This linkage of human to human is, in the final analysis, the groundwork of all ethics as a reflection on the legitimacy of the presence of others."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 247)

Because autopoietic theory is grounded in the biological nature of living systems, it addresses ethics only to the extent that criteria for ethical behavior derive from (or at least are suggested by) that biological perspective. It is Maturana who has most frequently and explicitly addressed ethical issues as they pertain to the biology of cognition. The most highly-elaborated 'ethical' analysis Maturana has developed to date concerns the tacit authority / power claims implicit in accepting and operating within the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis. The reader is referred to the Encyclopaedia entry for that explanatory path, in which the summarization of this issue will serve as an example of deriving ethical standpoints from the biology of cognition.

Ethical matters are also addressed in enactive cognitive science (cf. Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, pp. 239; 245-254), but to date these have been approached with respect to general conditions relating to the epistemological dichotomy between nihilism and objectivism.


Cf. : objectivity-without-parenthesis


evolution

The "history of change in the realization of an invariant organization embodied in independent unities sequentially generated through reproductive steps, in which the particular structural realization of each unity arises as a modification of the preceding one (or ones) which, thus, constitutes both its sequential and historical antecedent." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)


evolutionary adaptation

That subcategory of adaptation (ongoing determination of structural states permitting a living system's continued autopoiesis ) which pertains to a set of such living systems comprising a successive order connected by a history of reproduction.


Cf. : adaptation, ontogenic adaptation


explanation

"An explanation can be characterized as a form of discourse that intends to make intelligible a phenomenal domain that has been recorded. ... [W]hen some domain is deemed explained, and thus rendered intelligible, it is so in reference to a social group of observers."

(Varela, 1979, p. 66)

"A reformulation of a phenomenon in such a way that its elements appear operationally connected in its generation."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)

More specifically (with respect to scientific method):

"...[A]n explanation is always an intended reproduction or reformulation of a system or phenomenon, addressed by one observer to another, who must accept it or reject it by admitting or denying that it is a model of the system or phenomenon to be explained."

(Maturana, 1978)

An explanation is always a "reformulation" in the sense that its generation by an observer occurs in the domain(s) in which that observer engages the phenomenon being explained, which is not the same as the domain in which the phenomenon is manifested (Cf. the exclusivity among domains). As a result, "it is the simultaneous logical isomorphism of the new element (relations) [among observer-conjoined domains of interaction] with their source systems through their mode of origin (class intersection) that gives the new domain thus generated (descriptions) its explanatory capacity." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 55)

In other words, explanations are categorically distinct from their subject phenomena. This is a key point which is often blurred even among adherents of autopoietic theory, and which is typically ignored in conventional positivistic sciences.

"An explanation is always a reproduction, either a concrete one through the synthesis of an equivalent physical system [e.g., a model or simulation], or a conceptual one through a description from which emerges a system logically isomorphic to the original one, but never a reduction of one phenomenological domain into another. An adequate understanding of this irreducibility is essential for the comprehension of the biological phenomena, the consensual domains that living systems generate, and their conjoined evolution."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 55)

This non-isomorphism between the explained and the explanation is typically transparent in the course of our praxis of living. Immersed in this praxial flow, we tend to overlook "...that our experience is that we find ourselves observing, talking or acting, and that any explanation or description of what we do is secondary to our experience of finding ourselves in the doing of what we do." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 26) This oversight occurs "...because we normally collapse the experience upon the explanation of the experience in the explanation of the experience." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 27)

The most basic explanation of explanatory method given by Maturana necessitates two fundamental operations on the part of the explaining observer: "...(a) the specification (and distinction thereof) of the system (composite unity) or phenomenon to be explained; and (b) the identification and distinction of the components and the relations between components that permit the conceptual or concrete reproduction of the system or phenomenon to be explained." (Maturana, 1978)

As time has gone on, Maturana has increasingly invoked the notion of explanation in introducing and contextualizing his presentations on the biology of cognition. This invocation typically characterizes explanation in terms of posing "...questions that demand an explanation for their answer." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 27) This establishes a situation in which "...we become pacified only when we find an explanatory answer to our question." (Ibid.)

A necessary aspect of this situation is that the questioner (original questioner, or another who takes up the question) must have some criteria for acceptance of an answer for it to suffice as such an explanatory (and hence terminal) answer. The questioner (or other awaiting an explanatory answer) "...accepts or rejects a statement as a reformulation of a particular situation of his or her praxis of living, ...[and]...determines whether that statement is or is not an explanation." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 28) This evaluation is accomplished based on "...whether or not ...[the answer]... satisfies an implicit or explicit criterion of acceptability that he or she applies through or her manner of listening." (Ibid.) Finally, the establishment or adoption of such criteria of acceptability (be they implicit or explicit) entails qualifications with respect to the observer(s) awaiting an answer: "[E]ach manner of listening of the observer that constitutes a criterion for accepting explanatory reformulations of the praxis of living defines a domain of explanations, and the observers who claim to accept the same explanations for their respective praxes of living." (Ibid.) In the context of the biology of cognition, the most pertinent such "manner of listening" discussed would be the explanatory paths differentiating analyses of cognition.

The summary above outlines the general notion of 'explanation' in autopoietic theory, and its continual importance to Maturana's ongoing writings on cognition, languaging, and social behavior. There is, however, much more to this theoretical framework's development of ideas on 'explanation'. In the following sections, some of the more specific categories of explanation are introduced and described.

Analytic versus Synthetic Explanatory Paradigms (Varela, 1979)

In Principles of Biological Autonomy, Varela alludes to the classical philosophical distinction between analytic and synthetic paradigms. Based on his comments on these (and other) issues, Table AnavsSyn has been assembled to illustrate the relationship of these perspectives to constructs discussed here in the Encyclopaedia. Of particular importance are the parallels that can be drawn between the analytic / synthetic, recursive / behavioral (view), and composite / simple (unity) dichotomies. Linking the connotations of these differentially-framed distinctions provides a basis for sorting out their interrelationships as they pertain to observation of a system (e.g., for scientific purposes).


TABLE ANAVSSYN:
Analytic versus Synthetic Explanatory Paradigms (based on Varela, 1979)

ANALYTIC SYNTHETIC
SCOPE OF EXPLANATIONS
Framed with respect to reduction of phenomena to atomic elements Framed with respect to the totality of the phenomenon being explained
EXAMPLES
Scientific reductionism

Functional/structural decomposition

Holism

Integrated systems analysis

CHARACTERIZATION OF SUBJECT SYSTEM
Subject as composite unity Subject as simple unity
TYPICAL COGNITIVE POINT OF VIEW
Recursive view Behavioral view


Operational versus Symbolic Explanations (Varela, 1979)

In his 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy, Varela spends much time outlining a categorizational scheme for explanations (particularly as they pertain to science generally, and studies of living systems specifically). In fact, the differentiation of explanatory classes and the characterization of autopoietic theory with respect to these classes arguably form an essential theme of this key book.

Varela differentiates between two broad categories -- operational explanations and symbolic explanations. The general contrasts between these two classes are outlined in Table OpvsSym below.


TABLE OPVSSYM:
Varela's (1979) Comparative Analysis of Operational vs. Symbolic Subclasses of Explanation

Explanation (In General)
  • "A form of discourse that intends to make intelligible a phenomenal domain that has been recorded." (Varela, 1979, p. 66)

  • Entails reformulation or reproduction of this recorded phenomenon in conceptual terms

  • Entails that the conceptual terms employed are deemed appropriate
Operational Explanation Symbolic Explanation
Terms of reformulation and categories employed belong to the same domain as the system(s) generating the phenomenon Terms of reformulation and categories employed belong to a context encompassing the system(s) generating the phenomenon
Proposes conceptual or concrete system(s) / components reproducing the phenomenon in the same referential context (on the same terms) as the phenomenon being explained Alludes to conceptual system(s) / components describing the phenomenon in a subsuming referential context
Observer provides explanatory links / nexuses consistent with the subject phenomenon's domain of manifestation Observer provides explanatory links / nexuses extrinsic to the subject phenomenon's domain of manifestation
Demonstration / Simulation
(Even if only conceptually / notionally manifested)
Representation / Mapping
(Not necessarily grounded in domain of manifestation)
Necessarily reflects nomic linkages Need not reflect nomic linkages


Varela employs the dichotomy between operational and symbolic explanations in a balanced fashion -- going so far as to discuss the two as complementary rather than antagonistic positions.

Scientific versus Philosophical Explanations (Maturana, 1991)

Over the course of the years, Maturana (e.g., 1978; 1988a; 1988b) has elaborated his version of scientific method -- the process by which scientific explanations are generated. By 1991, this framework was sufficiently mature that he was in a position to contrast it with the class of philosophical explanations. The delineation of these two explanatory classes ties into a host of other elements of his theories, not the least of which is the distinction between the explanatory paths of objectivity in / without parenthesis. More details on the better-developed of these two theoretical classes (the scientific) can be found under the entries for scientific method. A summary comparison of the two can be found under the entry for theory.


Cf. : domain of explanations, praxis of living, explanatory path, parenthesis


explanatory hypothesis

A term employed in Maturana's delineation of scientific method to denote that model or mechanism which is proposed or put forth as an explanation for a phenomenon. After the initial step of identifying the phenomenon of interest, the second step of the method's path is "...proposition of an explanatory hypothesis in the form of a deterministic system that can generate a phenomenon isomorphic with the one observed." (Maturana, 1978, p. 28) As elaborated some 10 years later:
"The proposition, in the domain of operational coherences of the praxis of living of a standard observer, of a mechanism, a generative mechanism, which when allowed to operate gives rise as a consequence of its operation to the phenomenon to be explained, to be witnessed by the observer also in his or her praxis of living. This generative mechanism, that is usually called the explanatory hypothesis, takes place in the praxis of living of the observer in a different phenomenal domain than the phenomenal domain in which the phenomenon to be explained is witnessed, and the latter as a consequence of the former stands in an operational metadomain with respect to it. Indeed, the phenomenon to be explained and its generative mechanism take place in different nonintersecting phenomenal domains in the praxis of living of the observer."

(Maturana, 1988b, 4.i.A)


Cf. : criteria of validation, explanation, scientific method


explanatory path

A term used (especially in Maturana, 1988a) to denote a composite or encompassing viewpoint or perspective -- most particularly the fundamental stance adopted in providing an explanation for human cognitive capacities.

An explanation is accepted or rejected by an observer on the basis of the "manner of listening" which derives from the criteria for acceptability via which she explicitly or implicitly responds to possible such explanations. The most relevant example of such a "manner of listening" is the mutually exclusive pair of explanatory paths which Maturana (1988a) claims as fundamental for an observer seeking explanation of her cognitive capacities. In the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis (or transcendental objectivity), the observer accepts her cognitive features without qualification with respect to their biological roots. In the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis (or constituted objectivity), the observer approaches her cognitive features with explicit regard to her own biological character and her cognitive capacities' biological fundament.

The single most detailed discussion of these constructs is to be found in Maturana (1988a), in which he provides (p. 32) one of his rare illustrations (termed the ontological diagram) laying out the relationships between these two modes of explanation.


Cf. : explanation, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, constituted objectivity, transcendental objectivity, ontological diagram


extended calculus of indications (ECI)

The label for George Spencer Brown's calculus of indications, as augmented by Varela (1975; 1979) with a logical operator for re-entry within a series of marks (denotative of distinctions) by a subsumed / subsequent mark into a mark subsuming / precedent in the series. Varela & Goguen (1978) note that this extended calculus (in its original form) still had shortcomings (for addressing systems) and further elaborate it into a complete calculus of indications (CI).


Cf. : calculus of indications


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factibility

A term used (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 89) to denote the "factual characterization" of an autopoietic system's constitutive components.


Cf. : component


feedback

Varela's construct of organizational closure is not to be confused with the traditional cybernetic construct of "feedback" or "feedback loops". The two concepts are entirely distinct "...to the extent that [feedback] requires and implies an external source of reference, which is completely absent in organizational closure." (Varela, 1979, p. 56) These concepts intersect only in cases where a network of "feedback loops" constitutes a network meeting the criteria for organizational closure. The notion of externally-generated feedback as a definitory characteristic would make a systemic unity allo-referred (to use Maturana's early terminology) and preclude it from being autonomous (or, therefore, autopoietic):

"...one of the central intentions of the study of autopoiesis and organizational closure is to describe a system with no input or outputs (which embody their control or constraints) and to emphasize their autonomous constitutions; this point of view is alien to the Wienerian idea of feedback simpliciter."

(Varela, 1979, p. 56)

Indeed, it is Varela's contention that the notion of 'feedback' was immediately recognized for its capturing of some aspect(s) of a whole system's characteristic circularity, but that 'information-oriented' interpretations of the concept have obscured rather than illuminated that circularity over time. This can be seen as a failure in acknowledging and theoretically pursuing:

"...the interdependence between the need to consider whole system, and the correlated necessary appearance of circular interactions of processes. We do not feel that the full impact of this cognitive issue has been fully realized. When Wiener brought to the foreground the feedback idea, not only did it become immediately recognized as a foundational concept, but it also raised major philosophical questions as to the validity of the cause-effect doctrine. The picture seemed closer to a circular causation, where one can deal only with the ensuing totality and its manifested stability. In other words, the nature of feedback is that it gives a mechanism, which is independent of particular properties of components, for constituting a stable unit. And from this mechanism, the appearance of stability gives a rationale to the observed purposive behavior of systems and understanding teleology. ... Since Wiener, the analysis of various types of systems bears this same generalization: whenever a whole is identified, its interactions turn out to be circularly interconnected, and cannot be taken as linear cause-effect relationships if one is not to lose the system's characteristics..."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 316)


Cf. : circularity, self-referred, allo-referred, closure, organizational closure, stability


function

A "...notion that arises in the description made by the observer of the components of a machine or system in reference to an encompassing entity, which may be the whole machine or part of it and whose states constitute the goal that the changes in the components are to bring about." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136; Varela, 1979, p. 64) As such, 'function' is an ascription made by an observer to describe the apparent purpose or teleonomy operant for a composite unity or some subset thereof.

As is the case for 'purpose', 'function' must always be recognized as an aspect of the observer's description of a machine / system, and not a constituent feature of the machine / system itself.

"In saying that a function of P is F, we must pay closer attention to the character of F. It must be something like 'circulation', 'support', etc. All these notions suppose a larger, more embracing conceptual scheme: circulation in something, support of something. A functional description necessarily includes a larger context to which F makes reference."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 64-65: 'F' substituted for the Greek 'phi' owing to HTML coding and display constraints)

"...[N]o matter how direct the causal connections may be between the changes of state of the components and the state in which they originate in the total system, the implications in terms of design alluded to by the notion of function are established by the observer and belong exclusively to his domain of description. Accordingly, since the relations implied in the notions of function are not constitutive of the organization of an autopoietic system, they cannot be used to explain its operation."

(Varela, 1979, p. 65)


Cf. : allopoiesis, allopoietic machine / system, purpose, teleonomy.


fundamental circularity

A phrase used by Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) to connote the seemingly paradoxical state of any scientific enquiry into cognition -- the very capacity through which that enquiry is conducted. As these authors introduce it: "Minds awaken in the world. We did not design our world. We simply found ourselves with it; we awoke both to ourselves and to the world we inhabit. We come to reflect on that world as we grown and live. We reflect on a world that is not made, but found, and yet it is also our structure that enables us to reflect upon this world. Thus in reflection we find ourselves in a circle: we are in a world that seems to be there before reflection begins, but that world is not separate from us." (p. 3) Varela alludes to this fundamental circularity in his Afterword to the second (1992) edition of The Tree of Knowledge.

This fundamental circularity makes for problems in analyzing living systems and their cognitive capacities. Maturana alludes to these problems in describing his difficulties in formulating a satisfactory account for these phenomena (Cf. the Introduction to Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp xi ff.), and he explicitly addresses it when he writes of cognition and language as both object and means of enquiry:

"...I must be in them in any explanatory attempt; they are my problem because I choose to explain them; and they are my unavoidable instruments because I must use cognition and language in order to explain cognition and language."

(Maturana, 1988b)

This fundamental circularity of subject matter and mode of enquiry calls into question the objectivism which provides the tacit basis for conventional cognitive studies. Because the only fixed reference point for such enquiry is the fact of the enquirer herself, autopoietic theory proceeds from the explanatory foundation of the observer, and both cognition and language are explained within this theory based upon characterization of the observer as a living system.


Cf. : circularity


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generative mechanism

The mechanicistic denotation for the model proposed in the course of developing a scientific explanation. A synonym for explanatory hypothesis.


gestalt of the computer

A phrase (attributed to Rosenberg, 1974) which Varela invokes (1979, pp. xiii ff.) to connote metaphorical equivalence between the human mind and a computer -- i.e., the metaphor dominant in cognitivism.


Cf. : computer gestalt


ground space

A term introduced in Maturana (1978) to denote that space specified by a composite unity, and which in turns specifies the interactions into which that given unity can be observed to participate:

"...[T]he ultimate and basic space that a composite unity can describe in a consensual domain is the space in which its components exist; the space in which its components exist determines the ultimate domain of interactions through which a composite unity can participate in the generation of a consensual domain."

"...[This]... ultimate space that the components of a composite system define is for such a system its ground space. Men, in particular, specify their ground space, the space which they define as composite unities by describing their components through their interactions through their components, as the physical space."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 57)

As such, 'ground space' is a general delineation for any space manifesting the role / specifications which in the case of living systems are attributed to the physical space. Maturana (1978) is the only paper in which this construct is explicitly delineated.


Cf. : space, physical space


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heteronomous (systems)

Any of "...the class of systems that are driven from the outside, that are defined in terms of external mechanisms of control..." (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, p. 138)


Cf. : allonomy, heteronomy


heteronomy

A term used by Varela to denote the status or character of systems subject to external control -- i.e., the opposite of autonomy. This is apparently a synonym for allonomy. The use of the prefix hetero- here (in opposition to auto-) parallels its usage in the dyad 'heteropoiesis / autopoiesis'. Like the term 'heteropoiesis', 'heteronomy' is basically introduced to illustrate a dichotomy, then exiled into non-invocation.


heteropoiesis

"The space of human design." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136). This term is applied to denote those processes that produce something other than themselves and which are directed at or by a pre-specified purpose or teleonomy. Because such processes (a) generate something other than their own constituent components and (b) are defined with respect to an extrinsic teleology (not connected with the maintenance of the acting system's organization ), they are not autopoietic.


Cf. : allopoiesis, autopoiesis , purpose, teleonomy


higher-order (autopoietic system)

A label for composite systems containing autopoietic systems as constituent elements, and which exhibit autopoiesis themselves. Higher-order autopoietic systems are predicated upon a discrete form of composability, because the constituent autopoietic systems must continue to realize their individual autopoietic characters (as well as participating in the higher-order system) for the attribution to pertain.

"If a system is realized through the coupling of autopoietic unities and is defined by relations of production of components that generate these relations and constitute it as a unity in some space, then it is an autopoietic system in that space, regardless of whether the components produced coincide with the unities that generate it through their coupled autopoiesis. If the autopoietic system thus generated is a unity in the physical space, it is a living system. If the autopoiesis of an autopoietic system entails the autopoiesis of the coupled autopoietic unities that realize it, then it is called an autopoietic system of higher order."

(Varela, 1979, p. 51)


Cf. : second-order, third-order


historical coupling

A term used to frame discussion of the diachronic (ontogenic) path of transformations that the nervous system undergoes with respect to its ambience (which includes the organism in which it is embedded / embodied). Cf. : Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 130-132.


Cf. : ambience, ontogeny


historical phenomenon

"A process of change in which each state of the successive states of a changing system arises as a modification of a previous state in a causal transformation and not de novo as an independent occurrence."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)


Cf. : ontogeny


homeostasis

This construct is often used in cybernetics to connote a system's maintenance of one or more distinguishable variables (parametrizable features) under conditions of dynamic change. As such, it insinuates stability over time and under duress. This term was often invoked in the literature of the 1970's to refer to invariance in a composite unity -- specifically with regard to maintenance of that set of relations comprising its organization . For example: "...an autopoietic machine is a homeostatic (or rather a relations-static) system that has its own organization (defining network of relations) as the fundamental invariant." (Varela, 1979, p. 13)

The above-cited passage clearly qualifies its invocation of 'homeostasis' with respect to an invariance of relations. This has not always been made clear enough in the literature that readers have distinguished Maturana and Varela's usage of the term from others. As a result, 'homeostasis' has, like 'closure', become one of the words most likely to confuse or misorient readers. Over the years, reference to 'homeostasis' has been phased out of the literature.


homeostatic machines

Those machines (systems) that exhibit "the condition of maintaining constant or within a limited range of values some of their variables." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136) One succinct definition of an autopoietic machine is as a homeostatic machine whose "constant variable" is its own organization .


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icogdo

This is a shorthand term introduced in Whitaker (1992) to expedite the problematically continual qualification with respect to the cognitive domain of an observer. The term icogdo translates as "in the cognitive domain". Used as a preposition, it denotes reference to a particular observer (icogdo X = "in the cognitive domain of X"). Used as an adverb, it qualifies a statement with respect to some observer (X appears icogdo = "X appears thus in the cognitive domain of any observer in the given context").


identity

A term typically used in its colloquial sense of that uniquely indexable character or referential locus which specifies one entity from all others. In this colloquial sense, the term appears in such passages as:

"Whenever the structure of a composite unity changes and its organization remains invariant, the identity of the entity remains the same and the unity stays unchanged as a member of its original class..." (Maturana, 1978)

This term approaches formal terminological status in the sense that it is a persistent construct invoked in describing living systems as exhibiting continuity under conditions of change. For example:

"A living system defines through its organization the domain of all interactions into which it can possibly enter without losing its identity, and it maintains its identity only as long as the basic circularity that defines it as a unit of interactions remains unbroken. Strictly, the identity of a unit of interactions that otherwise changes continuously is maintained only with respect to the observer, for whom its character as a unit of interactions remains unchanged."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 9-10; Cf. : Maturana, 1970a, p. 5)

"The identity of an autopoietic unity is maintained as long as it remains autopoietic, that is, as long as it, as a unity in the physical space, remains a unity in the autopoietic space."

(Varela, 1979, p. 32)

Perhaps most indicative of this connotation (of continuity under dynamic change rather than indexicability) is a passage from Maturana's earliest paper, in which he discusses how a circular organization entails (figuratively) a prediction of subsequent interaction(s) sufficiently similar to prior ones which have been critical in maintaining the system so organized. If such a 'prediction' is realized "...the system maintains its identity (integrity) ..." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 6) Nowhere in the literature is the ascribed equivalence between 'identity' and form / configuration so definitively stated.

In the above-cited passages, "identity" is related to more formal constructs such as domain of interactions, organization , circularity, space, and observer. However, "identity" itself is never defined specially within the context of autopoietic theory. This is perhaps most puzzling with respect to organization , which is taken to be that which defines a given composite unity (e.g., to an observer). If organization defines that unity -- at least to the extent that the unity is an exemplar of a given class -- one might well wonder what (if any) extension(s) or qualifications to the construct of organization might serve to pin down "identity" as something more than a common term. The linkage between organization and identity is found throughout the primary and secondary literature, evidenced strongly in passages such as: "By organization Maturana refers to the relations between components that give a system its identity ... Thus, if the organization of a system changes, so does its identity." (Mingers, 1995, p. 29)

While it is generally safe to treat occurrences of this term as colloquial, one must bear in mind that "identity" (as a colloquial term) is never explicitly linked into the formal definitions of (e.g.) unity or entity (as static constructs). The above-cited passage from Maturana (1970a) clearly equates 'identity' with 'integrity' (of a system's form / configuration under conditions of dynamic change), but this is hardly a solidly positive definition. The other citations above are indicative of the relatively informal usage this term receives in the later (and more popular, hence most widely- known and cited) literature. As a result, there is no clear-cut basis for attempting to leverage the theory (i.e., via inference of consequences) employing the informality of this term's usage as a fulcrum.


Cf. : composite unity , entity, individuality, organization , unity


illusion

A term given specific employment by Maturana (1988a) to denote an orientation or claim or explanation which is at odds with a listener's stance with respect to a presumably unary, objective, and unequivocal "reality." In this usage, illusion is a construct which has meaning only within the confines of the explanatory path labeled objectivity-without-parenthesis -- i.e., that explanatory path which is grounded in the presumption of a single universum available for equivalent inspection or apprehension by multiple observers.

"The distinction we usually make between illusion and perception is based in the understanding that perception is the experience of capture of a reality independent of the observer, while illusion is an experience that we live "as if" it was perception, but that occurs in an inadequate connection with an external reality."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 323)

"Illusion", then, is the explanation invoked to account for apparent "perceptual mistakes" made by a living system which orients / responds to something which is not (at least to the ascribing observer) a matter of fact. As a result, "illusion" carries a negative connotation of error (in the path of objectivity-without-parenthesis), and it can be invoked in the interpersonal power games which this path affords (See Also: objectivity-without-parenthesis).

In the alternative explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, such "illusion" is not a conflict between the subject's perception and the objective 'reality' from which said perception presumably results, but rather "...the statement of a distinction listened at from a domain of reality different from that in which it takes place and where it is valid, and the experience of an illusion is an expression in the observer of his or her confusion of explanatory domains." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 32) Indeed, within this explanatory path one must concede living systems' "...inability to distinguish in experience what we distinguish in daily life as perception and illusion." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 29)

More broadly:

"...[W]e cannot distinguish between what we call an illusion, a hallucination, or a perception: illusion, hallucination, and perception are experientially indistinguishable. ... Our incapacity to experientially distinguish between what we socially call illusion, hallucination, or perception, is constitutive in us as living systems, and is not a limitation of our present state of knowledge."

(Maturana, 1988b, 5.0.)

The purported distinction among these classes of phenomena derives not from some a priori status, but rather from the manner in which their explanation is framed with respect to a referentially distinct metadomain. "It is only through the use of a different experience as a metaexperiential authoritative criterion of distinction, either of the same observer or of somebody else subject to similar restrictions, that such a distinction is socially made." (Maturana, 1988b, 5.0.) We engage phenomena through our explanations, but these explanations are always at least one step removed from the phenomenon being explained. There can be no ultimate or final reference point for explanation owing to the fact that "...regardless of the circumstances under which it occurs, its classification as a perception or as an illusion is a characterisation of it that an observer makes through a reference to another different experience that, again, can only be classified as a perception or as an illusion through reference to another one..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 30)


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, perception


indication

Following the usage of George Spencer-Brown in his 1969 book Laws of Form, Varela employs the notion of 'indication' in his own 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy. Given a distinction, an indication is "...a marking of one of the two distinguished states as being primary ('this', 'I', 'us', etc.)..." (Varela, 1979, p. 84) This notion of 'primary' (i.e, a notion entailing 'value') is alluded to in generalizing the delineation of this construct:

"The act of distinction reveals a twofold aspect of the observer-community. On the one hand, it reveals the way in which such a distinction is accomplished: the criteria of distinction. On the other hand, it reveals the intention in selecting such criteria of distinction -- the relative value of the distinction. ...

A distinction cannot exist without its concomitant value. The distinction thus becomes an indication, i.e., an indication is a distinction that is of value. The indicative aspect of any distinction is of central importance because it is what enables the distinction to be changed throughout the history of the observer-community. This is so to the extent that values arise out of the continual self-interpretation of inquiring communities, which reinterpret the traditional or given indications in a partially redundant, but always partially innovative, way. Indications evolve within the uninterrupted process of the hermeneutic circle..."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 107-108)


individuality

"Maintenance of identity by an autopoietic machine independently from its interactions with an observer." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136) This in turn depends upon the construct of identity -- something which has no unique or special definition within the context of autopoietic theory. As such, the construct of "individuality" is best regarded as informal nomenclature used in passing.


Cf. : identity


inference

Owing to its non-symbolic orientation, autopoietic theory does not treat cognition as information processing. As such, there is little in the literature which directly addresses the notion of "inference" as an analytical or creative information processing function -- the manner in which it is treated in cognitivistic accounts of (e.g.) artificial intelligence and cognitive science. To the extent that inference is mentioned in the literature, it is linked to the notion of class as a character of generality delineated with respect to a unity's organization . In the autopoietic account:

"...[I]nductive inference is a necessary function (mode of conduct) that emerges as a result of the self-referring circular organization which treats every interaction and the internal state that it generates as if it were to be repeated, and as if an element of a class. Hence, functionally, for a living system every experience is the experience of a general case, and it is the particular case, not the general one, which requires many independent experiences in order that it be specified through the intersection of various classes of interactions.

... Inductive inference as a structural property of the living organization and of the thinking process, is independent of history, or of the relations between past and present that belong only to the domain of the observer."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 49-50)

The above passage may seem a bit cryptic on first reading. If one were to trace it back to its origins in Maturana (1970a), the linkage between 'inference' and circular organization becomes clearer. In that seminal paper, Maturana employs prediction as an device for illustrating the character of a dynamically self-maintaining system with a circular organization. Such an organization "... implies the prediction that a necessary interaction that took place once will take place again." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 6) Only through such repetition of necessary interactions can the system avoid disintegration. Naturally, this doesn't mean that the exact same interaction occurs on any repetition, only that a sufficiently similar interaction occurs. This 'sufficient similarity' loosens the constraint of exactness and opens up the possibility for any of a number of possibly similar / sufficient interactions -- i.e., a dynamically-circumscribed analogue for a set.

"...[T]he predictions implied in the organization of the living system are not predictions of particular events but of classes of interactions. Every interaction is a particular interaction, but every prediction is a prediction of a class of interactions that is defined by those features in its members which will allow the living system to retain its circular organization ... This makes living systems inferential systems."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 6)

This earlier exposition more clearly exposes the sense in which the later (1980) version of 'inference' is invoked. There should be no confusing of this sense of 'inference' with the colloquial usage of the term to connote a rationally or logically deterministic progression through a series of abstractions.


Cf. : class, cognition, organization , prediction


in-formation

"We can define in-formation as the admissible symbolic descriptions of the cognitive domains of autonomous systems. We shall always write it with the hyphen to convey the differences of this view from that of information in the computer gestalt."

(Varela,1979, p. 266: italics in the original)

In-formation is Varela's label for a perspective on information which is qualified / modified with respect to the mechanicistic, autonomy-oriented stance developed by himself and Maturana in autopoietic theory. A summary of the general critique of traditional views which motivated this reformulation can be found in the Encyclopaedia entry for 'information'. Of the two primary authors on autopoietic theory, it is Varela alone who has gone beyond the criticism / dismissal of conventional notions of 'information' to specify an alternative or analogue framed with regard to this theoretical framework. The most explicit material on this reformulation is to be found in his 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy, where he justifies the variant terminology as follows:

"If we want to make apparent a difference in interpretation, it is quite difficult to use the same words and not be misled by the connotations that they have acquired in common and scientific parlance. The word 'information' (like the word 'order') has been so much associated with representational connotations that it would seem hopelessly lost for any other interpretation."

(Varela, 1979, p. 265)

In one of the literature's rare employments of summary illustration, Varela offers a table in which he contrasts in-formation and information. He differentiates these as extrema in a spectrum, characterized as follows:

"On the one end there is information as referential, instructional, representational. One the other end there is in-formation as constructed, nonreferential or codependent, conversational."

(Varela, 1979, p. 266)

Table (In-/In)formation below is a direct transcription of Varela's illustration.


TABLE (IN-/IN)FORMATION:
Varela's (1979, p. 266) Comparison of In-formation and Information

In-formation Information
In-formation is coherence or regularity, viability Information is a mapping or correspondence
Extrinsic, not operational but only relative to an observer who establishes the uses Intrinsic, operational
Unity is defined autonomously, and relates to it as perturbations Relation to a unity is through allonomous inputs
Environment or world is defined through invariances relative to the system's operation Requires a fixed, given world or environment
Observer-community is, explicitly, what detects the regularities Does not include observer explicitly
In-formation is always interpretation Information is instructive
Generated by structural coupling Generated by definition


Cf. : admissible symbolic descriptions, symbol


information

The colloquial construct for "meaningful data", as used in daily conversation and in cognitivistic literature. Maturana and Varela concentrate on "information" as a flawed explanatory device for analyzing the phenomenology of living systems. More specifically, they criticize the explanatory line which assumes that (apparent) adaptation of organisms to achieve closer consonance with an environment is to be evaluated from the perspective that "... their organization represents the 'environment' in which they live, and that through evolution they have accumulated information about it, coded in their nervous systems. Similarly it has been said that the sense organs gather information about the 'environment', and through learning this information is coded in the nervous system." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 6)

Maturana and Varela explicitly reject the cognitivist view of cognition as information processing.

"This would mean that such inputs or outputs are part of the definition of the system, as in the case of a computer or other machines that have been engineered. To do this is entirely reasonable when one has designed a machine whose central feature is the manner in which we interact with it. The nervous system (or the organism), however, has not been designed by anyone... (T)he nervous system does not 'pick up information' from the environment, as we often hear... The popular metaphor of calling the brain an 'information-processing device' is not only ambiguous but patently wrong."

(Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 169)

Maturana and Varela attribute the capacity for functional discrimination to the organism's structure , not to an internal manipulation of extrinsic 'information" or "signals', as the cognitivist viewpoint would have us believe. In fact, their organizationally- and structurally-oriented account of living systems does not require recourse to a conventional notion of "information". From a perspective focusing upon a system's autonomous nature, any "...bit of information is relative to the maintenance of a system's identity, and can only be described in reference to it ... In this sense information is never picked up or transferred, nor is there any difference whatsoever between informational and noninformation entities in a system's ambient." (Varela, 1979, p. xiv)

An illustrative example of this approach can be found in the treatment given systemic relations of specificity which are often addressed with respect to an "information" construct. Maturana and Varela explain the realization of these relations in terms of the system itself.

"Notions such as coding and transmission of information do not enter in the realization of a concrete autopoietic system because they do not refer to actual processes in it. Thus, the notion of specificity does not imply coding, information or instructions; it only describes certain relations, determined by and dependent on the autopoietic organization..."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 90)

The most extensive discussion of 'information' (in its usual sense, and as it must be reformulated with respect to a cognitive system's autonomy ) in the literature is to be found in Principles of Biological Autonomy (Varela, 1979). Although much of this discussion covers points which can be found explicitly in, or directly inferred from, (e.g.) Autopoiesis and Cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980), Varela's solo treatment adheres more closely to a comparative analysis of 'information' per se. A reformulation of 'information' is one of the central foci delineated in the book's Preface, wherein Varela summarily declares:

"...information -- together with all of its closely related notions -- has to be reinterpreted as codependent or constructive, in contradistinction to representational or instructive. This means, in other words, a shift from questions about semantic correspondence to questions about structural patterns."

Phrased another way, the autopoietic account must re-frame the phenomenon connoted by the conventional construct 'information' from something abstract, symbolic, and extrinsic (to the cognitive system) to something grounded and intrinsic to the system which is 'informed'.

"...[W]e are talking literally about in-formare: that which is formed within. In-formation appears nowhere except in relative interlock between the describer, the unit, and its interactions."

(Varela, 1979, p. xv)

Varela (1979) takes the time to delineate what he sees as critical differences between this in-formation and 'information' as that term is conventionally used in everyday conversation.

Naturally, this structural stance has a bearing on the autopoietic account for communication. Maturana's construct of languaging is formulated in direct opposition to the conventional (cognitivistic) account of language as "... a denotative symbolic system for the transmission of information." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30) The necessity for such a reorientation is motivated by an explanatory or epistemological flaw in the conventional (symbolic processing) account. Such an account "...would demand the pre-existence of the function of denotation as necessary to develop the symbolic system for the transmission of information, but this function is the very one whose evolutionary origin should be explained." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30)

This reformulation of the phenomena to which the explanatory device of "information" has previously been applied requires a significant amount of reflection to digest (Cf. Stafford Beer's comments in the Preface, Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 68-69). The critical point in this digestion process is an acceptance that the relevant behavioral, cognitive, and social phenomena of interest can be comprehensively explained (in the autopoietic account) without recourse to an inferred abstract "information" construct (in the sense in which the term is most conventionally used).

Although the above-delineated critique of conventional notions of 'information' can be found throughout the primary literature (in varying degrees), the reformulation of this problematically biased construct in accordance with autopoietic theory has been pursued by Varela alone -- especially in his 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy. The outline of that reformulated construct is found in the Encyclopaedia entry for Varela's name for it -- in-formation.


Cf. : coding, cognition, communication, in-formation, language, languaging, representation


innovative change

The subclass of compensatory change in an autopoietic system which subsumes those instances where the system's constituent components change (as opposed to changes in the relations among those components -- conservative change).


inquiring community

A term used by Varela (e.g., 1979, pp. 72, 77) to denote a set or group conducting an enquiry. A rhetorical construct which is more specifically defined (with respect to autopoietic issues) in terms of an observer-community.


instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state (of a composite unity)

A descriptive construct pertaining to composite unities, determined by a given composite unity 's structure :

"[T]he domain of all the structural changes that it may undergo with conservation of organization (class identity) and adaptation at that instant; I call this domain the instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state of the composite unity."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.v.)


Cf. : domain of allowable perturbations, domain of changes of state, domain of compensations, domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, domain of interactions, domain of ontogenic transformations, domain of perturbations, domain of states, domain of transitions of states


instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations (of a composite unity)

A descriptive construct pertaining to composite unities, determined by a given composite unity 's structure :

"[T]he domain of all the structural changes that it may undergo with loss of organization and adaptation at that instant; I call this domain the instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations of the composite unity."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.v.)


Cf. : disintegration (2.), domain of allowable perturbations, domain of changes of state, domain of compensations, domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, domain of interactions, domain of ontogenic transformations, domain of perturbations, domain of states, domain of transitions of states


instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations (of a composite unity)

A descriptive construct pertaining to composite unities, determined by a given composite unity 's structure :

"[T]he domain of all the different structural configurations of the medium that it admits at that instant in interactions that trigger in it changes of state; I call this domain the instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations of the composite unity."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.v.)


Cf. : domain of allowable perturbations, domain of changes of state, domain of compensations, domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, domain of interactions, domain of ontogenic transformations, domain of perturbations, domain of states, domain of transitions of states


instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions (of a composite unity)

A descriptive construct pertaining to composite unities, determined by a given composite unity 's structure :

"[T]he domain of all the different structural configurations of the medium that it admits at that instant in interactions that trigger in it its disintegration; I call this domain the instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions of the composite unity."

(Maturana,1988b, 6.v.)


Cf. : domain of allowable perturbations, domain of changes of state, domain of compensations, domain of destructive changes, domain of destructive interactions, domain of interactions, domain of ontogenic transformations, domain of perturbations, domain of states, domain of transitions of states


instructive interactions

A class of interaction which would pertain if "... the state a system adopts as a result of an interaction were specified by the properties of the entity with which it interacts." (Maturana, 1978) A type of interaction in which "...the structural changes that a system undergoes as a result of an interaction with an independent entity are specified by this independent entity..." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139) Phrased another way, instructive interactions are those which are entirely deterministic given the properties and states of two or more interacting systems. Structure- determined systems are not deterministically influenced by others, therefore the notion of instructive interaction does not pertain to systems (e.g., living systems) as they are characterized by autopoietic theory. Maturana and Guiloff label such systems' interactions as selective interactions.

This has a bearing on an observer's ability to engage and explain subject systems. "Systems that undergo instructive interactions cannot be analyzed by a scientific procedure. In fact, all instructable systems would adopt the same state under the same perturbations and would necessarily be indistinguishable to a standard observer." (Maturana, 1978) Within the perspective of autopoietic theory (and particularly Maturana's version of scientific method), "...any description of an interaction in terms of instructions (or of information transfer) is, at best, metaphorical; it does not reflect the actual operation of the systems involved as objects of scientific description and study. " (Ibid.)

It is important to note that instructive interactions correspond to the characterization of communication espoused by cognitivism (the dominant paradigm underlying cognitive psychology and cognitive science since the 1960's). The "information processing" perspective underlying cognitivistic approaches emphasizes what can only be termed instructive interactions, where the 'receiver' adopts a state determined by the state of the 'sender' as projected via the 'message'. This view of language concentrates on '...a denotative system of symbolic communication, consisting of words that denote entities regardless of the domain in which these entities may exist.'(Maturana, 1978, p. 50) Such an approach overlooks the fact that "Denotation ... requires agreement -- consensus for the specification of the denotant and the denoted." (Ibid.)


Cf. : interaction, languaging, metaphor of the tube, selective interaction, structure-determined system, communication, communicative *


intelligence

The sole exploration of the notion of 'intelligence' in the primary literature is the 1980 paper by Maturana and Gloria Guiloff ('The quest for the intelligence of intelligence'). Although it stands alone, the depth to which this article analyzes 'intelligence', both in its conventional connotations and as reformulated in terms of the organism's ontogenic structural coupling, makes it sufficient to the task. Not surprisingly, 'intelligence' (as the term is conventionally invoked) is taken to be an observer-ascribed facility invoked to explain an organism's conduct in lieu of reference to that organism's ontogeny and its structure which determines that ontogeny.

In contrast to the conventional view, Maturana and Guiloff set off to replace the question "What is intelligence?" with the alternative question "How is intelligent behaviour generated?. This replacement derives from their alternative orientation to the entire issue of 'intelligence', which is based on two points:

"... (i), that there is a class of behaviour exhibited by animals in general, and by man in particular, that involves the interactions of two or more organisms or the interactions of an organism and its medium, that an observer calls intelligent behaviour; and

(ii), that the word intelligence is used by the observer to make a connotative reference to the relations and changes of relations that take place between the systems participating in this behaviour, without denoting a particular property or attribute of the individual organisms, or without denoting a particular feature of the individual performances."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137)

In effect, the entire context of explanation is shifted away from that typical approach in which "...intelligent behaviour is viewed as a manifestation of a property of the acting organism..." and to a position from which "...intelligent behaviour is viewed as a conduct whose peculiarity consists in that it is enacted in a particular context as a result of a particular history of interactions of the acting organism with other organisms or with its medium." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137) This shift of vantage affords the following positions:

"...[T]he behaviour of an organism which entails the establishment of, the expansion of, or the operation within a domain of ontogenic structural coupling already established, is that to which we refer to when speaking of intelligent behavior."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 141)

"Intelligence has to do with consensuality, intelligence is not primarily the capacity to solve problems, but it is the capacity to participate in the generation, expansion, and operation in consensual domains as domains of coordinations of behaviors through living together. Problem solving takes place as an operation in a domain of consensuality already established, so it is secondary to consensuality, not prior to it."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

This redefinition leads to five summary implications:

  1. "Intelligent behaviour is necessarily always contextual, and the context is defined by the consensual domain, or the domain of ontogenic adaptation, in which it takes place."

  2. "Any attempt (by an observer) to measure intelligence in an organism would necessarily result in an estimation of the extent of its participation in the domain of consensus, or in the domain of ontogenic adaptation, that he specifies by accepting or refusing its observed conduct as a case of intelligent behaviour."

  3. "Anything that an observer may say about the heritability of intelligence is necessarily a function of what he may say about the heritability of the plastic structures that participate in the structural coupling ..."

  4. "All the cases in which the word intelligence or its derivatives are used in ordinary daily life in our present western cultural tradition, refer to situations that actually involve the establishment of a domain of ontogenic structural coupling or the operation within such a domain."

  5. "All systems that may undergo ontogenic structural coupling are capable of intelligent behavior. Any restriction of the use of the word intelligence and related ones to a subset of these systems, is justified only by human art."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 141)

In a 1996 paper, Maturana and G. Verden-Zöller postulate that the evolutionary expansion of human 'intelligence' (as reformulated above) is intrinsically linked to the concomitant development of love as a defining human orientation of trust and acceptance.


interaction

1.

A term for the dynamic holding between two or more mutually-influencing unities. "Whenever two or more unities, through the interplay of their properties, modify their relative position in the space that they specify, there is an interaction." (Maturana, 1978) Such interaction is qualified with respect to the space within which the interacting unities specify (and, hence, in that space in which they can be engaged and observed). "Whenever two or more composite unities are treated as simple, they are seen to be realized and to interact in the space that they specify as simple unities; however, if they are treated as composites unities, then they are seen to interact through the properties of their components and to exist in the space that these specify." (Ibid.)


2.

A term used more generally to denote a dynamic which does not constitute communication -- i.e., a dynamic characterized by mutually-triggered responses of direct effect, as opposed to mutual orientation in which the participating systems are operating in parallel within their respective domains of interaction or cognitive domains.

In this sense, all behavior is delineated in terms of observed interactions between a unity and its environment. This more general sense of the term is the one entailed in the emphasis on treating a subject unity / system as a 'unit of interactions' in the early literature.


Cf. : behavior, communication, instructive interactions, mutual orientation, orientation, selective interaction, unit of interactions


interactional closure

A term occurring in Varela & Goguen (1978) to denote the character of isolation from influence / interaction which describes a closed system (in the nomenclature of classical cybernetics). This attribution of operational exile is often mistakenly attributed to Maturana and Varela's delineations of autonomous / autopoietic systems, by means of an erroneous phenomenal equivalence drawn between the architectonics and the operation of such systems.

"Please note that when we speak of organizational closure, by no means do we imply interactional closure, i.e., the system in total isolation. We do assume that every system will maintain endless interactions with the environment which will impinge and perturb it. If this were not so, we could not even distinguish it."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 294, emphasis in the original)

In fact, the interactional character of autonomous / autopoietic unities such as living systems has been a key explanatory topic from the beginning. It is interesting to note that in the earliest literature, Maturana emphasized a focal composite unity of interest in terms of its being a unit of interactions. Perhaps it is in part because this mode of delineation faded from the literature by the mid-1970's that the accusations of interactional closure have been so common.


Cf. : closed system, closure, interaction, unit of interactions


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knowledge

"Knowing is effective action, that is, operating effectively in the domain of existence of living beings."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 29)

In contrast with cognitivistic perspectives (wherein "knowledge" is a quantum commodity of symbolizable elements), autopoietic theory defines "knowledge" as a projected evaluation by some observer: "We admit knowledge whenever we observe an effective (or adequate) behavior in a given context, i.e., in a realm or domain which we define by a question (explicit or implicit)." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 174). "The question, 'What is the object of knowledge?' becomes meaningless. There is no object of knowledge. To know is to be able to operate adequately in an individual or cooperative situation." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 53).

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

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 27)


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language

"...[L]anguage is now used to refer to any conventional system of symbols used in communication. A language, whether in its restricted or in its generalized form, is currently considered to be a denotative system of symbolic communication, composed of words that denote entities regardless of the domain in which these entities may exist. Denotation, however, is not a primitive operation. It requires agreement or consensus for the specification of the denotant and the denoted. If denotation, therefore, is not a primitive operation, it cannot be a primitive linguistic operation, either. Language must arise as a result of something else that does not require denotation for its establishment, but that gives rise to language with all its implications as a trivial necessary result. This fundamental process is ontogenic structural coupling, which results in the establishment of a consensual domain."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 50)

At its most general level, Maturana characterizes natural language as "... the system of cooperative consensual interaction between organisms." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 31) As such, language is reconsidered as connotative (as opposed to denotative), meaning that "... its function is to orient the orientee within his cognitive domain without regard for the cognitive domain of orienter." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 32) The functional role of language, then, is "...the creation of a cooperative domain of interactions between speakers through the development of a common frame of reference, although each speaker acts exclusively within his cognitive domain..." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 57) or "... the creation of a consensual domain of behavior between linguistically interacting systems through the development of a cooperative domain of interactions." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 50)

As Maturana's reformulation of 'language' evolved, the allusions to 'cooperative domain of interactions' and 'structural coupling' faded in preference to the now-familiar 'coordinations of coordinations' (of action or beahvior). The seminal 1978 paper 'Biology of Language' in fact uses the term 'coordination' only once:

"The conditions under which a conversation takes place (common interest, spatial confinement, friendship, love, or whatever keeps the organisms together), and which determine that the organisms should continue to interact until a consensual domain is established, constitute the domain in which selection for the ontogenic structural coupling takes place. Without them, a consensual domain could never be established, and communication, as the coordination of noncreative ontogenically acquired modes of behavior, would never take place."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 55, emphasis added)

By the time another decade had passed, however, 'coordinations' had become the primary explanatory construct underlying 'language':

"...[L]anguage is a biological phenomenon because it results from the operations of human beings as living systems, but it takes place in the domain of the co-ordinations of actions of the participants, and not in their physiology or neurophysiology. Languaging and physiology take place in different and non intersecting phenomenal domains. Or, in other words, language as a special kind of operation in co-ordinations of actions requires the neurophysiology of the participants, but it is not a neurophysiological phenomenon."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 45)

"Language as a biological phenomenon consists in a flow within recurrent interactions that constitute a system of consensual coordinations of behavior (see Maturana 1978 and 1988). From this results that language as a process does not happen in the body (nervous system) of the participants in the flow, but in the space of recurrent consensual coordinations of behavior."

(Maturana, 1989)

The characterization of language as a matter of reciprocal coupling in a consensual domain to orientational effect requires diminishing (if not denying) the explanatory importance of the symbols and symbolization by which the phenomenon has been most commonly addressed. To equate Maturana's dynamic, behavioral account with elements of this more conventional approach concentrating on the tokens employed (e.g., phonemes, syntactic patterns, etc.) is a categorical error. This is not to say that such tokens are irrelevant -- only that they are corollaries to the manner in which humans interact via language.

"No behavior, no particular gesture or corporal posture constitutes in itself an element of language, but it is part of it only insofar as it belongs to a recursive flow of consensual coordinations of behavior. So, words are only those gestures, sounds, behaviors or corporal postures, which participate as consensual elements in the recursive flow of the consensual coordinations of behavior that constitute language. Words are, therefore, ways of consensual coordinations of behavior."

(Maturana, 1989)

"...[L]anguage is not a domain of abstractions or symbols, it is a concrete domain of coordinations of coordinations of concrete doings, and symbols and abstractions are secondary to language."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

Maturana has concentrated on the subject of linguistic interaction more so than has Varela. This difference is significant enough that Varela (1989; also Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, p. 7, Figure 1.1) categorize Maturana in terms of his linguistic leaning. The most concentrated and definitive analyses of linguistic interaction from an autopoietic perspective are therefore to be found in the writings of Maturana -- especially Maturana (1978). The most detailed treatment of language with respect to the alternative explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis is perhaps that of Maturana (1988a).

The decade intervening between these papers resulted not in disjunct explanations, but in quite discernible differences in the focus, scope, and perhaps the depth of those explanations. The 1978 paper provides a detailed explanation of language as it arises as consensually orientational behavior between / among interacting autopoietic / living systems. The 1988 paper provides a broader contextualization of this account of language that establishes its place within the biologically- focussed purview or stance of Maturana's theories. Phrased another way, the 1978 paper presents an explanation for the 'mechanics' of language, while the 1988 article (and subsequent ones) discuss the broader ramifications of that explanation without detailed review of those 'mechanics.'

In Maturana's later (e.g., post-1985) writings, 'language' has emerged as something of a 'given' - - an explanatory fulcrum upon which many key concepts are leveraged. It could be argued that in this later period, language has effectively supplanted autopoiesis as the primary basis of explanation. This reflects more of a shift in the phenomena being explained (e.g., away from living systems generally to the human praxis of living in particular) than a shift in either the basic explanatory stance or the details of the explanation per se. In the primary literature of the theory's first decade (e.g., Maturana, 1970a, Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980), living systems were the object of explanation, and language was explained as a capacity of a living system operating as an observer. This corresponds to the tone and direction of the earliest theoretical work: to explain living systems in terms of their form with strict regard to a mechanicistic perspective.

This orientation or focus is well-illustrated in the following passages from the best early paper on language:

"Linguistic behavior is behavior in a consensual domain. When linguistic behavior takes place recursively, in a second-order consensual domain, in such a manner that the components of the consensual behavior are recursively combined in the generation of new components of the consensual domain, a language is established."

(Maturana, 1978, pp. 50-51)

"For an observer, linguistic interactions appear as semantic and contextual interactions. Yet what takes place in the interactions within a consensual domain is strictly structure-determined, interlocked concatenations of behavior."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 52)

Note that the mode of explanation proceeds from the general notion of linguistic behavior (a construct defined in terms of the mechanics of structural coupling in a consensual domain) to specify what it is that a 'language' may be.

In Maturana's latter writings, the reader more typically finds that the observer's praxis of living is the main object of explanation, and the observer is defined in terms of language. This reflects a progressive 'opening up' of the explanatory / theoretical work (at least by Maturana) to address salient aspects of 'everyday life.' For example, consider the following passage:

"...[L]anguage is a biological phenomenon because it results from the operations of human beings as living systems, but it takes place in the domain of the co-ordinations of actions of the participants, and not in their physiology or neurophysiology. Languaging and physiology take place in different and non intersecting phenomenal domains. Or, in other words, language as a special kind of operation in co-ordinations of actions requires the neurophysiology of the participants, but it is not a neurophysiological phenomenon."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 45)

Note that a decade later, the vantage point has shifted somewhat, and that the definition of what a 'language' may be is framed with respect to (observed) coordinations of behavior among participants, without any 'bottom-up' explanatory allusions to the sort of 'mechanics' from which the earlier paper proceeded.

This simultaneously increasing focus on language and decreasing recantation of details on the 'mechanics' has opened up the potential for newcomers to seize on the centrality of language in Maturana's account for our praxes of living without quite grasping the substantial and novel body of explanation (e.g., from the 1970's) of what such 'language' is. This potential has sadly been realized in all-too-common instances where newly-arrived adherents have embraced Maturana's focus on language, while carrying along their previous notions of what language is -- some of which fall squarely within that set of instructive interactions or symbolic 'information processing' that are explicitly refuted by Maturana and Varela.


Cf. : languaging, connotation, cooperative domain of interactions, consensual domain, denotation, orientation


languaging

Maturana views language as the archetypal illustration of a human consensual domain. Linguistic interaction is a venue for action, coupling the cognitive domains of two or more actors. This is reflected in Maturana's preference for discussing "languaging" (an activity) as opposed to "language" (a symbolic schema).

The primary function of linguistic interaction is therefore not conveyance of 'information quanta', but the mutual orientation of the conversants within the consensual domain realized by their interactivity. 'communication' becomes a matter of mutual orientation -- primarily with respect to each other's behavior, and secondarily (only via the primary orientation) with respect to some subject. This is extremely important for delimiting the constraints on an observer's analysis of communicative interactions. In today's conventional (e.g., cognitivistic) approaches, such interaction is described as a semantic coupling -- a process by which each of the observed interactors computes the appropriate response state from some informative input from the other. Maturana warns that this is not warranted:

"(a) because the notion of information is valid only in the descriptive domain as an expression of the cognitive uncertainty of the observer, and does not represent any component actually operant ... and

(b) because the changes of state of a [structurally] determined system, be it autopoietic or not, are determined by its structure , regardless of whether these changes of state are adequate or not for some purpose that the observer may consider applicable."

(Maturana, 1975, p. 322)

This moves linguistic interaction to a conceptual base whose elements apply to a much broader range of actors and interactions than symbolic data. The structural coupling of the participating organisms is the only operative element -- all other items treated in descriptions of linguistic behavior are secondary. How, then, can one account for the seemingly secure framework within which we ordinarily consider conversation to occur -- shared lexicons, objective meanings, and syntactic conventions? Maturana claims: (1) such a question is biased in its presumption that such a framework objectively exists, and (2) such regularities are imposed by an observer:

"If recursion is possible in a particular kind of behavior ... a closed generative domain of behavior is produced. ... What is peculiar about a language, however, is that this recursion takes place through the behavior of organisms in a consensual domain. In this context, the superficial syntactic structure or grammar of a given natural language can only be a description of the regularities in the concatenation of the elements of the consensual behavior. ...This superficial syntax can be any, because its determination is contingent on the history of consensual coupling ... (T)he 'universal grammar' of which linguists speak as the necessary set of underlying rules common to all human natural languages can refer only to the universality of the process of recursive structural coupling."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 52)

This structurally-oriented reformulation of language in terms of consensual behavior is not limited in scope to the observable social interactivity among discursants. In other words, languaging is not some abstract, purely 'social' behavior which occurs 'between' structurally-determined systems; it is instead a phenomenon which is also operationally manifest 'within' each such system:

"To language is to interact structurally. Language takes place in the domain of relations between organisms in the recursion of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of actions, but at the same time language takes place through structural interactions in the domain of the bodyhoods of the languaging organisms. In other words, although languaging takes place in the social domain as a dance of recursive relations of coordinations of actions, interactions in language as structural interactions are orthogonal to that domain, and as such trigger in the bodyhoods of the participants structural changes that change as much the physiological background (emotional standing) on which they continue their languaging, as the course that this physiological change follows. The result is that the social coordinations of actions that constitute languaging, as elements of a domain of recursive operation in structural coupling, become part of the medium in which the participant living systems conserve organization and adaptation through the structural changes that they undergo contingent to their participation in that domain. ... As the body changes, languaging changes; and as languaging changes, the body changes. Here resides the power of words. Words are nodes in coordinations of actions in languaging and as such they arise through structural interactions between bodyhoods; it is through this interplay of coordinations of actions and changes of bodyhood that the world that we bring forth in languaging becomes part of the domain in which our ontogenic and phylogenic structural drifts take place."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.v.)

The reclassification of communicational behavior from conceptual commerce to mutual orientation expands the range of behaviors we may consider as 'communicative'. The autopoietic view of language is not constrained to coded symbols for the manner in which interactors couple. 'The richness attained by a language ... depends necessarily both on the diversity of behaviors that can be generated and distinguished by the organisms that participate in the consensual domain.' (Maturana, 1978, p. 51) By disengaging interaction from lexical reference and grammatical performance, the autopoietic model implicitly allows for all manner of non-verbal or extra-verbal signalling -- a scope more akin to semiotics than mainstream linguistics.


Cf. : communicative *, metaphor of the tube, structural coupling, linguistic domain


learning

" If the structural coupling of the organism to its medium takes place during its ontogeny, and if this structural coupling involves the nervous system, an observer may claim that learning has taken place because he or she observes adequate behavior generated through the dynamics of states of a nervous system whose structure has been specified (selected) through experience. If, in these circumstances, the observer wants to discriminate between learned and instinctive behavior, he or she will discover that in their actual realization, both modes of behavior are equally determined in the present by the structures of the nervous system and organism, and that, in this respect, they are indeed indistinguishable. The distinction between learned and instinctive behaviors lies exclusively in the history of the establishment of the structures responsible for them.

Any description of learning in terms of the acquisition of a representation of the environment is, therefore, merely metaphorical and carries no explanatory value. Furthermore, such a description is necessarily misleading, because it implies a system in which instructive interactions would take place, and such a system is, epistemologically, out of the question. In fact, if no notion of instruction is used, the problem becomes simplified because learning, then, appears as the continuous ontogenic structural coupling of an organism to its medium through a process which follows a direction determined by the selection exerted on its changes of structure by the implementation of the behavior that it generates through the structure already selected in it by its previous plastic interactions. Accordingly, the significance that an observer may see a posteriori in a given behavior acquired through learning plays no part in the specification of the structure through which it becomes implemented. Also, although it is possible for us as human beings to stipulate from a metadomain of descriptions an aim in learning, this aim only determines a bias, a direction, in a domain of selection, not a structure to be acquired. This latter can only become specified during the actual history of learning (ontogenic structural coupling), because it is contingent on this history. A learning system has no trivial experiences (interactions) because all interactions result in a structural change, even when the selected structure leads to the stabilization of a given behavior." (Maturana, 1978, p. 45)


linguistic

The attribution for a communicative behavior "...that arises in an ontogenic structural coupling between organisms and that an observer can describe in semantic terms." (Maturana and Varela, 1992, p. 209)

As such, this term is employed to point to those phenomena which have heretofore been analyzed as semantic phenomena, even though the autopoietic analysis of these phenomena is framed from an alternative explanatory perspective. This rhetorical tactic has the advantage of orienting newcomers and other readers to 'linguistic' topics without requiring a major investment in new nomenclature. However, it has the disadvantage of leaving the casual reader with an impression that the character of linguistic phenomena addressed by autopoietic theory is in some sense isomorphic with the manner in which conventional explanations have been framed (e.g., in terms of quantum 'information' transfer). Perhaps this is one basis for the recurring suggestions that communicative networks (from conversations to the Internet) are themselves 'autopoietic'. Examples: linguistic behavior(s); linguistic interaction(s)


Cf. : semantic, semantic coupling


linguistic behavior

1. [in passing, somewhat colloquial usage...]

Any of those behaviors which are conventionally construed as 'communicative' and explained as semantic phenomena -- i.e., as exchanges of a quantum 'information' commodity or as instances of semantic coupling.


2. [in more precise usage...]

"Linguistic behavior is behavior in a consensual domain. When linguistic behavior takes place recursively, in a second-order consensual domain, in such a manner that the components of the consensual behavior are recursively combined in the generation of new components of the consensual domain, a language is established."

(Maturana, 1978, pp. 50-51)

In more precise usage, the term 'linguistic behavior' denotes those behaviors which entail consensual coordinations of (coordinations of...) behavior -- i.e., those behaviors whose domain of effectuation is best construed as involving relations within the organizationally / operationally closed nervous system of the observer, as opposed to those behavioral interactions involving structural coupling between the observer and her environment / medium (to which most particular invocations of the term 'behavior' refer). This more focused usage of the term dates back to Maturana's earliest writings on language and languaging. What has changed is that as time has gone on, the term is used more and more in this specific sense (and less for passing denotation of 'that behavior we conventionally treat as communicative').

Phrased another way, linguistic behavior is typically that behavior manifested by the observer recursively coupling with her own states in such a manner as to couple within the 'virtual domain' of her organizationally / operationally closed embodiment. The connection of this notion to that of the 'observer' is illustrated in Maturana and Varela's definition of the observer as:

"A system that through recursive interactions with its own linguistic states may always linguistically interact with its own states as if with representations of its interactions."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)

As such...

"Linguistic behavior is orienting behavior; it orients the orientee within his cognitive domain to interactions that are independent of the nature of the orienting interactions themselves."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30)

Just as the foundation for the realization of linguistic behaviors is the organizational and operational closure of the nervous system, the foundation for the mode of operation entailed in linguistic behaviors is recursion. It is recursive linguistic behavior which provides for the progressive 'steps' or 'levels' by which Maturana (1995) outlines the generation of self-consciousness as a higher-order phenomenon predicated on mechanistic operations in a system with closure. (Cf. the entry for self-consciousness for more details on this outline).


Cf. : language, languaging, linguistic, recursion, self-consciousness


linguistic domain

1.

In specific usage,this term connotes that consensual domain in which linguistic phenomena are realized between or among observers. In other words, a consensual domain referenced with strict regard to linguistic interactivity.

"[A]... consensual domain of communicative interactions in which the behaviorally coupled organisms orient each other with modes of behavior whose internal determination has become specified during their coupled ontogenies."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 120)

"[A]... consensual domain in which the coupled organisms orient each other in their internally determined behavior through interactions that have been specified during their coupled ontogenies."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)


2.

In more general / casual usage, this term is invoked to connote the realm of linguistic phenomena, particularly as they pertain to a given organism, as in: "...the domain of all its linguistic behaviors." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 209)


Cf. : consensual domain, linguistic.


linguistic interaction

Any of those interactions which are conventionally construed as 'communicative' and explained as semantic phenomena -- i.e., as exchanges of a quantum 'information' commodity or as instances of semantic coupling.


Cf. : linguistic


living organization

A term occasionally employed (typically in the earliest literature) to denote the organization characteristic of living systems -- i.e., autopoietic organization.

"The circular organization in which the components that specify it are those whose synthesis or maintenance it secures in a manner such that the product of their functioning is the same functioning organization that produces them, is the living organization."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted as Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9)

"The living organization is a circular organization which secures the production or maintenance of the components that specify it in such a manner that the product of their functioning is the very same organization that produces them."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 48)


Cf. : autopoietic organization, organization , organization of the living


living system

As defined by Maturana and Varela -- an autopoietic system realized in the physical space. As such, a living system is a "... homeostatic system whose homeostatic organization has its own organization as the variable that it maintains constant through the production and functioning of the components that specify it, and is defined as a unit of interactions by this very organization." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 48) The necessary attribute of circular organization which underlies this explanation is clearly stated in the earliest paper in the literature base:

"Living systems as they exist on the earth today are characterized by exergonic metabolism, growth, and replication (and reproduction), all organized in a closed causal circular process that allows for evolutionary changes in the way the circularity is maintained, but not for the loss of the circularity... This circular organization determines that the components that specify it be those whose synthesis it secures. Hence, its circular nature is essential for its maintenance and its operation as a unit."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 5)

Working from this basis, Maturana and Varela generated the formalisms permitting them to recast living systems in terms of a systemic perspective with a systematic framework. As a result, within the context of autopoietic theory, living systems are composite unities ('systems'), subject to the descriptive and explanatory qualifications entailed in the theory's specific delineation of those constructs:

Living systems, as all systems are, are structure determined composite entities that exist in two non-intersecting phenomenal domains, namely: a) the domain of operation of their components, that is, the domain of their structural dynamics; and b) the domain in which they interact and relate as totalities, that is, the domain in which they are wholes and operate (exist) as such. ... In the particular case of living systems, these two phenomenal domains are the domains of its anatomy and physiology, and its domain of behaviour, respectively (Maturana 1987)."

(Maturana, 1995)


Cf. : autopoiesis , autopoietic machine / system, physical space


love

"Love consists in opening a space of existence for an other in coexistence with oneself in a particular domain of interactions. As such love is expression of a spontaneous biological congruence and has no rational justification: love takes place because it takes place and lasts as long as it lasts. Also love is always at first sight, even when it appears after circumstances of existential constraints that force recurrent interactions; and this is so because it takes place only when there is an encounter in structural congruence, and not before. Finally, love is the source of human socialization, not a result of it, and anything that destroys love, anything that destroys the structural congruence that it entails, destroys socialization. Socialization is the result of operation in love, and takes place only in the domain where love takes place."

(Maturana, 1985)

'Love' has, since the mid-1980's, become an increasingly focal topic within Maturana's writings. The term is employed by Maturana to connote an attitude or orientation of open acceptance -- particularly as it pertains to another or others. This construct (as Maturana develops it) is grounded in the biology of the organism. The dynamics of ontogenic structural coupling in consensual domains provides the basis for the phenomenon of 'love' among humans, in that the:

"...condition of spontaneous dynamic reciprocal fitting that gives rise to recurrent interactions with conservation of individual organization and reciprocal adaptation along the ontogeny of living systems, while it lasts, is the phenomenon that we call love in the human domain. Or, in other words, I am saying that love is the spontaneous dynamic condition of acceptance by a living system of its coexistence with another (or others) living systems, and that as such love is a biological phenomenon that requires no justification: love is a spontaneous dynamic reciprocal fitting, a happening that either takes place or does not."

(Maturana, 1985)

"...[L]ove is the domain of those behaviours or dynamic body dispositions through which another arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself..."

"Love is a manner of relational behavior through which the other arises as a legitimate other (as an other that does not need to justify his or her existence in relation to us) in a relation of coexistence with oneself."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

As such, 'love' is given a relatively specific connotation within the scope of autopoietic theory -- one which should not be lightly equated with commonly-associated connotations such as (e.g.) eros or romance.

"...[L]ove is not a virtue, or something special, it simply is a biological phenomenon as the domain of those behaviors through which social life arises and is conserved; it is simply the biological dynamics that constitutes trust and mutual acceptance in body and spiritual relations of nearness and intimacy."

"We are not talking about love as a virtue or as something good from a moral, religious, or philosophical perspective. We are talking biology, we are talking about our animal constitution as the particular kind of primates that we are as members of an evolutionary trend centered around the conservation of the biology of love and the expansion of intelligence. Love is the grounding of our existence as humans, and is the basic emotioning in our systemic identity as human beings."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

Framed with respect to consensuality and acceptance, this delineation of 'love' can be linked to human evolution, particularly as it has manifested a trend toward sociality.

"The evolutionary history of our lineage as a history of the conservation of a neotenic trend in the biology of love, is a history of social life also centered on consensuality and cooperation, not on competition or aggressive strife. As such our evolutionary history is a history of expansion of the capacities for consensuality, and, hence, of expansion of intelligence."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

This closing allusion to 'intelligence' can be adequately evaluated only with regard to the manner in which that common term is reformulated in autopoietic theory (cf. the entry for intelligence; Maturana & Guiloff, 1980). In this reformulated view, intelligence (to the extent it is relatively metrizable) is proportional to the degree to which an organism is capable of operation in a domain of ontogenic structural coupling. In the case of languaging humans, it is proportional to the degree to which an organism operates (or can operate) in a consensual domain. The emphasis on consensuality provides a point of linkage between intelligence and love (as both are reformulated by Maturana and his collaborators):

"The only emotion that expands intelligence is love, and this is so because intelligence has to do with the acceptance of the legitimacy of the other and the expansion of the possibility for consensuality that such acceptance entails."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

Furthermore, this 'sociality' which has evolved among humans is not the motivation for 'love', but rather the result of this co-orientational capacity:

"If love occurs, there is socialization, if it does not occur, there is no socialization. Furthermore, I am also saying that as such love is expression of a spontaneous structural congruence that constitutes a beginning that can be expanded or restricted, and even disappear, in the coontogenic structural drift that begins to take place when it takes place. And, since I say that social phenomena are the phenomena that take place in the spontaneous coontogenic structural drift, I am also saying that love is the fundament of social phenomena and not its consequence, and that social phenomena in any domain of interactions last only as long as love lasts in that domain."

(Maturana, 1985)


Cf. : emotion, consensual domain, intelligence, social phenomena


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machine

"A unity in the physical space, defined by its organization, which connotes a non-animistic outlook; and whose dynamisms is apparent."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)

In the literature, the term 'machine' is sometimes apparently used as a synonym for 'system' (as that term is colloquially used). However, in Maturana and Varela (1980), the term 'system' is reserved as a general label for any discernible composite unity (Cf. system), and the reader is advised to bear in mind that this apparent synonymity is constrained to the scope of the term 'composite unity' as it is delineated in the literature. The reliance on the notion of 'machine' in the early writings derives directly from Maturana and Varela's stance of mechanicism. The reliance on 'machine' as an explanatory construct is extremely important in the context of establishing and maintaining such a mechanistic perspective.

"In saying that living systems are 'machines' we are pointing to several notions that should be made explicit. First we imply a nonanimistic view ... Second, we are emphasizing that a living system is defined by its organization, and hence that it can be explained as any organization is explained, that is, in terms of relations, not of component properties. Finally, we are pointing out from the start the dynamism apparent in living systems and which the word 'machine' or 'system' connotes."

(Varela, 1979, p. 7)


Cf. : composite unity , mechanical phenomenology, mechanical phenomenon, mechanicism, mechanistic explanation, organization , system


manner of listening

A phrase employed by Maturana (1988a) to denote a receptive stance or mode of apprehension in which an observer entertains potential explanations and accepts or rejects them according to whether or not they satisfy an implicit or explicit criterion of acceptability. A given manner of listening will specify (or at least circumscribe the set subsuming) the criterion of acceptability which must be satisfied. In other words, the manner of listening and the criterion of acceptability are mutually entailing. Because of this, each such manner of listening "...defines a domain of explanations, and the observers who claim to accept the same explanations for their respective praxes of living." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 28)

This construct (and its associated constructs) set the stage for analyzing those explanatory paths by which an observer may address living systems' cognitive capacities (including her own). The paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis represent "...two fundamental kinds or manners of listening for explanations that an observer may adopt according to whether he or she asks or does not ask for a biological explanation of his or her cognitive abilities." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 28)


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, criterion of acceptability


materiality

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 10) to establish the basis for distinguishing between subclasses of a synthetic explanatory paradigm. The term denotes physical realization or character -- i.e., the quality of being realized in the physical space.


Cf. : physical space, synthetic (explanatory paradigm)


materially synthetic (explanations)

Those explanations of phenomena which are synthetic (as opposed to analytic) and which allude to or concern the materiality of the phenomenon being explained. Cf. : Varela (1979, p. 10)


Cf. : analytic (explanatory paradigm), explanation, materiality, synthetic (explanatory paradigm)


Maturana, Humberto R.

The theory labeled biology of cognition or autopoietic theory derives from the innovative work of Humberto R. Maturana, a biologist who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1958. In 1969, he first elaborated his emerging perspective on living systems and their cognition in the seminal paper Neurophysiology of Cognition (Maturana, 1969). From 1969-70 he served as a visiting professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the Biological Computer Lab. During the 1970's, Maturana (solo and/or in conjunction with his student and colleague Francisco J. Varela) developed the formal components of the theory for which he is known. Pushing beyond the original scope of neurophysiology and biology, Maturana extended the theory to explain human interactivity (languaging) and those modes of social conduct which linguistic behavior affords. During the 1980's, Maturana's work was increasingly admired in the psychotherapeutic community (especially among family therapists), and much of his later writings address subjects of import to this community -- e.g., aesthetics, love, and education.

Currently professor of biology at the University of Chile in Santiago, Maturana was awarded the Premio Nacional de Ciencias (Chile's National Science Prize) in 1994. He continues through the date of this writing as a very active scholar, writer, and lecturer considered to be the focal "leading edge" cognitive theorist by (e.g.) Gregory Bateson, James Lovelock, and Fritjof Capra.

Professor Maturana has always emphasized his status as a biologist, and that his work proceeds from a biological perspective.


mechanical phenomenology

"The phenomenology generated by relations between processes realized through the properties of components." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137) One of the two major classes of explanatory phenomenologies (the other being statical phenomenology) (Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 112 ff.). Mechanical phenomenology subsumes the biological phenomenology which specifically pertains to autopoietic living systems.


Cf. : machine, mechanicism, biological phenomenology, phenomenology, statical phenomenology.


mechanical phenomenon

A phenomenon which is defined in terms of relations among processes realized through the properties of components (as opposed to the components' properties themselves). (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 112 ff.) The class of phenomena addressed via mechanical phenomenology. The class subsuming biological phenomena, which are accordingly addressed via biological phenomenology.


Cf. : biological phenomenology, biological phenomenon, mechanical phenomenology


mechanicism

The fundamental approach taken by Maturana and Varela in addressing living systems: ".. a biological outlook which asserts that the only factors operating in the organization of living systems are physical factors, and that no non-material vital organizing force is necessary." (1980, p. 137) An explanatory stance from which "...[n]o forces or principles will be adduced which are not found in the physical universe." (Varela, 1979, p. 6)

Varela goes somewhat farther in characterizing such an approach as "...nothing more or less than the essence of a modern mechanicism." The problem is that this position is not necessarily isomorphic with the 'mechanism' or 'mechanistic approach' attributed (typically in the course of criticism) to a variety of reductionist, rationalistic enterprises. The term 'mechanism' has a substantial history in philosophy, during which it has fallen subject to multiple nuanced subdefinitions. Neither Maturana nor Varela have explicitly gone beyond the general sort of comments cited above to precisely state which of these philosophical nuances may or may not pertain to their own usage of the term.


Cf. : machine, mechanical phenomenology, mechanical phenomenon, mechanistic explanation


mechanism

1.

A label for the focal referent generated in a scientific explanation, when operating in accordance with the scientific method (at least as delineated by Maturana).

"We modern natural scientists accept a given proposition as a scientific explanation of a particular situation of our praxis of living as observers (or phenomenon to be explained), only if it describes a mechanism that produces that situation or phenomenon as a consequence of its operation..."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 34)

On a casual reading, the invocation of 'mechanism' may appear to connote any abstraction of causal or similar influence. However, in circumscribing scientific explanations as being limited to structure-determined systems, Maturana appears to use this term in a very literal sense:

"A dynamic structure determined system, that is, a structure determined system constituted as a system in continuous structural change, is a mechanism. In these circumstances, to claim that the criterion of validation of a scientific explanation is centred around the proposition of a mechanism that gives rise to the phenomenon to be explained as a consequence of its operation is to claim that science can only deal with structure determined systems. Or, in other words, to claim that a scientific explanation entails the propositions of a mechanism that generates the phenomenon to be explained, is to claim that the observer can propose scientific explanations only in those domains of operational coherences of his or her praxis of living in which he or she distinguishes structure determined systems."

(Maturana, 1988a, pp. 36-37)

It is not entirely clear whether: (a) the above-cited passage implies absolute circumscription of an ascription of 'mechanism' to composite unities solely; or (b) the apparent equivalence drawn between 'mechanism' and 'structure-determined system' is itself limited to the case of scientific explanation vis a vis such systems (e.g., living systems). This seeming ambiguity is reinforced by the fact that the explanatory mechanism is necessarily manifest in a phenomenal domain distinct from that in which the explained phenomenon is realized. (Cf. Maturana, 1988a, pp. 36 ff.)


Cf. : scientific explanation, scientific method


2.

The more common label for the general philosophical perspective or approach embraced by Maturana and Varela as mechanicism. If there is any basis upon which Maturana and/or Varela distinguish their espoused 'mechanicism' from 'mechanism', it is not detailed in the literature.


3.

To the extent that it is apparently employed to denote a dynamic structure-determined system (cf. the above-cited passage from Maturana, 1988a), a possible synonym for machine. However, such an apparent equivalence is explicitly discernible only in the above-cited passage.


mechanistic explanation

One of two alternative classes of explanation which an observer may invoke in addressing living (and hence cognitive) systems (the other being vitalistic explanation). This dichotomy is most explicitly laid out in Maturana (1978), wherein he differentiates the two based on the focal characteristic of the phenomenon being explained that is emphasized in the observer's explanation. In a mechanistic explanatory mode, the emphasis is on the relations evident in the subject of study, while in the vitalistic explanatory mode, the emphasis is on properties of the subject (or its discerned subcomponents).

"In a mechanistic explanation, the observer explicitly or implicitly accepts that the properties of the system to be explained are generated by relations of the components of the system and are not to be found among the properties of those components. The same applies to the mechanistic explanation of a phenomenon, in which case the observer explicitly or implicitly accepts that the characteristics of the phenomenon to be explained result from the relations of its constitutive processes, and are not to be found among the characteristics of these processes. ... In a mechanistic explanation the relations between components are necessary ..."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 30)

Maturana illustrates mechanistic explanation with the equation of a body's summary weight with the collective weight of its components. "The relation sum, applied to the components as defined by their property weight, determines the property weight of the body." (Maturana, 1978)

The emphasis on relations ties into a corresponding attention to the organization of the composite unity which is being explained. Because the subject's organization is by definition a set of relations (e.g., among components and/or processes) " a mechanistic explanation is an explicit or implicit subject dependent statement that entails, or describes, the organization of a system." (Maturana, 1978)

Because mechanistic explanations rely upon relational delineation, they should be (if properly executed) resistant to the potential pathology of phenomenal reduction -- i.e., the drawing of unwarranted explanatory equivalence between phenomenal domains specified in observation. "The reality described through mechanistic explanations ... implies the possibility of an endless generation of nonintersecting phenomenal domains as a result of the recursive constitution (organization) of new classes of unities through the recursive novel combinations of unities already defined. For epistemological reasons, then, mechanistic explanations are intrinsically nonreductionist." (Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : explanation, phenomenal domain, phenomenal reduction, vitalistic explanations


mechanistic system

A term implicitly used in passing as a synonym for structure-specified system (i.e., structurally- determined system) in Maturana & Guiloff (1980, p. 137).


Cf. : structurally-determined, structure-specified


medium

A term typically used in the general sense of that ambience within which an organism / system is manifest and within which it operates as a unity (Cf. Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xx). However, if and when used in this sense, 'medium' is not synonymous with environment, which connotes that surrounding (i.e., "environing") context discerned by an observer in her interactions with the given organism / system.

"Every structure determined system exists in a medium. This condition of existence is, necessarily, also a condition of structural complementarity between system and medium in which the interactions of the system in the medium are only perturbations. If structural complementarity is lost, if there is a single destructive interaction, then the system disintegrates and does not exist. This necessary structural complementarity between structure determined system and medium that I call structural coupling, is a condition of existence for every system. The part of the medium in which a system is distinguished, that is, the part of the medium that is operationally complementary to it, I call its niche. The niche is always specified and obscured by the system which is the only one that can reveal it. Furthermore, I call environment the part of the medium that an observer sees surrounding a system while this obscures its niche."

(Maturana, 1983, Section D.)

It is important to bear in mind that 'medium' is employed to connote something which may or may not correspond to ambience (in its strict definition), and that as the venue for perturbation 'medium' has connotations which are often colloquially ascribed to an 'environment' (a term which has a more restricted meaning in the context of Maturana and Varela's theories). For example, in discussing structural plasticity and structural determination, Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 138) write of a system maintaining its autopoiesis that "...structural changes are compensated in such a manner that the system continues its life (autopoiesis) in the perturbing medium..." In this passage, it is unclear (a) whether the ambience / environment distinction is important, and (b) if so, to which side of that terminological divide the phrase "perturbing medium" refers. This becomes still more confusing when, in the section immediately following, these authors speak of an autopoietic system having "...recurrent plastic interactions with entities of its external medium, living or not, and with its own states (its internal medium)..." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 138)

To give another example, in explaining the critical notion of organization , Maturana (1978) states "...nothing is said about the medium in which an autopoietic system may exist, or about its interactions or material interchanges with the medium..." As was the case for the above-cited passages, it is unclear whether in this case 'medium' connotes 'ambience' or (more probably) 'environment'. This potential ambiguity persists in more recent literature, as in the following passage concerning systems:

" The elements that do not belong to a system but with which the elements of the system may interact and relate, form an operational medium in which the system exists as a composite unity."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

Occasionally, it would appear a colloquial usage of 'medium' is treated as equivalent with another construct, such as domain of interactions (Cf. Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xxi). For example, in discussing the boundary constraint of disintegration on structural coupling, Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 139) refer to "...the medium (system of perturbations) within which a system operates..." Finally, in later writings Maturana has tended to employ the term 'medium' as an apparent synonym for the environing realm with which a unity couples -- i.e., as an apparent analogue for environment.

To summarize, 'medium' is a key construct with some arguably fluid occurrences in the literature base. As an analogue for 'ambience', the term 'medium' is used with a generality that approximates that of a 'space.' As an analogue for a given ' domain', the term's usage would seem to be subject to those features distinguishing a domain from a space. Finally, as an analogue for 'environment', the term comes closest to being the sort of descriptive construct of a given observer as is context (as that term is specifically used in Maturana and Varela, 1980).

As such, one can invoke different occurrences in the literature to support distinct connotations of the term 'medium.' Such contradictory connotations raise a risk in invoking the term at all. This is most potentially problematical where this term is employed as analogue to both ambience and environment -- two constructs specifically differentiated for the purpose of maintaining clear referential segregation between (a) reference to the ontic context of a unity (ambience) and (b) the observer's observed context for the unity and its operations (environment). To profligately use 'medium' without clearly stating it as implying 'ambience', 'environment', or something else simply blurs the distinctions between at least two very important frames of reference.

In discussing Maturana's general principles, Winograd and Flores (1986) make a specific qualification of their usage of 'medium':

"...[W]e use the term 'medium' rather than 'environment' to refer to the space in which an organism exists. This is to avoid the connotation that there is a separation between an entity and its 'environment.' An entity exists as part of a medium, not as a separate object inside it."

(Winograd & Flores, 1986, p. 43, footnote 7)

This definitively makes 'medium' a synonym for the more strictly delineated term 'ambience' (as used in Maturana & Varela, 1980). Allusion to Winograd and Flores' version, therefore, affords an opportunity to clarify one's intent in employing these terms.

On the other hand, reliance upon Winograd and Flores (regarding this issue) also entails risk. Owing to the fact that many folks' initial introduction to autopoietic theory is through Winograd and Flores, there is a substantial potential for newcomers to carry these authors' own qualification forward as if it were isomorphic with Maturana and/or Varela's usage. Although this qualification parallels those places where Maturana and Varela equate 'medium' with 'ambience', it must be borne in mind that this is only one of the connotations to be found in the primary literature. As such, considerable caution should be employed in using 'medium' without explicit qualification of the author's connotations.

Figure AmbEnv graphically illustrates the variant delineations of 'ambience', 'environment', and 'medium' as discussed here. The figure is located within the entry for 'environment'.

It is also interesting to note that in those cases where the extent or "corpus" of the unity is being distinguished from its environs (regardless of that 'medium' or 'ambience' subsuming both), no one has seen fit to introduce a label for the complement of 'environment'. If the 'environment' lies outside the extent of the given unity, what is the label for the 'negative space' occupied by the unity itself? Is such a label needed? Is it even of any possible use?


Cf. : ambience, domain, environment, space


metadomain

A construct occasionally introduced to denote a "virtual" or "higher-order" domain generated through the recursive nature of the observer, with respect to an operation of distinction in an original domain (upon which the metadomain is based), and within which the observer can refer to the product of that distinction as if it were a discrete entity. For example, an observer:

"...characterizes a unity by stating the conditions in which it exists as a distinguishable entity, but he cognizes it only to the extent that he defines a metadomain in which he can operate with the entity that he characterized."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xxiii)

An even more specific allusion (with respect to composite unities) occurs in the following passage:

"A composite unity is a unity distinguished as a simple unity that through further operations of distinction is decomposed by the observer into components that through their composition would constitute the original simple unity in the domain in which it is distinguished. A composite unity, therefore, is operationally distinguished as a simple unity in a metadomain with respect to the domain in which its components are distinguished because it results as such from an operation of composition."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.iii.)

Perhaps the most extensive reference to metadomains occurs in discussing explanations. For example, Maturana writes:

"[W]hatever we say about how anything happens takes place in the praxis of our living as a comment, as a reflection, as a reformulation, in short, as an explanation of the praxis of our living, and as such it does not replace or constitute the praxis of living that it purports to explain. Thus, to say that we are made of matter, or to say that we are ideas in the mind of God, are both explanations of that which we live as our experience of being, yet neither matter nor ideas in the mind of God constitute the experience of being that which they are supposed to explain. Explanations take place operationally in a metadomain with respect to that which they explain."

(Maturana, 1988b, 4.0.)


Cf. : domain, distinction, explanation


metaphor of the tube

A construct attributed as the conventional description for communication. According to this construct: "...communication is something generated at a certain point. It is carried by a conduit (or tube) and is delivered to the receiver at the other end. Hence there is a something that is communicated, and what is communicated is an integral part of that which travels in the tube." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 196)


Cf. : the "conduit metaphor" of Michael Reddy (The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language, in Ortony, A. (ed.), Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979, 284-324).


mood

A specific instance of emotion ascribed by an observer to an observed organism "... in which the observer does not distinguish directionality or possibility of an end for the type of actions that he or she expects the other to perform." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 42)


Cf. : emotion, emotioning


multiversum (plural = multiversa)

A label used by Maturana (1988a) to denote the plurality of legitimate "realities" available to an observer within the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis. In this explanatory path, an observer "...realises that he or she lives in a multiversa, that is, in many different, equally legitimate, but not equally desirable, explanatory realities..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31) Elsewhere, Maturana (1988b, 10.vi.) labels a single such "explanatory reality" a versum. This construct is the opposite of the single, all-subsuming universum which is the presumptive foundation and the resultant mandatory focus in the explanatory path of objectivity-without- parenthesis.


Cf. : universum, explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, constituted objectivity, objectivity-without-parenthesis, versum


mutual orientation

Reciprocal orientation among interacting cognitive systems -- particularly in the context of linguistic behavior or languaging.


Cf. : linguistic behavior, languaging, orientation


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natural drift

A term coined by Maturana and Varela ca. 1984 to denote the non-deterministic trajectory of apparent change. To illustrate, in addressing epistemological issues Varela states:

"The origin of knowledge (and the making of sense) therefore does not resemble the design of a system which is optimized to match a given external standard. We could say it resembles, rather, a tinkering, a dynamic sculpting, a building of structures from the materials available to an organism that it puts together as they appear in a drift which follows one of many possible paths. In this process, any actual path of tinkering will arise from the process of natural drift. The key to this process is that the consequences of any interactions are to be found, not in the nature of the perturbation that triggered them, but in the way the structure compensates for such interactions according to its dynamic landscape ... A path of natural drift is a history of internal validations of interactions by an autonomous entity ..."

(Varela, 1984b, p. 219, italics in the original)

The above-cited example is of drift with respect to ontogeny. More broadly, Maturana and Varela applied the notion of natural drift to phylogeny in explaining their non-optimizational view of evolution. They use the metaphor of water drops falling upon a peaked hill (cf. Maturana & Varela, 1992, pp. 107-108), and the ongoing variation in the courses of those drops' flow down the hillside, to illustrate how natural drift -- although determined solely by the character of the drops themselves as presented with affordances for flow -- appears to an observer as a phenomenon of increasing variation.

Whether invoked for explanation of ontogenic or phylogenetic change, 'natural drift' is essentially a shorthand way of stating that local conditions of the subject system (e.g., its autopoietic / autonomous features) determine under environmental perturbation a course of proliferation which to an observer may appear to be a process determined or optimized with respect to a more global frame of reference.


Cf. : ontogenic drift, structural drift


niche

That portion of the ambience with which a living system interacts. "The niche is defined by the classes of interactions into which an organism can enter." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 11) In other words, the organism's "... organization implies a prediction of a niche, and the niche thus predicted as a domain of classes of interaction constitutes its entire cognitive reality.' (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 11) As such, a niche is a functionally-ascribed domain, and it cannot be defined independently of the living system(s) that specifies and realizes it. (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9) In concurrent and later writings, the notion of the interactional domain so prescribed is typically labeled domain of interactions. In later writings, the notion of a circumscribed 'cognitive reality' is usually denoted by the separate label of cognitive domain.

Based on the qualification with respect to a domain of interactions, "niche" is a construct distinct from environment, which denotes the observer's delineation of the medium in which an organism is observed to operate.

"Niche and environment, then, intersect only to the extent that the observer (including instruments) and the organism have comparable organizations, but even then there are always parts of the environment that lie beyond any possibility of intersection with the domain of interactions of the organism, and there are parts of the niche that lie beyond any possibility of intersection with the domain of interactions of the observer."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 10-11)


Cf. : cognitive domain, domain of interactions, environment, phenomenological domain


nomic

An adjectival term employed by Varela (1979) in differentiating between operational explanations and symbolic explanations. Varela uses the term 'nomic' in the sense of 'lawlike' (cf. p. 66) to connote the notion of regular ('lawlike') relationships following onto one another in constituting the phenomenon being explained. Particularly in analyzing symbolic explanations, Varela utilizes this term in phrases such as 'nomic links' and 'nomic chains', which are invoked to connote a course or path proceeding in accordance with such lawlike relationships. Where there is a difference between operational and symbolic explanations, it lies in the fact that (a) operational explanations presume such a course of nomic transitions and are framed with regard to them, whereas (b) symbolic explanations presume "...that phenomena occur through a certain order or pattern, but the fundamental focus of attention is on certain moments of such an order, relative to the inquiring community." (Varela, 1979, pp. 66-67)


Cf. : explanation, operational explanations, symbolic explanations


nonmaterially synthetic (explanations)

Those explanations of phenomena which are synthetic (as opposed to analytic) and within which the materiality of the phenomenon being explained "... is implied but is, as such, irrelevant". (Varela, 1979, p. 10)

As such, Varela ascribes to autopoietic theory the nature of a nonmaterially synthetic explanation: "The definitory element of living unities is a certain organization (the set of interrelations leading to a given form of transitions) independent of the structure, the materiality that embodies it; not the nature of the components, but their interrelations." (Varela, 1979, p. 10)


Cf. : analytic (explanatory paradigm), explanation, materially synthetic (explanations), organization , structure nonmaterially synthetic (explanations)


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object

Those discrete referents conventionally treated as objects extant in an 'objective world' are reformulated in autopoietic theory in terms of indexicable coordinations (of coordinations...) of behavior on the part of a languaging system (i.e., an observer).

"... [W]e bring forth a world of distinctions through the changes of state that we undergo as we conserve our structural coupling in the different media in which we become immersed along our lives, and then, using our changes of state as recurrent distinctions in a social domain of coordination of actions (language), we bring forth a world of objects as coordinations of actions with which we describe our coordinations of action. Unfortunately we forget that the object that arises in this manner is a coordination of actions in a social domain, and deluded by the effectiveness of our experience in coordinating our conducts in language, we give the object an external preeminence and validate it in our descriptions as if it had an existence independent from us as observers.

(Maturana, 1983, Section H.)

"...[O]bjects arise in language as consensual coordinations of actions that operationally obscure for further recursive consensual coordinations of actions by the observers the consensual coordinations of actions (distinctions) that they coordinate. Objects are, in the process of languaging, consensual coordinations of actions that operate as tokens for the consensual coordinations of actions that they coordinate. Objects do not pre-exist language."

(Maturana, 1988b, 8.ii.b.)

"Objects arise in language as consensual coordinations of actions that in a domain of consensual distinctions are tokens for more basic coordinations of actions, which they obscure. Without language and outside language there are no objects, because objects only arise as consensual coordinations of actions in the recursion of consensual coordinations of actions that languaging is. For living systems that do not operate in language, there are no objects; or in other words, objects are not part of their cognitive domains."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.iv.)

As such, the predication of descriptions and explanations on discrete 'objects' in the world -- our typically manner of describing and explaining -- has proven so 'effective' in mutually orienting and operationally coordinating ourselves in our praxis of living (individually and collectively) that we overlook the processual character of their discernment and formally embrace the 'shorthand' of treating such 'objects' as if they 'existed' in some ontically absolute sense.

The linkage of 'objects' with the observer outlined above parallels and reinforces the observer-dependent aspects of explanations given (particularly in the core literature) for the construct of 'unity' (both simple and composite). It also provides evidence that Maturana's personal tendency to use the term 'entity' rather than 'unity' does not connote anything violating the observer-contingent character attributed to the latter, which must be considered a synonym (or at least a subset) of 'object'.


Cf. : distinction, entity, self-consciousness, language, languaging, linguistic behavior, unity, recursion


objectivity

A term which Maturana evolved during the 1980's to specifically connote a manner of addressing the 'world' in our praxes of living such that cognitively differentiable subcomponents of our medium (perceptual objects) are treated as if they were discrete objects existing independently of our engagement with and discernment of them.

"Objects arise in language as consensual coordinations of actions that in a domain of consensual distinctions are tokens for more basic coordinations of actions, which they obscure. Without language and outside language there are no objects, because objects only arise as consensual coordinations of actions in the recursion of consensual coordinations of actions that languaging is. ... Since we human beings are objects in a domain of objects that we bring forth and operate upon in language, language is our peculiar domain of existence and our peculiar cognitive domain. Within these circumstances, objectivity arises in language as a manner of operating with objects without distinguishing the actions that they obscure. In this manner of operating, descriptions arise as concatenations of consensual coordinations of actions that result in further consensual coordinations of actions which, if performed without distinguishing how objects arise, can be distinguished as manners of languaging that take place as if objects existed outside of language."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.iv.)

It is important to note that this sense of 'objectivity' (as 'propensity for discrete referentiality') differs from more common usages of the term (e.g., as 'an independent and unbiased manner'). Yet it is this sense which properly serves as the basis for (e.g.) 'objectivity-in/without-parenthesis'.


Cf. : distinction, entity, self-consciousness, language, languaging, linguistic behavior, unity, recursion, object


objectivity in parenthesis (also objectivity-in-parenthesis)

A phrase connoting that (in the context of the biology of cognition, and particularly with respect to explanations of cognition and language) conventionally-presumed "objective" statements about an "objective" world are qualified with respect to the observer who is explaining cognition and language. The fundamental circularity which makes these phenomena both (a) objects of explanation and (b) instruments of that selfsame explanatory activity would seem to leave one without a solid foundation in reformulating (i.e., explaining) the praxis of living within which these phenomena are primary elements.

Maturana's own approach to this apparent paradox is to qualify existence with respect to the observer and her operations of observation (i.e., her biological constitution as the fundament for her cognitive and linguistic processes). This contravenes the objectivistic presumptions of conventional enquiry (i.e., objectivity without parenthesis), on the grounds that if such an alternative explanatory stance "... questions the properties of the observer, if it asks about how cognition and language arise, then it must ... take as constitutive that existence is dependent upon the biology of the observer." (Maturana, 1988b, 5.i.) This, then, is Maturana's espoused vantage for addressing cognition and language:

"...I shall proceed without using the notion of objectivity to validate what I say; that is, I shall put objectivity in parentheses. In other words, I shall go on using an object language because this is the only language that we have (and can have), but ... I shall not claim that what I say is valid because there is an independent objective reality that validates it. I shall speak as a biologist, and as such I shall use the criterion of validation of scientific statements to validate what I say, accepting that everything that takes place is brought forth by the observer in his or her praxis of living as a primary experiential condition, and that any explanation is secondary."

(Maturana, 1988b, 5.ii.)

The explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis entails commitment to 3 primary or axiomatic positions on the part of the observer:

"a) that he or she is, as a human being, a living system;

b) that his or her cognitive abilities as an observer are biological phenomena because they are altered when his or her biology is altered; and

c) that if he or she wants to explain his or her cognitive abilities as an observer, he or she must do so showing how they arise as biological phenomena in his or her realisation as a living system."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 29; vertical spacing added for readability)

As a secondary or corollary commitment in this path, the observer must accept any and all constitutive features of living systems -- most particularly their imputed inability to distinguish (within the scope of their experience) between perception (i.e., apprehension of something objectively existent) and illusion (a misapprehension of something objectively existent). This has the effect of opening the doors for multiple -- even infinite -- viable or valid explanations, as well as an equivalent diversity of explanatory domains. As such, this explanatory path allows for a multiversum instead of a unary universum.

The inability to distinguish between perception and illusion derives from the observer's unary domain of interactions, including those interactions with her own states within her closed nervous system. Phrased another way, if all operations of the observer in her cognitive domain are of a uniform type or character, there would be no a priori method by which she could discern those (purportedly) externally-impelled from those internally-impelled. As a result, any experience's "...classification as a perception or as an illusion is a characterisation of it that an observer makes through a reference to another different experience that, again, can only be classified as a perception or as an illusion through reference to another one..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 30)

Where the path of objectivity-without-parenthesis predicates "valid cognition" upon achievement of congruence between some internal state or conceptualization and the presumptively "objective" external world, objectivity-in-parenthesis situates the focus of congruence within the ongoing experience of the observer. As such, "...existence is constituted with what the observer does, and the observer brings forth the objects that he or she distinguishes with his or her operations of distinction as distinctions of distinctions in language." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 30)

This in turn means that discrete referents (e.g., "objects" in the observer's environing medium) are not so much indexicable subcomponents of something "out there" as congruent intersections among the domains and operations immersing the observer coincident with their discernment. "[T]he objects that the observer brings forth in his or her operations of distinction arise endowed with the properties that realise the operational coherences of the domain of praxis of living in which they are constituted." Insofar as this "constitution" is contingent upon the observer's acting in language, those "objects" which are presumed to evidence "perception" [receipt and re-presentation of something entirely extrinsic to the cognizing observer] instead evidence the coherences precipitating from that observer's state and stance.

According to Maturana (Cf. 1988a), these points lead to three conclusions:

  1. "Each configuration of operations of distinctions that the observer performs specifies a domain of reality as a domain of operational coherences of his or her praxis of living..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31) For such a domain of reality, the particular "objects" populating it are brought forth in terms of such coherences, which establish the contextual basis for engagement. "[F]or example, the domain of physical existence is brought forth as a domain of reality through the recursive application by the observer in his or her praxis of living of the configuration of operations or distinctions constituted by measurements of mass, distance, and time." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31)

  2. "Each domain of reality constitutes a domain of explanations of the praxis of living of the observer as this uses recursively the operational coherences that constitute it to generate explanatory reformulations of his or her praxis of living." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31) In other words, the manner of constitution of the domain of reality in turn specifies or prescribes that set or range of explanations which the observer may potentially acknowledge as relevant to the given circumstance. This occurs through the linkage between (a) the operational coherences within an observer's praxis of living by which she brings forth the given domain of reality and (b) those coherences which pertain to the observer's reformulation of her praxis of living by way of explanation. Maturana illustrates this linkage by noting "...the recursive application of the operational coherences of the praxis of living of the observer that constitute the physical domain of existence [Cf. : 1) above -- Ed.] as the criterion of acceptability for the explanatory reformulation of the praxis of living of the observer constitute the domain of physical explanations." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31)

  3. "Although all domains of reality are different in terms of the operational coherences that constitute them and, therefore, are not equal in the experience of the observer, they are all equally legitimate as domains of existence because they arise in the same manner as they are brought forth..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 31) This affords a multiplicity of legitimation or validation in explaining experience, and it claims a uniform "face validity" for the multiversa which the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis portends.

NOTE: The ontological diagram (Cf. Maturana, 1988a, p. 32) illustrates the relationships between the two explanatory paths.


Cf. : explanatory path, objectivity-without-parenthesis, praxis of living, constituted objectivity, transcendental objectivity, multiversum, universum, perception, illusion, domain of reality, ontological diagram, parenthesis


objectivity without parenthesis (also objectivity-without-parenthesis)

A phrase connoting the presumptive stance that statements made about an "objective" world independent of the explaining observer have actual validity -- i.e., such statements are not diluted by qualification of that "objective" status with respect to (a) that observer's biological constitution or (b) whatever apprehensional or interpretative peculiarities derive from her immersion in her praxis of living (experience). The explanatory path which is the alternative to objectivity in parenthesis / parentheses, and a synonym for transcendental objectivity.

In this explanatory path, "...the observer implicity or explicitly accepts his or her cognitive abilities, as such, as his or constitutive properties, and he or she does so by not accepting, or by rejecting, a complete enquiry into their biological origin." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 28) By denying or avoiding this enquiry into the nexus at which the subjects of interest (cognitive capacities) and the instruments by which they are pursued (cognition and language) meet, the observer must look somewhere else for the fundament upon which to base analysis. Under the rubric of transcendental objectivity, the observer "...implicitly or explicitly assumes that existence takes place independently of what he or she does, that things exist independently of whether he or she knows them, and that he or she can know them, or can know of them, or can know about them, through perception or reason." (Ibid.)

Phrased another way, within the path of objectivity- without-parenthesis the observer prioritizes the extrinsic over the intrinsic, and projects the status of ultimate 'reality' onto that which environs her. explanations framed within this path therefore point or refer to something "out there": "...some entity such as matter, energy, mind, consciousness, ideas or God..." (Ibid.) "[I]t is the listening by the observer with a criterion of acceptability that entails a reference to some entity that exists independently of what he or she does for a reformulation of the praxis of living to be accepted as an explanation of it that constitutes this explanatory path and, in fact, defines it." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 29)

Such a perspective "...entails the assumption that existence is independent of the observer, that there is an independent domain of existence, the universum, that is the ultimate reference for the validation of any explanation." Within this universum, entitative elements (i.e., objects, entities) "...exist with independency of the observer that distinguishes them, and it is this independent existence of things (entities, ideas) that specifies the truth." This perspective is based on a presumption of holistic unity for the universum -- i.e., that it is essentially undifferentiable with respect to its mode of existence. This in turn sets the stage for simplistic reductionism as a mode of explanation, insofar as a unary mode of existence would seem to preclude gross categorial error in linking explanations for differentiable phenomena at separate levels of granulation or composability. (The quoted passages are taken from Maturana (1988b), section 5.iii)

In addition to its epistemological biases, objectivity without parenthesis entails a particular mode of explanatory validation -- one which affords the potential for a referential exclusivity which in turn may be leveraged so as to claim authority or power. "He or she who has access to reality is necessarily right in any dispute, and those who do not have such access are necessarily wrong. In the universum, coexistence demands obedience to knowledge." (Maturana, 1988b, 5.iii.) By virtue of this, "...this explanatory path is constitutively blind (or deaf) to the participation of the observer in the constitution of what he or she accepts as an explanation." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 29)

The last point cited is very important, because it sets the stage for social or even political ramifications of this explanatory path. Maturana has since the mid-1980's increasingly emphasized that objectivity without parenthesis tacitly underlies an explanatory power game. The invocation of an "objective [i.e., objective without parenthesis] rational argument" to persuade someone else carries a presumptive force, owing to "...the implicit or explicit pretense that the other cannot refuse what our argument claims because its validity as such rests on its reference to the real." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 26) This in turn relies on "...the additional explicit or implicit claim that the real is universally and objectively valid because it is independent of what we do, and once it is indicated it cannot be denied." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 26) As such, in this explanatory path "...a claim of knowledge is a demand for obedience." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 29) This is the basis for social leverage in this explanatory path; the invocation of 'objectivity' affords advantage by insinuating a "...privileged access to the real that allows us to make our rational arguments." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 26)

Because this explanatory path aspires to (and demands) adherence or consistency with regard to the objective universum, it affords a basis for distinguishing between perception (apprehension of some objective referent) and illusion (misapprehension of some objective referent). This distinction in turn allows observers in this path to denigrate divergent orientations as "illusion" and discount them out of hand.

NOTE: The ontological diagram (Cf. Maturana, 1988a, p. 32) illustrates the relationships between the two explanatory paths.


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, praxis of living, illusion, perception, ontological diagram, parenthesis


observer

1.

One of the key constructs in autopoietic theory, denoting a cognitive system capable of linguistic behavior -- most definitively with respect to itself by virtue of its closure (e.g., of the nervous system).

"A system that through recursive interactions with its own linguistic states may always linguistically interact with its own states as if with representations of its interactions."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)

Through this recursive internal interaction, the system's own linguistic states serve as sources of perturbation / deformation for the system itself. Phrased another way, such a system is self-coupling.

A "... living system who can make distinctions and specify that which he or she distinguishes as a unity, as an entity different from himself or herself that can be used for manipulations or descriptions in interactions with other observers. An observer can make distinctions in actions and thoughts, recursively, and is able to operate as if he or she were external to (distinct from) the circumstances in which the observer finds himself or herself. "

(Maturana, 1978, p. 31)

As a consequence:

"[O]bserving is both the ultimate starting point and the most fundamental question in any attempt to understand reality and reason as phenomena of the human domain. Indeed, everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him- or herself."

(Maturana, 1988, p. 27)

In later (e.g., post-1985) writings, Maturana has increasingly tended to introduce and define the observer with less strict regard to the earlier formalisms. Specifically, the latter-day definitions offered for "observer" tend to emphasize "language" (typically absent elaboration of its connotations as laid out in Maturana (1978)) within a context more colloquial than that of the 1970's-era literature. Where the earlier definitions (e.g., the papers reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980) emphasized closure and internal dynamics as constitutive of the "observer", the latter-day Maturana definitions emphasize referential / indexical openness and interactions with the environment. Phrased another way, the earlier mode of definition focused on the internal relationships which afforded a composite unity the capacity to operate as an observer. The later mode of definition instead focuses upon the manner in which that observer operates in language. For example:

"We human beings operate as observers, that is, we make distinctions in language."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 26)

"An observer is, in general, any being operating in language, or, in particular, any human being, in the understanding that language defines humanity. In our individual experience as human beings we find ourselves in language, we do not see ourselves growing into it: we are already observers by being in language when we begin as observers to reflect upon language and the condition of being observers. In other words, whatever takes place in the praxis of living of the observer takes place as distinctions in language through languaging, and this is all that he or she can do as such."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.i.)

While there is no demonstrable conflict between the earlier and later foci in defining "observer", there is similarly little demonstrable overlap (unless one is conversant enough with the literature base to "fill in the blanks"). In the earlier literature, the observer is constituted by virtue of a particular mode of organization permitting recursive structural coupling with itself. In the later literature, the observer "arises" by virtue of her operation in "language." The benign interpretation is that these are nothing more than complementary perspectives on one subject. However, the preponderance of the colloquial / language-arisen version in the literature of the last decade (i.e., Maturana's papers) has demonstrably resulted in some newcomers being unfamiliar with (and/or wholly overlooking) the mechanistic, structure-oriented theoretical elements (in the earlier literature) for which the latter expositions sometimes seem a popularized shorthand.


2.

The term used more generally to denote one or another cognitive system (operating as an observer 1.) in its interactions. At the extreme, the term sometimes occurs in near-colloquial usage to denote someone who watches or apprehends a given phenomenon or event. This usage, though distinguishable from 1., is not entirely distinct; it essentially addresses the operation of an observing system presumed to be constituted in accordance with the connotations of the more formal specifications given above.

Varela (1976) illustrates that even in this (more allusive) frame of reference, the observer is still subject to rigorous specification:

"Three main properties (at least) characterize an observer:

(i) capacity for indication: to decide boundaries, to come up with nodes, systems, to have criteria for stability.

(ii) capacity for time: to chop a net and start a sequence, to compute through a process, to approximate the stability of a whole.

(iii) capacity for agreement: to externalize, to synchronize with other observers, to re-produce other's distinctions and follow corresponding time patterns.

Let us call an observer anything possessing these properties. I am taking a conscious mind to be characterizable, for the present purpose, as observer-able.

...For an observer [it] is necessarily the case that whatever he describes (sees, perceives, understands) is a reflection of his actions (perception, properties, organization). There is a mutual reflection between described and describer. They are mutually revealing." (Varela, 1976, p. 65)


The construct of the observer is perhaps the most crucial nexus in the explanatory web of autopoietic theory. The observer is the subject of explanation, in the sense that the biology of cognition builds up a progressive set of explanations serving to delineate her operations. Similarly, the observer is the subject explaining, in the sense that all theories, statements, etc., are the product of an observer (2.) whose operations in this role are (within the scope of the theory) circumscribed by her status as an observer (1.). Phrased another way, the observer's explaining (as an act) is addressed with strict regard to the observer explanations (devised and elaborated by Maturana and Varela).

In one sense, this requisite interrelationship was presumed to be one of the starting points for the theory. This is well illustrated by Maturana's comments on the status of science and scientific explanations:

"...[W]e are seldom aware that an observation is the realization of a series of operations that entail an observer as a system with properties that allow him or her to perform these operations, and, hence, that the properties of the observer, by specifying the operations that he or she can perform determine the observer's domain of possible observations."

(Maturana, 1978)

In other words, conventional Western science (operating in the explanatory path of objectivity- without-parenthesis) treats 'observation' as controlled access to a presumably objective world, whose character and characteristics are available for unequivocal inspection. Maturana has spent decades looking into that which has been overlooked in this attitude -- that perhaps it is the character of the observer which specifies (or at least qualifies) her observations. In the early stages of developing the biology of cognition, it was the observer which was the focal subject of analysis, and this analysis was pursued from a stance of mechanicism and with primary regard to cognition as a biological phenomenon.

Once the characteristics and constraints of a subject observer had been laid out, the stage was set for elaborating how such an observer could operate in everyday life (i.e., in her praxis of living). The reciprocal status of the observer noted above (as both explainer and explained) has unfortunately become blurred in later writings which (although consistent with the earlier, more detailed analyses) begin with the observer (2.) and proceed to describe her operations in an ordinary setting. Without attention to the background to these later writings (e.g., attention to the notion of observer 1.), newcomers have been known to overlook the particulars of the stance, the method, and the explanations from which Maturana's latter (and most popular) writings derive.


Cf. : consensual distinction, metadomain, observer-community, phenomenology, phenomenological domain


observer-community

The term used by Varela (1979) to denote a multiplicity of observers participating in a common enquiry with respect to a system of interest: "...persons who embody the cognitive point of view that created the system in question, and from whose perspective it is subsequently described." (Varela, 1979, p. 85)

Cf. inquiring community


ontogenic adaptation

The one of two subcategories of adaptation (the other being evolutionary adaptation) which pertains to individual autopoietic / living systems. Generally, this is an observer-ascribed character of ongoing structural coupling "...between an organism and its medium of interactions..." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 140), in which "the changes of state of the organism correspond to the change of state of the medium." (Maturana, 1975, p. 326) This apparent effect is a result of the "...coupling of the changing structure of a structurally plastic autopoietic unity to the changing structure of the medium..." (Maturana, 1978, p. 38)

Where structural coupling between / among organisms is realized in a generated consensual domain, Maturana and Guiloff (1980, p. 141) label ontogenic adaptation's analogous construct a domain of ontogenic adaptation.


Cf. : adaptation, domain of ontogenic adaptations, evolutionary adaptation, ontogeny, structural coupling


ontogenic drift

A subcategory of drift pertaining to the life and experience of an individual living system within the scope of its continuance as an autopoietic unity. The:

"...history of structural changes of a system in its domain of existence, that follows a course configured instant by instant following the path in which, in its interactions, it conserves organization and adaptation. The drift is a process of "all or nothing", that is, either the system conserves its organization and adaptation and remains in drift, or it disintegrates. Therefore, in ontogenic structural drift and in conserving adaptation, system and circumstance change together, so that a system will never find itself out of place or incongruent with the medium."

(Maturana & Mpodozis, 1992, Appendix)

As illustrated in the above-cited passage, this term is also invoked as ontogenic structural drift.


ontogeny

"The history of the structural transformation of a unity."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)

Put another way (and with specific regard to living systems), ontogeny is "...the history of maintenance of [the system's] identity through continuous autopoiesis in the physical space." (Varela, 1979a, p. 32)

Staying with the specific example of autopoietic systems, this 'continuous autopoiesis' necessarily entails a continuity of the organization which exemplifies the given system. This central role of organization in delineating 'maintenance of identity' is reflected in a similar central role in qualifying the manner in which ontogeny (as defined herein) may proceed. Varela (1979a, p. 32) states that for an autopoietic system "...all the changes that it may undergo without loss of identity, and hence with maintenance of its defining relations, are necessarily determined by its invariant organization." Although organization, then, specifies the manner or range of dynamics operant in the system's ontogeny, it does not specify the precise course of ontogeny. Instead, "...the sequence of such changes is determined by the sequence of these deformations." (Ibid.)

Combined with the indistinguishability of internal vs. external perturbations, this intertwining of structural determination (synchronic state transformation) and ontogenic coupling (diachronic course of coupling) into a single ontogeny induces: (1) a complexity or richness of potential behaviors; and (2) a complexity of potential descriptions for those behaviors. As such, structural / ontogenic determinism cannot be equated with strict causal determinism unless the observer has full and unequivocal access to both the structural state and ontogenic history of the observed in addition to access to unequivocal predictive rules governing the observed's transformations. For a more detailed explanation of these points, the reader is referred to Varela (1979, pp. 32-33).


Cf. : structural coupling


ontological diagram

A label used by Maturana (1988a) for a graphic figure illustrating the relationships between the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis.

Ontological Diagram (Maturana, 1988a, p. 32)

This diagram divides the possible explanatory paths with respect to the dichotomy between objectivity-in-parenthesis (the right half) and objectivity-without-parenthesis (the left half). In all cases, an observer is explaining phenomena she engages in her experience (praxis of living). The two explanatory paths are differentiated according to whether or not the observer / explainer ascribes 'objectivity' (independence from observer and observation; i.e., 'without parenthesis') or '(objectivity)' (dependence upon observer and observation; i.e., 'in parenthesis'). In the case of objectivity-without-parenthesis (the prevailing worldview of the Enlightenment and, hence, modern enquiry), there is assumed to be one all-subsuming reality (a universum). This universum is explained in terms of discrete (presumably objective) elements (e.g., 'matter', energy', 'mind', 'God'), and the criterion of acceptability for an explanation is one of 'truth' (i.e., adherence to the presumed model / element(s)). In the case of objectivity-in-parenthesis, observer-dependency of explanation opens up a realm of multiple explanations and, hence, multiple 'realities' (a multiversum) explained in terms of operations of distinction, and the criterion of acceptability for an explanation is one of 'operational coherence.'


Cf. : explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, parenthesis


ontological domain

A domain of ontological presumptions or foundations entailed by an explanatory path. Specifically, Maturana (1988a, p. 32) states that the explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis entail two "...fundamental ontological domains..." -- the domain of constitutive ontologies and the domain of transcendental ontologies, respectively.


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, domain of constitutive ontologies, domain of transcendental ontologies, parenthesis


operational closure

Generally speaking, operational closure simply connotes that, given a network instantiating a composite unity, the (relevant) effects of processes or activities (i.e., 'operations') of the components are manifested solely within the bounds of that composite unity (i.e., within the network so delineated). This presumes organizational closure plus the added condition that the effects of the processes in {P} (the configuration of processes definitive of a unity U) operate completely within the confines of N (the network of processes {P}).

Autopoietic systems exhibit operational closure because "...their identity is specified by a network of dynamic processes whose effects do not leave that network." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 89) Operational closure is exemplified by the nervous system, which "... functions as a closed network of changes in relations of activity between its components... [where]...every change of relations of activity leads to further changes of relations of activity" (Ibid., p. 164).

As a species of 'closure', operational closure provides one of those points upon which critics have accused Maturana and/or Varela of espousing closed systems (as that label is used in classical cybernetics). Most such criticisms target the construct of organizational closure, upon which operational closure is contingent. In refuting the notion of autonomous systems being closed systems, the following passage come closest to illustrating the status of operational closure in this debate:

"Please note that when we speak of organizational closure, by no means do we imply interactional closure, i.e., the system in total isolation. We do assume that every system will maintain endless interactions with the environment which will impinge and perturb it. If this were not so, we could not even distinguish it."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 294, emphasis in the original)

This does not, however, completely close the issue. Both the system's engagement with its environment / medium and its constitutive components' engagement with each other are 'interactions' (in the specific sense of that term in autopoietic theory). As such, one might still question the grounds for differentiating interactional closure with respect to the environment / medium (i.e., seen from the 'outside in') from 'operational closure' (as a variety of interactional closure seem from the 'inside out').

"This openness to interaction, of course, raises an important objection to the ... [Closure Thesis -- Ed.] : where do we draw the line to separate those interactions that participate in the system's organization [i.e., 'operation's, as used here -- Ed.], and those that are environmental disturbances? This is admittedly fuzzy. But this fuzziness is a result of the fact that there are many alternative criteria of distinction ... [invocable in adducing a system's boundary and organizational closure -- Ed.]. Once a criterion of distinction (and hence some procedure to testing stability) is given and fixed, the boundaries of a system are perfectly clear."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 294)

In other words, the explanatory reliance on (a) what might be called an autonomous system's internal interactivity among components (i.e., its 'operations'); and (b) the 'closure' of the network of processes and transformations constituting these operations does not conflict with that system's being open and subject to external interactivity with its environment (or 'medium', as Maturana prefers). Summarily stated: operational closure does not mean interactional closure. The real issue is the delineation of the set of system dynamics into the categories of operation / internal and 'interaction' / external -- something which is itself contingent on the particular domain and manner of engagement through which the given observer distinguishes the system in the first place.

It is, then, the cognitive point of view which provides the basis for differentiating operational closure from interactional closure. For a given composite unity (system) S addressed from the behavioral view, S's internal operations are obscured behind / beyond that system's boundary. From this view, S is not interactionally closed (e.g., by virtue of being observable), but its operational closure is unavailable for inspection (except to the extent it is evidenced in S's organizational closure). From a recursive view, S's operational closure can be observed (on the basis of S's components being observable), but the system's interactional status with the environment / medium is obscured by the boundary, through which exogenous 'interactions' are discernible only in terms of their perturbatory projections within the system. Finally, S's components are themselves subject to evaluation on the same terms -- meaning that a recursive view of S still leaves S's components individually addressable as simple unities (as was S from a behavioral view). The operation / interaction distinction upon which the respective closures are framed is therefore an a priori distinction contingent upon the cognitive point of view from which the system is observed. Because 'operation' and 'interaction' are therefore manifest in distinct domains of observation, any evaluation of their respective closures must remain similarly distinct.


Cf. : autopoietic closure, closure, Closure Thesis, interaction, interactional closure, organizational closure


operational coherence

This term appears often in the post-1985 writings of Maturana -- most particularly in Maturana (1988a), where it is invoked again and again in delineating the explanatory path of objectivity-in- parenthesis. The label is not given a separate or discrete definition. One must gather from context that it connotes congruence in the cognitive operations of a given observer. Such "operational coherences" afford the harmony across otherwise distinct domains of experience (See Also: Maturana, 1988a, pp. 30-31, on the linkage between domain of reality and domain of explanations) that provides the basis for consistent indexicality or referentiality (as opposed to the presumptive indexicability of objectively-extant entities embraced in the path of objectivity-without- parenthesis). As such, this term is closely linked with the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis and the domain of constitutive ontologies associated with this path.


Cf. : objectivity-in-parenthesis, explanation, explanatory path


operational explanations

As discussed in Varela (1979), one of the two main classes of explanation (the other being symbolic explanations). As with any form of explanation, it entails that "...the recorded phenomena are reformulated or reproduced in conceptual terms that are deemed appropriate." (p. 66) What is specific to operational explanations is that:

"... the terms of such reformulations and the categories used are assumed to belong to the domain in which the systems that generate the phenomena operate. ... A characteristic feature of an operational explanation is that it proposes conceptual (or concrete) systems and components that can reproduce the recorded phenomena. This can happen through the specification of the organization and structure of a system, as in the mechanistic framework adopted here."

(Varela, 1979, p. 66)

This last quoted passage indicates at least some measure of correspondence between Varela's operational explanations and Maturana's later delineation of scientific explanations. Both require the provision of a model / system (in Maturana's terms, an explanatory hypothesis) which, as a mechanism, can (re-)produce the phenomenon of interest. On the other hand, the above-cited passage clearly states an isomorphism of domains in which (a) the subject system operates and (b) the reformulations / mechanism(s) proffered in explanation. Maturana's characterization of scientific explanation explicitly claims these two domains are distinct.

A more detailed summary of the operational / symbolic explanation dichotomy is given under the entry for explanation.


organization

Organization ranks among the most central (and the most original) constructs generated in autopoietic theory. As a characteristic of a composite unity , organization specifies that composite unity's identity, its properties as a unity, and the frame within which it must be addressed as a unary whole. More specifically, organization denotes those "... relations that define a system as a unity, and determine the dynamics of interaction and transformations which it may undergo as such a unity..." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137; Cf. : Varela, 1979, p. 9)

"The relations between components in a composite unity that make it a composite unity of a particular kind, specifying its class identity as a simple unity in a metadomain with respect to its components, constitutes its organization. In other words, the organization of a composite unity is the configuration of static or dynamic relations between its components that specifies its class identity as a composite unity that can be distinguished as a simple unity of a particular kind."

(Maturana,1988b, 6.iv.)

Maturana notes 'organization' comes from the Greek and means 'instrument'. By using this word for the essential, defining character of a system he focuses attention on '...the instrumental participation of the components in the constitution of the unity.' (1975, p. 315) Phrased another way: "by making reference to the instrumental participation of the components in the constitution of a composite unity, [organization] refers to the relations between components that define and specify a system as a composite unity of a particular class, and determine its properties as such a unity." (Maturana, 1978)

"The organization of a machine (or system) does not specify the properties of the components which realize the machine as a concrete system, it only specifies the relations which these must generate to constitute the machine or system as a unity. Therefore, the organization of a machine is independent of the properties of its components which can be any, and a given machine can be realized in many different manners by many different kinds of components. In other words, although a given machine can be realized by many different structures, for it to constitute a concrete entity in a given space its actual components must be defined in that space, and have the properties which allow them to generate the relations which define it."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 77)

This delineation ascribes a measure of generality or abstraction to the attribution of organization. This 'measure', however, is of limited magnitude. "If is important to realize that we are not using the term organization the in definition of an autopoietic machine in transcendental sense, pretending that it has an explanatory value of its own." (Varela, 1979, p. 13) Organization is qualified with respect to a particular composite unity (or a particular class of such unities) identified or apprehended by virtue of its realization, as engaged by an observer. "...[A]utopoietic organization simply means processes concatenated in a specific form: a form such that the concatenated processes produce the components that constitute and specify the system as a unity." (Varela, 1979, p. 13)

This (qualified) generality results in the association of organization with a class of systems, as opposed to being limited to individual systems:

"...[T]he organization of a composite unity specifies the class of entities to which it belongs. It follows that the concept or generic name that we use to refer to a class of entities points to the organization of the composite unities that are members of the class."

(Maturana, 1978)

"The organization of a system, then, specifies the class identity of a system, and must remain invariant for the class identity of the system to remain invariant: if the organization of a system changes, then its identity changes and it becomes a unity of another kind."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xx)

"The relations among components, whether static or dynamic, that constitute a composite unity as a unity of a particular kind, are its organization. Or, in other words, the relations among components that must remain invariant in a composite unity for it not to change its class identity and become something else, constitute its organization."

(Maturana, 1980a, p. 48)

This allusion to organization in terms of class identity becomes more prominent in the later literature -- most particularly in The Tree of Knowledge's popular account of the theories:

"'Organization' signifies those relations that must be present in order for something to exist."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 42)

"Organization denotes those relations that must exist among the components of a system for it to be a member of a specific class."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 47)

At this juncture, organization is most intimately linked with cognition (and hence observation) relative to the earlier literature:

"This situation, in which we recognize implicitly or explicitly the organization of an object when we indicate it or distinguish it, is universal in the sense that it is something we do constantly as a basic cognitive act, which consists no more and no less than in generating classes of any type."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 43)

The following example illustrates the distinction between organization and structure :

"...[I]n a toilet the organization of the system of water-level regulation consists in the relations between an apparatus capable of detecting the water level and another apparatus capable of stopping the inflow of water. The toilet unit embodies a mixed system of plastic and metal comprising a float and a bypass valve. This specific structure, however, could be modified by replacing the plastic with wood, without changing the fact that there would still be a toilet organization."

(Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 47)

A considerably more incisive statement of this organization / structure interplay (with specific reference to the class-oriented connotation(s) of organization) is found in Maturana (1980a, p. 48), where he states:

"...[T]he relations among components that constitute the organization of a composite unity represent a subset of the relations included in describing its structure. It follows that the structure of a composite unity may change without it changing its class identity as long as the relations proper to its organization remain invariant. If, as a result of its structural changes, the relations of the organization of a particular composite unity change as well, the composite unity loses its class identity." (emphasis in the original).

Related terminology includes: autopoietic organization, living organization, organization of the living


Cf. : class, structure


organization of the living

A term (most frequently occurring in the early literature) used to denote that organization which characterizes living systems -- i.e., autopoietic organization.


organizational closure

Varela (1979, pp. 54-59) attributes organizational closure to any discriminable unity U defined as a configuration of processes {P} such that: (1) the relationships among these processes comprise a network N; (2) the processes in {P} are mutually interdependent for their own generation and realization; and (3) the set of processes {P} constitute the system as a unity "recognizable in the space (domain) in which the processes exist." (Ibid., p. 55). A more informal delineation is the following (concerning system-wholes -- i.e., unary composite unities):

"Question: What have we learned from the descriptions of system-wholes in the last decade? Answer: That in order to account for the coherence of the observed systems, their constitutive interactions must be mutual and reciprocal, so as to become an interconnected network.

...

In terms of organization, then, empirical observation reveals that the system-wholes are organizationally closed: their organization is a circular network of interactions rather than a tree of hierarchical processes.

Conversely, then, if we are trying to make more precise our notion of a whole, we propose to make these empirical results a guideline. That is, we propose to take the circular and mutual interconnectedness of organization, or organizational closure, as the characterization of system-wholes."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, pp. 292-293, emphasis in the original)

The last sentence points to the centrality that Varela gave to organizational closure in his solo work of the 1970's. In fact, organizational closure was declared to be the definitive characteristic of autonomous systems, of which autopoietic systems are a subset. The importance of this construct is reflected in Varela's multiple essays on the Closure Thesis, which postulates that all system-wholes are organizationally closed.


Cf. : autopoietic closure, circularity, closure, Closure Thesis, feedback, operational closure


orient

"'Languaging', as Maturana occasionally explains, serves, among other things, to orient. By this he means directing the attention and, consequently, the individual experience of others ..."

(Glasersfeld, 1997)

The verb 'orient' occurs frequently in the core literature of the 1970's, where it connotes (a) the manner in which one system may effect a coordination of behavior with another system, and/or (b) the manner in which a single system may coordinate its own behavior or attitude with regard to some discriminable aspect of its environment. It is a key term in the original expositions of interactivity within consensual domains, which laid the foundation for autopoietic theory's delineation of 'languaging'. As such, it provided much of the explanatory linkage weaving together elements such as: (e.g.) description vs. Description, the observer, the cognitive activities of an individual, and anything having to do with 'consensuality'. Most particularly, the original explanations of languaging were predicated on continual allusions to 'mutual orientation' between / among interacting systems. This is well-illustrated by passages such as: "Linguistic behavior is orienting behavior; it orients the orientee within his cognitive domain to interactions that are independent of the nature of the orienting interactions themselves." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30)

For whatever reason, this term essentially disappears from the literature by the end of the 1970's. Gone with it are several important connotations regarding indexicality, description, consensual descriptive activity, etc., whose loss has made it progressively more difficult (particularly in Maturana's solo papers) to link linguistic behavior to its underlying biological base.

See orientation.


orientation

A general term invoked to denote the accomplishment of a stance or attitude with respect to a referent or state. For example, in outlining the most general features of a cognitive system, Maturana invokes 'orientation' almost colloquially in stating that the presence of a nervous system "...allows for non-physical interactions between organisms such that the interacting organisms orient each other toward interactions within their respective cognitive domains." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 14).

Orientation is most commonly invoked with respect to those behaviors among cognitive systems such that each of the interacting systems obtains or accomplishes similar stance. To an external observer, the degree of consonance in what we conventionally term "communicative" interactions is a function of the degree of behaviorally-manifest (or -apparent) congruence of orientation observed (by that external observer) among the participants. The appearance of behavioral congruence to an observer external to the interaction is not, however, the most important issue. That would be the reciprocal or mutual co-orientation occurring among structurally coupled cognitive systems, as it is observed by the participating systems themselves. Congruence of behavior among interactors -- most commonly termed coordinations of behaviors -- comprise the essence of what is conventionally described as communicative interaction entailing a transfer of "information". This process, termed mutual orientation, is the most common invocation of "orientation" in the primary literature. As Maturana puts it: "Herein lies the basis for communication: the orienting behavior becomes a representation of the interactions toward which it orients, and a unit of interaction in its own terms." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 14)

Later, Maturana provides a more detailed explanation of how 'orientation' sets the stage for behavior that constitutes "communication", as opposed to simple or automatic "interaction" wherein interactors are basically triggering each other's responses. In the case of communication (in this sense), one organism orients "...the behavior of the other organism to some part of its domain of interactions different from the present interaction, but comparable to the orientation of that of the orienting organism." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 27) Note that the orientation of interest is not necessarily to some external referent, but to some distinguishable subregion of the domain of interactions. "This can take place only if the domains of interactions of the two organisms are widely coincident; in this case no interlocked chain of behavior [i.e., no "interaction" in the simple sense -- Ed.] is elicited because the subsequent conduct of the two organisms depends on the outcome of independent, although parallel, interactions. (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 27-28)


Cf. : description, linguistic behavior, mutual orientation


orientee

The term for an organism which orients itself in response to interactions with another (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 28)


Cf. : orientation


orienter

The term for an organism which effects orientation in another. (Cf. Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 28)


Cf. : orientation


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parenthesis (sometimes 'parentheses')

A rhetorical / illustrative device employed by Maturana to qualify and clarify his discussion of living systems and their phenomenology. The conventional epistemological stance (at least in the West) is one in which discrete referents in the world (i.e, 'objects') in fact are 'there' and 'are there just as they seem (to anyone)'. Within the explanatory framework of autopoietic theory, this position is untenable, because it prioritizes features of the medium a priori, without qualification to the process of observation by which those features are educed / apprehended. However, the fact that we are immersed in social, cultural, and disciplinary modes of interactivity predicated on such 'objectivity' makes innovative theorization on cognition (such as autopoietic theory) an exercise in paradox. By the early 1980's, Maturana had apparently come to the conclusion that he needed some rhetorical device by which he could avoid compromising his non-'objective' orientation in the course of presenting and defending that orientation through the use of admittedly 'objectivity-tainted' language.

The result was to invoke 'parenthesis' to surround, and hence qualify, the objective-style language in which Maturana was yet obligated to present his theories. In its original invocation (Maturana, 1983), 'parenthesis' primarily denoted a predilection for scientific explanation (as delineated by Maturana) as the exclusive mode of theorization:

"...[B]y putting objectivity in parenthesis, that is, by using the operational generation of scientific explanations and not the object as the criterion of validation of my statements ... I show that the phenomenon of perception arises in the description of an observer as a manner of referring to the operation of an organism in congruence with the particular environment in which it is observed."

"...[T]he object described in a coordination of actions (and distinguished in language) cannot be used to validate statements about it in the domain of science. ... I shall proceed putting objectivity in parenthesis. That is, although I must use a language of objects (the only language we have) ..., I shall not use the object as an argument to validate my statements, which will be founded only on scientific explanations."

(Maturana, 1983)

It should be clear from the above-cited passages that the invocation of 'parenthesis' was primarily rhetorical in the context of a specific discussion. Furthermore, a case could be made (albeit only figuratively) that this invocation was 'epistemologically-oriented' in the sense that it focused upon the manner in which 'valid knowledge' of the subject phenomenon (in the first case, perception) could be generated, debated, and made acceptable in the scientific observer community.

By 1988, 'parenthesis' had become a stock component of Maturana's lexicon. It was in this year that two landmark papers were released -- each of which not only invoked 'parenthesis', but frankly relied upon the construct as one of the bases for their explanatory substance. In the lesser-known of these (Maturana, 1988b: Ontology of observing), the connotations of 'parenthesis' derive straight from their 1983 introduction:

"The assumption of objectivity is not needed for the generation of a scientific explanation. Therefore, in the process of being a scientist explaining cognition as a biological phenomenon I shall proceed without using the notion of objectivity to validate what I say; that is, I shall put objectivity in parentheses. In other words, I shall go on using an object language because this is the only language that we have (and can have), but although I shall use the experience of being in language as my starting point while I use language to explain cognition and language, I shall not claim that what I say is valid because there is an independent objective reality that validates it."

(Maturana, 1988b, 5.ii.)

In the other (better-known; more widely read) paper of that same year (Maturana, 1988a: Reality:...) 'parenthesis' is never mentioned in and of itself as a discursive device or tactic. Instead, it appears only in the sense of a gloss on the two explanatory paths which serve as the basic (and sole) dichotomy upon which Maturana's discussion proceeds. The incorporation (and occlusion) of the 'parenthesis' tactic within the nominalized paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis is not really a problem per se. The text of Maturana (1988a) clearly covers all the points by which the other (above-cited) discussions delineated the parentheses' connotations. However, by never illustrating these connotations explicitly, Maturana leaves only the following passage by which a new reader can deduce them:

"In the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, the observer system explicitly accepts: a) that he or she is, as a human being, a living system; b) that his or her cognitive abilities as an observer are biological phenomena because they are altered when his or her biology is altered; and c) that if he or she wants to explain his or her cognitive abilities as an observer, he or she must do so showing how they arise as biological phenomena in his or her realisation as a living system. Moreover, by adopting this explanatory path, the observer has to accept as his or her constitutive features all constitutive features of living systems, particularly their inability to distinguish in experience what we distinguish in daily life as perception and illusion."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 29)

In addition, this paper never explicitly addresses 'objectivity' in the same sense as it had been done in the other above-cited essays (i.e., in terms of the presumption of quiddity for languaging-derived referents). Instead, the term is employed so as to allude to the 'reality' which is the stated focus of the paper's discussion (most particularly with regard to a parenthesis-less explainer demanding acceptance of her explanations on the basis of privileged access to an 'objective reality'). In contrast to the 'rhetorical / epistemological' context of the 1983 and 1988b papers, this essay thus leaves wide open the reader's potential for interpreting parenthesis as an ontological qualification of the 'world', rather than an explanatory qualification pertaining to the scientific observer in general and Maturana (as discursant) in particular.

This is not to say that Maturana has contradicted himself or demonstrably changed positions on 'objectivity'. The point is that the manner in which 'parenthesis' is invoked and framed in the 1988a paper, as distinct from the 1983 and 1988b papers, insinuates that it is ontology (in its conventional sense) that is at issue rather than explanatory / rhetorical clarity. Ontology, of course, is a volatile issue which has always been an obstacle in presenting and promoting autopoietic theory to audiences not familiar with its perspective and terminology. It is no surprise, then, that Mingers' (1995, pp. 110 ff.) critique of Maturana's ontology from a 'realist perspective' takes this last-cited essay (1988a) as its target.

Naturally, one may respond that all this is merely nuance. It is, however, at such a 'nuance-granularity' that many philosophical battles continue to rage. To overlook such 'nuances' (or worse, to sweep them under the carpet) only invites understandable criticism from the scholarly community into which Maturana and Varela's adherents seek to present their theories.


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, object, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis


part

A term used in the specific sense of an observer-ascribed element participating in the composition of a unity (as opposed to a component which actually participates in the constitution of that unity). This specific allusion is limited to Maturana's discussion of the observer's analysis of a unity's components (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 48-49)


Cf. : component


perception

The word perception is currently heard as if it connoted an operation of capture of an external reality, through a process of reception of information of this reality. Nevertheless, this is constitutively impossible, because living beings are structurally determined dynamic systems, and everything that happens in them is determined at every moment by their structure. ... In these circumstances, the phenomenon connoted with the word perception consists in the association - by the observer - of the regularities of behavior that he or she distinguishes in the observed organism to the conditions of the medium that he or she sees triggering. The observer uses such behavioral regularities to characterize perceptual objects."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 319)

The above-cited passage illustrates that 'perception' is not so much a valid construct which autopoietic theory might explain (in terms of how it is conventionally addressed) as it is a construct whose viability is limited to an explanatory path against which Maturana stands in opposition. "The word 'perception' comes from the Latin expression per capire, which means 'through capture' and carries with it the implicit understanding that to perceive is to capture the features of a world independent of the observer." (Maturana, 1988b, 5.i.)

Maturana (e.g., 1988a) characterizes the conventional usage of this term as denoting that mode of engagement characterized by apprehension of features assumed associated with things possessed of existence independent of the observer. This specific usage is linked to the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, in which such independently-existing things are presumed by an observer to "...exist independently of whether he or she knows them, and that he or she can know them, or can know of them, or can know about them, through perception or reason." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 28) In other words, "perception" in this sense is an explanatory construct which is predicated upon a tacit assumption that the role of cognition is to obtain, adduce, or apprehend things which are already and unequivocally "out there" (i.e., beyond the scope of the observer's embodiment).

The foundation for this conventional view is linked to the more general conditions under which an observer observes 'behavior' on the part of a given organism or system:

"...[T]he behavior of an organism is only a description that the observer does of a sequence of postural changes (structural) that the organism exhibits in relation to the medium in which it is observed. These postural changes are expressions of the structural dynamics of the organism, and they appear with the participation of the nervous system when it exists. Since the observer distinguishes the organism as a system that moves in a medium, conserving necessarily its structural correspondence with it (adaptation) ..., the observer can distinguish behaviors that appear in the organism associated to its interactions."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

In other words, a observer needing to generate an explanation of the subject organism's ongoing actions is constrained by the fact that she has no direct apprehensional access to that subject's intrinsic structural configuration(s) and structural dynamics which actually determine the course of the trajectory of actions to be explained. The only evidence readily available upon which to base her explanation consists of (a) apparent transformations in the environment; (b) apparent transformations in the subject organism (in and of itself); and (c) apparent transformations in the relationships between the subject organism and the environment. It is not surprising, therefore, that the resultant explanation is commonly derived from simplistic associations drawn between elements of these evidentiary sets. Neither is it surprising that these associations (being framed with respect to these elements abstracted from observation) typically end up referentially based not upon the subject organism's structure, but upon a reification of the abstracted associations themselves. Continuing from the last cited passage:

"It is in this context of the association between behavior and medium configured by this distinction that the word perception is habitually used, supposing that such behaviors emerge from the determination of the organism (or of its nervous system), in the level of the sensorial encounter, by an external object. Nevertheless, by what we have already said, it is clear that the phenomenon that we connote with the word perception can not consist in such a determination, but it consists, indeed, in a regularity of behavior exhibited by the organism in its operation in structural correspondence with the medium, which the observer indicates as if he or she distinguished an object, associating it to the environmental circumstance that triggered it."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)


Cf. : behavior, explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-without-parenthesis, illusion


perceptual object

A phrase connoting the 'objects' brought forth as discretely-indexicable coordinations of (coordinations of...) linguistic behavior. See: object.


perturbation

An exogenous influence affecting an organizationally-closed system. The verb "perturb" carries the connotations of: (1) indirect effect, or (2) the effectuation of some change internal to an affected entity without having directly manipulated that entity's internal components. Both senses apply to the usage of this term in autopoietic theory. With respect to (1), the end result of perturbation is constrained by the structure of the perturbed system, not some strict and deterministic cause/effect linkages extrinsic to it (Cf. structural determination). With respect to (2), interactions (with the medium or another system) are construed as 'perturbations' in the sense that the source induces an effect without having penetrated the boundary of the affected system.


Cf. : compensatory change, deformation


perturbational agent

A term used in passing by Maturana (1987) to connote that discrete part of the medium / environment which an observer observes to perturb a subject organism or system. Based on changes in the subject organism's / system's observed behavior, "... an observer can characterize the medium in terms of structural configurations that act as perturbational agents (perturbations) in the interaction." (Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

Given the brevity of treatment, there is no clear differentiation made between perturbational agent and perturbational object. Such differentiation must be left to the reader in the context of the short passage in which these terms appear.


Cf. : perception, perturbation, perturbational object


perturbational object

A term used in passing by Maturana (1987) to connote an observer's referential attribution of a concisely reified form (i.e., a discrete 'object') to denote a specific transformation / event in the environment (a perturbation) which she (the observer) associates with a given behavior on the part of a subject organism / system.

"...[I]t is only through changes in behavior distinguished by an observer in an organism during the contingencies of a given perturbation, that the observer can characterize such a contingency as an "perturbational object" and describe it as an object to (something independent of) the organism. Finally, it is this association that the observer makes between the "perturbational object" - characterized by the behavior of the organism that configures it - and such behavior independently distinguished by the observer, that constitutes the phenomenon that one connotes daily with the word perception."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

Given the brevity of treatment, there is no clear differentiation made between perturbational agent and perturbational object. Such differentiation must be left to the reader in the context of the short passage in which these terms appear.


Cf. : perception, perturbation, perturbational agent


phenomenal domain

1.

A term used somewhat colloquially to connote the domain of (e.g.) operations or (inter-) activities determined by a specific structurally-delineated entity. In this sense, the term appears intermittently in the early papers of the 1970's.


2.

By the time of Autopoiesis and Cognition, this term had come to be somewhat more specifically delineated to connote the domain of operations and interactions defined by the specification of a unity (Cf. Maturana's comments in Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. xviii ff.). Further elaboration on this can be found under the entry for unity. This term is typically used as a generic rhetorical device, as when Varela (1979, p. xvi) invokes it in separating and contrasting (a) the domain of maintenance of a system's identity and (b) the domain of that system's operations through interaction.


For most intents and purposes, the term (as employed in the early papers) can safely be construed as a synonym for phenomenological domain.

This term is heavily invoked in Maturana (1980a), where he delves into the notion that "...living systems generate nonintersecting phenomenal domains..." (p. 46)


Cf. : phenomenological domain, unity


phenomenal reduction

A term used to denote a (typically erroneous or misleading) ascription of absolute correspondence between phenomena or events occurring in distinct phenomenal domains. Maturana illustrates this with respect to an observer's explanations addressing a composite unity .

"The relation of correspondence between the phenomenal domain generated by a system and the phenomenal domain generated by its components, ...[is]... established by the observer through his or her independent interactions with the system and with its components and does not indicate a phenomenal reduction of one domain to another. If it appears as if there were a phenomenal reduction, it is because in the description all phenomena are represented in the same domain, and, unless care is taken to preserve it, the relation established through the observer is lost."

(Maturana, 1978)

Phenomenal reduction, then, is primarily addressed as a pathology in which the role of the observer as the intersectional nexus spanning two or more phenomenal domains is obscured, blurred, or ignored. In such situations, the result would be that an explanation employs referents and/or ascriptions of the same type (e.g., indexicality) to render synonymous elements which in fact are properly allocated to disjunct domains of interaction (vis a vis the observer).


Cf. : phenomenal domain


phenomenological domain

A phenomenological domain is "...defined by the properties of the unity or unities that constitute it, either singly or collectively through their transformations or interactions." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137; Varela, 1979a, p. 46) This term is a general explanatory construct denoting the realm within which a unity's static and dynamic realization may be manifest, as opposed to the realm(s) within which a unity's actual ontogeny is manifest. Phrased another way, with respect to a unity, its associated phenomenological domain is the abstracted, explanatory analogue of its ambience -- its actual medium of realization (as opposed to an observer-ascribed environment within which it can be observed to operate).

In effect, the notion of phenomenological domain serves as the closest thing to an "ontological foundation" for a system of interest, and therefore provides the basis for addressing that system. This fundament, however, is not given a priori; rather, it is contingent upon the observer or observer-community addressing the system of interest.

"The criteria of distinction used by an observer-community establish the kinds of entities to be studied, and thus the phenomenologies that are considered relevant. Once a class of entities is specified through a criterion of distinction, a phenomenology is concomitantly born, and this is all that is necessary for the existence of a phenomenological domain."

(Varela, 1979, p. 107)

A phenomenological domain is more general than a domain of interactions (defined primarily with respect to coupling) or a cognitive domain (defined primarily with respect to interaction as an observer).


Cf. : ambience, cognitive domain, domain of interactions, phenomenal domain, phenomenology (1.; 2.)


phenomenology

1.

"The domain of all the phenomena defined in the interactions of a class of unities."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 259)

"The formation of a unity always determines a number of phenomena associated with the features that define it; we may thus say that each class of unities specifies a particular phenomenology."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 51)

A construct circumscribing the manifestation and scope of a unity's potential engagement with its "world". The phenomenology of a given unity is affected by that unity's manifestation:

"The criteria of distinction used by an observer-community establish the kinds of entities to be studied, and thus the phenomenologies that are considered relevant. Once a class of entities is specified through a criterion of distinction, a phenomenology is concomitantly born, and this is all that is necessary for the existence of a phenomenological domain."

(Varela,1979, p. 107)

With regard to engagement, this is a label for the "... domain of all the phenomena defined in the interactions of a class of unities." (Maturana and Varela, 1992, p. 259) This also implies that the range or scope of the phenomenology thus defined parallels the range or scope of interactions through which the given unity may maintain its identity. As Varela (1979, p. 32) puts it: "...the phenomenology of an autopoietic system is necessarily always commensurate with the deformations that it suffers without loss of identity, and with the deforming environment in which it lies..."

In keeping with the principle of structural determination, the phenomenology of a given unity is circumscribed by its organization and structure . In the case of organization, this is illustrated by the claim that the "... phenomenology of an organism as a unity is the phenomenology of its autopoiesis." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, 124) In the case of structure, Varela (1979, p. 31) states: "The establishment of a unity defines the domain of its phenomenology, but the way the unity is constituted -- its structure -- defines the kind of phenomenology that it generates in that domain."


Cf. : phenomenal domain, phenomenological domain, domain of interactions


2.

An analytical application of 1. as an explanatory tool -- particularly in the case where one or more such phenomenologies are invoked as exemplars of given approaches or perspectives with respect to an object of study. Such an application occurs in Autopoiesis and Cognition, where the point is to demonstrate the viability of autopoiesis as a comprehensive definition for living systems. Within the physical space, two classes of such explanatory phenomenologies are claimed possible -- statical phenomenology and mechanical phenomenology. Biological phenomenology (the explanatory phenomenology of living / autopoietic systems) is a specific instance of a mechanical phenomenology. (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 112 ff.; Varela, 1979, pp. 31 ff.)


Cf. : statical phenomenology, mechanical phenomenology, biological phenomenology


3.

Generic reference to that area of philosophy concerned with essential experience and (in the West) associated with the work of (e.g.) Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty.


philosophical explanation

An explanation which is generated in accordance with philosophical method. An alternative to a scientific explanation.


Cf. : scientific method, scientific explanation


philosophical theory

A theory (coherent composite of explanations) which is generated in accordance with philosophical method -- i.e., a cohesive set of philosophical explanations. An alternative to a scientific theory.

A detailed exposition comparing philosophical and scientific theories (as delineated by Maturana) is offered under the entry for theory.


Cf. : explanation, philosophical explanation, scientific method, scientific explanation, theory


phylogenetic drift / phylogenic drift

A term for the manner in which the defining form of a class of organisms changes (or may change) over time as a function of drift (as opposed to it being a function of some overriding teleological or optimizational mechanism or impetus).

"In the system of biologic lineages there are many paths that have lasted millions of years with few variations around a fundamental form, many that have given rise to new forms, and, lastly, many that have become extinct without leaving a branch reaching to the present. In all these cases, however, it is a matter of phylogenetic drifts in which are conserved the organization and adaptation of organisms that make up the lineages..."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 112)

"The nervous system (or the organism), however, has not been designed by anyone; it is the result of a phylogenic drift of unities centered on their own dynamics of states."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 169)


Cf. : drift, natural drift, structural drift


physical phenomenology

A label used to denote that phenomenology specified by unities in the physical space. The phenomenology which lays the foundation for the operation of physical autopoietic unities (i.e., living systems -- cf. biological phenomenon), but which does not subsume the phenomenology of any such system as it (that phenomenology) is specified by that system's organization.

Cf.: The Tree of Knowledge (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 51), biological phenomenon, phenomenology, physical space


physical space

"The space within which the phenomenology of autopoiesis of living systems takes place." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137) This is the obvious converse of the tenet that systems that are autopoietic in the physical space are living systems. The usage of this term indicates that it denotes what we typically address as matter and energy distributed in three-dimensional space.

"The physical space is defined by components that can be determined by operations that characterize them in terms of properties such as masses, forces, accelerations, distances, fields, etc."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 112)

"...[T]he ultimate and basic space that a composite unity can describe in a consensual domain is the space in which its components exist; the space in which its components exist determines the ultimate domain of interactions through which a composite unity can participate in the generation of a consensual domain.... [This]... ultimate space that the components of a composite system define is for such a system its ground space. Men, in particular, specify their ground space, the space which they define as composite unities by describing their components through their interactions through their components, as the physical space."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 57)


Cf. : ground space, living system, space


plastic interactions

Those interactions of a composite unity exhibiting autopoiesis "...in which the structural changes are compensated in such a manner that the system continues its life (autopoiesis) in the perturbing medium with a different structure, a changed domain of states and a changed domain of perturbations." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 138)


Cf. : structure , structural determination, interaction


plastic structures

A term used by Maturana and Guiloff to connote that structure of a composite unity which makes possible and participates in its ontogenic structural coupling.

"...[O]ne can say that the phenomenon of intelligence takes place as an expression of the anatomical and physiological plastic structures that make possible for each organism its participation in the establishment of, and in the operation within, ontogenic domains of structural coupling in general."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, pp. 141-142)


praxis of living ( plural = praxes of living)

A term used by Maturana to denote the continuous, subtle flow of dynamic personal existence. "...[T]he happening of living or the experience" (1988a, p. 27). This "happening" subsumes all operations of the human being in the course of not only life, but also the reflective explanations of that life and its features. An observer is immersed in his or her praxis of living "...in language, in an experience which as such just happens to him or her out of nowhere." (1988a, p. 27)

This "out of nowhere" character of experience makes it elusive or subtle as an object of reflection, description, and explanation. The praxis of living is asymptotically beyond grasp, and whatever means are employed to attempt such a grasp must necessarily stop short of fully capturing it:

"We find ourselves as human beings here and now in the praxis of living, in the happening of being human, in language languaging, in an a priori experiential situation in which everything that is, everything that happens, is and happens in us as part of our praxis of living. In these circumstances, whatever we say about how anything happens takes place in the praxis of our living as a comment, as a reflection, as a reformulation, in short, as an explanation of the praxis of our living, and as such it does not replace or constitute the praxis of living that it purports to explain. "

(Maturana, 1988b, 4.0.)

Such an explanation not only cannot replace the praxis upon which it is focused, it is necessarily secondary to that praxis (Maturana, 1988a, p. 27) This leads to the conclusion that "...if explanations and descriptions are secondary to the praxis of living of the observer (our human praxis of living), they are strictly unnecessary for it, even if the praxis of living of the observer changes after his or her listening to them." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 27)


Cf. : observer, description, explanation


precursors (of autopoietic theory)

As a systemic explanation for organisms and their operation, autopoietic theory contains a host of novel and innovative conceptualizations. However, parallels with other (particularly earlier) theoretical work have occasionally been noted. Neither Maturana nor Varela have characterized their work as deriving (even if only in terms of inspiration) from specific predecessors. As a result, the ascription of autopoietic theory's 'historical lineage' (or, more accurately, its 'family resemblances') has remained an exercise for others. The most detailed such accounting would be the one given by Zeleny (1979a; 1980b), who suggests a host of 19th and 20th Century holistic thinkers presaging the broad tenets of autopoietic theory. These and other scholars, Zeleny claims, are the intellectual precursors of autopoietic theory.

Zeleny starts with Bronislaw Trentowski's (1843) Cybernetyka -- a vision of unified human activities guided by the transdisciplinary finesse of a manager. His cautions concerning the inability of single unary disciplines to capture the range of knowledge requisite to such management is based on the subjectivity of an observer. A. A. Bogdanov's tektology (1912) was the first broad theoretical framework emphasizing organization as a key systemic feature. Bogdanov recognized a system's unity depends on an observer, and that an observer is inherently constrained in her ability to perceive the relations comprising a unity. Finally, Jan Smuts is cited for his concept of holism and his recognition of the observer-dependency of descriptions. Additionally, Zeleny suggests links to Vico, Menger, Leduc, von Hayek, and Weiss. Zeleny (1979a) offers a summary review of Trentowski, Bogdanov, Smuts and Leduc, and he has discussed these precursors in some detail elsewhere (Zeleny, 1978; 1979b).

The reference to Vico brings to mind constructivist philosopher Ernst von Glasersfeld, who is linked to Maturana and Varela with respect to epistemological orientation. Von Glasersfeld is the most explicit of the constructivists in naming predecessors, and one might well consider his stated precursors as historically relevant. (Cf. constructivism, epistemology, radical constructivism) Von Glasersfeld is a well-known adherent of the work of Jean Piaget, to whom Varela (e.g., 1979) made isolated allusions. In a 1992 conversation, Varela confided he had found Maurice Merleau Ponty to be the most important prior philosopher of relevance to his own work.

No listing of 'lineage' would be complete without citation of those scholars within the 'cybernetics movement' whose work paralleled, if not nourished, Maturana and Varela's theories. Primary among these would have to be Heinz von Foerster, whose publications on self-organization and constructivistic epistemology predate autopoietic theory. He has been a long-time colleague in direct interaction with Maturana and Varela. Finally, the parallels between certain aspects of autopoietic theory and the work of Gregory Bateson have fostered much 'mutual admiration' among folks interested in either.


prediction

A descriptive construct used by Maturana in his earliest writings (Cf. Maturana, 1970a) to illustrate the manner in which a system with a circular organization operating as a unit of interactions maintains its defining organization under conditions of continuous change. Having discussed how such systems' basic circularity entails their returning cyclically to a same general state, he writes: "The circular organization implies the prediction that a necessary interaction that took place once will take place again. ...[I]f the predicted interaction takes place, the system maintains its identity (integrity) and enters into a new prediction." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 6)

This illustrative usage should not be taken to connote a metrically-circumscribed (e.g., a statistical) prediction. Nor should it be taken to imply that a prediction is tightly specified.

"...[T]hese predictions can be successful only if the environment does not change in that which is predicted. Accordingly, the predictions implied in the organization of the living system are not predictions of particular events but of classes of interactions. Every interaction is a particular interaction, but every prediction is a prediction of a class of interactions that is defined by those features in its members which will allow the living system to retain its circular organization ... This makes living systems inferential systems."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 6)

Although the specific descriptive construct 'prediction' faded from the literature, the points made for the first time in the above passages would later be amplified as more detailed comments on (e.g.) class and inference. This descriptive gambit also stands as the earliest (and in some ways the most telling) explication of how it is that an autonomous system specifies its domain of interactions.


Cf. : class, interaction, inference, domain of interactions, circularity


problem solving (behavior)

The conduct of an organism to which an observer ascribes purposeful activity with respect to features of the medium / environment designated by that observer as a 'problem'. Maturana and Guiloff (1980) describe 'problem solving' as nothing more or less than an ascription of an observer -- an ascription made without reference to the structure of the subject organism and/or the ontogeny by which that organism arrived at, and proceeds through, the circumstance(s) the observer describes as a 'problem situation.' This characterization of problem solving is the extent of the theory's treatment of those behaviors which are accorded major importance in other paradigms of cognitive science.

In those other traditions (e.g., the cognitivism underlying AI research), "...intelligence denotes a distinct property or attribute that some organisms have as individuals, and which can be detected, grasped or abstracted, by observing the form of what an observer would call their intelligent behaviour." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 136) This position entails that "...the attempt to explain how an intelligent system operates must go through the specification of what constitutes a problem to be solved as the object of an intelligent action, and through the specification of what constitutes a procedure to solve it as the realization of the intelligent action." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, pp. 136-137) In other words, this (the currently conventional) perspective relies on the observer's elaborated explanations for multiple phenomena (properties of the organism, 'problem', 'procedure') describable only in terms of distinct phenomenal domains. Maturana and Guiloff take an alternative view:

"...[T]he living system necessarily operates specified by its structure and not by the features of the medium that the observer calls 'the problem to be solved'. Accordingly, then, a behaviour that appears to an observer as solving a problem can only be an expression of a previous history of structural coupling (ontogenic adaptation), and not a manifestation of the properties that would have to be admitted if ...[the conventional perspective outlined above -- Ed.] ... were chosen."

(Maturana and Guiloff, 1980, p. 140)


Cf. : behavior, conduct, intelligence, learning


property

A term typically applied to denote a feature of some unity which is not a matter of relations either constitutive of the unity or attributable to its engagement with its observed environment.

"A property is a characteristic of a unity specified and defined by an operation of distinction. Pointing to a property, therefore, always implies an observer."

(Maturana, 1978)

Properties are an observer's focus in developing vitalistic explanations, as opposed to the relations emphasized in mechanistic explanations. The specification of space is often linked to properties of the unity being educed, and this in turn makes properties relevant in delimiting the context for discerning interaction among unities. This is well illustrated by the following passage:

"Space is the domain of all the possible interactions of a collection of unities (simple, or composite that interact as unities) that the properties of these unities establish by specifying its dimensions. It can be said, of a composite unity on the one hand, that it exists in the space that its components specify as unities because it interacts through the properties of its components, and, on the other hand, that it is realized as a unity in the space that its properties as a simple unity specify."

(Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : component, interaction, mechanistic explanation, space, unity, vitalistic explanations


psychic domain of existence

A term employed by Maturana and Verden-Zöller (1996) to connote the subsuming realm of human experience:

"As human beings we exist in a multidimensional interactional and relational space in which most dimensions remain outside our awareness. So we humans exist in a partially conscious and partially unconscious interactional and relational space in which most dimensions are unconscious. We (the authors) call this conscious and unconscious interactional and relational space our psychic domain of existence. Everything that we do takes place in us through our operation in our psychic domain of existence, or better, in our psychic existence, and as we change in the course of our living, our psychic domain of existence changes. The psychic identity that a human being has as he or she exists in the systemic dynamics in which he or she conserves his or her particular identity as such, arises in the relational space in which he or she lives as his or her self."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)

Insofar as this 'domain' is equated with a 'space' (cf. comments elsewhere on apparent equivalences drawn between these two terms), and the majority of this space's dimensions are not available to awareness, it is difficult to link this construct to anything in the primary literature. This construct is also anomalous in referring to 'conscious vs. subconscious' -- a distinction not developed in the primary literature. These issues are addressed in Maturana's 1995 paper "Biology of Self-Consciousness", in which he provides an introduction to the construct psychic space (which at least helps to explain the connotations of that in which the psychic domain of existence is realized).

The ambiguities of this construct are further amplified by the fact that it is nowhere explicitly employed beyond the point of its definition (cited above). The closest thing to such an allusion occurs later in the article, where the authors state:

"We humans exist in the psychic space that we create in our living in our childhood, and our identity as humans of one kind or another, is defined by our psychic existence in conservation of the self that we become."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)


Cf. : domain, psychic space, space


psychic space

A term employed by Maturana (1995) to connote the abstract realm of human experience:

"I claim that that which we connote in daily life when speaking of the mind, the psyche, or the soul, is the relational domain, both conscious and unconscious, which an animal lives. Such a domain has the richness and fluidity of the manner of living of the animals involved, and changes as this manner of living changes. At the same time, the words mind, psyche, and soul, connote different shades or aspects of the relational domain in which an animal lives. I wish to use the expression psychic space to avoid connotations that make objects of the mind and the soul. Humans and apes live different psychic spaces, that is, they live different domains of relations and as a result handle most aspects of their living differently even when it seems that there are resemblances. And, in the human domain, different cultures as different networks of conversations entail living in different psychic spaces."

(Maturana, 1995)

"We humans exist in the psychic space that we create in our living in our childhood, and our identity as humans of one kind or another, is defined by our psychic existence in conservation of the self that we become."

(Maturana & Verden-Zöller, 1996)


Cf. : domain, psychic domain of existence, space


pure relations

A term employed by Maturana to connote phenomena or events other than the physical which may impinge upon or affect the behavioral trajectory of an organism. This nomenclature is invoked in the course of generally outlining cognitive process and its status with regard to the nervous system. For example:

"The nervous system enlarges the domain of interactions of the organism by making its internal states also modifiable in a relevant manner by 'pure relations', not only by physical events..."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)

Phrased another way, a cognitive system (in this case, an organism with an operationally closed nervous system) pursues its behavioral trajectory by virtue of its internal responses to the 'pure relations' holding among its apprehensible states, not by virtue of direct or automatic responses to physical phenomena impinging upon it (e.g., via its sensory surfaces). Maturana illustrates this distinction with respect to a cat that reacts to the sight of a bird:

"The sensors change through physical interactions: the absorption of light quanta; the animal is modified through its interactions with the relations that hold between the activated sensors that absorbed the light quanta at the sensory surface."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)

According to Maturana (Ibid.), the capacity for engaging 'pure relations' sets the stage for:

  1. evolution with respect to this additional domain of engageable 'pure relations';

  2. recursive expansion of the cognitive domain via this additional domain;

  3. 'abstract thinking' as the result of the aforementioned recursive expansion of the cognitive domain; and

  4. non-physical orientational behavior among organisms -- the basis for linguistic behavior and languaging.


Cf. : cognition, cognitive domain, linguistic behavior, languaging


purpose

"The possession of an internal project or program represented and realized through the components of a unity." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137) The defining attribute or feature of an allo-referred or allopoietic system -- i.e, its teleonomy. It is, with regard to a technological artifact: "The use to which a machine can be put by man, sometimes its product." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)

The ongoing determination of a dynamic unity's course of transformations is often described and explained as purposeful. The 'purpose' thus ascribed to the unity is not a feature of the unity itself -- it is an explanation contrived by a given observer. In other words, purpose is always delineated icogdo some observer:

"The use to which a machine can be put by man is not a feature of the organization of the machine, but of the domain in which the machine operates, and belongs to our description of the machine in a context wider than the machine itself."

(Varela, 1979, p. 11)

"Purpose or aims, however, are not features of the organization of any machine (allo- or autopoietic): these features belong to the domain of our discourse about our actions, that is, they belong to the domain of communicative descriptions, and when applied to a machine, or any system independent of us, they reflect our considering the machine or system in some encompassing context."

(Varela, 1979, p. 64: italics in the original)

The notion of "purpose" induces an economy in addressing machines. It is a "... descriptive device to reduce the task of conveying to a listener the organization of a particular machine." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136) The alternative (explicitly addressing the subject machine's organization) is more consistent with the manner in which that subject machine is engaged by the explainer and her audience, but it would require an elaborate recantation (and, probably consensual refinement) of the organization evident in the engagement. "We use the notion of purpose when talking of machines because it calls into play the imagination of the listener and reduces the explanatory task in the effort of conveying the organization of a particular machine." (Varela, 1979, p. 11)


Cf. : function, teleonomy, allopoiesis, allo-referred, heteropoiesis.


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radical constructivism

The label for the school of epistemological constructivism associated with the work of Ernst von Glasersfeld. It is this school of thought which is most commonly cited as an epistemological analogue to Maturana and Varela's theories, and it is through exposure to von Glasersfeld that many people have been first made aware of Maturana and Varela's work.

NOTE:

Because von Glasersfeld's 'radical constructivism' is the most widely-known example (as opposed to an autonomous subcategory) of the epistemological stance labeled 'constructivism', information about 'constructivism' generally (including von Glasersfeld's views) appears under the entry for constructivism. This entry will concentrate on those points specific to von Glasersfeld's work and its relation to autopoietic theory.

As is the case for autopoietic theory, radical constructivism emphasizes the role and perspective of a subject (observer) in addressing issues of engagement with 'a world'. Both distinguish the character of the 'world engaged' from whatever character may be demonstrable for the 'world in and of itself', and both prioritize the former over the latter as being of primary interest. As such, both are categorized as falling within the orbit of 'second-order cybernetics', and both are often invoked with mention of each other as well as (e.g.) Heinz von Foerster and Gregory Bateson.

"Radical constructivism, thus, is radical because it breaks with convention and develops a theory of knowledge in which knowledge does not reflect an 'objective' ontological reality, but exclusively an ordering and organization of a world constituted by our experience."

(Glasersfeld, 1984, p. 25)

There seem to be differences of opinion regarding the extent to which the two approaches may be considered identical. However, such distinctions as have been made to date have all been relatively 'fine-grained' -- i.e., predicated on specific points or nuances which do not call into question the broad similarities with regard to epistemology in general. The most significant thing distinguishing one from the other is scope of explanatory focus. Maturana and Varela focused upon the mechanics of a living system, which if imbued with sufficient complexity and closure could exhibit cognitive behavior (as an observer) and be ascribed an epistemological character. Von Glasersfeld, whose work primarily lay in education and learning theory, effectively started with the learning human (i.e., an observer) and focused on the engagement of that subject with the world.

Neither Maturana nor Varela have discussed their correspondence (if any) with von Glasersfeld's radical constructivism in any detail. In his 1979 Principles of Biological Autonomy, Varela cites an unpublished 1977 manuscript co-authored with von Glasersfeld entitled 'Problems of knowledge and cognizing organisms'. (Varela, 1979, p. 302) Varela (1984b) notes von Glasersfeld in the course of laying out a spectrum of epistemological positions, but it's unclear to what extent he considers von Glasersfeld's and his own positions equivalent (cf. entry for epistemology).

Von Glasersfeld, on the other hand, has discussed Maturana and Varela's theories in relation to his own. One example is the following passage, addressing how although a cognitive organism without direct access to an 'objective world' is nevertheless able to:

"...produce descriptions; i.e., concepts, conceptual structures, theories, and eventually a picture of its world, it is clear that it can do this only by using building blocks which it has gleaned through some process of abstraction from the domain of its own experience. This insight, which Maturana expresses by saying that all cognitive domains arise exclusively as the result of operations of distinction which are made by the organism itself, was one of the points that attracted me to his work the very first time I came across it.

On the basis of considerations, far from those that induced Maturana to formulate the biological idea of autopoiesis, I had come to the same conclusion. My own path (some-what abbreviated and idealized) led from the early doubts of the Pre-Socratics via Montaigne, Berkeley, Vico, and Kant to pragmatism and eventually to Ceccato's "Operational School" and Piaget's "Genetic Epistemology". This might seem irrelevant here, but since Maturana's expositions hardly ever refer to traditional philosophy, it seems appropriate to mention that quite a few of his fundamental assertions can be substantiated by trains of thought which, from time to time, have cropped up in the conventional history of epistemology."

(Glasersfeld, 1997)

The closing portion of the above-cited passage illustrates another point of distinction between the two theoretical frameworks. Maturana, in particular, has been reluctant to characterize his work in the context of Western philosophy, and allusions to philosophy are few and far between. Von Glasersfeld, on the other hand, has always been forthcoming in invoking Western philosophers and philosophies as both precedents for his own opinions and a context for illustrating them. While this does not necessarily entail any major differences between the espoused positions of the two theories, it certainly affects the degree to which third parties may readily access, digest, and respond to the respective bodies of literature generated by them.


Cf. : constructivism, epistemology


rationality

"... [R]ationality is not a property of the observer that allows him or her to know something that exists independently of what he or she does, but it is the operation of the observer according to the operational coherences of languaging in a particular domain of reality."

(Maturana,1988a, p. 42)

As such, 'rationality' in the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis does not connote demonstrable adherence to a presumably 'objective' standard of reference (e.g., an 'objective world'; the universum) or a similar standard for valid explanatory conduct (i.e., formulaic derivation of propositions), as it does in the conventional Western path of objectivity-without- parenthesis. Instead, "...the coherence of the operation of the observer in language as he or she explains his or her praxis of living constitutes and validates the rationality of the operation of the observer as he or she constitutes a domain of reality." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 42)


Cf. : reason


razor's edge

An illustrative metaphor for the perilous 'middle path' or 'middle road' which must be navigated between the traps of representationalism and solipsism.


Cf. : enaction, enactive cognitive science, epistemology, Scylla and Charybdis


reality

What is 'reality'? In the traditional Western explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, 'reality' is implicit in the presumption of a single extant universum to which all acceptable explanations must refer. In the context of autopoietic theory (most clearly with respect to Maturana's delineation of the alternative path of objectivity-in-parenthesis), this fundamental presumption is not so much refuted as heavily qualified via reformulation of its basic points of reference. The mechanicism upon which Maturana and Varela initially proceeded itself presumes the physical space as the foundation for description and explanation of living systems. However, where such a subsuming / universal referent must underlie everything in objectivity-without-parenthesis, in the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis it need not. Why? One brief explanation would be that when operating 'without parenthesis', the 'world' is the referential fundament for everything -- i.e., the ultimate 'reality'. It is 'there', and it 'is there as it is' for everyone to see in a uniform manner. In this path, the expression 'reality' connotes an ontic firmament (a fixed 'being' in the sense of a 'thing') associated with the 'world'. In contrast, once one 'adopts the parenthesis', the observer becomes the new focus of referentiality. In this path, the expression 'reality' connotes an educed ontological concrescence (a dynamically cohering / coherent facet of a manner of being) associated with the observer's flow of cognitive activity.

Given this fundamental dichotomy of perspectives, it should be obvious that debating 'reality' is unlikely to be constructive. The essential differentiation of focus for the two explanatory paths means that discursive engagement between them entails a reciprocally-occlusive procedural malaise: any question posed about 'reality' by one side must appear 'loaded' or 'leading' to the other, and any statement in response will necessarily be seen by the listener as doctrinaire.

Having thus called into question the very idea of an Encyclopaedia entry on the subject, let me continue with some selected quotations on this subject:

"Reality, as we know it, is not separable from we, that know it; we, as knowers are not independent of the reality we know."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 320)

"...I propose to view the hierarchy of systems as containing bi-directional processes of evolution and devolution for crossing levels, complementing each other in the specification and constitution of the hierarchy as a unity, as the totality-of-what-there-is (gasp!), as Reality. In other words there is an ultimate, or Universal Star:

Reality / levels of reality

From this bi-volutionary point of view nothing really goes anywhere, there is just shuffling and re-shuffling of the stuff through levels of stability, the net result being null."

(Varela, 1976, p. 65, emphasis in the original)

"...[A]n observer has no operational basis to make any statement or claim about objects, entities or relations as if they existed independently of what he or she does. ... In fact, once the biological condition of the observer is accepted, the assumption than an observer can make any statement about entities that exist independently of what he or she does, that is, in a domain of objective reality, becomes nonsensical or vacuous because there is no operation of the observer that could satisfy it."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 30)

"...[W]hen observing a frog, one may indeed ask, for instance, how its retinal receptor and neural networks 'respond' to a shadow in the environment. Such a question makes sense from the observer's point of view, because, as observer of the frog, one had independent access to the experiential item one calls 'shadow' ... When observing oneself, however, one is no longer in the privileged position. What we ourselves perceive, whether we call it frog, landscape, or mirror image of ourselves, is simply what we perceive; and since we have no way of looking at ourselves and our environment from outside our own experience, we have no possible independent access to whatever it might be that, by analogy to the frog, we would like to hold operationally responsible for our perceptions."

(Varela, 1979, p. 274, emphasis in the original)

"... [W]e bring forth a world of distinctions through the changes of state that we undergo as we conserve our structural coupling in the different media in which we become immersed along our lives, and then, using our changes of state as recurrent distinctions in a social domain of coordination of actions (language), we bring forth a world of objects as coordinations of actions with which we describe our coordinations of action. Unfortunately we forget that the object that arises in this manner is a coordination of actions in a social domain, and deluded by the effectiveness of our experience in coordinating our conducts in language, we give the object an external preeminence and validate it in our descriptions as if it had an existence independent from us as observers.

(Maturana, 1983, Section H.)

"The fact that ... the observer constitutes existence as he or she brings forth objects with his or her operations of distinction in his or her praxis of living in language has three fundamental consequences: "

  1. Each configuration of operations of distinctions that the observer performs specifies a domain of reality as a domain of operational coherences of his or her praxis of living in which he or she brings forth particular kinds of objects through their application (for example, the domain of physical existence is brought forth as a domain of reality through the recursive application by the observer in his or her praxis of living of the configuration of operations of distinctions constituted by measurements of mass, distance and time);

  2. Each domain of reality constitutes a domain of explanations of the praxis of living of the observer as this uses recursively the operational coherences that constitute it to generate explanatory reformulations of his or her praxis of living (for example, the recursive application of the operational coherences of the praxis of living of the observer that constitute the physical domain of existence as the criterion of acceptability for the explanatory reformulation of the praxis of living of the observer constitute the domain of physical explanations);

  3. Although all domains of reality are different in terms of the operational coherences that constitute them, and, therefore, are not equal in the experience of the observer, they are all equally legitimate as domains of existence because they arise in the same manner as they are brought forth through the application of operations of distinction by the observer in his or her praxis of living."

(Maturana, 1988a, pp. 30-31)

"...[T]he first cut, the most elementary distinction we can make, may be the intuitively satisfactory cut between oneself qua experiencing subject on the one side, and one's experience on the other. But this cut can under no circumstances be a cut between oneself and an independently existing world of objective objects. Our 'knowledge' ... must begin with experience, and with cuts within our experience ... Hence, this world of ours, no matter how we structure it, no matter how well we manage to keep it stable with permanent objects and recurrent interactions, is by definition a world codependent with our experience, and not the ontological reality of which philosophers and scientists alike have dreamed."

(Varela, 1979, p. 275, emphasis in the original)

"...[R]eality is not an experience, it is an argument in an explanation. In other words, reality arises as an explanatory proposition of our experience of operational coherences in our daily and technical life as we live our daily and technical life. Yet, in these circumstances, reality can arise as an explanatory argument or proposition of one kind or another according to whether the observer accepts or rejects the question about the biological origin of his or her properties as such."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 39)


Cf. : epistemology, objectivity-in-parenthesis, objectivity-without-parenthesis, observer


reason

Maturana, primarily in his landmark papers of 1988 (1988a; 1988b) reformulates the notion of 'reason' within the context of languaging observers. In the explanatory path of objectivity- without-parenthesis, 'reason' connotes an ordered or formulaic derivation of 'valid' or 'truthful' propositions with respect either to an abstracted representational space and / or to elements of a presumably 'objective' world to which all observers (the 'reasoning speaker' and the listener(s)) are equally presumed to have access. More generically, 'reason' (in this path, and as evidenced in the prevailing cognitivistic paradigm) is presumed to be an intrinsic characteristic of mental operation -- one whose abstracted study can or will reveal the essence of cognition. Although both these orientations on 'reason' have long histories, they have come to the fore only in the last three decades, as their intersection provides a convenient excuse for analyzing cognitive process in strict terms of symbolic 'information processing.'

According to this view:

"...the rational is valid by itself and nothing can negate it; at most the observer can make a logical mistake, but nothing of what he or she does can destroy its transcendental cognitive power. ... [T]he search for reality is the search for conditions that make an argument rational, and, hence, undeniable. Or, in other words, due to the nature of rationality in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, in it the search for reality is the search for the compelling argument."

(Maturana, 1988a, pp. 41-42)

In the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis (Maturana's preferred perspective), these canonical bases of 'truth' and 'objectivity' are not presumed, and, hence, are not available upon which to guide or evaluate discourse. "...[R]eason appears as the distinction by an observer of the operational coherences that constitute his or her linguistic discourse in a description or in an explanation." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 42) As such, "... that which we call reason is not an unanalysable property of the mind, but an expression of our human operational coherence in language, and ... as such it has a central and constitutive position in everything that we do as human beings." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 41)

The allusion to operational coherence shifts the criterion for 'reasonable' from the formulaic (justified by abstract rules of derivation with respect to 'objective' referents) to the situational (evidenced by conjoint orientation within the flow of the discourse itself). The allusion to 'centrality' derives from the centrality of language and languaging in the manifestation and operation of us humans as observers. This linguistic focus entails shedding the presumption of one canonical or ultimate 'reason' to the potential for many modes or manners of 'reason' corresponding to our demonstrated diversity in languaging. "We argue rationally in favour or against any case that we chose to reflect upon, even when we reflect upon reason itself, either to uphold it or negate it in one domain or another, by the very fact that we operate in language. As a result, different cultures differ not in rationality but in the implicit or explicit accepted premises under which their different kinds of discourse, actions, and justifications for actions take place." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 41)

Maturana's summarization of this revised view on reason states:

"a) that reason constitutively does not, and cannot, give us an access to an assumed independent reality;

b) that the compelling power of reason that we live in our rational lives is social, and results from our implicit a priori (that is, non rational) adoption of the constitutive premises that specify the operational coherences of the conversational domains in which we accept the arguments that we consider rationally valid;

c) that we cannot force anyone, through reason, to accept as rationally valid an argument that he or she does not already implicitly accept as valid by accepting the constitutive premises of the conversational domain in which it has operational coherence; and

d) that all that we can do in a conversation in which there is no previous implicit agreement is to seduce our interlocutor to accept as valid the implicit premises that define the domain in which our argument is operationally valid."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 42: Vertical spacing added for readability)


Cf. : rationality


recursion

'Recursion' is commonly invoked in explaining how the basic elements of autopoietic theory can be expanded to address complex behavioral phenomena such as (e.g.) languaging. For example:

"Every kind of behavior is realized through operations that may or may not be applied recursively. If recursion is possible in a particular kind of behavior and if it leads to cases of behavior of the same kind, then a closed generative domain of behavior is produced. There are many examples: Human dance is one, human language, another."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 52)

In general usage (outside autopoietic theory), the term 'recursion' has two connotations which are distinct, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. One is the sense of "self-directedness" in which an action 'recursively' affects the actor. This is one of the primary connotations of 'recursion' as the term is used in computing to denote a repetitive set of operations which progressively or cumulatively modifies a single object or element. This is the sense of recursion frequently employed in autopoietic theory to describe the manner in which organizationally- or operationally-closed systems affect themselves through their effectuations. For example, in describing the operation of the closed nervous system, Maturana notes that although the closed organization is invariant:

"... its structure may change if it is coupled to the structural change of other systems in which it is embedded, such as the organism, and through this, the medium in which the organism exists as an autopoietic unity, or, recursively, itself."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 43, emphasis added)

The second connotation of 'recursion' is that of 'repetitiveness'. This is illustrated in a passage from the same paragraph as the last:

"...[I]f as a result of the structural changes of the nervous system the organism can go on in autopoiesis, the nervous system's changed structure may constitute the basis for a new structural change, which may again permit it to go on in autopoiesis. In principle, this process may be recursively repeated endlessly throughout the life of an organism."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 43, emphasis added)

These passages illustrate that the term can occur with demonstrable allusion to only one of the two connotations. However, as stated above, these two connotations or senses are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, their intersection is necessary in explaining the second-order consensuality evident in linguistic behaviors among organisms, as illustrated in the following:

"If the organisms that operate in a consensual domain can be recursively perturbed by the internal states generated in them through their consensual interactions and can include the conducts generated through these recursive interactions as behavioral components in their consensual domain, a second-order consensuality is established from the perspective of which the first-order consensual behavior is operationally a description of the circumstances that trigger it."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 48, emphasis added)

In this last cited passage, both connotations (i.e., 'self-directedness / self-influence' and 'repetitiveness') are invoked. The definition given in this passage cannot make sense without allusion to both of them. It is only late in the literature base that the connotations and allusions noted for the earlier works have been replaced by explicit confirmation of the points made above (albeit framed in terms more allusive than formalizable):

"When a repeating circular process becomes coupled with a linear one that displaces the circumstances of the repetition, the repetition of the circular process becomes a recursion, and a new phenomenal dimension appears. Thus, for example, when the circular movement of the wheels of a car is coupled with the linear displacement of the ground, the circular movements of the wheels becomes recursive and the phenomenon of movement appears. Recursion is a form of generating new phenomenal domains in the interactions of SDSs that is not seen unless one attends to the relations of coupling of a circular and a linear process. In biological systems, recursion is a fundamental dynamic, because of the circular character of biological processes and the linear character of the relations between a living system and its changing medium."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995, I.6.)

Having finally made explicit the intertwining of these dual connotations, Maturana has even more recently distinguished them by use of the dichotomy 'recursion / repetition':

"There is a recursion whenever the observer can claim that the application of an operation occurs on the consequences of its previous application. There is a repetition whenever an observer can claim that a given operation is realized again with independency of the consequences of its previous realization. Therefore, what makes the recurrent occurrence of a given operation a recursion or a repetition, is its manner of association with some other process. A consequence of this condition is that any circular process can be recursive or repetitive according to its association with other processes in the same or in a different domain. Another consequence is, that whenever the observer sees a repetition, he or she sees that everything remains otherwise the same, and that whenever the observer sees a recursion, he or she sees the appearance of a new phenomenal domain."

(Maturana, 1995)

This last point (regarding creation of a new phenomenal domain) is the basis for the evolution of higher-order cognitive phenomena (e.g., the observer, self-consciousness) through 'recursive' linguistic behavior (in the sense delineated in the last quoted passage above). The importance of recursion to this process is illustrated in the following passage:

"Each recursion in the flow of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviour in which we are as we language, brings forth an object, and each recursion brings forth a different kind of object according to the relational circumstances in which it takes place. In this dynamics, as an object arises in the first recursion in the consensual coordinations of behaviour, the distinction of an object arises in the second recursion. As objects are distinguished, another recursion in the flow of consensual coordinations of behaviour (a third recursion) distinguishes relations between objects, and the possibility is open for the constitution of a domain of relations as relations of relations are distinguished in a next recursion. In more general terms, since at any level of recursion the consensual behaviours coordinated become objects, and thus a fundament for further recursive distinctions, any level of recursion may recursively become a domain of objects that operates as a ground level for further recursions."

(Maturana, 1995, p. 155)


Cf. : language, languaging, linguistic behavior, object, repetition


recursive view

One of the subcategories of cognitive point of view delineated by Varela.

As discussed by Varela (Goguen & Varela, 1978; Varela, 1979), one of two alternative observational vantages on a system and its operation(s) (the other being behavioral view). The alternative behavioral view "...reduces a system to its input-output performance or behavior, and reduces the environment to inputs to the system." (Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34) The recursive view, on the other hand, concentrates on the constitution of the subject system itself, with a concomitant emphasis on the system's autonomy. With respect to a given system, the recursive view "...emphasizes the mutual interconnectedness of its components..." and "... arises when emphasis is placed on the system's internal structure." (Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34; Varela, 1979, p. 86)

"If we stress the autonomy of a system Si ... then the environmental influences become perturbations (rather than inputs) which are compensated for through the underlying recursive interdependence of the system's components ... Each such component, however, is treated behaviorally, in terms of some input-output description.

The recursive viewpoint is more sophisticated than the behavioral, since it involves the simultaneous consideration of three different levels [i.e.: component / system-whole / environment -- Ed. ], whereas the behavioral strictly speaking involves only two [i.e.: system-whole / environment -- Ed. ]. ... [E]xpressing interest in how the system achieves its behavior through the interdependent action of its parts adds a new distinction, between the system and its parts."

(Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34)

The cognitive point of view (CPOV) conforming to the recursive view is illustrated in Tableau RecurView.

A summary illustration of the relationships between the recursive and behavioral views can be found in Figure CPOV.

Both these illustrations can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html


Although the foundation for the behavioral / recursive view dichotomy can be discerned in the primary literature going back to Maturana (1970a), it is neither so explicitly addressed, nor even invoked, as in the Varela sources cited here. Maturana's subsequent analyses of phenomena such as languaging and (most particularly) the hierarchical evolution of self-consciousness through recursive linguistic behavior could have been considerably more lucid had this (or an equivalent) logical accounting for indexicality been employed.


Cf. : behavioral view, cognitive point of view


regulation

"A notion valid in the domain of description of heteropoiesis, that reflects the simultaneous observation and description made by the designer (or its equivalent) of interdependent transitions of the system that occur in a specified order and at specified speeds."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)


Cf. : heteropoiesis


relations of constitution

One of the three subclasses of the relations of production defining the autopoietic organization's space of realization -- specifically, those relations which "determine that the components produced constitute the topology in which the autopoiesis is realized." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)

Synonyms include:


Cf. : component, relations of specificity, relations of order, relations of production


relations of order

One of the three subclasses of the relations of production defining the autopoietic organization's space of realization -- specifically, those relations which "determine that the concatenation of the components in the relations of constitution, specification, and order be the ones specified by the autopoiesis." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)


Cf. : component, relations of constitution, relations of specificity


relations of production

(Sometimes labeled "relations of production of components")

The class of relations governing the constitution of an autopoietic unity vis a vis its components, and which define the space of realization for an autopoietic organization. This class of relations is subdivided into three subclasses:

Elaboration and discussion of these relational categories comprise much of the more formal presentation of autopoiesis in the early literature. Allusion to these constructs is rare in literature after 1980.


Cf. : Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 88 ff.


Cf. : component, relations of constitution, relations of specificity, relations of order


relations of specification(s)

A variant label for relations of specificity.


relations of specificity

One of the three subclasses of the relations of production defining the autopoietic organization's space of realization -- specifically, those relations which "determine that the components produced be the specific ones defined by their participation in the autopoiesis." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 88, 137) These are sometimes referred to as relations of specification(s) (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 89-91).


Cf. : component, relations of constitution, relations of order, relations of production


relations of topology

A synonym for relations of constitution (Cf. Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 93).


repetition

Maturana (1995) has distinguished two classes of cyclical process based on the dual connotations theretofore subsumed under recursion. 'Repetition' is the term Maturana gives to the class of cyclical processes which exhibit reoccurrence, but without any connotation of progressive (re-)processing of that which has been produced or accreted from earlier occurrences.

"There is a recursion whenever the observer can claim that the application of an operation occurs on the consequences of its previous application. There is a repetition whenever an observer can claim that a given operation is realized again with independency of the consequences of its previous realization. Therefore, what makes the recurrent occurrence of a given operation a recursion or a repetition, is its manner of association with some other process. A consequence of this condition is that any circular process can be recursive or repetitive according to its association with other processes in the same or in a different domain. Another consequence is, that whenever the observer sees a repetition, he or she sees that everything remains otherwise the same, and that whenever the observer sees a recursion, he or she sees the appearance of a new phenomenal domain."

(Maturana, 1995)


replication

A subclass of reproduction attributable to a system "...which successively generates unities different from itself, but in principle identical to each other, and with an organization which the system determines in the process of their production..." (Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. 100)


Cf. : reproduction, copying


representation

A term used in its common sense of the phenomenal projection of an environmental entity or state in that curiously non-spatial space construed to be the 'mind'. Representation (as an accepted simulacrum for that which is presented to the senses) is a construct very central to cognitivistic accounts of mind and epistemology. Representation is not, however, an acceptable construct in the autopoietic account of these subjects. The account of living systems as autonomous unities which Maturana and Varela developed leads one:

"...away from representation, to the way in which adequate behavior reflects viability in the system's functioning rather than a correspondence with a given state of affairs."

(Varela, 1979, p. xii)

Cognitivistic accounts of mind invoke the gestalt of the computer -- i.e., the notion that the human mind is an information processing automaton analogous (if only abstractly) to a Turing machine. This has become the dominant metaphor in recent decades' approaches to studying perception and cognition. Within such a perspective, the key to understanding cognitive processes is the manner in which the subject system (e.g., the human 'mind') processes information. This central construct of 'information' is construed strictly as "...what is represented, and what is represented is a correspondence between symbolic units in one structure and symbolic units in another structure. Representation is fundamentally a picture of the relevant surroundings of a system, although not necessarily a carbon copy." (Varela, 1979, p. xiv) Varela's (1984b) label for such a representationally-focused stance is the representationist programme.

This representation-orientation is itself the result of a common bias in explaining the behavior of a system / organism. To illustrate, consider the following passages, in which Maturana is discussing conventional approaches to explaining perception, which frame the phenomenon being explained in terms of "... the computation of objects from the medium by the nervous system, from the capture of information by the organism's sensorial organs in its interaction with this medium." (Maturana, 1987, p. 320) For this account to be sufficient, it would require that "... the nervous system would build a representation or abstraction of the medium, that would allow it to generate behavior that is adequate ..." (Maturana, 1987, p. 320) Insofar as observers must describe / explain an organism's actions based solely on the evidence of (a) the organism's specific apparent behaviors and (b) the concurrent state(s) of the environment with which the organism is observed to interact, 'representations' offer a device for connecting these two evidentiary sources without regard to the organism's structural dynamics.

"... [T]he utilization the observer makes of the organism's behavior while describing a perturbational agent, be it as a "captured object", or as a "source of sensorial information" that originates perception, implies conceptually an explanatory paradigm in which the organism generates its behavior operating over representations of the medium obtained through the capture of objects external to it."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 322)

In turn, this implication (at least to the extent it entails 'objects external', links representational accounts of perception and cognition to the general explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis -- the paradigm Maturana attributes to Western science.

The problem with a representationalist perspective is that it obscures the nature of the phenomenon being studied by permitting the observer to equate her interpretation of an organism's cognition with the natural mode of operation in which the subject organism is in fact immersed. Regularities of behavior, treated as symbol-processing from a cognitivistic perspective, "...are not operational for the system, for it is we who are establishing correspondence from a vantage point that is not in the system's operation." (Varela, 1979, p. xiv) This subordination of explanatory framing to the observer's projected equivalence(s) results in a loss of as much as is gained from its denotative economy. "By insisting on looking at cognitive processes as mapping activities, one systematically obscures the codependence, the intimate interlock between a system's structure and the domain of cognitive acts, the informative world which it specifies through its operation." (Varela, 1979, p. xv) This does not, however, mean that focalized or reified referents are categorically excluded as explanatory devices. In fact, Maturana concedes that the sort of discretely-indexicable referents we treat as representations play a natural part in languaging:

"The fact that in language we manipulate objects as structurally determined entities independent of the observer, with which we configure descriptions and explanations of the world we live in, does not constitute a contradiction to our explanation of the phenomenon of perception. ... [O]bjects emerge with language and, as such, they consist of coordinations of actions in a community of observers and constitute, ultimately, explanations of the spontaneity of the flow of experience through the operational coherences of experience... For this very reason, the perceptual objects we talked about in this paper are objects that appear in language, and can be used recursively in the explanation of the phenomenon of perception. In these circumstances, the structural determinism we respect and utilize in our explanations belongs to the operation with perceptual objects as an expression of operational coordinations of the observer's experience, and does not violate the epistemological conditions of our explanation, nor validates the access to an independent reality."

(Maturana, 1987, p. 323)

Or, as Maturana puts it more tersely in the seminal paper on languaging:

"Representation, meaning, and description are notions that apply only and exclusively to the operation of living systems in a consensual domain, and are defined by an observer to refer to second-order consensual behavior. For this reason, these notions have no explanatory value for the characterization of the actual operation of living systems as autopoietic systems, even though they arise through structural coupling."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 50)


Cf. : behavior, perception, representationist programme


representationist programme

A term used by Varela (1984b) to denote the cognitivist notion of mind as speculum mundi -- a mirror which reflects or represents features of an objective world. Varela outlines the basic orientation of this programme as follows:

"The nervous system works by capturing features of the environment and constructing representations of the world the animal lives in to be used as adaptive actions or the organism. This programme regards the features of the environment to be represented as so powerful and central that they are the primary guidelines for the study of neural forms and behavior."

(Varela, 1984b, p. 213)

As such, this is a label connoting the general view (prevalent since Kant) that cognitive studies should be framed with respect to the manner in which a cognitive entity "represents" the external world in terms of internal states (e.g., "ideas", "concepts"). Because representation is considered an inadequate or misleading explanatory construct in the autopoietic approach, the 'representationist programme' and similar terms are typically invoked to denote the prevailing epistemological perspective (e.g., that of cognitivism) to which autopoietic theory stands in opposition.


Cf. : representation


reproduction

The general class subsuming "any of the processes of replication, copying, or self-reproduction." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137). Reproduction is not definitive of living systems; it is necessarily an operationally secondary attribute of an autopoietic unity. (Cf. : Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 100 ff.). As Varela (1979, p. 33) succinctly puts it: "Reproduction requires a unity to be reproduced: this is why reproduction is operationally secondary to the establishment of the unity, and it cannot enter as a defining feature of the organization of living systems."


Cf. : copying, replication, self-reproduction.


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Santiago theory

A term cited by Fritjof Capra in his 1996 book The Web of Life as a popular label for the theories emanating from Maturana and Varela's work. Although Capra claims widespread usage for this term, his book is the only point where this label occurs in the published (English language) literature.


Cf. : autopoiesis (2.), autopoiesis theory, autopoietic theory, biology of cognition, theory of autopoiesis.


scientific explanation

An explanation which is generated in accordance with scientific method. An alternative to a philosophical explanation.

"Different domains of human activities entail different intentions. Thus, as the intention of doing art is to generate an aesthetic experience, and the intention of doing technology is to produce, the intention of doing science is to explain. It is, therefore, in the context of explaining that the criterion of validation of a scientific explanation is the conjoined satisfaction, in the praxis of living of an observer, of four operational conditions, one of which, the proposition of an ad hoc mechanism that generates the phenomenon explained as a phenomenon to be witnessed by the observer in his or her praxis of living, is the scientific explanation."

(Maturana, 1988b, 4.i.)

"...[A] scientific explanation necessarily consists in the proposition of a model (explanatory hypothesis) that in its operation as a structure-specified (mechanistic) system generates, through the realization of the properties of its components in their neighbourhood relations, the phenomenon to be explained. A proposed explanation which explicitly or implicitly includes the phenomenon to be explained as a feature of the proposed system, is not a scientific explanation."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137)

Scientific explanations are acceptable if they contribute to satisfaction of the three above-cited 'operational conditions' in addition to the one mandating their generation. This set of conditions Maturana terms the criteria of validation of scientific explanations, and more details on them (as the context for what may or may constitute an effective scientific explanation) can be found in the entry for that term.


Cf. : criteria of validation of scientific explanations, explanation, scientific method, philosophical explanation


scientific method

Over the years, Maturana has generated and refined his own version of scientific method -- i.e., the procedure employed to generate and validate scientific explanations. In an early exposition, he concisely outlines the four stages of this method as:

"(a) observation of a phenomenon that henceforth is taken as a problem to be explained;

(b) proposition of an explanatory hypothesis in the form of a deterministic system that can generate a phenomenon isomorphic with the one observed,

(c) proposition of a computed state or process in the system specified by the hypothesis as a predicted phenomenon to be observed; and

(d) observation of the predicted phenomenon."

(Maturana, 1978; vertical spacing added for readability)

This method can be construed as a variation on the conventional scientific methodology in which emphasis is placed on the observer as conducting the enquiry and a system as the expected form by which the hypothesis should be framed. The emphasis on the observer derives from Maturana's position that "...science is a closed cognitive domain in which all statements are, of necessity, subject dependent, valid only in the domain of interactions in which the standard observer exists and operates." (Maturana, 1978)

Maturana's method (strictly followed) prioritizes explanatory simulation (with respect to a systemic hypothesis) over abstracted experiments conducted with regard to one or another isolated phenomenon / element presumed relevant to the problem at hand. Assuming the inquiring observer successfully completes these four steps, "...he or she then maintains that the model has been validated and that the system under study is in that respect isomorphic to it and operates accordingly. Granted all the necessary constraints for the specification of the model, and all the necessary attempts to deny the second observations as controls, this is all that the scientific method permits." (Maturana, 1978) Phrased another way: "... a system or a phenomenon has been scientifically explained if a standard observer accepts that the relations or processes that define it as a system or phenomenon of a particular class have been intentionally reproduced, conceptually or concretely." (Maturana, 1978)

This analysis of scientific method is not divorced from the mechanicistic / structure-oriented stance of autopoietic theory. Maturana links his version of scientific method back to the canonical theory when he specifies that:

"The scientific method allows us to deal only with systems whose structural changes can be described as determined by the relations and interactions of their components, and which, therefore, operate as structure-determined systems. ... Consequently, every scientific assertion is a statement that necessarily implies a structure-determined system proposed by the standard observer as a model of the structure-determined system that he or she assumes to be responsible for his or her observations."

(Maturana, 1978)

The explanation for this last assertion is developed in more detail over the following decade (arguably culminating in Maturana: 1988a; 1988b). This expanded explanation first notes that a candidate scientific explanation is acceptable "...only if it describes a mechanism that produces that situation or phenomenon as a consequence of its operation as one of four operational conditions that the observer can conjointly satisfy in his or her praxis of living." (Maturana, 1978, p. 34) These four operational conditions, circumscribing the course of scientific enquiry as well as its standards, Maturana terms the criteria of validation of scientific explanations. For a more detailed exposition of these conditions, the reader is referred to the entry for criteria of validation of scientific explanations.

At this point, the linkage to autopoietic theory's mechanicistic stance becomes apparent, but only once one realizes that Maturana's invocation of an explanatory 'mechanism' has been perhaps more literal than was apparent:

"A dynamic structure determined system, that is, a structure determined system constituted as a system in continuous structural change, is a mechanism. In these circumstances, to claim that the criterion of validation of a scientific explanation is centred around the proposition of a mechanism that gives rise to the phenomenon to be explained as a consequence of its operation is to claim that science can only deal with structure determined systems. Or, in other words, to claim that a scientific explanation entails the propositions of a mechanism that generates the phenomenon to be explained, is to claim that the observer can propose scientific explanations only in those domains of operational coherences of his or her praxis of living in which he or she distinguishes structure determined systems."

(Maturana, 1988a, pp. 36-37)

"...[A] scientific explanation necessarily consists in the proposition of a model (explanatory hypothesis) that in its operation as a structure-specified (mechanistic) system generates, through the realization of the properties of its components in their neighbourhood relations, the phenomenon to be explained."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137)

As such, Maturana's (re-)formulation of 'scientific method' establishes linkages between the praxis of scientific enquiry and the foundational perspective(s) upon which his and Varela's primary theories were constructed. It also suggests a basis for removing the often-presumed distance between everyday life and such enquiry, by promoting a view that scientific explanation (as the process underlying this scientific method) is essentially isomorphic with the manner in which an observer reflects upon her everyday praxis of living.


Cf. : criteria of validation of scientific explanations, scientific explanation, scientific statement


scientific statement

A statement made in the course of scientific enquiry and validated in accordance with scientific method. More particularly, scientific statements are analyzed by Maturana with respect to his version of scientific method, in which the role of the observer is highlighted. This in turn means that, for Maturana, scientific statements are not evaluable solely on 'objective' criteria, insofar as they are products of observers observing within a particular context of observation.

"...[B]ecause only those statements that we generate as observers through the use of the scientific method are scientific statements, science is necessarily a domain of socially accepted operational statements validated by a procedure that specifies the observer who generates them as the standard observer who can perform the operations required for their generation."

(Maturana, 1978)

Because, to Maturana, scientific method necessitates reference to structure-determined systems, "...every scientific assertion is a statement that necessarily implies a structure determined system proposed by the standard observer as a model of the structure-determined system that he or she assumes to be responsible for his or her observations." (Maturana, 1978) This in turn means that predictions deriving from scientific procedure"... are computations of state trajectories in structure determined systems, and chance or indeterminism enter in scientific assertions only as computational artifices used in models that assume object systems that cannot be observed in detail, not as a reflection of an ontological necessity." (Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : scientific explanation, scientific method


scientific theory

As delineated in Maturana (1991), any theory generated according to the scientific method as a composite of scientific explanations. The alternative to a philosophical theory.

Details of the comparison between scientific and philosophical theories are provided under the entry for theory.


Cf. : scientific method, scientific explanation, theory


scientist

As time went on, Maturana's reformulation of scientific method eventually came to the point where he felt motivated to address how scientific enquiry (and enquirers) operated, and how they were distinct from philosophical enquirers (i.e., philosophers). The exact reason for this exercise must be left to speculation, but it would be a reasonable guess that years of criticism from 'philosophers' and those adhering to conventional positions of 'philosophy' (particularly with respect to the controversies surrounding ontology and epistemology) had something to do with it.

Generally speaking, a 'scientist' was defined to be someone operating in accordance with Maturana's framework of scientific method, and whose work resulted in scientific explanations. Because this positive definition of a 'scientist' is still framed by comparison and contrast with the characterization of a 'philosopher', it is probably best to consider them together. Table SciPhi-ers offers a comparison of the two roles as Maturana delineated them.


TABLE SCIPHI-ERS:
Maturana's (1991) Comparison of Scientists and Philosophers

THE SCIENTIST : A PHILOSOPHER:
"... lives under the passion for explaining with the use of the criterion of validation of scientific explanations, is careful in its application and in not confusing phenomenal domains while doing so, and is willing to accept any phenomenon that he or she may distinguish as an open subject for a scientific explanation." "... lives under the passion for reflection upon his or her actions and their relations with his or her domain of existence in a human community, frequently but not necessarily always viewing them in a domain of values, and always doing so under the basic constraint of operating in an impeccable logical coherence with certain basic premises that he or she has implicitly or explicitly accepted a priori. "
"... starts with an experience that he or she takes as a phenomenon to be explained." "... starts with a set of implicit and explicit basic premises that he or she accepts a priori."
"... proceeds to explain it satisfying the criterion of validation of scientific explanations." "... proceeds to explain his or her experiences and the worlds that he or she lives through their application."
[Supported By:]

"... the use of other experiences and the operational coherences that they entail."

[Supported By:]

"... other consistent notions while he or she is careful to generate an explanatory system that conserves them."

"... constitutively free to change explanatory notions, concepts, and paradigms in the process of generating their scientific explanations and theories because what they must conserve is the phenomena or experiences to be explained." "... must constitutively conserve some principle, values, or access to some desired result, and, hence, explanatory notions, concepts, and paradigms, in the process of generating their philosophical explanations and theories."
BOTH:

"...operate as rational beings to the extent that they follow the operational coherences of language as a domain of recursive consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of actions."
SOURCE FOR QUOTED MATERIAL:
Maturana (1991)


Cf. : scientific explanation, scientific method, philosophical explanation


Scylla and Charybdis

The dilemma of the two menaces (from Greek legends) is an often-invoked illustrative metaphor in the primary literature. In most cases, it is invoked for illustrating the epistemological dilemma of autopoietic theory. Varela (1984b) speaks of "...the Scylla of representationism and the Charybdis of solipsism..." (p. 217) as the polar extremes between which a 'middle way' must be navigated. As Maturana and Varela put it in The Tree of Knowledge:

"This is like walking on the razor's edge. On one side there is a trap: the impossibility of understanding cognitive phenomena if we assume a world of objects that informs us because there is no mechanism that makes that 'information' possible. On the other side, there is another trap: the chaos and arbitrariness of nonobjectivity, where everything seems possible. We must learn to take the middle road, right on the razor's edge."

(Maturana and Varela, 1992, p. 133)

The Scylla vs. Charybdis dilemma (with respect to epistemology) is graphically illustrated in The Tree of Knowledge (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 134, Figure 35).

Varela (1979, p. 266), in debating the pros and cons of introducing a new term ('in-formation') to clarify his reformulation of the hopelessly inimical connotations of 'information', refers to his predicament as "...the Scylla of misunderstanding and the Charybdis of not talking or talking private talk..."


SDS

An acronym for "structure-determined systems" -- i.e., those systems (composite unities) which are subject to structural determination.

Synonyms: structurally-determined system(s)


Cf. : structural determination, structural determinism, structure-determined system


second-order (autopoietic unity / system)

The attribution for a system composed of autopoietic unities (each of which realizes an allopoietic role in the constitution and realization of the collective) which meets the conditions for autopoiesis as a unity itself.

"If the autopoiesis of the component unities of a composite autopoietic system conforms to allopoietic roles that through the production of relations of constitution, specification and order define an autopoietic space, the new system becomes in its own right an autopoietic unity of second order."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 110)

Maturana and Varela (1980, pp. 109-111) attribute second-order autopoietic constitution to multicellular organisms.


selection

"A process of differential realization of a production of unities in a context that specifies the unitary organization that can be realized. In a population of autopoietic unities, selection is a process of differential realization of autopoiesis, and hence, of differential self-production."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)


selective interaction

A class of interaction in which the structural changes a structurally-determined system undergoes as a result of interacting with an independent entity "...are only selected by it [the independent entity -- Ed.] from a domain of possible structural changes that the system may undergo..." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139)

The alternative / complement to instructive interactions.


self-conscious (system)

A label used by Mingers (1995) to strictly denote symbolic systems which "...can, through language, create descriptions of themselves and then interact with these descriptions, thus recursively generating their conscious selves." (Mingers, 1995, p. 84)

It is important to note that Mingers' restriction of this term to symbolic systems makes it distinct from Maturana's connotations for the similar term (Cf. self-consciousness) in terms of referential context (symbolic versus mechanicistic), but not in basic thrust.


self-consciousness

Most generally: "The domain of self-observation." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137) More specifically, an observer:

"...can interact with those of its own descriptive states which are linguistic descriptions of itself. By doing so it generates the domain of self-linguistic descriptions within which it is an observer of itself as an observer, a process which can be necessarily repeated in an endless manner. We call this domain the domain of self-observation and we consider that self-conscious behavior is self-observing behavior, that is, behavior within the domain of self-observation."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 121)

The above-cited passage clearly contextualizes 'self-consciousness' in the explanatory framework of canonical autopoietic theory -- i.e., a mechanicistic perspective emphasizing structural manifestation / realization and recursive auto-engagement enabled by (and conducted within the scope of) an organizationally / operationally closed system.

These contextual linkages are unfortunately overlooked in some latter-day (e.g., post-1990) invocations of Maturana as a theorist consistent with more figurative (and, arguably, more "vitalistic") perspectives on psychological / personal issues. One reason for this may be that Maturana has progressively framed discussions of self and self-consciousness with respect to languaging -- a process whose presentation has itself progressively concentrated on inter-observer interactivity in a social domain.

"For a living system in its operation as a closed system, there is no inside or outside; it has no way of making the distinction. Yet, in language such a distinction arises as a particular consensual coordination of actions in which the participants are recursively brought forth as distinctions of systems of distinctions. When this happens, self-consciousness arises as a domain of distinctions in which the observers participate in the consensual distinctions of their participations in language through languaging. It follows from this that the individual exists only in language, that the self exists only in language, and that self-consciousness as a phenomenon of self distinction takes place only in language."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.vii.)

Because 'language' is taken to mainly connote 'interactivity among languagers', such characterizations seem to shift referential focus from the individual to the social collective. The appearance of such a shift is reinforced by passages such as the following:

"Furthermore, it also follows that since language as a domain of consensual coordinations of actions is a social phenomenon, self-consciousness is a social phenomenon, and as such it does not take place within the anatomical confines of the bodyhood of the living systems that generate it; on the contrary, it is external to them and pertains to their domain of interactions as a manner of coexistence."

(Maturana, 1988b, 9.vii.)

Given the linguistic / social connotations of passages such as this last one, it's not surprising that writers have occasionally invoked Maturana as an exemplar of a theorist on "self-consciousness" in the course of discussions whose foci or stated orientation(s) diverge from the mechanicistic vantage from which Maturana's explanation of this phenomenon originally proceeded. Leaping from organizational closure all the way to 'self-consciousness' without regard for the intervening levels of recursive linguistic behavior which underpin that final focus serves only to confound the issues, blur useful distinctions, and ultimately confuse the reader.

Fortunately, Maturana has recently clarified the generative path linking consensual behavior to self-consciousness by outlining a basic schema for the generation of 'self-consciousness' through recursive linguistic behavior. (Maturana, 1995; Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995) This account is framed with respect to progressive levels (or phases, or domains) of recursive interactivity facilitated by the organizationally / operationally closed nervous system. This progressive character links "self-consciousness" to the biology of the (sufficiently complex) living system and necessarily entails that the higher 'levels' are contingent upon the 'lower' or more basic ones. The basic pattern or manner of linguistic behavior which 'recurses' proceeds as follows:

"Each recursion in the flow of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviour in which we are as we language, brings forth an object, and each recursion brings forth a different kind of object according to the relational circumstances in which it takes place. In this dynamics, as an object arises in the first recursion in the consensual coordinations of behaviour, the distinction of an object arises in the second recursion. As objects are distinguished, another recursion in the flow of consensual coordinations of behaviour (a third recursion) distinguishes relations between objects, and the possibility is open for the constitution of a domain of relations as relations of relations are distinguished in a next recursion. In more general terms, since at any level of recursion the consensual behaviours coordinated become objects, and thus a fundament for further recursive distinctions, any level of recursion may recursively become a domain of objects that operates as a ground level for further recursions."

(Maturana, 1995, p. 155)

Working from this general basis, Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier (1995) outlined a six-level progression of recursive linguistic behavior in which self-consciousness arises. This progression is illustrated in Table SelfCons below.


TABLE SELFCONS:
Delineation of Self-Consciousness via Recursive Linguistic Behavior
Based on Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier (1995)

1st


Language

Languaging

"A first recursion in the linguistic behavioral domain, as it becomes part of the manner of living of such an organism, will constitute language and "languaging", in terms of consensual coordination of consensual coordinations of behavior (Maturana 1978). At the same time, as the circular processes of the brain become coupled to the linear flow of "languaging", that brain becomes a "languaging" brain."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

Objects "Furthermore, the first recursion of coordinations of linguistic behavior, as it constitutes language, constitutes objects, by making a consensual coordination of behavior a token or object for other consensual coordinations of behavior. From here on, objects, different kinds of objects, will arise in language with every new recursion, and the kind of these objects will depend on the behavioral circumstances in which the new recursions occur."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

Cf.:

"...[T]he phenomenon connoted by the word perception consists in the configuration of perceptual objects made by the observer, through the distinction of operational cuts in the organism's behavior, while describing interactions of this organism in the flow of its structural correspondence with the medium."

(Maturana, 1987, Section 3)

2nd


Observing [I.e.]"... the distinction of the operation of distinction of an object."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

3rd


The Observer "A third recursion gives rise to the observer, in the distinction of observing that localizes observing."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

4th


Self-
Consciousness
"Self-consciousness, that is, the observing of the observer, will arise in the fourth recursion on of the coordination of coordinations of consensual behavior."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

5th


Responsibility [I.e.] "... the experience of responsibility as self-awareness"

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

6th


Freedom [I.e.]"... the experience of freedom as self-awareness of self-awareness."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)



Cf. : consensual / consensuality, language, languaging, linguistic behavior, object, recursion


self-influencing (system)

A label used by Mingers (1995) in attempting to sort out the plethora of "self-*" labels (Cf. self-organization ) and to characterize Maturana and Varela's work in relation to such terminology. Self-influencing systems are those that incorporate:

"...what are often called causal loops or circular causality -- that is, patterns of causation or influence that become circular ... This creates a positive loop leading to exponential increase or decrease and, more commonly, there are negative loops which lead to stability."

(Mingers, 1995, p. 83)

As such, Mingers' construct "self-influencing" is an adjectival label (attributable to a unity / system) which alludes to the ongoing circularity of effectuation by which a composite unity may undergo perturbation deriving from its own states / actions. More figuratively, this construct can be seen as an adjectival label for those systems which reciprocally influence their environing circumstances (and themselves) as described by Varela, Thompson & Rosch in The Embodied Mind. It is important to note that Mingers' definition, however, also alludes to basic cybernetics' notions of 'positive' and 'negative' feedback -- an explanatory construct which is nowhere specifically embraced in Maturana and Varela's seminal papers, and which is explicitly devalued by Varela in Principles of Biological Autonomy (1979).


Cf. : self-organization , self-producing (system), self-regulating (system), self-sustaining (system)


self-maintaining (system)

In the usage of Hejl (1984, p. 63), any series of "...systems in which self-organizing systems 'produce' each other in an operationally closed way." The allusion to 'self-organizing systems' is made with regard to Hejl's specific usage of that term. As such, Hejl's usage is distinct from Mingers' (1995) category of self-sustaining and self-producing systems.


Cf. : self-organizing systems, self-producing (system), self-sustaining (system)


self-observation

The term used to denote an observer's observation of herself.

"...can interact with those of its own descriptive states which are linguistic descriptions of itself. By doing so it generates the domain of self-linguistic descriptions within which it is an observer of itself as an observer, a process which can be necessarily repeated in an endless manner. We call this domain the domain of self-observation and we consider that self-conscious behavior is self-observing behavior, that is, behavior within the domain of self-observation."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 121)

Self-consciousness is defined as "the domain of self-observation." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137)


self-observing behavior

A term invoked in Autopoiesis and Cognition (p. 121) to denote "...behavior within the domain of self-observation" -- i.e., the domain of behaviors by which an observer is capable of observing itself as an observer, and the basis for self-consciousness (as addressed / explained within autopoietic theory).


self-organization

Autonomous and autopoietic systems are often accorded the character of being self-organizing. This term, however, "illuminates at low wattage." Self-organization is typically used to denote a feature or quality of systems as a result of which some characteristic of the system is determined by the system itself. If this sounds vague, it is because the term 'self-organization' has been used in a variety of distinct senses, including:

 

These nuances are not mutually exclusive, and authors have invoked them in varying 'mixtures'. Any approach to treating enterprises as self-organizing entities should, therefore, consider which (or how many) of these connotations are being addressed, as well as what feature(s) of the given system are being addressed as 'self-organizing' (Whitaker, 1995).

In addition to the above-cited ambiguities within the scope of systems theory and science, it must be noted that the term "self-organization" has attained a currency in administrative, sociological, and especially political circles, where it connotes an enterprise (e.g., a non-profit institution or advocacy group) which more or less spontaneously (via actions of its participants) coalesces into an operational entity, and / or which (re-)generates the order of its constitution and its function. This separate but common application of the term may sometimes play havoc with large-scale searches intended to pinpoint references to the systems-theoretic usages emphasized herein.

The strong association of autopoiesis to 'self-organization' by others has not been reflected in any persistent allusion to 'self-organization' in the writings of Maturana and Varela themselves. As such, there is scant evidence in the primary literature upon which to assess autopoietic theory in light of the more widespread (and definitionally-scattered) notion of 'self-organization'. Perhaps the most direct such allusion occurs in the course of developing the ramifications of the Closure Thesis:

"The last aspect of the Closure Thesis we wish to consider is that of self-organization. In fact, by adopting the Thesis we are ipso facto saying that the establishment of an organizational closure in a given domain is the mechanism for self-organization. [Footnote 12 at this point: The converse: that every conceivable closed organization is stable, seems false. It raises the question of viability in a given domain, of different degrees of stability for different forms of closure. Viability is determined by specific properties of components, and is not, properly speaking, inherent in the organization itself. :end footnote] By self-organization we mean here the spontaneous assembly of a system's components to become a stable unity exhibiting new or emergent properties."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 318)

NOTE: The delineation of 'self-organization' given in the last sentence (to the extent it connotes origin rather than maintenance of a system) resembles Hejl's usage of the term (Cf. self-organizing systems 2.).

In contrast, Maturana's allusions to the notion of 'self-organization' have been characterized by an unwillingness to embrace that label as necessarily related to 'autopoiesis' or to the mode of explanation from which his theories proceed. The argument invokes the etymology of the term 'self-organization' to note that it insinuates there is a 'self' which is being 'organized'. Because the 'self' is not a defining characteristic of the autopoietic living system, the adoption of 'self' as an explanatory vantage conflicts with the explanatory perspective of the biology of cognition (cf. Maturana, 1995). The basic points of this position are summarized by Pille Bunnell in the following excerpt:

"To say "self organized" implies that a self does the organizing, but the "self" arises from the organization, it is the emergent domain. The organization defines the identity of "self". The emphasis is that the composition (poesis) is not external to the entity. A better way to phrase the underlying concept is "spontaneous organization". Similarly, translation of autopoiesis to the English term "self composing" is misleading. The auto of autopoiesis does not imply a self in the desire of its own being."

(Pille Bunnell, notes on 'autopoiesis' in the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) Concepts Webpage. These notes are based on Maturana's May 1997 comments on Conservation of Coherence in an Epigenetic Cosmos)


Cf. : self-* (system), self-*, self-organizing systems


self-organizing systems

1.

Any of the class of systems exhibiting the feature of self-organization . This definition is only as precise as the circumscription given the term 'self-organization'. Because that term has been invoked in a number of non-isomorphic senses, the notion of 'self-organizing system' is correspondingly vague outside a specific referential context.


2.

In the usage of Hejl (1984, p. 63), those systems '...which, due to certain initial and limiting conditions arise spontaneously as specific states or as sequences of states.' As such, Hejl limits the term to those systems which coalesce and whose coalescence is induced by ambient conditions including the pattern of their (imminent) components' arrangement and interactions.


3.

In the usage of Jantsch (The Self-Organizing Universe, 1980), an apparent synonym for dissipative structures, of which he considers autopoietic systems to be a subset exhibiting a high degree of (self-maintained) stability. Although the theme of this entire book is self-organization, the term is never specifically defined or delineated anywhere in the discussion.


4.

A category or label which Mingers (1995) specifically (and interestingly) excludes from his taxonomy of self-* systems (Cf. : pp. 83-84). Mingers make an interesting point when he states the notion of 'self-organizing systems' "...seems to me redundant within Maturana's terminology. Each system embodies a particular organization ... and this organization remains the same as long as the system maintains its identity. What is implied by self-organization is actually structural change..." (p. 84)


It is interesting to note that although Maturana and Varela's theories have often been invoked, reviewed, and critiqued under the rubric of 'self-organization', there is nowhere in the core literature where they repeatedly invoke, much less rely upon, this term. This has left an opening through which a variety of authors (e.g., the ones cited above) have been free to introduce or project their own interpretations / definitions / allusions.


Cf. : self-organization , self-* (system)


self-producing (system)

A label used by Mingers (1995) in attempting to sort out the plethora of "self-*" labels (Cf. self-organization ) and to characterize Maturana and Varela's work in relation to such terminology. Self producing systems are those exhibit autopoiesis -- i.e., they accomplish, through their circular, closed network(s) of operations the ongoing production of the components realizing the system itself. (Mingers, 1995, p. 83) The equation of 'self-producing' with 'autopoietic' is the extent of the definition given.


Cf. : autopoiesis , autopoietic machine / system, self-influencing (system), self-organization , self-sustaining (system), self-regulating (system).


self-reference

Definition by demonstration: see Encyclopaedia Autopoietica (1.).


self-referential (system)

1.

In the usage of Hejl (1984, p. 63), those systems that '... organize the states of their components in an operationally closed way.' Hejl uses this definition to distinguish such systems from his delineation of self-organizing systems (2.) and self-maintaining systems.


2.

A label used by Mingers (1995) to strictly denote" ...symbolic systems that can make reference to themselves. These are generally linguistic or pictorial ..." (Mingers, 1995, p. 83-84) It is important to note that Mingers' restriction of this term to symbolic systems makes it quite distinct from Maturana's similar term (Cf. self-referred / self-referring (system)1.), not to mention from the non- or anti-symbolic stance from which Maturana and Varela's espoused mechanicism proceeds.


Cf. : self-referred / self-referring systems


self-referred / self-referring (system)

An early construct used by Maturana to distinguish those systems "...that could only be characterized with reference to themselves." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xiii) The circular organization of a living system affords it "... a self-referring domain of interactions (it is a self-referring system), and its condition of being a unit of interactions is maintained because its organization has functional significance only in relation to the maintenance of its circularity and defines its domain of interactions accordingly." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 10) The opposite of an allo-referred system.


Cf. : allo-referred (systems), circular organization, self-referential (system)


self-regulating (system)

A label used by Mingers (1995) in attempting to sort out the plethora of "self-*" labels (Cf. self-organization ) and to characterize Maturana and Varela's work in relation to such terminology. Self regulating systems are those "...which are organized so as to keep some essential variable(s) within particular limits. They rely on negative feedback and specified limits." (Mingers, 1995, p. 83)

Taken at face value, this category would seem to link to the homeostasis which (in the early primary literature) was often invoked in characterizing autonomous and autopoietic systems.


Cf. : self-organization , self-producing (systems), self-sustaining (systems)


self-reproduction

A subclass of reproduction peculiar to autopoietic systems. The process by which "...a unity produces another with a similar organization to its own, through a process that is coupled to the process of its own specifications. Only autopoietic systems can self-reproduce." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137-138)


self-sustaining (system)

A label used by Mingers (1995) in attempting to sort out the plethora of "self-*" labels (Cf. self-organization ) and to characterize Maturana and Varela's work in relation to such terminology. Self-sustaining systems are those "...that are organizationally closed but not self-producing. Their operations close in upon themselves so that they are necessary and sufficient for their continuance." (Mingers, 1995, p. 83)

Taken at face value, this category would seem to closely match Varela's (1979) class of autonomous machines / systems.


Cf. : self-organization , self-producing (system), self-regulating (system), autonomous machine


semantic (description / attribution)

The character of an observer's description of the interaction among two or more coupling organisms when it is framed in such a way as to purport that observer-ascribed meaning actually determines the course of the described interaction(s). (Cf. Maturana and Varela, 1992, p. 209)


semantic coupling

The observer-ascribed characterization of communicative interaction as a process in which the observed interactors reciprocally compute their responses in a manner determined by the apparent informative inputs received during interaction. The term is used in Maturana (1975; 1978) to describe the conventional explanatory shorthand by which we describe linguistic interactivity.


Cf. : communicative *, languaging, metaphor of the tube


semantic domain

A label used loosely to connote a domain of abstracted or symbolic description, where that domain is distinct from the domain within which the described / explained phenomenon is realized. One illustration of this usage is Maturana's comments (1980a, p. 46) on the implications of his and Varela's treatment of living systems in terms of their constitutive form:

"...(T)his emphasis on autonomy forced us: ...(b) to translate questions that demanded answers in a semantic domain, into questions that demand answers in a structural domain."


Cf. : semantic phenomena


semantic phenomena

A term used to connote those phenomena that are explanatorily framed with respect to meaning- laden abstractions or conceptual constructs. The term occurs as a means to distinguish conventional perspectives on (e.g., cognitive) phenomena from the structural perspective developed by Maturana and Varela. A good illustration of this usage can be found in Maturana (1980a, p. 46), where he lists one outcome of the emphasis on systemic autonomy in his and Varela's work to be the necessity:

"...to treat cognitive phenomena (such as language or perception) as structural phenomena by formulating them as phenomena of ontogenic or phylogenic adaptation, resulting from ontogenic or phylogenic structural selection, rather than as phenomena of transfer of information, communication, or meaning. These, as semantic phenomena, cannot be handled by biology."

Although one might make a case for distinguishing between cognitive and semantic phenomena based on whether or not they are (in a given case) specifically qualified with respect to a particular cognitive system (or class of systems), such a distinction is not explicitly supported by the primary literature.


Cf. : cognitive phenomena, structural phenomenon, semantic domain


simple unity

A term for a unity which is addressed solely as a unary whole; a unity which cannot be (or is not) discerned as having the componential constitution definitive of a composite unity . It is important to distinguish between simple and composite unities because "...only a composite unity has structure and organization, a simple unity does not." (Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xx)

The distinction between simple and composite unities is not an ontic absolute. Instead, it is predicated upon the operation(s) of distinction via which an observer addresses a given unity. A composite unity is, so to speak, a simple unity upon which further distinctions (i.e., beyond its simple distinction as a whole) have been accomplished:

[Through the primary act of distinction] "...we specify a unity as an entity distinct from a background, characterize both unity and background with the properties with which this operation endows them, and specify their separability. A unity thus distinguished is a simple unity that defines through its properties the space in which it exists and the phenomenal domain which it may generate in its interactions with other unities."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)

A simple unity may, through subsequent recursive operation(s) of distinction, be educed as a composite unity comprised of components. One must take care to note that the space or domain of eduction for a composite unity is not (and arguably cannot be) the same as that for the simple unity to which it corresponds.

"...[W]e can always treat a composite unity as a simple unity that does not exist in the space of its components, but which exists in a space that it defines through the properties that characterize it as a simple unity."

(Maturana, in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. xix)

This dual character of a composite unity (addressable as either composite or simple) has an effect on an observer's engagement with (and, hence, ability to describe / explain) it. This in turn links to the distinction between the composite unity's organization and its structure :

"The organization of a system defines it as a composite unity and determines its properties as such a unity by specifying a domain in which it can interact (and, hence, be observed) as an unanalyzable whole endowed with constitutive properties. The properties of a composite unity as an unanalyzable whole establish a space in which it operates as a simple unity. In contrast, the structure of a system determines the space in which it exists as a composite unity that can be perturbed through the interactions of its components, but the structure does not determine its properties as an unity."

(Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : composite unity , organization , structure , unity


social phenomena

1.

In specific usage: "...those phenomena that arise in the spontaneous constitution of third-order couplings." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 193), or "...those phenomena associated with the participation of organisms in constituting third-order unities." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 195)

"...[S]ocial phenomena are the phenomena of coexistence that take place when living systems spontaneously interact recurrently with each other in the flow of their living just because it happens to them in their conservation of organization and adaptation."

(Maturana, 1985)

Because this ongoing recursive interaction -- particularly as it relates to an orientation of acceptance in coexistence with others -- forms the basis for Maturana's formulation of love, it is no surprise that he draws a connection between love and social phenomena:

"If love occurs, there is socialization, if it does not occur, there is no socialization. Furthermore, I am also saying that as such love is expression of a spontaneous structural congruence that constitutes a beginning that can be expanded or restricted, and even disappear, in the coontogenic structural drift that begins to take place when it takes place. And, since I say that social phenomena are the phenomena that take place in the spontaneous coontogenic structural drift, I am also saying that love is the fundament of social phenomena and not its consequence, and that social phenomena in any domain of interactions last only as long as love lasts in that domain."

(Maturana, 1985)


2.

In colloquial usage, this term occasionally appears to connote those 'phenomena' which we associate with interpersonal activities and relationships in everyday life.


Cf. : third-order


social systems

The aspect of autopoietic theory most debated currently is how the theory applies to social systems. The theory has already been invoked and employed in social / management analyses of enterprises and / or their information technology needs. In the information technology (IT) community, Winograd and Flores (1986) are the most widely known and cited authors who invoke autopoietic theory in analyzing enterprise activities. Morgan (1986) makes extensive use of autopoiesis in discussing the form, function, and character of enterprises. Von Krogh and Roos (1995) apply principles from autopoietic theory in laying out a schema for corporate knowledge building. Mingers (1994) analyzes the points of similarity between autopoietic theory and sociologist Anthony Giddens' structuration theory, which is becoming popular in MIS and CSCW circles under the label Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST).

The issue of how autopoiesis can or should be applied to social systems is an ongoing topic of debate . For our purposes, it's enough to note there are two primary approaches in applying autopoiesis to social systems. The first applies the formal aspects of autopoietic theory (e.g., organization ; autopoiesis) to the social system itself. The second derives an explanation of the social system from the phenomenological aspects of the theory (e.g., the observer; languaging). These two approaches have demarcated the lines of debate over the years. For the purposes of this Encyclopaedia Autopoietica, we shall (a) briefly review what Maturana and Varela themselves have to say about social systems, then (b) summarize the only sociological elaboration consistent with Maturana and Varela's own theories -- that of the German sociologist Peter Hejl.

The knowledgeable reader will immediately question the apparent lack of reference to the widely-known work of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who for (all too) many scholars has been the main point of introduction to the concept of "autopoiesis." Luhmann's work is deliberately excluded from this edition of the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica on the grounds that his idiosyncratic usage of "autopoiesis", interesting though it may be, has yet to be framed with respect to the canonical elements upon which that construct was originally developed (e.g., domain, organization , structure ). As a result, Luhmann's usage of "autopoiesis" cannot yet be evaluated with respect to canonical autopoietic theory. A more formal discussion of the explanatory risks entailed in applications such as Luhmann's can be found under the entry for autopoiesis. Inclusion of such work in a central reference on the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory has therefore been judged to be premature and inadvisable.

Maturana and Varela on Social Systems

Maturana (1980) considers social systems as emergent from or constituted by the interactivity of their participants, not as a priori abstract units. To Maturana, social systems are realized primarily in linguistic (consensual) domains. The character of a social system is dependent on the specific interactions among its participants and varies with changes in those interactions (e.g., regarding frequency, connectivity, membership). As a medium, the social system exerts influence upon individual participants through affordances for and regularities in their interactivity, and this influence is recursively exercised upon the emergent social system through the participants' ongoing interactions. The participants may operate in multiple social systems (e.g., teams, clubs), although within each one they function as if engaged in a distinct domain of interactions. Distinctions (to an observer) among behaviors in different such settings are construed as roles delineating individual activity within the respective social domains. Because these roles are dynamic descriptions, the participant (as an observer) may recursively distinguish among them, allowing her to differentiate among (and realize) multiple such roles within one such social domain.

The closest that Maturana and Varela jointly come to acknowledging social systems in and of themselves is to characterize those systems as the third-order unities constituted by the social phenomena (third-order couplings) among organisms. Social systems (of any duration) manifest a phenomenology "...in which the individual ontogenies of all the participating organisms occur fundamentally as part of the network of co-ontogenies that they bring about in constituting third- order unities." (Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 193) Varela (1981a;1981b;1989) disagrees with ascriptions of autopoiesis to human institutions, and labels such attempts as categorically mistaken. He does allow for addressing enterprises as exhibiting autonomy rather than autopoiesis (Cf. Varela, 1979, pp. 54-57).

What difference does the autonomy / autopoiesis distinction make in addressing social systems? Varela considers autopoiesis as a distinct case of autonomy in which a system produces its own components (i.e., its structure ), the paradigmatic case being chemical productions in living systems. Varela claims '...it seems very farfetched to describe social interactions in terms of production of components' (Varela, 1981a, p. 15) because '[T]he kinds of relations that define units like a firm ... or a conversation ... are better captured by operations other than productions. Such units are autonomous, but with an organizational closure that is characterizable in terms of relations such as instructions and linguistic agreement.' (Varela, 1981b, p. 38)

Varela's reservations are rooted in the formalizations of autopoietic theory. For example, an autopoietic system's production of its own components provides it with a 'topological boundary' delineated in the space in which it is realized. The existence and character of such a boundary is one of the formal criteria by which a system is attributed autopoiesis (Varela, Maturana & Uribe, 1974). Social systems do not exhibit any such topological boundary, and this has been one of the main points upon which attributions of autopoiesis to social systems have been criticized (Cf. Mingers, 1995). Falling back to an ascription of autonomy rather than autopoiesis would avoid many of these criticisms. Varela, however, does not promote the idea of social systems as autonomous -- he merely leaves the issue open.

Hejl on Autopoiesis and Social Systems

Excluding Maturana and Varela themselves, the most cogent alternative to Luhmann's analysis of autopoiesis and social systems comes from another German sociologist -- Peter Hejl -- who provides a concise, detailed analysis with regard to systems theory in general and autopoietic theory in particular (Hejl: 1980; 1981; 1984).

Hejl's (1980; 1981) starting point is a critique of prior attempts to define social systems as entities in and of themselves (e.g., sociological structuralism and functionalism). He sets out to explore the idea of society as "...the process in which individuals interact with one another and with their natural (real) environment under the primacy of self-preservation." (p. 176). In other words, what had since Durkheim been considered a stable or evolving structural entity (i.e., society as a unit object of which individuals are merely members) was to be analyzed as an emergent effect of individuals' mutual interactivity.

Hejl goes on (1984) to lay out firm definitions for 3 key concepts which had been given diverse / ambiguous definitions in earlier systems-theoretical literature, and sets strict specifications for their usage as follows:

  • Self-organizing systems are those '...which, due to certain initial and limiting conditions arise spontaneously as specific states or as sequences of states.' (Op. cit., pp. 62 -63).

  • Self-maintaining systems are defined by Hejl as a series of '...systems in which self-organizing systems 'produce' each other in an operationally closed way.' (Op. cit., p. 63).

  • Self-referential systems '... organize the states of their components in an operationally closed way.' (Ibid.).

Hejl concludes that none of these concepts can be considered necessary or sufficient features of social systems. Social systems are definitely not self-maintaining, because they do not directly generate the components which realize themselves (their participants in fact generate the new components). The applicability of self-maintenance is further complicated by the fact that these components may participate in multiple social systems at any time, and they have the ability to withdraw from participation entirely. These latter two factors also make it difficult to define social systems on the basis of self-referentiality. Social systems cannot be claimed as strictly self- organizing (in Hejl's definition) because they are not spontaneous, and their complexity exceeds their own coalescence. Phrased another way, Hejl demonstrates that criteria of whole system form (e.g., autopoietic theory's formal aspects) are insufficient to define social systems.

Hejl then goes on to address the problem in a manner more analogous to autopoietic theory's phenomenological aspects. He defines social domains as being generated through "...a process of mutual interactions and hence modulation which results in a partial parallelization of the interacting systems." (1984, p. 68) This is basically a variation on consensual domains invoking 'parallelization' rather than 'mutual orientation'. What others had viewed as a unit social system, Hejl defined as an instantiation of a social domain -- "...a group of living systems which are characterized by a parallelization of one or several of their cognitive states and which interact with respect to these cognitive states." (Op. cit., p. 70)

In Hejl's view, social systems are defined in terms of an intersection between their composite identity and the individual participants. He characterizes such phenomena as syn-referential, i.e.:

"...constituted by components, i.e., living systems, that interact with respect to a social domain. Thus the components of a syn-referential system are necessarily individual living systems, but they are components only inasmuch as they modulate one another's parallelized states through their interactions in an operationally closed way."

(1984, p. 75)

Syn-referentiality allows a view of interaction from an autopoietic perspective which accounts for social domains in a manner fundamentally different from that of traditional sociological approaches such as structuralism (e.g., Talcott Parsons) or functionalism (e.g., Luhmann). Although Hejl's analysis invokes some novel or variant conceptualizations, it should be clear that he is very consistent with Maturana and Varela's statements on social systems.

Summary: Autopoietic Theory and Social Systems

The longstanding debate between the social systemic approaches represented by Luhmann and Hejl continues. The real crux of the matter is the question of which portion(s) of autopoietic theory should be prioritized in addressing social phenomena. The formal aspects of autopoietic theory (e.g., organization , autopoiesis) dominate Luhmannian descriptions focusing on the enterprises as unit wholes. Luhmann's concentration on 'communications' masks the fact that his analysis ignores Maturana's account of languaging and excludes the individual interactors from consideration. The derivative phenomenological aspects of the theory (e.g., structural coupling, languaging) dominate Hejlian descriptions of enterprises as regularities emergent from networks of languaging actors.

This issue of perspective is explicitly addressed by Varela (1979, p. 85) in discussing the fundamental cognitive act of distinction:

"...[T]he establishment of system boundaries is inescapably associated with what I shall call a cognitive point of view, that is, a particular set of presuppositions and attitudes, a perspective, or a frame in the sense of [Gregory] Bateson ... or [Erving] Goffman...; in particular, it is associated with some notion of value, or interest. It is also linked up with the cognitive capacities ... of the distinctor. Conversely, the distinctions made reveal the cognitive capabilities of the distinctor."

In other words, the demarcation of a social system is contextualized with respect to the observer effecting the demarcation. The operant domain(s) that intersect at the observer will circumscribe the social system that can be educed. Conversely, the domain of interaction in which a pregiven third-order unity operates will circumscribe the means and manner in which an observer can engage it and, hence, the manner in which it can be educed as a unity for that observer.


Cf. : third-order, social phenomena, sympoietic, syn-referential


solipsism

That logically-defensible, yet ultimately facile, epistemological position which claims that the 'world' is a fabrication of the subject mind, which is in fact the sole locus of 'reality.' This position, most closely associated with Berkeley, is characterized by Varela as one declaring:

"It is the organism which invents the world, and puts in it the furniture it desires..."

(Varela, 1984b, p. 217)

Owing to the facts that autopoietic theory (a) proceeds from the starting point of the cognitive system itself; (b) has never been comprehensively contextualized with regard to conventional Western philosophical dogmas; and (c) has never been promoted as a philosophy itself, scholars and other critics have quite commonly felt free to categorize Maturana and Varela's as symptomatic of a solipsistic outlook. This accusation has typically been based on Maturana and Varela's invocations of 'closure', their determinative circumscription of an organism's cognitive activities with respect to its individual structure, and specific comments of Maturana taken out of their original descriptive and explanatory context (e.g., "...outside of language, nothing exists...").

To be fair, it can be said that (in the primary literature up through 1980), neither Maturana nor Varela expended any great effort to link or contextualize their theories with established and/or more familiar philosophical positions. As a result, it is no surprise that deconstructing and critiquing autopoietic theory from the standpoint of philosophy has become something of a sport. However, there are isolated places in the primary literature where explicit references to other epistemological positions are cited. The most explicit of these is Varela (1984b), in which he provides (p. 217, footnote 14) a sketch of four epistemological positions spanning the range from objectivism (requiring only direct perception) to outright solipsism. Varela clearly states that his epistemological outlook lies in the center of this spectrum and that the extreme solipsism attributed to Berkeley is distinguishably distant. This (rare) evidence rebutting the charge of solipsism is illustrated in Table Epist1, within the entry for epistemology.

Although solipsism is clearly rebutted in The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991), this point is somewhat obscured by the fact it is never mentioned by name. Instead, the authors refer to subjectivism (based on a "dis-worlded mind" which "... on its own 'constructs' the world", p. 4) and idealism (qualified here with respect to presumed 'representations' of the world which provide the subject with her sole access to 'reality'). Both these positions, tangentially invoked but clearly symptomatic of solipsism, are dismissed.


space

1.

A term used generically to denote a circumscribable context for a unity's specification. This term is usually employed to connote a maximally static and abstract context (as opposed to the dynamics implicit in the related concept " domain"). The stereotypical example is that of the physical space -- the realm of matter and energy within which living systems are realized. Both Maturana (e.g., 1978) and Varela (1979) make allowance for other spaces in which unities can be discerned, but neither has explicitly delineated examples of autopoiesis in spaces other than the physical space.


2.

A term used occasionally to denote a context or realm of circumscription which is itself specified by a unity's character or features. For example, there are places in the literature where the terms "space" and " domain" seem to be used as common synonyms connoting a "realm" or "sphere" or "set" (Cf. the cited text defining heteropoiesis). One of the most explicit occurrences is to be found in Maturana & Varela (1980, p. 88), in the course of discussing how autopoiesis can be embodied in actual systems:

"...[A]n autopoietic organization constitutes a closed domain of relations specified only with respect to the autopoietic organization that these relations constitute, and, thus, it defines a 'space' in which it can be realized as a concrete system; a space whose dimensions are the relations of production of the components that realize it..."

This is even more apparent in the following passage:

"Space is the domain of all the possible interactions of a collection of unities (simple, or composite that interact as unities) that the properties of these unities establish by specifying its dimensions. It can be said, of a composite unity on the one hand, that it exists in the space that its components specify as unities because it interacts through the properties of its components, and, on the other hand, that it is realized as a unity in the space that its properties as a simple unity specify. Once a unity is defined, a space is specified."

(Maturana, 1978)

In this usage, the term 'space' is like a domain to the extent that it is specified by a given or prospective character of a particular system. However, this usage of 'space' appears to connote something more abstract or general than the particularities connoted by such constructs as (e.g.) "domain of interactions." The apparent boundary for distinguishing these terms seems to concern whether one is attempting to circumscribe either (a) the most abstract (or abstractable) realm of description for the system (space) in and of itself or (b) the most particular realm of actual or prospective states which that system (once thus circumscribed) can be described as realizing (domain).


The importance of the construct 'space' is not limited to the static or 'ontic' basis for unities per se. The specification of 'space' also sets the stage for constraints induced on the interactions (including linguistic behaviors) which can be realised:

In synthesis, although many spaces can be described through language, no space can be described that cannot be mapped onto the changes of state of the linguistically interacting organisms through the interactions of their components. Therefore, the ultimate and basic space that a composite unity can describe in a consensual domain is the space in which its components exist; the space in which its components exist determines the ultimate domain of interactions through which a composite unity can participate in the generation of a consensual domain.

(Maturana, 1978, p. 57)

And Maturana introduces the term ground space to denote that space which is so specified and so constraining:

"In general, then, the ultimate space that the components of a composite system define is for such a system its ground space. Men, in particular, specify their ground space, the space which they define as composite unities by describing their components through their interactions through their components, as the physical space."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 57)


Cf. : domain, ground space, physical space, autopoietic space, unity


species

"A population or collection of populations of reproductively interconnected individuals which, thus, are nodes in a historical network."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138)


stability (of a system)

Varela's (1979) formulation of organizational closure as the definitive characteristic of autonomous (and hence autopoietic) systems entails delineating systemic form and operation with respect to networks of processes lying within the scope of the system delineated (Cf. : closure, feedback). This definitory or explanatory "integration" of processes within the scope of the specified system means that in effect the operation of the system (as a unit system) is wholly addressable in terms of the relations given by its constitution (Cf. relations of production in autopoietic systems).

By moving the focus of reference to the system itself, one might ask how system stability can be discerned or assessed. Varela claims that from the perspective of organizational closure "...the notion of stability is generalized to that of coherence or viability understood as the capacity to be distinguished in some domain, and the representation of such coherence is generalized to any form of indefinite recursion of defining processes such that they generate the unitary character of the system." (Varela, 1979, p. 56). Note this version explicitly qualifies systemic identity and stability with respect to an observer.

Varela & Goguen (1978) echo this sense of 'stability' when they write:

"...What is the common basis for a criterion of distinction to isolate system-wholes? Answer: The specification of forms of interactions which identify a system-whole by its stability. That is, designation is possible only because we can enter in certain interactions which are repetitive enough. If a certain degree of repetitiveness exists, a system can be identified by its permanence or stability.

This is very interesting, for the stability of a system is a manifestation of its wholeness, insofar as the disruption of its organization will make it lose its stability. ... But how is this stability effected? We know: through the mutual balance and regulation of the processes that constitute it. ... It is closedness in organization that ensures stability; organizational closure represents a universal mechanism for stabilization."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, pp. 293-294, emphasis in the original)

The 'repetitiveness' cited above brings to mind the recursion which Maturana was to later invoke in explaining how specific unities come to be apprehended as objects by an observer. A further exploration into these other constructs will help to flesh out the reader's understanding of the nuances entailed in this characterization of stability as a constituent factor in educing unities / systems.


Cf. : closure, Closure Thesis, feedback, organizational closure, operational closure


standard observer

A term invoked by Maturana (1988a) as a shorthand reference for a member of a particular community of observers -- particularly (as used illustratively) those members of that community we denote as 'scientists.' More generically, the term denotes an observer adhering to or espousing the criterion of acceptability which circumscribes a given such community of observers.

"To the extent that science arises as an explanatory domain through the application of the criterion of validation of scientific explanations, science, as a domain of explanations and statements, is valid only in the community of observers (henceforth called standard observers) that accept and use for their explanations that particular criterion. In other words, science is constitutively a domain of reformulations of the praxis of living with elements of the praxis of living in a community of standard observers, and as such it is a consensual domain of co-ordinations of actions between the members of such a community."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 35)

As such, the 'standard' qualification pertains to the standard of circumscription for the community (i.e., what criterion of acceptability they hold in common) rather than some absolute or a priori 'standard' (e.g., rank, location).


Cf. : criterion of acceptability, explanation, scientific explanation


Star

A label for a relational schema introduced by Varela (1976; 1979) as a notation for the interconnectedness of dualities that can be resolved into a unity in a metadomain or at a metalevel subsuming the dialectics of the duality / pair. The Star operator is designated by an asterisk (*), and it is referenced in various places as 'Star', 'Star *', or simply '*'. The reason for the Star was an attempt to confront and clarify the role of dualities or complementary opposites as they arise as issues in delineating and analyzing systems:

"In general, when different modes of description appear as opposites, it is more satisfactory to consider them as complementary instead. This is the case, quite rigorously, with the apparent dualities net / tree and recursion / behavior ... On a more intuitive level, there is a similar relationship for the pairs autonomy / control and operational / symbolic ..."

(Varela, 1979, p. 99)

Varela set out to examine the overall relationship holding among such dualities. He did this by treating the composite duality plus its resolution at a metalevel as a trinity:

"By trinity I mean the consideration of the ways in which pairs (poles, extremes, modes, sides) are related yet remain distinct -- the way they are not one, not two... The key idea here is that we need to replace the metaphorical idea of 'trinity' with some built-in injunction (heuristic, recipe, guidance) that can tell us how to go from duality to trinity:

* = the it / the process leading to it."

(Varela, 1979, p. 99)

This equation, comprising the complete schema, Varela labels the Star statement). The Star statement serves as the basis for the remainder of his discussion of dialectical dualities and their resolution into a whole. The phenomenon signified on the left-hand side of the equation is connected (via the equal sign) to the pair on the right-hand side, ordered from left to right so as to denote "...any situation (domain, process, entity, notion) that is autonomous (total, complete, stable, self-contained)..." and its "...corresponding process (constituents, dynamics)", respectively. (Varela, 1979, p. 100)

"The slash in this star (*) statement is to be read as: 'consider both sides of the /,' that is, 'consider both the it and the process leading to it.' Thus the slash here is to be taken as a compact indication of a way of transiting to and from both sides of it."

...

* = whole / parts constituting the whole

By a whole, a totality here we mean a simultaneous interactions of parts (components, nodes, subsystems) that satisfies some criteria of distinction."

(Varela, 1979, p. 100)

Varela provides a series of dualities as subjects for the star statement, including environment / system, context / text, autonomy / control, and symbolic / operational (1979, p. 100), as well as (e.g.) territory / map, theorem / proof, and program / subroutines (1976, p. 63). "In each case the dual elements become effectively complementary: they mutually specify each other. There is no more duality in the sense that they are effectively related; we can contemplate these dual pairs from a metalevel where they become a cognitive unity, a second-order whole." (Varela, 1976, p. 64, emphasis in the original)

"Notice that this separation of duality is no 'synthesis' (in the Hegelian sense), since there is really nothing 'new', but just a more direct appraisal of how things are put together and related through our descriptions, not losing track of the fact that every 'it' can be seen on a different level as a process.

More generally, we may see that this view of complementarity signifies a departure from the classical way of understanding dialectics. In the classical (Hegelian) paradigm, duality is tied to the idea of polarity, a clash of opposites ... The basic form of these kinds of duality is symmetry: Both poles belong to the same level. The nerve of the logic behind this dialectics is negation: pairs are of the form A / not-A.

In this presentation, dualities are adequately represented by imbrication of levels, where one term of the pair emerges from the other. ... The basic form of these dualities is asymmetry: Both terms extend across levels. The nerve of the logic behind this dialectics is self-reference, that is, pairs of the form: it / process leading to it."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 100-101)

The above-cited polarity-symmetry / imbrication-asymmetry dichotomy is illustrated in Figure SymAsym below:


Figure SymAsym:  Symmetry in Dualities

Figure SymAsym:
Symmetry / Asymmetry in Complementary Dualities
(per Varela, 1979, pp. 100-101)


The distinction between symmetric and asymmetric dualities is important for treating systems as autonomous. Symmetric pairs connote an oppositional or contradictory dichotomy which is irresolvable on (or in) the level at which they are discerned. Asymmetric pairs (of what Varela terms the 'star form') "...bridge across one level of our description, and they specify each other." (Varela, 1979, p. 101) In keeping with a systems-oriented perspective, Varela states the notion of 'level' (as used herein) "...is intended as a reference to the hierarchical arrangements of whole systems (strata of stability, levels of order), the chinese boxes of totalities in nature." (1976, p. 64)

Varela illustrates resolution of ascribed symmetric dualities through the star form as follows:

"When we look at natural systems, nowhere do we actually find opposition except from the values we wish to put on them. The pair predator/prey, say, does not operate as excluding opposites, but both generate a whole unity, an autonomous ecosystemic domain, where there are complementarity, stabilization, and survival values for both. So the effective duality is of the star form: ecosystem / species interaction."

(Varela, 1979, p. 101)

Finally, Varela elevates the star form to a general heuristic:

"We may generalize this to say there is an interpretative rule for dualities:

For every (Hegelian) pair of the form A/ not-A there exists a star where the apparent opposites are components of the right-hand side.

(Varela, 1979, p. 101, italics in the original)

The discussion of Star is divided between the 1976 paper and the 1979 book. The introduction and overview of what Star is all about is more clear in the book, but the earlier paper presents some nuances which are omitted in the later exposition. The earlier paper consistently uses the capitalized name "Star", while the later book uses a lowercase label. It should be pointed out that the use of an asterisk (*) to denote an 'infinite expression' in an intervening publication on the arithmetic of closure (Varela & Goguen, 1978) is apparently unrelated, and should not be confused with the Star.

The Star schema is not mentioned by Varela after the 1979 book. The general issues of metalevel resolution of processual dualities (where those dualities are equated with distinctions) strongly parallels Maturana's presentation of recursion as a generative mechanism a decade later. The Star schema could also suggest itself as a depictive device for illustrating the attribution of an 'object' to coordinations of coordinations of behavior at a lower level of recursion.


state

Generally, this term is used in its colloquial sense of a mode, circumstance, or condition of being. Some of the early writings tend to describe the phenomena later explained via structural determination in terms of determinism with respect to states. My hypothesis is that the focus shifted from "state" (an observer-ascribed condition for a system) to 'structure' so as to align explanations with the overarching focus on a system's constitution. This hypothesis is in accord with the notion that "state" descriptions would primarily concern the status of the system's relations of specificity and / or relations of order -- both of which are primarily evaluable in an observer's domain of descriptions. Moving the focus to structure prioritizes relations of constitution, which are defined in terms of the system's composition and are not (or at least less) contingent upon an observer's ascriptions.


Cf. : state-determined, structural determination, structurally-determined


state-determined

An early term (Cf. Maturana, 1975) used as a descriptive analogue for the construct of structurally-determined. The difference is that by referring to systems as "state-determined", explanations were focused on the operational status of a system's structure (i.e., its configuration), and not specifically on the system's structure itself. For all intents and purposes, the term "state-determined" can be construed as a synonym for "structure-determined".


Cf. : state, structure , structural determination, structurally-determined


statical phenomenology

"The phenomenology generated by the relations between properties of components." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138) One of the two major classes of explanatory phenomenology (the other being mechanical phenomenology, which subsumes biological phenomenology).


Cf. : mechanical phenomenology, biological phenomenology, phenomenology


statical phenomenon

A phenomenon which entails "... relations between properties of components." (Maturana & Varela, p. 113) This is distinct from mechanical (including biological) phenomena, which are defined in terms of relations between processes realized through the properties of components. (Maturana & Varela, 1980, pp. 112 ff.)


structural coupling

Structural coupling is the term for structure-determined (and structure-determining) engagement of a given unity with either its environment or another unity. The process of engagement which effects a "...history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems" (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 75). It is '...a historical process leading to the spatio-temporal coincidence between the changes of state..' (Maturana,1975, p. 321) in the participants. As such, structural coupling has connotations of both coordination and co-evolution.

"In general, when two or more plastic dynamic systems interact recursively under conditions in which their identities are maintained, the process of structural coupling takes place as a process of reciprocal selection of congruent paths of structural changes in the interacting systems which result in the continuous selection in them of congruent dynamics of state." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139)

Phrased more succinctly, structurally-coupled systems "... will have an interlocked history of structural transformations, selecting each other's trajectories." (Varela, 1979, pp. 48-49)

During the course of structural coupling, each participating system is, with respect to the other(s), a source (and a target) of perturbations. Phrased in a slightly different way, the participating systems reciprocally serve as sources of compensable perturbations for each other. These are 'compensable' in the senses that (a) there is a range of 'compensation' bounded by the limit beyond which each system ceases to be a functional whole and (b) each iteration of the reciprocal interaction is affected by the one(s) before.

There are two discernible cases in which structural coupling is realized:

Case 1: A System Coupling with its Environment

"(T)he continued interactions of a structurally plastic system in an environment with recurrent perturbations will produce a continual selection of the system's structure. This structure will determine, on the one hand, the state of the system and its domain of allowable perturbations, and on the other hand will allow the system to operate in an environment without disintegration."

(Varela, 1979, p. 33)

Such ongoing system change in concert with its environment constitutes ontogenic adaptation.

Case 2: A System Coupling with Another System

This case is the one most commonly invoked, because it sets the stage for addressing linguistic interactivity in mechanicistic terms. In this case, however, the juncture between two observers in coupling is itself a higher-order domain of description. "If the two plastic systems are organisms, the result of the ontogenic structural coupling is a consensual domain." (Maturana, 1975, p. 326)

Structural coupling, then, is the process through which structurally-determined transformations in each of two or more systemic unities induces (for each) a trajectory of reciprocally-triggered change. This makes structural coupling one of the most critical constructs in autopoietic theory. This is particularly true when approaching the phenomenological aspects of the theory. For example, structural coupling is the foundation for Maturana's account of linguistic interaction as 'languaging' (Maturana, 1978).

The key reference points on the subject of structural coupling are: Maturana (1975, pp. 322-326; 1981, pp. 23-29); Maturana & Varela (1980, pp. 78-82; pp. 98-99); (1987, pp. 75-80); and Varela (1979, pp. 32-33); p. 48 ff.).


Cf. : consensual domain, ontogenic adaptation, perturbation


structural determination

The principle that the actual course of change in a systemic entity is controlled by its structure (the totality of specific components' individual and synergistic properties within the arrangement by which they constitute the system) rather than the direct influence of its environment. The basic thrust of this principle is that the behavior of a system is constrained by its constitution. The set of potential system changes is circumscribed by: (1) the system's range of potential structural transformations; and (2) the set of potential perturbations impinging upon the system.

Actual change is compensable behavior by the system's structure under perturbation by the environment and / or other systems in the course of its operation (Cf. structural coupling). While a given perturbation may 'trigger' a change of system state, the particular change triggered is a function of the system's own organization and structure . Since 'structure' refers to any constitutive element of a discerned unity, structural determination concerns the manner in which observed (-able) phenomena are explained, not some formalized manner in which those phenomena objectively occur. As such, structural determination is as much an epistemological as an empirical qualification, and it should not be interpreted as a simple recourse to materialistic reductionism.

Structural determination (with respect to the structure of a given system S) does not constrain the set of interactions in which S can be observed to engage. That set is circumscribed by the structure of another, observing system. The structure of S serves as a determinative constraint on only the set in which S might observe itself to be engaged: "If the living system enters into an interaction not prescribed by its organization, it enters it not as the unit of interactions defined by this organization ... and this interaction remains outside its cognitive domain." (Maturana, 1970a, p. 6)


Cf. : structural determinism, structure , structure-determined, structure-specified


structural determinism

1.

A label for the doctrine that systems are subject to structural determination.


2.

Occasionally, an apparent synonym for structural determination.


Cf. : structural determination, structure , structure-determined, structure-specified


structural domain

A term used loosely to connote that domain of explanations / descriptions in which the phenomenon of interest is explained / described with exclusive respect to its structural / organizational form and deterministic function. One illustration of this usage is Maturana's comments (1980a, p. 46) on the implications of his and Varela's treatment of living systems in terms of their constitutive form:

"...(T)his emphasis on autonomy forced us: ... to translate questions that demanded answers in a semantic domain, into questions that demand answers in a structural domain."


Cf. : semantic domain


structural drift

A term used (e.g., in The Tree of Knowledge) to connote the phenomenon of drift with respect to structure. It is not entirely clear whether this usage connotes: (a) drift with regard to the specific structure of a given composite unity; (b) drift with regard to the typical structure of a class of similar composite unities (e.g., members of a biological species); or (c) both.

"What we propose here is that evolution occurs as a phenomenon of structural drift under ongoing phylogenic selection."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 115)

"...[S]uch correlative changes as seem to us related to changes in the environment do not emerge because of them, but emerge in the structural drift that takes place in the encounters between organism and environment..."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 116)


structural intersection

A term contributed by Pille Bunnell to describe a notion distinguished by Humberto Maturana in a May 1997 discussion on Conservation of Coherence in an Epigenetic Cosmos. Documentation of this term's connotations consists solely of Bunnell's entry in the American Society for Cybernetics' (ASC's) Concepts Webpage. That entry is reproduced below in its entirety.

"The elements that participate in any particular complex unity may also, simultaneously or consecutively, participate in another complex unity. In this circumstance we can say that the two unities are structurally intersecting. Structural changes that take place in one of the systems may alter the elements that are shared with another system. This change in the structure of the second system may lead to further structural changes in that system, which may then have implications to the first. Thus, although structurally intersecting systems do not necessarily exist in the same domain of distinctions, they may interact, and alter the progress of their otherwise independent ontogenetic drifts. Several structurally intersecting complex unities will in this manner form a network of co-ontogenetic drifts.

  • An example of structural intersection between two phenomenal domains are sensory "organs" such as eyes which participate both as a sensory surface in the domain of the organism, and as neuronal components in the domain of the nervous system.
  • As structurally intersecting systems each participate in their own organization as distinguished in a particular domain, an observer who distinguishes one domain will view the structural changes that result from intersection with another domain as random or mysterious.
  • A generative mechanism is always in one domain and the consequences in another. Thus explanations are not in the same domain as the phenomenon explained. However, one cannot explain what happens in the history of a given identity by what happens in the history of another identity that intersects with it but exists in another domain .
  • Structural intersection of several systems is possible because components are components only in the relation of composition, not in themselves."


structural phenomenon

A term connoting a class or type of phenomena which is manifest and/or explained with regard to the structural / organizational form and function of a given system or unity. The term occurs as a means to draw a distinction between Maturana and Varela's mode of addressing / explaining unities and the conventional analogue(s). A good illustration of this usage can be found in Maturana (1980a, p. 46), where he lists one outcome of the emphasis on systemic autonomy in his and Varela's work to be the necessity:

"...to treat cognitive phenomena (such as language or perception) as structural phenomena by formulating them as phenomena of ontogenic or phylogenic adaptation, resulting from ontogenic or phylogenic structural selection, rather than as phenomena of transfer of information, communication, or meaning. These, as semantic phenomena, cannot be handled by biology."


Cf. : semantic phenomena


structural plasticity

A term connoting the capacity for dynamic change implicit in the fact that a composite unity which is an autopoietic machine / system maintains its defining organization under perturbation through changes of state or configuration with respect to its structure . Under the condition of ongoing autopoiesis , such structural changes are the result of plastic interactions "... in which the structural changes are compensated in such a manner that the system continues its life (autopoiesis) in the perturbing medium with a different structure, a changed domain of states and a changed domain of perturbations." (Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 138).


Cf. : structure , structural determination


structurally-determined

Adjectival form denoting that the subject (e.g., a composite unity or system) exhibits structural determination / determinism. The class of structurally-determined systems is sometimes denoted with the acronym SDS.

Synonyms: structure-determined, structure-specified


Cf. : structure-determined


structure

A key construct which points to "...the actual components and to the actual relations that these must satisfy in their participation in the constitution of a given composite unity." (Maturana, 1978) A composite unity's organization is specifically realized through the presence and interplay of components in a given space, and these comprise the unity's structure.

"In a composite unity, be this static or dynamic, the actual components plus the actual relations that take place between them while realizing it as a particular composite unity characterized by a particular organization, constitute its structure. In other words, the structure of a particular composite unity is the manner in which it is actually made by actual static or dynamic components and relations in a particular space, and a particular composite unity conserves its class identity only as long as its structure realizes in it the organization that defines its class identity."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.iv.)

In slight contrast, another source defines structure only in terms of "[t]he actual relations which hold between the components which integrate a concrete machine in a given space." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138)

Maturana points out the word 'structure' comes from the Latin meaning 'to build', and employs this allusion in assigning to this label '...the actual components and ... the actual relations which these must satisfy in their participation in the constitution of a given unity.' (1975, pp. 315-316) Structure does not determine the overall character of a unity; it determines only "...the space in which it exists and can be perturbed." (Ibid.) However, unlike organization, structure is not uniquely definitive in identifying a composite unity.

"An observer may recognize a known system by identifying some of its components, but he or she cannot define or characterize an unknown system merely by pointing to its structure - the observer must state its organization."

(Maturana, 1978)

In addition, the dichotomy between organization and structure has a bearing on how an observer can or may interact with (observe) a given composite unity, and what sort(s) of explanations that observer may be thus enabled to make with regard to the composite unity.

"The organization of a system defines it as a composite unity and determines its properties as such a unity by specifying a domain in which it can interact (and, hence, be observed) as an unanalyzable whole endowed with constitutive properties. The properties of a composite unity as an unanalyzable whole establish a space in which it operates as a simple unity. In contrast, the structure of a system determines the space in which it exists as a composite unity that can be perturbed through the interactions of its components, but the structure does not determine its properties as an unity."

(Maturana, 1978)


Cf. : explanation, composite unity , organization , unity


structure-determined

An adjectival term appearing in the literature as a synonym for structurally-determined (e.g., in the phrase "structure-determined system"). This label is most commonly used by Maturana in his solo articles (e.g., 1978, 1988a, 1988b).


Cf. : structural determination, structural determinism, structurally-determined, structure-specified


structure-determined system

A composite unity (or system) exhibiting the character of structural / structure determinism.

"A structure determined system is a system in which all that happens happens as a structural change determined in it at every instant by its structure at that instant, regardless of whether this structural change arises in it in the flow of its own internal dynamics, or contingent on its interactions."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 36)

Synonyms: structurally-determined system, SDS [acronym]


Cf. : structural determination, structural determinism, structurally-determined, structure-specified


structure-specified

A term used in Maturana & Guiloff (1980) as a synonym for structurally-determined -- most particularly, in describing a class of "structure-specified systems." This class of systems is clearly synonymous with those labeled elsewhere as structurally-determined or structure-determined.

In this particular paper, pains are taken to ascribe equivalence between the classes of 'structure-specified' and 'mechanistic' systems -- making this one of the few expositions which makes that linkage clear.

"We as scientists can only handle structure-specified systems; that is, we can only handle system whose dynamics of states are, at any instance, specified by their individual structures as a result of the operation of their components. ...[A] scientific explanation necessarily consists in the proposition of a model (explanatory hypothesis) that in its operation as a structure-specified (mechanistic) system generates, through the realization of the properties of its components in their neighbourhood relations, the phenomenon to be explained."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 137)


Cf. : structural determination, structural determinism, structurally-determined, structure-determined


submachine

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 17) to denote a component of a machine which is discerned to effect an allopoietic role in the realization of that machine. Varela uses the term specifically to denote subcomponents of an autopoietic machine which are treated in isolation as discernible allopoietic machines by an observer.


Cf. : allopoietic machine, allopoietic role, autopoietic machine, component, machine


superobserver / super-observer

A term employed by Maturana (1978) to denote the "observer of all observers" -- i.e., a hypothetical discursant / explainer who stands apart from the necessarily circular subject matter of life and cognition (Cf. fundamental circularity). The notion of superobserver is invoked as a rhetorical device to provide readers with Maturana's answers to questions which, with strict regard to the theory he develops, could not be addressed with any claim to veracity.


symbol

1.

The construct for a meaningful token or sign-mechanism, as the term is conventionally used. In this usage, "symbol" is typically addressed as an explanatory construct of a cognitivistic perspective, which Maturana and Varela criticize.


2.

The characterization of "symbol" from an autopoietic perspective is primarily to be found in Varela (1979), in relation to his discussion of the descriptions which are permissible and useful in addressing autonomous systems. This issue arises because "...in order to understand fully how the cognitive domain of such a system can operate and be modified, we must look at the dynamic regularities that arise within the system and that can be treated as symbolic events." (Varela, 1979, p. 81) Varela (1979, p. 79 ff.) outlines two primary features of 'symbols' in natural systems:

  1. "Internal Determination. An object or event is a symbol only if it is a token for an abbreviated nomic chain that occurs within the bounds of the system's organizational closure. In other words, whenever the system's closure determines certain regularities in the face of internal or external interactions and perturbations, such regularities can be abbreviated as a symbol, usually the initial or terminal element in the nomic chain."

    (Varela, 1979, pp. 79-80)

  2. "Composition. A process that admits a symbolic description might or might not be of ontogenic and phylogenetic interest and potential ... [i.e.] ... only some [of the regularities deriving from internal determination] might lead (through structural coupling or evolution) to a significant adaptive change in the cognitive domain of the system. ... [T]he regularities that have been fertile and preserved in evolution are those such that the symbols that stand for them can be seen as composable like a language -- in other words, such that the individual symbols, as discrete tokens, can interact with each other in a syntax capable of generating new patterns in combination."

    (Varela, 1979, p. 81)


symbolic explanations

As discussed in Varela (1979), one of the two main classes of explanation (the other being operational explanations). As with any form of explanation, it entails that "...the recorded phenomena are reformulated or reproduced in conceptual terms that are deemed appropriate." (p. 66) What is specific to symbolic explanations is that:

"... the terms of the reformulation are deemed to belong to a more encompassing context, in which the observer provides links and nexuses not supposed to operate in the domain in which the systems that generate the phenomena operate."

(Varela, 1979, p. 66)

As such, one might construe Varela's 'symbolic explanations' as equivalent to Maturana's characterization of 'explanation' in general -- at least to the extent that both are presumed to be offered in terms of a domain distinct from that in which the subject system or phenomenon is manifest. However, because Varela's 'symbolic' category does not explicitly presume the proposition of a 'mechanism' as the focal explanatory hypothesis (to use Maturana's term), such an equivalence would be at best incomplete.

Synonyms: communicative explanations

A more detailed summary of the operational / symbolic explanation dichotomy is given under the entry for explanation.


symmetry

A term used by Varela (1979, p. 101) to denote the form of duality for which his Star statement / operator provides a constructive alternative -- i.e., the Hegelian form in which the two terms are reciprocally related within a single level of realization or referentiality.

A more detailed overview of the context for this dichotomy (as well as Figure SymAsym illustrating it) can be found in the entry for Star.


Cf. : asymmetry, complementarity, Star


sympoietic (system)

The adjectival form 'sympoietic' was introduced by Guddemi (1997) to connote a characterization of social collectives in terms of their emergence from the interactivity of their participants.

"In the definition of 'sociality', e.g., human sociality, we are concerned with a special case ..., that in which autopoietic entities of similar phylogeny each form part of an environment or milieu for the other, making each a part of the niche for the other. The structural coupling and the predictabilities of behavior which it entails for each party create a resulting system, which I term a sympoietic system in order to bracket the question of its possible autopoiesis. My most general definition of a sympoietic system is simple: the larger system which is formed by the structural coupling of a number of autopoietic systems. It is clear that there can be two-, three-, four-, or n-entity sympoietic systems; thus they do not maintain the same sort of boundedness as is characteristic of autopoietic systems proper."

(Guddemi, 1997, I.)


Cf. : social systems, syn-referential


syn-referential

A descriptive term introduced by German sociologist Peter Hejl (1984) to denote his view of social phenomena / social systems from the perspective of autopoietic theory. In Hejl's view, social systems are defined in terms of an intersection between their composite identity and the individual participants. He characterizes such phenomena as syn-referential, i.e.:

"...constituted by components, i.e., living systems, that interact with respect to a social domain. Thus the components of a syn-referential system are necessarily individual living systems, but they are components only inasmuch as they modulate one another's parallelized states through their interactions in an operationally closed way."

(1984, p. 75)


Cf. : social systems, sympoietic system


synthetic (explanatory paradigm)

A label used by Varela (1979, p. 10) to connote rational explanations framed with respect to the totality of the phenomenon being explained. An apparent synonym for holistic or systemic approaches. The opposite of an analytic explanatory approach.

Varela subdivides the class of synthetic explanations into the materially synthetic and the nonmaterially synthetic, based on whether or not the explanation must rely upon materiality (a character of 'substantiation' within a given -- typically physical -- space of realization for the phenomenon being explained).

A more detailed summarization of the analytic / synthetic dichotomy is given under the entry for explanation.


system

Autopoietic theory is typically categorized as a specimen of 'systems-theoretical' scholarship, and it is explicitly included among examples of 'second-order cybernetics'. Such work is traditionally so classified on the basis of a focus upon the construct 'system'. Indeed, the literature (especially the secondary literature) more commonly points to 'autopoietic systems' than (e.g.) 'autopoietic composite unities'. Although this colloquial invocation of 'system' does no harm in most cases, it is important to note some points which qualify naive ascription of equivalence between 'system' and its precisely-delineated analogue in Maturana and Varela's work -- that of composite unity.

The most precise ascription the early literature gives this common term is "any definable set of components." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138) Throughout the primary literature, this term is used more or less in its colloquial sense. The most precise treatments of "systems" (as holistic composites of discernible components) are typically framed with respect to composite unities. It is only in the later (post-1970's) literature that attention is given to explaining the term:

"A system is a collection of elements that interact and relate with each other in such a way that the interactions that any of those elements have, and the results of these interactions, depend upon its relations with the others."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995)

In contrast, the colloquial usage of 'system' corresponds most closely with the notion of a composite unity being treated as a simple unity . Owing to the lack of necessary correspondence between the spaces of discernment for a given unity (viewed as both simple and composite), this common term should be invoked with some care. It is typically the case that the potential disjunctions between domains of realization / description relevant to a given unity in its dual roles of simple and composite, explicitly noted by Maturana and Varela, are neither noted nor observed in everyday usage and in most "systems" literature.

One of the more important details of dealing with 'composite unities' which must be taken into account when dealing with 'systems' has to do with the necessarily distinct phenomenal domains in which the composite unity / system is realized. This distinction must be borne in mind to avoid a problematical phenomenal reduction on the part of an observer. That a 'system' is considered equivalent to a composite unity is clearly illustrated by the following passage from a recent paper:

"Living systems, as all systems are, are structure determined composite entities that exist in two non-intersecting phenomenal domains, namely: a) the domain of operation of their components, that is, the domain of their structural dynamics; and b) the domain in which they interact and relate as totalities, that is, the domain in which they are wholes and operate (exist) as such."

(Maturana, 1995, emphasis added)


Cf. : component, composite unity , simple unity , unity


system-whole

A label used by Varela & Goguen (1978) to denote a composite unity (system) addressed as a whole.

"The context in which we are considering wholes is that of systems theory. By stating this, we wish to direct the imagination of the reader mainly to what we may call natural system, non-man made wholes, from cells to solar systems, from rocks to societies. We shall use the hybrid word system-whole for the purpose of this denotation, and to establish a distinction from the many other possible meanings that the word 'whole' has come to bear."

(Varela & Goguen, 1978, p. 292)


Cf. : composite unity , simple unity , system, unity


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teleonomy

"The element of apparent purpose or possession of a project in the organization of living systems, without implying any vitalistic connotations. Frequently considered as a necessary if not sufficient definitory feature of the living organization."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138)

(With respect to living systems:)

"...[T]eleonomy becomes only an artifice of their description which does not reveal any feature of their organization, but which reveals the consistency in their operation within the domain of observation."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 86)

As such, teleonomy is something which the theory of autopoiesis dispenses with, insofar as autonomous / autopoietic systems in effect are their own purpose (e.g., in the course of their continuous self- creation through the recursivity of their organizationally and operationally closed configurations).


Cf. : control, function, purpose


theory of autopoiesis

A label for the body of Maturana and Varela's theoretical work, often invoked by others.


Cf. : autopoiesis (2.), autopoiesis theory, autopoietic theory, biology of cognition, Santiago theory


theory

1.

Maturana's reformulation of scientific method and scientific explanation has included his own definition for 'theory' in the light of his explanatory framework. A 'theory' is recast as a composite of explanations, subject to the same characterization as any explanation. However, as a composite of explanations, a 'theory' additionally entails a standard for its viability as a composite -- analogous to the criteria for acceptability by which a questioner assesses a candidate explanation.

"A theory is an explanatory system that interconnects many otherwise apparently unrelated phenomena (experiences), which is proposed as a domain of coherent explanations that are woven together with some conceptual thread that defines the nature of its internal connectivity and the extent of its generative applicability in the domain of human actions. As such, a theory is valid for those who accept both the criterion of validation of the explanations that it entails, and the criterion of internal connectivity that makes it a fully coherent conceptual system. Due to this manner of constitution of theories, there are as many different kinds of theories as there are different kinds of combinations of explanatory criteria with criteria for internal conceptual connectivity that are used in the generation of explanatory systems."

(Maturana, 1991)

This characterization of 'theory' was done in preparation for Maturana's comparative analysis of scientific and philosophical methods of enquiry. In the course of this analysis, Maturana characterizes each of these types of theory in terms of their criteria of validation, criteria of internal connectivity, manner of explaining, and selected illustrative examples. Table SciPhi-Theory offers a summary of these points, based on Maturana (1991).


TABLE SCIPHI-THEORY
Maturana's (1991) Comparative Analysis of
Scientific versus Philosophical Theories

SCIENTIFIC THEORY: PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY:
CRITERIA OF VALIDATION:
The criteria of validation of scientific explanations (as defined by Maturana) "... can be many, provided they are internally logically consistent."
CRITERIA OF INTERNAL CONNECTIVITY
"a) the desire of the scientist to fulfill his or her explanatory task without losing from sight the phenomena or experiences to be explained;

b) the desire of the scientist not to become attached to any value, principle, or desired result, and, therefore, his or her continuous care to avoid the subordination of any aspect of his or her explaining to the conservation of any principle or value, or to the attainment of any preferred result;

c) the desire of the scientist not to confuse operational domains both in the process of explaining and in the process of connecting his or her explanations, and, therefore, his or her continuous care to avoid doing so; and

d) the willingness of the scientist to let change every notion or concept that would have to change for these four points to be satisfied."

"a) the desire of the philosopher not to lose sight of certain principles, values, or desired results that he or she holds as intrinsically valid;

b) the desire of the philosopher not to generate statements that would deny the principles, contradict the values, or lead away from the desired result, and his or her careful avoidance of any notion that would do so;

c) the willingness of the philosopher to avoid or dismiss all phenomenal or experiential domains that may demand a revision of his or her acceptance of the principles, values, or desired results that he or she considers as intrinsically valid; and

d) the willingness of the philosopher to hold any concept or notion that will permit the satisfaction of these four points."

MANNER OF EXPLAINING
"... accommodates to the conservation of the phenomena or experiences to be explained ..." "... accommodates to the conservation of the principles, values, and desired results to be conserved by it and in it."
CHARACTER RESULTING FROM CONSTITUTIVE NATURE:
"... [S]cientific theories take place intrinsically in a domain of open reflections about everything, including its fundaments, and are, operationally, free from dogmatism. As a result, the practice of science is, in principle, liberating; and through the reflexive operationality entailed in the application of the criterion of validation of scientific explanations, it constitutes a domain in which one may learn detachment and respect for the other as a natural and direct manner of coexistence."

"... [T]he constitutive aim in a scientific theory is to explain, not to save or to protect any principle or value or to obtain any desired result."

"... [P]hilosophical theories constitutively arise in the process of generating a logically consistent explanatory system directly subordinated to the conservation of some basic explanatory notions, under the form of either principles, values, or desired results. Philosophical theories are usually proposed under the intention or desire of providing a system of explanations for human experiences that protects some beliefs, or justifies certain kinds of actions, in the domain of relations and actions of those who accept them."

"Philosophical theories do not open a space for reflection on basic notions or principles, but they open a space for reflections on procedures and methods."

EXAMPLES:

Phenomenal Foci Conserved by Selected Scientists:

EXAMPLES:

Principles or Values Conserved by Selected Philosophers:

Charles Darwin
- diversity and adaptation in living systems

Albert Einstein
- horary simultaneity of spatially separated phenomena

Max Planck
- absorption and the emission of radiations

Ernst Mayr
- the diversification of lineages
Martin Heidegger
- transcendentality and historicity of human beings
- objectivity of the being that shows up in a distinction

Karl Popper
- objective reality in spite of its inaccessibility

Plato
- hierarchies
- authority

Teilhard de Chardin
- the presence of God in the face of continuous change in nature
SOURCE: Maturana (1991)


As should be apparent from Table SciPhi-Theory, Maturana's distinction between scientific and philosophical theories exhibits obvious parallels with his distinction between the explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis, respectively. This is most apparent when one notes that in philosophical theories (as in explanations developed 'without parenthesis'), there is some presumably objective (or invariant) basis from which explanation proceeds. Phrased another way, the explanatory path and the type of theory both entail an a priori bias -- the 'objective world' for the former, and the 'assumptions' (values, principles) for the latter.

To a lesser extent, there are points of parallelism between the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis and scientific theorization. One of these is the manner in which both end up associated with a stance of open acceptance toward others and an avoidance of demands for compliance / acceptance of their results. Insofar as such a stance would seem to entail "... reflection upon actions and their relations with ...[one's]... domain of existence in a human community" (as, ironically, is attributed specifically to the philosopher), it is reasonable to question the extent to which by this point the purported dichotomy has become blurred.

More troubling is the proposition that the distinctions laid out by Maturana may be construed as 'apples vs. oranges' -- i.e., a comparison of referentially disjunct (and hence explanatorily suboptimal) categorizations. The invariant focus of scientific theory is the subject phenomenon being explained, and the exact means and manner of explanation is apparently left free to vary. On the other hand, the invariant for philosophical theory is the foundation (of values or principles) from which explanation proceeds, leaving degrees of freedom for the explainer (philosopher) to wander profligately across multiple referential (phenomenal) domains. Insofar as phenomenal domains are specified by the circumstances of realization for engagement by an observer with a given unity, they are neither fixed nor 'objectively' specifiable. How, then, one may wonder, can we specify or assess when the philosopher's purported cross-domain wandering occurs?

Finally, and most troubling of all, one may raise the question of to what extent the Santiago theories -- most especially Maturana's latter-day forays into aesthetics, love, and the like -- can be reasonably re-framed as 'philosophical' rather than 'scientific' on his own terms. Secondary invocations and applications of the biology of cognition (e.g., in psychotherapy) would seem all too easily subject to such recharacterization, putting them in the curious position of being exemplars of a class of 'theory' which their purported basis clearly claims as adverse. Is it the case that the 'mechanicism' which explicitly underlies autopoietic theory is itself an a priori which insinuates some measure of the 'philosophical'? Does the unflinching adherence to this mechanistic perspective (up to and including the definition of 'explanation', and hence 'theory') make the biology of cognition "... a logically consistent explanatory system directly subordinated to the conservation of some basic explanatory notions..." (i.e., a 'philosophical theory')?

These issues derive from the specific characterization of the dichotomy between the scientific and the philosophical. Insofar as this characterization (a) does not proceed from the starting point of biology (as does the theory it purports to extend); (b) clearly wanders across phenomenal borders itself (e.g., subject focus vs. methodological focus); and (c) arguably fails to distinguish its alleged point of origin as what it claims to be, the reasonable starting hypothesis is that more work needs to be done on explaining the contrasts between these two classes of explanations.


Cf. : explanation, criteria of validation, scientific explanation, philosophical explanation


2. (of a system)

An early term used to denote organization of a system. Varela & Maturana (1972 -- a paper submitted in January 1970), when initially explaining the basis for the concept of 'organization', labelled it the 'theory' or 'structure' of a machine. The term 'structure', of course, was later qualified to its current definition, while 'theory' disappeared as a specific construct relating to the essential or definitive character of a composite unity .


Cf. : essence, organization , structure


thinking

'Thinking' is an observer-ascribed description invoked to explain the unobserved / unobservable process(es) by which a subject organism mediates the interplay of its sensor and effector interfaces from / to its medium.

"When an observer observes two moments of the flow of the behavior of an animal, and it seems to him or to her that the second is logically derived from the first through some intervening internal process, while he or she cannot deduce the connection from the relational situation of the animal solely, he or she says that such animal thinks, and calls thinking the internal process that gives rise to the second behavior."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995, IV.6.)

However, 'thinking' (in the colloquial sense of a formulaic or algorithmic processing of propositional or logical elements) cannot be a constitutive component of autopoietic theory's account for cognitive activity. This colloquial sense of 'thinking' entails the problematical notion of representation and ignores the structurally-determined dynamics of the organism which actually (in the explanatory framework of autopoietic theory) provide the basis for addressing this phenomenon.

"What the nervous system does while the animal is 'thinking', is to operate in its internal dynamics according to the structure it has at that moment as a result of the structural changes it has undergone contingently to the living of the animal ... According to this, the internal dynamics of that nervous system will give rise to successions of behavior that cannot but be logically or coherently connected between them in the context of the historical circumstances of the realization of the living of the animal. So, the expression "thinking" is a manner that the observer has of indirectly referring to the internal operation of the nervous system as it participates in the generation of behavior."

(Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier, 1995, IV.6.)


Cf. : cognition, observer


third-order autopoietic system

In principle, a composite system whose constituents are (or include) second-order autopoietic systems and among which there is third-order structural coupling. Maturana (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 11) uses a colony of honeybees as an example of a "third-order self-referring system", which (given this essay's predating of the term "autopoiesis") can be considered the same.


third-order structural coupling

Given two or more second-order autopoietic systems (e.g., multicellular organisms) structurally coupling with each other, third-order structural coupling connotes the recurrent or persistent phenomenological domain circumscribed by the coupling systems' co-ontogeny.

It is important to note that Maturana and Varela (1992) limit this attribution of "third-order" to this scope (coupling, co-ontogenic drift, and a possibly-transient phenomenological domain). They do not take the additional step of declaring that such ("social", so to speak) third-order couplings constitute a third-order autopoietic system. This additional step is taken (if only implicitly) by those writers who ascribe autopoiesis to social systems (e.g., Niklas Luhmann), to the extent that one analyzes such ascriptions as coherent from the level of individual biology up to level of society.


Cf. : social phenomena, social system, structural coupling


transcendental objectivity

The label for an explanatory path addressing cognitive process without respect to the biological foundations of the living system(s) exhibiting cognition. A synonym for objectivity-without-parenthesis. The opposite of constituted objectivity (or objectivity-in-parenthesis).


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, objectivity-in-parenthesis, constituted objectivity, objectivity-without-parenthesis


transcendental ontology

A label indirectly employed in Maturana (1988a) to denote a fundamental referential stance (i.e., an ontology) consistent with the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, and lying within the domain of transcendental ontologies which this explanatory path entails. This specific term is directly quoted rarely, and its connotations are presented indirectly through the other cited terminology. In context, a transcendental ontology is the alternative to a constitutive ontology (as those terms are specifically used in the cited paper).


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, domain of transcendental ontologies, objectivity-without-parenthesis, constitutive ontology


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understanding

Maturana provides a particular delineation of 'understanding' with regard to the manner in which an observer may apply or utilize an explanation generated or received. Given the explanation, the observer achieves 'understanding' to the extent she can integrate this explanation with her experience through reference to multiple phenomena and phenomenal domains.

"Understanding takes place when the observer can place the explanatory proposition that he or she accents as an explanation in a broader context that permits him or her to relate many other apparently unrelated phenomena or experiences. That is, understanding entails the explicit establishment by the observer of relations that for him or her are novel relations, between phenomena (experiences) of the same phenomenal domain (experiential domain), or between phenomena of different phenomenal domains, without confusing the phenomena or the phenomenal domains, and without attempting to reduce one phenomenon or one phenomenal domain to another. Understanding is an operation that takes place in the domain of awareness of the observer, and in which he or she remains aware that the relations that he or she establishes between different phenomena and different phenomenal domains, in this case take place in a different, non-intersecting metadomain that he or she brings forth as he or she lives the experience of understanding."

(Maturana, 1995)


Cf. : explanation, metadomain, phenomenal domain


unit of interactions

A term used widely in the earliest literature (Maturana, 1970a; Maturana, 1970b -- reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980) to denote a discrete entitative object contextualized in terms of its actual or potential interactivity. The term is initially invoked to address those entities termed living systems. "Living systems are units of interactions." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 9). The invocation of "unit of interaction" as a discursive device is consistently linked (in context) with an analytical perspective emphasizing the reciprocal dependencies holding between a living system and the interactional domain it specifies. This status is qualified by the fact that living systems "...exist in an ambience..." and "...cannot be understood independently of that part of the ambience with which they interact: the niche; nor can the niche be defined independently of the living system that specifies it." (Ibid.)

However, the connotations of the term are not limited to entities that are living systems. More generally, "units of interactions" are treated as entitative -- i.e., as discrete objects of reference. In context, such a unit is apparently construed as a nexus or set of specifiable interactivity (e.g., as that thing which defines / is defined by a given domain of interactions. That units of interactions are generally or broadly entitative (as opposed to strictly entitative + living) is evidenced by passages such as:

"It is an attribute of the observer to be able to interact independently with the observed entity and with its relations; for him both are units of interaction (entities)."

(Maturana, 1970a, p. 4; Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 8)

"For epistemological reasons we can say: there are properties which are manifold and remain constant through interactions. The invariance of properties through interactions provides a functional origin to entities or units of interactions..."

(Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 40)

This entitative status extends to the operation of the observer with respect to her closed nervous system, whose operational coherence "...emerges from the functioning of its components (whatever these may be), each one to its own accord, under circumstances that define the ensemble as a unit of interactions in a particular domain." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 46)

This construct, in effect the confluence of entity and domain of interactions, derived its importance from the manner in which Maturana earliest delineated the nature of entities apprehended by us as observers. "As living systems, however, we are closed systems modulated by interactions through which we define independent entities whose only reality lies in the interactions that specify them (their Description)." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 40) Conversely, the focus on interactivity necessitates that the ongoing coherence of such "independent entities" is observer-dependent. "Strictly, the identity of a unit of interactions that otherwise changes continuously is maintained only with respect to the observer, for whom its character as a unit of interactions remains unchanged." (Maturana, 1970b: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 10)

This term fades from the literature by the mid-1970's. Its retirement reduced the number of special terms employed in outlining the explanatory foundation of the theory, but it also resulted in a concomitant loss of emphasis on the interactional perspective upon which much of the original theory was framed. However, the original emphases on interaction (as a general dynamic) carried forth as important foundations for Maturana's treatments of (e.g.) behavior, intelligence, languaging, love, and perception.


Cf. : circularity, domain of interactions, entity, interaction


unity

1.

The most elementary object of perceptual / cognitive reference.

"That which is distinguishable from a background, the sole condition necessary for existence in a given domain. The nature of a unity and the domain in which the unity exists are specified by the process of its distinction and determination; this is so regardless of whether this process is conceptual or physical."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 138)

"...[A]n entity, concrete or conceptual, dynamic or static, specified by operations of distinction that delimit it from a background and characterized by the properties that the operations of distinction assign to it."

(Maturana, 1978)

Unities are not to be construed as objective elements of an external world. Their status as such is contingent upon their discernment by an observer.

"In the operation of distinction an observer brings forth a unity (an entity, a whole) as well as the medium in which it is distinguished, and entails in this latter all the operational coherences that make the distinction of the unity possible in his or her praxis of living."

(Maturana, 1988b, 6.ii.)

"A unity (entity, object) is brought forth by an act of distinction. Conversely, each time we refer to a unity in our descriptions, we are implying the operation of distinction that defines it and makes it possible."

(Maturana & Varela, 1992, p. 40, italics in the original)

It is important to note that reference to a unity is necessarily qualified with respect to its distinction:

"In fact, the nature of a unity and the domain in which it exists are specified by the process of its distinction and determination; this is so regardless of whether this process is conceptual (as when a unity is defined by an observer through an operation of distinction in his domain of discourse and description), or whether this process is physical (as when a unity becomes established through the actual working of its defining properties that assert its distinction from a background through their actual operation in the physical space)."

(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 96)

This reciprocal dependence of unit-distinguished and context-of-distinction is even more apparent in Maturana's (1978) definition of 'space':

"Space is the domain of all the possible interactions of a collection of unities (simple, or composite that interact as unities) that the properties of these unities establish by specifying its dimensions. It can be said, of a composite unity on the one hand, that it exists in the space that its components specify as unities because it interacts through the properties of its components, and, on the other hand, that it is realized as a unity in the space that its properties as a simple unity specify. Once a unity is defined, a space is specified."

The general notion of 'unity' is explicitly subdivided into two classes: simple unity and composite unity . Although simple unities may (via recursive operation(s) of distinction) be construed as composite unities, they are not presumed to be realized in isomorphic spaces / domains of realization. The relations among these elements are illustrated in Figure UnPhDom.

Figure UnPhDom:  A Unity as Brought Forth

Figure UnPhDom:
Relations Among Simple / Composite Perspectives on a Unity

In this figure, the observer brings forth from the ambience a unity, which she can educe as either simple (i.e., a unary whole) or composite (a set of components). The phenomenal domains in which the unary whole and the components are realized are distinct. Any intersection between these phenomenal domains lies wholly with or through the observer. Naively construing these distinct domains as isomorphic is the basis for pathological phenomenal reduction. This in turn has a bearing on the explanations which are developed with respect to a given composite unity .

After 1985, Maturana has increasingly employed the term "entity" to denote any object of descriptive / explanatory reference. In earlier literature, the term "entity" was typically employed as a colloquial reference to any discernible object. This is illustrated by Maturana's statement that a unity is "... an entity, concrete or conceptual, dynamic or static ..." (Maturana, 1978) This passage insinuates that 'entity' is the more general term, of which 'unity' is a subsidiary derivative contingent upon its circumstantiated distinction by an observer. In his post-1985 writings, Maturana has occasionally employed 'entity' in passages where 'unity' would have been exclusively employed in the 1970's-era literature. Occasionally, he has used the terms 'simple entity' and 'composite entity' as apparent synonyms for simple and composite unities, respectively.

These later usages has not always been explicitly qualified with respect to an observer's discernment (as was explicitly done with 'unity'). As a result, the reader is left to wonder whether the later usages of "entity" are in fact intended to be synonymous with the earlier (and more clearly defined) usages of "unity." The evidence tends to support a conclusion that the two are used synonymously. One critical portion of this evidence is Maturana's (1983) discussion of objects (as 'perceived'), of which 'entity' and 'unity' are safely considered subsets or synonyms.


Cf. : composite unity , distinction, entity, object, simple unity


2.

The state or condition of unary manifestation characteristic of a unity (1.). The following passage illustrates this usage:

"Unity (distinguishability from a background, and hence from other unities) is the sole necessary condition for existence in any given domain."

(Varela, 1979, p. 30)


universum

A term used by Maturana to denote the ultimate referential context for explanations -- a construct required in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis or transcendental objectivity:

" ... an independent domain of existence ... that is the ultimate reference for the validation of any explanation. With objectivity without parentheses, things, entities, exist with independency of the observer that distinguishes them, and it is this independent existence of things (entities, ideas) that specifies the truth."

(Maturana, 1988b, 5.iii.)

The ascription of "uni-" (one) relates to the presumptive unity (unary character) of this all-subsuming construct -- a result of its pervasive definitive feature of independent existence.

In a different paper published in the same year, Maturana covers the same explanatory ground with slightly different nomenclature when he refers to a "universe":

"...a single domain of reality -- ... a transcendental referent -- as the ultimate source of validation for the explanations that he or she accepts and, as a consequence, to the continuous attempt to explain all aspects of his or her praxis of living by reducing them to it."

(Maturana, 1988a, p. 29)

Maturana's espoused explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis or constituted objectivity entails something quite the opposite -- a multiversum.


Cf. : explanation, explanatory path, constituted objectivity, transcendental objectivity, objectivity- without-parenthesis, objectivity-in-parenthesis, multiversum


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Varela, Francisco J.

Francisco Varela was born in Santiago, Chile on September 7, 1946. He studied medicine at the University of Santiago de Chile, and obtained his Ph.D. in biology at Harvard University in 1970. He studied with Humberto Maturana and later worked with him at the University of Santiago. In the early 1970's, co-authored a series of papers with Maturana in which the foundations of autopoietic theory were documented and formalized. From 1973 until 1980 political events forced him to pursue his research abroad. During this period he extended the earlier theoretical work, resulting in his 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy. Maturana and Varela subsequently produced The Tree of Knowledge -- an account of their ideas for a general audience.

Varela has published books and papers on a variety of subjects, including: immunology, neurobiology, cell biology, epistemology, cybernetics and logic. In collaboration with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, he produced The Embodied Mind (1991) -- a call for an enactive approach to the study of cognition and an exploration of the similarities between the foci of an enactive cognitive science and the epistemological aspects of Buddhism. Dr. Varela was Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris until his untimely death at the age of 54 in 2001.


versum (plural = "versa")

A term employed by Maturana (1988b) to denote one of the possible valid referential / explanatory realms generated by the observer as described in the explanatory path of objectivity-in- parenthesis. In the other (conventional) path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, there is a fundamentally presumed unary "objective world" (universum) which serves as the sole reference point for explanations (and power games deriving from explanatory interactions). In the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, the observer is the locus for referentiality and validation of explanations. Because this opens up the potential for multiple valid or legitimate referential / explanatory contexts, this path's analogue to the universum is a multiversum. As Maturana puts it:

"...[E]very distinction specifies a domain of existence as a domain of possible distinctions; that is, every distinction specifies a domain of existence as a versum in the multiversa, or, colloquially, every distinction specifies a domain of reality."

(Maturana, 1988b, 10.vi.)

The apparent equivalence drawn between a "versum" and a domain of existence and/or a domain of reality is reinforced when Maturana writes:

"...[E]ach versum of the multiversa is equally valid if not equally pleasant to be part of, and disagreements between observers, when they arise not from trivial logical mistakes within the same versum but from the observers standing in different versa, will have to be solved not by claiming a privileged access to an independent reality but through the generation of a common versum through coexistence in mutual acceptance."

(Maturana, 1988b, 5.iii.)


Cf. : universum, multiversum


vitalistic explanation

One of two alternative classes of explanation which an observer may invoke in addressing living (and hence cognitive) systems (the other being mechanistic explanation). This dichotomy is most explicitly laid out in Maturana (1978), wherein he differentiates the two based on the focal characteristic of the phenomenon being explained that is emphasized in the observer's explanation. In a mechanistic explanatory mode, the emphasis is on the relations evident in the subject of study, while in the vitalistic explanatory mode, the emphasis is on properties of the subject (or its discerned subcomponents).

"... in a vitalistic explanation, the observer explicitly or implicitly assumes that the properties of the system, or the characteristics of the phenomenon to be explained, are to be found among the properties or among the characteristics of at least one of the components or processes that constitute the system or phenomenon."

(Maturana, 1978)

Maturana's illustrative example (1978) of a vitalistic explanation is that of Jacques Monod's ascription of living systems' essence to the "encoding" of polypeptide chains at the molecular level -- which Monod figuratively cast in terms of embryonic elements of Maxwellian 'biological demons'. This approach is vitalistic in that it attempts to define living systems in terms of properties pertaining to one (or a set) of their components (in this case, their biochemical components).

One of the problematical aspects of vitalistic explanations is that they leave open the possibility for unwarranted phenomenal reduction -- i.e., the ascription of equivalence between elements of two distinct phenomenal domains. Maturana illustrates this with respect to composite unities when he writes that vitalistic explanations "... do not distinguish between the phenomenal domain generated by a unity and the phenomenal domain generated by its components. The reality described through vitalistic explanations is, necessarily, a reality of a finite number of phenomenal domains. For epistemological reasons/ then, vitalistic explanations are intrinsically reductionist." (1978)


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TOPICAL INDEX

 

 
adaptation

admissible symbolic descriptions

aggression

allo-referred

allonomy

allopoiesis

allopoietic machine

allopoietic role

ambience

ambient

analytic

"Anything said is said by an observer."

asymmetry

auto-

autonomous description

autonomous machine

autonomy

autopoiesis

autopoiesis theory

autopoietic closure

autopoietic machine

autopoietic network

autopoietic organization

autopoietic space

autopoietic system

autopoietic theory

autopoietic unity

background

basic circularity

behavior

behavioral coupling

behavioral view

being

biological explanation

biological phenomenology

biological phenomenon

biology of cognition

boundary

calculus of indications

causality

circular organization

circularity

class

class identity

closed system

closure

Closure Thesis

coding

cognition

cognitive domain

cognitive phenomenon

cognitive point of view

cognitive system

cognitive viewpoint

communication

communicative

communicative domain

communicative explanations

compensation

compensatory behavior

compensatory change

complementarity

complementary pair

complex system

component

computer gestalt

conduct

connotation / connotative

consciousness

consensual / consensuality

consensual distinction

consensual domain

conservative change

constituted objectivity

constitutive ontology

constitutive relations

constructivism

context

control

control description

cooperative conduct

cooperative domain (of interactions)

coordination

copying

cosmology

coupling

creativity

criteria of validation (of an explanation)

criterion of acceptability

criterion of distinction

criterion of internal connectivity (of a theory)

cultural behavior

culture

deformation

denotation / denotative

description

destructive change

destructive interaction

disintegration

distinction

diversity

domain

domain of allowable perturbations

domain of behavioral phenomena

domain of changes of state

domain of compensations

domain of constitutive ontologies

domain of destructive changes

domain of destructive interactions

domain of existence

domain of explanations

domain of interactions

domain of ontogenic adaptations

domain of ontogenic transformations

domain of perturbations

domain of physiological phenomena

domain of reality
domain of states

domain of transcendental ontologies

domain of transitions of states

drift

eigenbehavior

emotion

emotioning

enaction

enactive

enactive approach

enactive cognitive science

Encyclopaedia Autopoietica

Encyclopaedia Britannica

entity

environment

epistemology

essence (of a system)

ethics

evolution

evolutionary adaptation

explanation

explanatory hypothesis

explanatory path

extended calculus of indications (ECI)

factibility

feedback

function

fundamental circularity

generative mechanism

gestalt of the computer

ground space

heteronomy

heteropoiesis

higher-order (autopoietic system)

historical coupling

historical phenomenon

homeostasis

homeostatic machines

icogdo

identity

indication

individuality

inference

in-formation

information

innovative change

inquiring community

instantaneous domain of the possible changes of state

instantaneous domain of the possible disintegrations

instantaneous domain of the possible perturbations

instantaneous domain of the possible destructive interactions

instructive interactions

intelligence

interaction

interactional closure

knowledge

language

languaging

learning

linguistic

linguistic behavior

linguistic domain

linguistic interaction

living organization

living system

love

machine

manner of listening

materiality

materially synthetic (explanations)

Maturana, Humberto R.

mechanical phenomenology

mechanical phenomenon

mechanicism

mechanism

mechanistic explanation

mechanistic system

medium

metadomain

metaphor of the tube

mood

multiversum

mutual orientation

natural drift

niche

nomic

nonmaterially synthetic (explanations)

object

objectivity

objectivity in parenthesis

objectivity without parenthesis

observer

observer-community

ontogenic adaptation

ontogenic drift

ontogeny

ontological diagram

ontological domain

operational closure

operational coherence

operational explanations

organization

organization of the living

organizational closure

orient

orientation

parenthesis

part

perception

perceptual object

perturbation

perturbational agent

perturbational object

phenomenal domain

phenomenal reduction

phenomenological domain

phenomenology

philosophical explanation

philosophical theory

phylogenetic drift / phylogenic drift

physical phenomenology

physical space

plastic interactions

plastic structures

praxis of living

precursors (of autopoietic theory)

prediction

problem solving (behavior)

property

psychic domain of existence

psychic space

pure relations

purpose

radical constructivism

rationality

razor's edge

reality

reason

recursion

recursive view

regulation

relations of constitution

relations of order

relations of production

relations of specification(s)

relations of specificity

relations of topology

repetition

replication

representation

representationist programme

reproduction

Santiago theory

scientific explanation

scientific method

scientific statement

scientific theory

scientist

Scylla and Charybdis

SDS

selection

selective interaction

self-conscious (system)

self-consciousness

self-influencing (system)

self-maintaining (system)

self-observation

self-observing behavior

self-organization

self-organizing systems

self-producing (system)

self-reference

self-referential (system)

self-referred / self-referring (system)

self-regulating (system)

self-reproduction

semantic (description / attribution)

semantic coupling

semantic domain

semantic phenomena

simple unity

social phenomena

social systems

solipsism

space

species

stability (of a system)

Star

state

state-determined

statical phenomenology

statical phenomenon

structural coupling

structural determination

structural determinism

structural domain

structural drift

structural intersection

structural phenomenon

structural plasticity

structurally-determined

structure

structure-determined

structure-determined system

structure-specified

submachine

superobserver / super-observer

symbol

symbolic explanations

symmetry

sympoietic system

syn-referential

synthetic (explanatory paradigm)

system

system-whole

teleonomy

theory of autopoiesis

theory

thinking

third-order autopoietic system

third-order structural coupling

transcendental objectivity

transcendental ontology

understanding

unit of interactions

unity

universum

Varela, Francisco J.

versum

vitalistic explanation
 


INDEX: ILLUSTRATIONS


Alphabetical Listing of Illustrations in the Encyclopaedia
 


Figure AmbEnv

An illustration of the definitional variations among the terms 'ambience', 'environment', and 'medium'. Located within the entry for 'environment'.

Figure CPOV

An overview of the notion of 'cognitive point of view' (cf. Goguen & Varela, 1978; Varela, 1979), and a summary comparison of the primary subcategories of behavioral view and recursive view. Referenced within the entry for 'cognitive point of view'.

This illustration can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html

Figure SymAsym

An illustration of the 'symmetry' / 'asymmetry' dichotomy used by Varela to (a) characterize complementarity in descriptive dualities and (b) to contextualize his construct of the 'Star statement' as a nomenclature suitable for addressing systemic issues. Located within the entry for 'Star'.

Figure UnPhDom

An illustration of an observer's eduction of a unity from the ambience, and the distinction between those phenomenal domains in which that unity is educed as (a) a simple unity and/or (b) a composite unity. Located within the entry for 'unity'.

Ontological Diagram

Maturana's 1988 illustration of the relationships between the explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis and objectivity-without-parenthesis.

Table AnavsSyn
Analytic versus Synthetic Explanatory Paradigms (per Varela, 1979)

The two main classes of explanations delineated by Varela (1979) on the basis of their perspective on the system being explained. Located within the entry for explanation.

Table CharRep
Varela's Overview of System Characterization versus System Representation

Adapted from Varela (1979, p. 206, Table 13.1), this table illustrates the intersection of modes for characterizing systems versus modes for representing those same systems. Located within the entry for autonomy.

Table CriofVal
Criteria of Validation for Scientific Explanations (per Maturana: 1978; 1988a; 1988b)

This table summarizes the four operational conditions delineating the manner and course of scientific explanation -- the criteria of validation -- as presented in Maturana (1978) and subsequently elaborated in Maturana (1988a; 1988b). Located within the entry for criteria of validation (of scientific explanations).

Table ECS1
Overview of the Three Traditions in Cognitive Science

This table, derived from the discussion in The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991)), provides a general overview of the contrasts among the three cognitive science traditions identified in that book. Referenced within the entry for enactive cognitive science.

This table is available on the ECS Comparative Tables page here at The Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/ECSTables.html

Table ECS2
Traditions of Cognitive Science Compared with Respect to 3 Key Questions

This table, derived from the discussion in The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991)), provides specific quoted tenets of the three traditions of cognitive science with respect to three key defining questions. Referenced within the entry for enactive cognitive science.

This table is available on the ECS Comparative Tables page here at The Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/ECSTables.html

Table Epist1
Varela's (1984b) Categorization of Epistemological Positions

This table, based on material in Varela (1984b), is one of the few delineations of the theory with respect to the work / perspectives of others. Located within the entry for epistemology.

Table (In-/In)formation
Varela's (1979) Differentiation of 'Information' and 'In-formation'

This table is a direct transcription of a tabular summary which Varela (1979, p. 266) provided to illustrate his reformulation of the notion 'information' as something more in line with the tenets of autopoietic theory (i.e., 'in-formation'). Located within the entry for 'in-formation'.

Table OpvsSym
Varela's (1979) Comparative Analysis of Operational vs. Symbolic Subclasses of Explanation

This table presents a summary of Varela's differentiation between the two major categories of operational and symbolic explanations. Located within the entry for explanation.

Table SciPhi-ers
Maturana's (1991) Comparison of Scientists and Philosophers

This table is based on the points made in Maturana (1991) on the distinction(s) between scientists and philosophers (as persons enacting roles linked to scientific and philosophical explanation, respectively). Located within the entry for scientist.

Table SciPhi-Theory
Maturana's (1991) Comparative Analysis of Scientific versus Philosophical Theories

This table is based on the points made in Maturana (1991) on the distinction(s) between scientific and philosophical theories. Located within the entry for theory.

Table SelfCons
Delineation of Self-Consciousness via Recursive Linguistic Behavior

Based on a delineation given in Maturana, Mpodozis & Letelier (1995), this table outlines a six-level progression of recursive linguistic behavior generating (among other things) self-consciousness. Located within the entry for self-consciousness.

Tableau BehView
Behavioral View of a System S

This tableau combines graphics and text to provide an overview of some points relating to Varela's (1979) key notion of 'cognitive point of view' (abbreviated CPOV), as it pertains to observation focused on a system S apprehended as a simple unity in its environment (i.e., from a behavioral view).

Referenced within the entry for behavioral view.

This illustration can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html

Tableau RecurView
Recursive View of a System S

This tableau combines graphics and text to provide an overview of some points relating to Varela's (1979) key notion of 'cognitive point of view' (abbreviated CPOV), as it pertains to observation focused within a system S apprehended as a composite unity (i.e., from a recursive view).

Referenced within the entry for recursive view.

This illustration can be accessed on the Inside versus Outside Focus File here at the Observer Web.

http://www.enolagaia.com/UnityInOut.html

 

 


REFERENCES CITED

 

 

Brown, G. Spencer [1969; 1994]
Laws of Form. Current edition: Portland OR: Cognizer Press, 1994.

This provocative book outlines a 'calculus of indications' based upon a fundamental operation of distinction. In his 1979 Principles of Biological Autonomy, Varela intensively analyzes and builds upon Spencer Brown's calculus as a tool for addressing distinctions as fundamental cognitive acts. Originally published in 1969, this hard-to-find volume was reprinted in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1977, and 1979. Different prefaces constituted some editions' primary addition to the previous one(s). The 1994 edition includes the Prefaces for the 1969, 1972, and 1979 editions.

Glasersfeld, E. von [1984]
An introduction to radical constructivism, in Watzlawick, P. (ed.), The Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? (Contributions to Constructivism), New York: Norton, 1984, pp. 17-40.

Glasersfeld, E. von [1995]
Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning, London: Falmer Press, 1995.

This is von Glasersfeld's summary exposition of his radical constructivism -- a perspective commonly associated / equated with the epistemological aspects of autopoietic theory.

Glasersfeld, E. von [1997]
Distinguishing the observer: An attempt at interpreting Maturana, draft essay of December, 1997, available via WWW at:

http://www.oikos.org/vonobserv.htm

This essay is perhaps the single most detailed discussion of the manner in which Maturana's work intersects von Glasersfeld's radical constructivism. However, the expositional focus is almost exclusively on Maturana's theories, and a comparison with radical constructivism is not attempted. As such, this essay is most accurately described as von Glasersfeld's assessment of Maturana's positions.

Goguen, J., and F. Varela [1978]
Systems and distinctions: Duality and complementarity, International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 5 (1979), pp. 31-43.

This is a rarely-cited paper, but one which I highly recommend. This is the original exposition of the notion of cognitive point of view -- i.e., the particular situated stance of an observer observing one or more systems. Although some of the material herein appears also in Varela's Principles of Biological Autonomy, the depth of exposition (especially with respect to logical / mathematical description) in this paper exceeds that to be found in the book.

Guddemi, P. [1997]
Notes toward a description in autopoietic terms of two types of human sociality: Sympoietic and institutional, paper presented at Biology, Cognition, Language and Society: An International Symposium on Autopoiesis, Belo Horizonte (Brazil), November 18-21 1997.

This paper appears in the Society section of the symposium workbook: Biology, Cognition, Language and Society, edited by C. Magro.

Hejl, P. [1980]
The Problem of a Scientific description of Society, in Benseler, F., P. Hejl, and W. Köck (eds.), Autopoiesis, Communication, and Society: The Theory of Autopoietic System in the Social Sciences, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1980, 147-161.

Hejl, P. [1981]
The definition of system and the problem of the observer: The example of the theory of society, in Roth, G., and H. Schwegler (eds.), Self-organizing Systems, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1981, 170-185.

Hejl, P. [1984]
Towards a theory of social systems: Self-organization and self-maintenance, self-reference and syn-reference, in Ulrich, H., and G. Probst (eds.), Self-Organization and Management of Social Systems: Insights, Promises Doubts, and Questions, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1984, 60-78.

Kelly, G. [1955]
A Theory of Personality: The Psychology of Personal Constructs, New York: Norton, 1955 / 1963.

Maturana, H. [1970a]
Neurophysiology of cognition, in Garvin, P. (ed.) Cognition: A Multiple View, New York: Spartan Books, 1970, 3-24.

This essay is the initial contribution to the primary literature on the biology of cognition. It was written as a sort of crystallization of ideas which Maturana had been formulating during the 1960's. A remarkably succinct and elegant paper, it remains one of the most satisfying "reads" in the literature base.

Maturana, H. [1970b]
The Biology of Cognition, Urbana IL: University of Illinois Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report 9.0, 1970.

This extended essay expands on the ideas outlined in Maturana (1970a), adding details and more formal expository language. There is little in the subsequent literature that cannot be found within this paper (or straightforwardly derived from it). The original University of Illinois edition is rare, and this document is primarily known through its re-issuance as the first section of Autopoiesis and Cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980).

You can now access this important reference as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- a Web-based presentation of the material in its original format. Because this paper is very difficult to obtain in the form of its original BCL Report, it is primarily known via its appearance in Autopoiesis and Cognition. As a result, I have formatted the BCL Report document to reflect the pagination of its appearance in that 1980 book. This allows you to reference and cite the material with respect to the book's page numbers. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

http://www.enolagaia.com/M70-80BoC.html

Maturana, H. [1975]
The organization of the living: A theory of the living organization, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 7 (1975), 313-332.

Maturana, H., and F. Varela [1975]
Autopoietic Systems, Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Biological Computer Lab Report 9.4, 1975.

Maturana, H. [1978]
Biology of language: The epistemology of reality, in Miller, G., and E. Lenneberg (eds.), Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Eric Lenneberg, New York: Academic Press, 1978, 27-64.

This paper is now available (with the gracious permission of Academic Press) as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- formatted to faithfully replicate the layout and pagination of the original publication. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

http://www.enolagaia.com/M78BoL.html

OR (an earlier version) at the original / mirror Observer Web site:

http://www.informatik.umu.se/~rwhit/M78BoL.html

Maturana, H.[1980a]
Autopoiesis: Reproduction, heredity and evolution, in Zeleny (1980b), pp. 45-79.

Maturana, H. [1980b]
Man and society, in Benseler, F., P. Hejl, and W. Köck (eds.), Autopoiesis, Communication, and Society: The Theory of Autopoietic System in the Social Sciences, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1980, 11-32.

Maturana, H. [1983]
What is it to see? ?Que es ver?
Paper originally presented in the International Symposium on Comparative Neurobiology of Vision in Vertebrates (Punta de Tralca, Chile, November 1982). Arch. Biol. Med. Exp. Vol. 16 (1983), pp. 255-269.

NOTE: Citations to this article within the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are based on an electronic transcription.

Maturana, H. [1985]
Reflexionen über liebe [Reflections on love], Z. System Ther., Vol. 3 (1985), pp. 129-131.

NOTE: Citations to this article within the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are based on an electronic transcription.

Maturana, H. [1987]
Percepción: configuración del objecto por la conducta. Arch. Bio. Med. Exp. Vol. 20 (1987), pp. 319-324.

NOTE: Citations to this article within the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are based on an electronic transcription of Cristina Magro's English translation entitled "Perception: Configuration of objects by behavior".

Maturana, H. [1988a]
Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument,Irish Journal of Psychology, 9 (1988), no. 1, 25-82.

This paper is now available (with the gracious permission of The Irish Journal of Psychology) as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- formatted to faithfully replicate the layout and pagination of the original publication. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

http://www.enolagaia.com/M88Reality.html

OR (an earlier version) at the original / mirror Observer Web site:

http://www.informatik.umu.se/~rwhit/M88Reality.html

Maturana, H. [1988b]
Ontology of observing: The biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence, in Donaldson, R. (Ed.), Texts in Cybernetic Theory: An In- Depth Exploration of the Thought of Humberto Maturana, William T. Powers, and Ernst von Glasersfeld, Felton CA: American Society for Cybernetics [conference workbook], 1988.

This paper is a representative overview of the biology of cognition as developed by Maturana. Recommended as a second or n-th source (not recommended as an exclusive introduction). This paper (along with the other 1988 article "Reality: The search..." [cf. above]) is also a good primary source on Maturana's distinction between scientific and philosophical explanations.

An online version of this paper, edited by Alfredo Ruiz, is available via WWW at:

http://www.inteco.cl/biology/ontology/index.htm

Maturana, H. [1989]
Ontologia del Conversar. Persona y Sociedad, III (2): 9-28. Santiago de Chile, 1989.

The citations to this article are based on the English draft translation entitled 'Ontology of Conversing', by Cristina Magro, as revised by Cristina Magro and Julie Tetel Andresen.

Maturana, H. [1991]
Scientific and philosophical theories, in Leser, N., Serfert, J., and K. Plitzner (eds.), Die Gedankenwelt Sir Karl Poppers: Kritischer Rationalismus in Dialog, Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitäts Verlag, 1991, pp. 282-374.

Citations in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are made with reference to an electronic manuscript with the same title, attributed to the University of Chile and Institute of Family Therapy of Santiago, Chile (also in 1991).

Maturana, H. [1995]
Biology of self-consciousness, in Tratteur, Giuseppe (ed.), Consciousness: Distinction and Reflection, Naples: Bibliopolis, 1995, pp. 145-175.

Citations in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are made with reference to an electronic manuscript of the same title.

Maturana, H., and G. Guiloff [1980]
The quest for the intelligence of intelligence, Journal of Social and Biological Structures, 3 (1980), 135-148.

Maturana, H., and J. Mpodozis [1992]
Origen de las especies por medio de la deriva natural o la diversificación de los linajes através de la conservación y cambio de los fenotipos ontogénicos, Santiago: Publicacion Ocasional 46/1992 Museo Nacional de Historia Natural,1992.

NOTE: References and quotations in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are taken from the English translation (The Origin of Species by means of Natural Drift or Lineage Diversification through the Conservation and Change of Ontogenic Phenotypes) by Cristina Magro, Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, and Julie Tetel Andresen.

Maturana, H., and F. Varela [1980]
Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1980.

Maturana, H., and F. Varela [1987 / 1992]
The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston: Shambhala, 1987 / 1992.

Maturana, H., Mpodozis, J., and J. C. Letelier [1995]
Brain, language and the origin of human mental functions, Biological Research, Vol. 28 (1995): 15-26. Electronic transcriptions available via WWW at:

  1. http://cipres.cec.uchile.cl/~jusaenz/BLOHMF.HTM

  2. http://www.informatik.umu.se/~rwhit/MatMpo&Let(1995).html

This paper is a recent summary of the biological and neurophysiological processes that give rise to human mental phenomena interpreted as behavioral relational phenomena which (1) take place in the relational manner of living that human language constitutes, and (2) arise as recursive operations in such behavioral domains.

Maturana, H., and G. Verden-Zöller [1996]
Biology of Love, in Opp, G., and F. Peterander (eds.), Focus Heilpadagogik, Munchen/Basel, Ernst Reinhardt, 1996.

NOTE: Citations to this article within the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are based on an electronic transcription of Cristina Magro's English translation entitled "Perception: Configuration of objects by behavior".

Mingers, J. [1995]
Self-Producing Systems: Implications and Applications of Autopoiesis, New York: Plenum Press, 1995.

Rosenberg, V. [1974]
The scientific premises of information sciences, Journal of the American Society of Information Science (JASIS), July-August, 1974.

Segal, L. [1986]
The Dream of Reality: Heinz von Foerster's Constructivism, New York: Norton, 1986.

Varela, F. [1975]
A calculus for self-reference, International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 2 (1975), pp. 5-24.

Varela, F. [1976]
Not one, not two, The CoEvolution Quarterly, Fall 1976, pp. 62-67. NOTE: This magazine later evolved into Whole Earth Review.

Varela, F. [1979]
Principles of Biological Autonomy, New York: Elsevier (North-Holland), 1979.

Varela, F.,[1981a]
Autonomy and autopoiesis, in Roth, G., and H. Schwegler (eds.), Self- organizing Systems, Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1981, 14-23.

Varela, F.,[1981b]
Describing the Logic of the Living, in Zeleny, M. (ed.), Autopoiesis: A Theory of Living Organization, New York: Elsevier, 1981, 36-48.

Varela, F. [1984a]
Two Principles for Self-Organization, in Ulrich, H., and G. Probst (eds.), Self- Organization and Management of Social Systems: Insights, Promises Doubts, and Questions, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1984, 25-32.

Varela, F. [1984b]
Living ways of sense-making: A middle path for neuroscience, in Livingston, P. (ed.), Disorder and Order, Saratoga CA: ANMA Libri, 1984, 208-224.

Varela, F., and H. Maturana [1972]
Mechanism and biological explanation, Philosophy of Science, Vol. 39 (1972), pp. 378-382.

Varela, F.,H. Maturana, and R. Uribe [1974]
Autopoiesis: The organization of living systems, its characterization and a model, BioSystems, Vol. 5 (1974), pp. 187-196.

Varela, F., and J. Goguen [1978]
The arithmetic of closure, Journal of Cybernetics, Vol. 8 (1978), pp. 291-324.

Varela, F., E. Thompson, and E. Rosch [1991]
The Embodied Mind : Cognitive Science and Human Experience, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.

Watzlawick, P. (ed.) [1984]
The Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? (Contributions to Constructivism), New York: Norton, 1984.

Whitaker, R. [1992]
Venues for Contexture: A Critical Analysis and Enactive Reformulation of Group Decision Support Systems. Umeå (Sweden): Umeå University Dept. of Informatics research report UMADP- RRIPCS 15.92 (doctoral dissertation).

Whitaker, R. [1995]
Self-Organization, Autopoiesis, and Enterprises, ACM SIGOIS Illuminations series, December 1995, available via WWW at:

http://www.acm.org/siggroup/ois/auto/Main.html

Winograd, T., and F. Flores [1986]
Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design, Norwood NJ: Ablex, 1986.

Zeleny, M. [1978]
Cybernetics and general systems -- a unitary science?, Kybernetes, 7, 1978.

Zeleny, M.[1979a]
Special book reviews, International Journal of General Systems, 5 (1979), pp. 63-71.

Zeleny, M.[1979b]
Cybernetyka: An inquiry into the management of human systems, in Gaines, B., et al. (eds.), General Systems Research: A Science, A Methodology, A Technology, Louisville: Society for General Systems Research, 1979.

Zeleny, M. (ed.)[1980a]
Autopoiesis, Dissipative Structures, and Spontaneous Social Orders, AAAS Selected Symposium 55, Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1980.

Zeleny, M. [1980b]
Autopoiesis: A Paradigm Lost?, in Zeleny (1980a), pp. 3-44.

 

 
 


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