sitemap Internet Resource Guide: Autopoiesis and Enaction

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Observer Web
Brought to You By:

Dr. Randall Whitaker

Randall Whitaker
Observer Web

Autopoiesis and Enaction

Enola Gaia
Copyright © 2000 Randall Whitaker

This material may be freely cited, copied, and/or distributed, so long as the author attribution is included.



This page provides a "nexus" of pointers to a variety of WWW-accessible materials and resources on the subjects of:

  • biology of cognition
  • autopoietic theory
  • enactive cognitive science
  • related or related areas, such as:

    • George Spencer Brown's Laws of Form
    • second-order cybernetics
    • epistemological constructivism

These links have been chosen based on (my) evaluation of their relevance and substance. I've also filtered and prioritized listings so as to minimize wasteful redundancy (where there are two or more sites with essentially the same offerings).

I've tried to categorize the items, but bear in mind that the assignment of a given resource to one or another category may be open to interpretation.

Corrections and suggestions for additional references are always welcome!!

Just forward new items to me at:


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  • This section lists the Internet forums where autopoiesis and enactive cognitive science are the focal subjects of discussion.
  • These are also the primary distribution points for news relating to the field.


   Autopoiesis-DialogNet Discussion Group at Yahoo Groups

Since the mid-1990's, there has been an interactive autopoiesis mailing list operated as one of the diverse philosophical discussion groups that make up ThinkNet / DialogNet. Over the years, this forum has been the scene of many lively discussions. The one drawback was that the forum switched services and servers many times, with each move resulting in people losing track and even losing interest.

As of November 1999, the discussion group's email distribution server was moved to This finally placed the discussion forum in a public setting which avoided the issues that had motivated the many moves.

As of January 2001, the eGroups forum became part of the Yahoo Groups domain (because Yahoo acquired eGroups). This most recent move was transparent to the subscribers.

This forum (autopoiesis-dialognet ) now seems stable as an unmoderated email-based service at Yahoo Groups.


Simply point your Web browser at:

Once there, you can browse, learn about the forum, subscribe, check out the hot links, etc., etc.


... send an email message containing " SUBSCRIBE autopoiesis-dialognet" to:


... just email to:


   Usenet Newsgroups

There are no Usenet news groups specifically dedicated to autopoiesis. However, the subject occasionally comes up in (e.g.):

  • (Artificial Life)

  • (Philosophical aspects of Artificial Intelligence)

  • comp.theory.self-org-sys (Self-organizing systems)

  • sci.cognitive (Cognitive science)

  • (Cybernetics and systems theory)

  • alt.postmodern (in relation to Felix Guattari's work)


   The Observer (Internet Newsletter / Journal)

The Observer

The Observer was a newsletter / journal originally distributed over the Internet via email. It was the first Internet-based resource for people interested in the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory. I began the newsletter in 1993, at the suggestion of Francisco Varela, to provide a forum for disseminating news and views on autopoietic theory and enactive cognitive science. Prior to that point, there had not been a persistent forum for people interested in these subjects. By 1995, The Observer's known audience had grown to ten times its original size. The Observer transitioned to a Web-only format in 1997. This meant it was no longer being 'broadcast'. The proliferation of the WWW and the emergence of online discussion forums made The Observer obsolete, and it has been discontinued.

If you want (or need) to access issues of The Observer , you can visit the archive at the original (Swedish) Observer Web  site.

You can:

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  • This section offers pointers to WWW-accessible sources for general or reference documentation on the biology of cognition, autopoietic theory and/or enactive cognitive science.

  • Additional resources are available through this and other relevant Web sites.

  • The most extensive listing of relevant documents can be found in the Bibliography at this site.

  • Those key materials available online can be accessed through the Observer Web 's Online Reading Room.

  • You can now purchase key books in this field online through the Observer Web Book Shop.


   Introductions / Overviews Biology of Cognition / Autopoietic Theory

-- by Me (Randall Whitaker)

I have constructed three 'generations' of online Web tutorials on autopoiesis and enaction. The first two 'generations' are available at their original sites, and in the form of many copies (some kind enough to credit the material to me, and others not...) found around the Internet.

In order of currency (reverse order of chronological appearance):

  1. Third-Generation Tutorial

    The largest and most current of my tutorials can be accessed at this Web site. It was evolved from the second-generation Tutorial in late 2000 / early 2001.

  2. Second-Generation Tutorial

    The second-generation tutorial was current from circa 1996 through 1999. This is the version which has been copied many times and translated into both Portuguese and Italian. It was evolved as an elaboration on the first-generation tutorial.

    The second-generation Tutorial is available as follows:

  3. First-Generation Tutorial

    The first-generation tutorial, constructed in 1995, was also my first Webpage. It was developed in response to an invitation from the ACM Special Interest Group on Organizational Information Systems to present autopoietic theory on the Internet. That tutorial can still be accessed at The ACM SIGGROUP Illuminations Site.

-- by Tom Quick

Tom Quick of University College London has also assembled a good overview of Maturana's theories. It's nicely organized and well-written. Tom himself describes it as follows:

"This is a relatively brief overview of some of the core concepts of Autopoietic theory, articulated in a way that is intended to be meaningful for those working on autonomous, adaptive or intelligent agents."

Tom's tutorial can be accessed at:

-- by Jane Cull

Jane Cull of Life's Natural Solutions (LNS) in Australia lectures and leads training sessions on the biology of cognition. Jane has also assembled a summary introduction to Maturana's ideas in the 'Worldview' section of the LNS Webspace. These materials can be accessed at:

-- by Lloyd Fell and David Russell

Lloyd Fell, David Russell and Alan Stewart edited a book entitled Seized by Agreement, Swamped by Understanding, "...a collection of papers to celebrate the visit to Australia in August 1994 by Humberto Maturana." Among the papers in this book (now available online) is "An Introduction to Maturana's Biology", authored by Fell and Russell. It is a good and thoughtful introduction to Maturana's ideas.

This introductory overview can be accessed at:

...or at its mirrored site (Alex Riegler's Radical Constructivism Webspace):

-- by Democritus University of Thrace (Greece)

At this university site, they've assembled a series of 'Lessons' (online readings) on cybernetics, second-order cybernetics, and other autopoiesis-related topics by drawing on available materials. Their Lesson 3: Autopoiesis contains a transcription of the second-generation Observer Web Tutorial plus the text from the Observer Web Archive Edition of Maturana's 1978 "Biology of Language" paper. The 1978 paper transcription does not include the pagination and formatting of the Observer Web Archive Edition available at this Website.

This introductory presentation is available at:


   Lectures / Interviews / Events: Maturana and Varela

Karash, Richard

Personal notes from a three day seminar by Prof. Humberto Maturana held at the Open University, Milton Keynes, England on March 13-15, 1997.

Available via WWW as 3 files:

Maturana Seminar #1 - Epistemology LO12887

Maturana Seminar #2 - Biology LO12896

Maturana Seminar #3 - Humanness LO12903

Maturana, Humberto, and Pille Bunnell

Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: What has that to do with Business?

From the Preface:

"This paper is based on a presentation made by Humberto Maturana at the Society for Organizational Learning Member's Meeting, Amherst MA in June, 1998. It is not a transcript, rather it is a re-creation by Pille Bunnell, reorganized with changes, deletions, and additions intended to make it more coherent as a written document. The first person voice of Dr. Maturana is retained, but any mis-representation of what he intended is the responsibility of Dr. Bunnell."

Mendes, David

Language, Emotion and Knowing: An explanation of what it is to be human. Material deriving from an interview with Humberto Maturana, February 1997.

Available via WWW at:

Brockman, John

"The Emergent Self". Comments on Francisco Varela by himself and others. Excerpted from The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, 1995).

Available via WWW at:

Maturana Lecture / Interview Videos

Links to descriptions and ordering information for these videotapes can be found in the 'Other Relevant Literature and Materials' section of the Observer Web Book Shop.


   Reference Aids


The Encyclopaedia Autopoietica is a large annotated lexicon for the terminology of autopoiesis and enaction. Drawing from the primary and secondary literature, the Encyclopaedia (a book of over 240 pages in printed form...) is the single largest reference work addressing the range of Maturana and Varela's theories. The Encyclopaedia is not intended to be a tutorial -- it is a reference work for those exploring (or already familiar with) these theories.

The introduction / entry point to the Encyclopaedia is at:

Original / Alternate Site (Sweden):

NOTE: The version at the Swedish site may not be the latest one.

BIBLIOGRAPHY on Autopoiesis and Enaction

Since 1989, I have been compiling and distributing a comprehensive annotated bibliography on autopoiesis, enactive cognitive science, and related literature. The bibliography is in the form of a (large!) file available at this Web site.

You can also obtain the bibliography (in a less current, ASCII text format):

  1. Via FTP from the Dublin City University FTP site
    (Thanks to Barry McMullin! )

NOTE: The HTML (WWW) version of the Bibliography here at the Observer Web is always the most current edition.

STUDY PLAN / SYLLABUS for Exploring Autopoiesis and Enactive Cognitive Science

This listing of suggested readings provides beginning / intermediate readers with a progressive syllabus for exploring the theories of Maturana and Varela and work deriving from them. The most recent Study Plan is available at this Web site.

An earlier version of a Reading Plan can also be accessed at:

The ACM SIGOIS Illuminations Site

TOPICAL INDEX for Autopoiesis and Cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980)

Autopoiesis and Cognition is the key reference on autopoiesis. The book is 'dense' -- full of ideas in a relatively small space. Unfortunately, there is no index provided for the reader. I have compiled a topical index which you can access at this Web site or:

  1. Via email from me

  2. Via FTP from the Dublin City University FTP site
    (Thanks to Barry McMullin! )

Proceedings of the Conference on Autopoiesis and Perception
Dublin City University, August 1992
, edited by Barry McMullin and Noel Murphy.

On August 25-26 1992, a workshop / conference on the subject 'Autopoiesis and Perception' was held at Dublin City University. The Proceedings from this conference can be downloaded from the Dublin City University FTP site at:

A detailed listing of the items available in can be found in the Bibliography at this site.

Computer Modelling of Autopoiesis

In the 1970's, the construction of a computer simulation model which illustrated autopoietic organization (e.g., of clustered graphic elements in a matrix, analogous to Conway's 'Game of Life') was a topic of much interest. Barry McMullin (Dublin City University) has been looking into this issue anew.

By The Way: Check out the Artificial Life (AL) page at Barry's department:

Barry has obtained two such software models and "added a few bells and whistles" to them. The first was originally developed by John Mingers, and the second by Francois Jullien (a former student of Varela). Barry has now made these software models (both DOS based) available for download via WWW at: [the Mingers model] [the Jullien model]

What Barry found was that both fail to exhibit properly autopoietic phenomena (as illustrated in Varela, Maturana, and Uribe (1974)). After much study, Barry finally got to the bottom of the failure of these models during a sabbatical year at the Santa Fe Institute (lucky devil!). This is covered (albeit obliquely) in articles available via WWW at:

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  • This section offers pointers to entire Websites / Webspaces addressing the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory and/or related topics.

  • These are cyber-locations defined by such subject matter (as opposed to single documents here or there...)
   Web Sites: Focus = Autopoiesis and Enaction

The Observer Web
(You are already there... HERE!)

The Observer Web is the single largest, most comprehensive online reference nexus on the subjects of autopoiesis and enaction.


The Observer Web exists at two sites now:

The Primary / Most Current Site:

The Original / Archive Site (@ Umeå Universitet, Sweden)

NOTE: The Swedish site is not guaranteed to be as up-to-date as the Enola Gaia site.

Instituto de Formación Matríztica

(Language = Spanish)

Humberto Maturana is a co-founder (with Ximena Davila) of Instituto de Formación Matríztica in Chile. This institute provides information and courses on the biology of cognition / biology of love.

The materials offered at this site include a bibliography of Maturana's publications, a Maturana essay, links to other resources, and information on the intensive courses the Institute offers on the biology of cognition / biology of love.

Chilean School of Biology of Cognition:
The Web Page of Humberto Maturana

Alfredo Ruiz of the Instituto de Terapia Cognitiva in Santiago has set up a Web site dedicated to Maturana and his work. This site is offered in both English and Spanish editions.

The materials offered at this site include:

Nice site, Alfredo!

Francisco Varela's Home Page

Francisco J. VARELA, Ph.D.,was most recently Director of Research at CNRS (National Institute for Scientific Research) at the laboratory of Cognitive Neurosciences and Brain Imaging (LENA) located at the Salpêtrière University Hospital in Paris. He served as the head of the Neurodynamics Group and a member of the Senior Faculty at CREA, Ecole Polytechnique.

His recent work had included the formulation of an enactive cognitive science, interviews with the Dalai Lama on mind and cognition, consciousness studies, and the emerging area of neurophenomenology.

His Web site includes:

Sadly, Francisco died on May 28, 2001, at the age of 54.

A Francisco Varela Focus File has been established here at the Observer Web to archive and preserve information about his career and his contributions.

Autopoiesis plus... Web Site

Lloyd Fell has set up a nicely informative Australian site with a nicely personable "atmosphere". This site provides a central point for seeing how Maturana's ideas have caught on "down under", and for finding out news relevant to the growing autopoiesis community in Australia.

Check out the introductory materials, the discussion items, and even autopoiesis-inspired songs.

Definitely worth a visit!

The offerings at this site include:
Kevin McGee

This is Kevin McGee's new (March 2001) Webspace, focusing on playful media in the context of enactive cognitive science.

Life's Natural Solutions
Jane Cull

Jane Cull's Life's Natural Solutions Webspace is dedicated to Maturana's ideas.

The site materials include:

Towards an Ecology of Mind
(Language = English)

Ecologia Della Mente
(Language = Italian)

This bilingual Web site is dedicated to alternative thinkers associated with cybernetics. These include:

  • Gregory Bateson

  • Ernst von Glasersfeld

  • Humberto Maturana

    In addition to substantive materials on these and other relevant thinkers, this site offers a number of papers and articles online.

    Luisi's Group

    P.L. Luisi's research group at ETH-Zürich

    Ongoing work in self-reproducing autopoietic models based on micelles.

    Autopoiesis and Journalism Theory

    A site in the Netherlands dedicated to the manner in which autopoietic theory can inform journalism and media studies. Created by Mark Deuze, Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR).

       Web Sites: Focus = Related and Relevant Topics

    Radical Constructivism
    Austrian Society for Cognitive Science

    This Web nexus on the subject of radical constructivism addresses people, organizations, and online papers that deal with radical, epistemological, psychological and educational constructivism and second order cybernetics.

    The site provides links on the subjects of (e.g.): constructivism, second order cybernetics, autopoiesis, epistemology, philosophy, Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Heinz von Foerster, Jakob von Uexküll, Gordon Pask, George Kelly, and Francesco Varela. Maintained by Alex Riegler.

    If you can visit only one site on constructivism, this is the one to visit.

    Good job, Alex!

    The Principia Cybernetica Web Site

    The Principia Cybernetica site is the largest Web 'nexus' on cybernetics and general systems theory. To be sure, there are many Websites on cybernetics, systems theory and related topics.

    I feel there is no need to list anything other than Principia Cybernetica, because you can locate all the others by using it as your starting point.

    If you can visit only one reference site on cybernetics and general systems theory, this is the one to visit.

    The American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) Website

    The American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) is one of multiple international societies dedicated to cybernetics, systems theory, and related topics. ASC, however, is perhaps the one such society most explicitly supportive of second-order cybernetics, constructivism, and especially the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory.

    (The Complexity & Artificial Life Research Concept for Self-Organizing Systems)

    This site is a nexus on complexity / chaos theory, self-organization, artificial life, and a number of other interrelated topics. The Calresco site includes a huge set of links to materials in these areas.


    The field of biosemiotics intersects with the explanatory context(s) of the biology of cognition in many ways. This Estonian site is one of the central Webspaces on the subject.

    ...And you should take a look at their Ecosemiotics page, too!

    Biosemiotics Home Page

    Another site dedicated to biosemiotics. Includes a good summary introduction to the subject entitled What is Biosemiotics?.


    This site hosted by David A. Reid has moved from its original location to Acadia University. It focuses on 'enactivism' -- the application of principles and themes from enactive cognitive science to education. This site offers an Enactivism Readings page.

    Whole Systems

    Webspace dedicated to the many aspects of 'whole systems'. Extensive sets of links that you can explore.

    Paul Pangaro Web Site

    Paul Pangaro, PhD, was a student of Gordon Pask. He maintains a personal Web site on second-order cybernetics and his applications of its tenets to enterprise issues.

    This site is also the home of the Pask Archive.

    Naturalized Phenomenology

    Glenn Braddock, University at Albany, State University of New York

    Here you'll find links to particularly helpful or interesting sources of information about consciousness and the role of phenomenology in cognitive science.

    Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

    From the introductory page:

    "This website is dedicated to providing resources focusing on the intersection of phenomenology and the cognitive sciences. ... The set of resources provided here includes:

    • theoretical explorations of the possible relations between phenomenology and cognitive science

    • practical and applied research that employs phenomenological resources in cognitive science

    • materials to support teaching and research in this area

    Phenomenology is understood as a philosophical discipline and method in the tradition started by Edmund Husserl, and including the work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and numerous others. Emphasis is placed on embodied or enactive approaches."

    Biogenetic Structuralism

    The themes and orientation of biogenetic structuralism bear some resemblances to Maturana and Varela's original positions. As such, there's some parallelism between biogenetic structuralism and the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory.

    "Over the years a group of us have developed a body of theory we call biogenetic structuralism. The original book of that title (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974) represented an interdisciplinary merger of anthropology, psychology and the neurosciences. It presented the view that the universal structures characteristic of human language, cognition about time and space, affect, certain psychopathologies, and the like were due to the genetically predisposed organization of the nervous system. It seemed to us preposterous (and still does) that the invariant patterns of behavior, cognition and culture being discussed in various structuralist theories could be lodged anywhere other than in the nervous system."

    This site includes a Self-Guided Tutorial on biogenetic structuralism.

    Constructivism and Related Sites

    A large listing of constructivism links

       Print Journals

    There are no printed journals specifically dedicated to autopoietic theory. The publications which are thematically 'closest' or which most directly address autopoiesis-related issues include:



    Cybernetics and Human Knowing: A Journal of Second Order Cybernetics and Cyber-Semiotics

    Journal Home page:

    The editor / publisher is Søren Brier:

    Other printed journals which have been recurrent venues for discussion of autopoietic theory include:

    A Directory of Cybernetics and Systems Journals is available through the Principia Cybernetica Web site at:

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     George Spencer Brown and his Laws of Form

    • In his 1979 book Principles of Biological Autonomy, Varela intensively explored (and elaborated upon) the British logician George Spencer Brown's 'calculus of indications'.

    • Spencer Brown's Laws of Form (1969) outlines a complete and consistent logic based on 'distinctions', which Maturana and Varela identify as the elementary cognitive act.

    • As of 2001, many of the best Websites on Spencer Brown's work have disappeared or moved without a trace.

    • I have now established two Observer Web Focus Files to both (a) salvage / preserve missing materials and (b) provide access to those things which yet survive.


    George Spencer Brown
    and his
    Laws of Form


    This Focus File presents some descriptive material on Spencer Brown, as well as hot links to surviving Web resources on him and his work. As lost material is retrieved, I may well add it into this Focus File.
      GO:  Spencer Brown Bibliography

    George Spencer Brown
    (Laws of Form)


    As a 'salvage and preserve' project, this Focus File presents one of the most important 'missing assets' -- a large bibliography on Spencer Brown and his work. My eternal thanks to the bibliography's original compiler (Dave Keenan) for dredging up the last (1995) ASCII text version of this valuable reference aid.
      GO:  Spencer Brown Bibliography
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