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A Calculus for Autopoiesis

April 14, 2012

The paper A Calculus for Autopoiesis looks once more at the understanding and definition of autopoiesis as developed by Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela, and Ricardo Uribe . We will not go into the philology of a comparison of the different versions of the understanding and definition of autopoiesis, into the different attempts to get its record straight, or into the question whether not only living but also social systems may be considered autopoietic according to well-defined criteria. We will instead try to focus on just one question, which is the question of whether George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form presents us with a possibility to translate Maturana’s definition into a kind of a calculus. Francisco J. Varela tried to do this before, yet discovered that he had to add a further autonomous state to the calculus of indications to make it fit for the modeling of self-reference. We share a criticism of this attempt, which refers to the idea that the distinction itself, in the form identical to the observer , already is that autonomous state Varela thought to have to introduce.

Instead of going here into that extended discussion we rather try to benefit from another discussion on social systems as autopoietic systems, which establish and enfold their own paradox into a play with their distinctions, frames, and values that equals their iterative reproduction. That is, we look again at Maturana’s emphasis on components, networks, and boundaries and try to figure out how that emphasis may translate into an understanding of form, which knows about self-reference, paradox, and play.

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