Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela . The Realization of the Living (Originally: De maquinas y seres vivos 1972) . ISBN 90-277-1015-5 . 1980 . D. Reidel Publishing Company . Dordrecht: Holland / Boston: USA / London: England


A theoretical biology which is topological where the topology is self-referential from the point-of-view of the system itself and has no outside, ‘.. Leibnizian for our day’ (p v). Cognition is defined as a biological phenomenon and as the very nature of biological systems. Hence: ‘Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition’ (p vi).

Essay 1: Biology of Cognition

1) What is the organization of the living? AND 2) What takes place In the phenomenon of perception? Ad 1) No valid definition is available that accounts for all systems: we can recognize them when we encounter them but we cannot say what they are. What is the invariant feature around which selection operates? NB that this is similar to my question concerning the invariant in business change! Look at systems not as open systems, exchanging energy and information with their environment, but closed. In addition a language is needed to describe autonomy as a feature of the system specified by the description. As a consequence notions of purpose, intent, use and function must be rejected. The definition of these systems as unities through their self-reference is their autonomy. Living systems are defined as unities through the circularity of the production of their components. Ad 2) With this theory the activity of the nervous system can be treated as the activity of the system itself and not of its environment. The external world only has a triggering role in the release of the internally determined activity. Moreover the working of the nervous system can only be understood by closing it off: perception is not the grasping of but the specification of an external reality. This can be connected with the Wagensberg model, but some modifcations are required to clean it from thermodynamical arguments. The question changes from: ‘How does the organism obtain information about its environment’ to ‘How does it happen that the organism has the structure that permits it to operate adequately in the medium in which it exists?’ (p xvi).

It was in these circumstances that one day, while talking to a friend (José Bulnes) about an essay of this 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 attempts at poiesis, I understood for the first time the power of the word ‘poiesis’ and invented the word that we needed: autopoiesis. This was a word without a history, a word that could directly mean what takes place in the dynamics of the autonomy proper to living systems’ (p xvii)

In a sense it has been my way to a transcendental experience: to the discovery that matter, metaphorically speaking, is the creation of the spirit (the mode of existence of the observer in a domain of discourse) and that the spirit is the creation of the matter that it creates’(p xviii). I would refer to this as the meeting of content and process: beliefs lead to decisions which in turn lead to behavior which lead to a new context which, given beliefs, lead to new action and perhaps to a change of the belief also.

Unity, Organization and Structure

Unity. An observer performs the cognitive operation of distinguishing an entity from its background. They are distinguished for the separability of the respective properties endowed them through this cognitive operation. If this operation is performed recursively by the observer then the components of the entity can be distinguished and the entity is defined by the properties of its components. The observer can also observe the entity as a single unity and distinguish it in the domain of its properties as a unity and not in the domain of the properties of its components. If 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 then it is defined in the domain of the distinctive properties of the unity.

Organization and Structure. The relations between the components of a composite unity that define it as a particular kind of a unity constitute its organization. Only those properties are considered and only to the extent that they participate in the constitution of the unity they integrate. The actual components and their actual relations, concretely realizing a system as a member of a class of systems in which it categorizes because of its organization, constitutes its structure. Any given organization may be realized by many different structures and different subsets of components and their relations in a given structure may be abstracted by an observer as organizations defining different classes of composite unities. The organization specifies the class identity of a system and must remain invariant for the class identity to remain invariant; if its organization changes then its identity changes and the unity becomes a unity of a different kind. Conversely because an organization can be realized in systems with different structures, the identity of a system can stay invariant while its structure changes within limits determined by its organization.

Structural coupling. Unity and medium as independent systems operate in each interaction by triggering in each other a structural change, and select in each other a structural change. If the organization in a composite system remains invariant while it undergoes structural changes induced by its medium, then its adaptation is conserved. The structural change in the unity follows the structural change in the medium through a process of structured coupling. Else the outcome of the unity is disintegration. If the unity is structurally plastic, then its conservation of adaptation results in a history of structural couplings to the medium that selects its path of structural change. The configuration of constitutive relations that remain invariant in the adapted composite unity determines the possible perturbations that the unity can admit; it is a reference for the selection of the path of structural changes that take place in it in its history of interactions.

Epistemology. If a composite unity is specified as a simple system then the phenomenological domain is specified by the properties of the simple unity. Because that differs from the domain of the properties of the components phenomenal reduction is not possible. The relations between the components of a composite system interact through a system of contiguity. Necessarily relations such as control and regulation are not of contiguity, but referential relations specified by the observer using their meta-domain by using their view of the whole. The observer creates a meta-domain of descriptions that allows them to speak as if a unity existed as a separate entity that they can characterize by specifying the operations that must be performed to distinguish it. Having characterized it as a distinguishable entity, in that meta-domain can he only cognize the entity in terms of that meta-domain.

Society and Ethics

(1) ‘It is apparent that natural social systems as systems constituted by living systems require these for their actual realization. What is not apparent, however, is the extent to which the coupling of living systems in the integration of a social system entails the realization of their autopoiesis’ (p xxiv). Why is the use of the term ‘autopoiesis’ in the sentence above with regards to the organization of the social system avoided? ‘If, however, the autopoiesis of the components of a natural social system were not involved in its constitution because the relations that define a system as social do not entail them, then the autopoiesis of the components (and hence their autonomy and individuality) would be intrinsically dispensable’ (p xxiv). This means that if autopoiesis of the components of a social system is not involved in the constitution of a social system, then the autopoiesis of the components is not required. Hence the autonomy and individuality of the components would be ‘intrinsically dispensable’. This seems to be a hint at the status of people making up a social group. It does not take into account the existence of memes as components of a memeplex that forms the social fabric of a group.

(2) ‘Accordingly, I propose that a collection of autopoietic systems that, through the realization of their autopoiesis, interact with each other constituting and integrating a system that operates as the (or as a) medium in which they realize their autopoiesis, is indistinguishable from a natural social system. Or, in other words, I propose that the relations stated above characterize the organization of a social system as a system, and that all the phenomena proper to social systems arise from this organization’(p xxv) This must serve as the connection of the autopoiesis theory with the theory of memetics. The autopoietic systems are the belief systems of the components of the social system, namely individual people. Their autopoiesis is realized through the existence of the autopoiesis of the autopoietic social system. The component autopoietic systems and the social autopoietic systems both are realized through the other’s autopoiesis. Implications of this proposition are: (i) ‘The realization of the of the autopoiesis of the components of a social system is constitutive to the realization of the social system itself’ (p xxv) (ii) ‘A collection of living systems integrating a composite unity through relations that do not involve their autopoiesis is not a social system, and the phenomena proper to its operation as such a composite unity are not social phenomena’ (p xxv). (iii) ‘Therefore, the domain of social phenomena, defined as the domain of the interactions and the relations that an observer sees taking place between the compnents of a society, results from the autopoietic operation of the components of the components of the society while they realize it in the interplay of their properties’ (p xxv) (iv) ‘In a society, at any instance of observation, the structures of the components determine the properties of the components, the properties of the components realize the structure of the society, and the structure of the society operates as a selector of the structure of its components by being a medium in which they realize their ontogeny’ (p xxv) NB: this is the notion of the connection between process and content in a social system (v) ‘An autopoietic system participates in the constitution of a social system only to the extent that it participates in it, that is, only as it realizes the relations proper to a component of the social system’(p xxv)

(3) ‘A society defines the domain in which it is realized as a unity’(p xxv) Such a domain constitutes at least an operationally independent medium that operates as: a) a selector of the path of structural change that the society follows in its individual history, and b) ‘if stable, a historical stabilizer of the structures that realize the selected invariant relations that define the society as a particular social system’ (p xxvi).

(4) ‘To the extent that human being are autopoietic systems, all their activities as social organisms must satisfy their autopoiesis’ (p xxvii) ‘In man as a social being, therefore, all actions, however individual as expressions of preferences or rejections, constitutively affect the lives of other human beings and, hence, have ethical significance’ (p xxvi)

(5) ‘What determines the constitution of a social system are the recurrent interactions of the same autopoietic systems. In other words, any biological stabilization of the structures of the interacting organisms that results in the recurrence of their interactions, may generate a social system’ (p xxvi). Gene >> Meme. Also Kevin and Gavin.

(6) ‘A social system is essentially a conservative system. This is so because it is generated through the interactions of structure-determined autopoietic systems and operates as a medium that selects the path of ontogenic structural change of its components, which, thus, become structurally coupled to it. In our case, we as social beings generate, through our structure-determined properties, our societies as the cultural media that select our individual paths of ontogenic change in a manner that leads each one of us to the structure that makes us generate the particular societies to which we belong. A society, therefore, operates as a homeostatic system that stabilizes the relations that define it as a social system of a particular kind’ (p xxvi- xxvii).

(7) The domain of states of a system as a composite unity is determined by the properties that realize its organization. It follows that a social change in a human society can only take place if the individual properties and hence conduct of its members change.

(8) ‘All that matters for the realization of a society is that the component autopoietic systems should satisfy certain relations regardless of the actual structures (internal processes) through which they realize them’ (p xxvii) Hypocrisy.

(9) ‘Interactions within a society are necessarily confirmatory of the relations that define it as a particular social system; if not, the organisms that interact do not interact as components of the society which they otherwise integrate. It is only through interactions operationally not defined within the society that a component organism can undergo interactions that lead to the selection, in its ontogeny, of a path of structural change not confirmatory of the society that it integrates. creativity, as the generation of novel social relations, always entails interactions operationally outside the society.. Social creativity is necessarily anti-social in the social domain in which it takes place’ (p xxvii-xxviii)

(10) ‘In general any organism, and in particular any human being, can be simultaneously a member of many social systems, such as family, a club, an army, a political party, a religion or a nation, and can operate in one or another without necessarily being in internal contradiction. .. An observer always is potentially antisocial’ (p xxviii)

(11) ‘To grow as a member of society consists in becoming structurally coupled to it; to be structurally coupled to a society consists in having the structures that lead to the behavioral confirmation of the society’ (p xxviii)

(12) ‘We as human beings exist in a network of social systems and move from to another in ou daily activities. Yet, not all human beings caught in the mesh of relations generated in this network of social systems participate in it as social beings’ (p xxviii-xxix). This means that if the interaction of someone in this social system does not involve their autopoiesis, is being used by the system but not a member or it is social abuse.

(13) (14) (15)

Biology of Cognition

1. Introduction

Man knows and his capacity to know depends on his biological integrity; furthermore he knows that he knows’ (p 5). This statement also explains the requirement of the existence of human beings as biological organisms for the existence of memes. ‘As a psychological, and hence biological function cognition guides people’s handling of the universe and knowledge gives certainty to their acts; objective knowledge seems possible and through objective knowledge the universe appears systematic and predictable. Yet knowledge as an experience is something personal and private that cannot be transferred, and that which one believes to be transferable, objective knowledge, must always be created by the listener: the listener understands and objective knowledge appears to be transferred, only if he is prepared to understand’ (p 5) Thus cognition is a biological function; it is known through knowledge.

(a) If an organism is a unity, in what sense are its component properties its parts? Has some property arisen from the properties of its organization or from its mode of life?

(b) ‘Organisms are adapted to their environments, and it has appeared adequate to say of them that their organization represents the ‘environment’ in which they live, and that through evolution they have accumulated information about it, coded in their nervous system. 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 [Cf. Young, 1967]. Yet this general view begs the questions, ‘What does it mean to ‘gather information?’ and ‘What is coded in the genetic and nervous system?’ (p 6)

III Cognitive Function in General

The Observer

(1) ‘Anything said is said by an observer’ (p 8)

(2) The observer can observe an object and its environment simultaneously. This allows them to interact with both independently and have interactions that are outside of the domain of the observed entity.

(3) An attribute of the observer is that they can interact both with the observed entity and with its relations. Both are units of interaction (entities)

(4) To the observer an entity is an entity if they can describe it. They can describe it if at least one other entity exists so as to distinguish the observed entity from in its description; the ultimate reference is the observer themselves.

(5) The set of all interactions of an entity is its domain of interactions and the set of all possible interactions with the observer (relations) is its domain of relations; the latter lies within the cognitive domain of the observer. ‘An entity is an entity if it has a domain of interactions, and if this domain includes interactions with the observer who can specify for it a domain of relations’ (p 8)

(6) The observer can define himself as an entity by specifying his own domain of interactions.

(7) ‘The observer is a living system and an understanding of cognition as a biological phenomenon must account for (the existence of DPB) the observer and his role in it (the phenomenon DPB)’ (p 9)

The Living System

(1) ‘Living systems are units of interactions; they exist in an ambience. From a purely biological point of view they 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’ (p 9)

(2) ‘Living systems as they exist on earth today are characterized by .. a closed circular process that allows for evolutionary change in the way the circuitry is maintained, but not for the loss of the circuitry itself. .. This circular organization constitutes a homeostatic system whose function is t produce and maintain this very same circular organization by determining that the components that specify it be those whose synthesis or maintenance it secures’ (p 9)

(3) ‘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’ (p 9)

(4) ‘Due to the circular nature of its organization a living system has 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’ (p 10)

(5) ‘Living systems as units of interactions specified by their condition of being living systems cannot enter into interactions that are not specified by their organization. The circularity of their organization continuously brings them back to the same internal state (same with respect to the cyclic process). Each internal state requires that certain conditions (interactions with the environment) be satisfied in order to proceed to the next state’ (p 10). The circular organization implies the prediction that an interaction will take place again. If it does not then the system will disintegrate, if it does it will maintain its integrity (identity vis a vis the observer) and move on to the next prediction. In a continuously changing environment the system can only remain intact if the environment does not change in that which is predicted. The predictions implied in the organizations are not predictions of particular events but of classes of interactions; interactions the features of which allow the organization of the system and hence its identity to remain intact. This makes living system inferential systems and their domain of interactions a cognitive domain.

(6) A niche is defined by the classes of interactions into which a system can enter. The environment is defined as the classes of interactions into which an observer can enter; they treat it as a reference for their interactions with the system. The observer considers the niche of a system the set of interactions that they observe to lie in its part of the domain of interactions of the environment. For the observer a niche is a part of the environment, for the system it is the entire set of possible interactions. As such a niche cannot be ‘part’ of the environment which lies exclusively in the cognitive domain of the observer. ‘Niche and environment, then, intersect only to the extent that the observer (including instruments) and the system have comparable organizations, but even then there are always parts of the environment that lie beyond any possibility of the intersections with the domain of interactions of the organism, and there are parts of the domain of the niche that lie beyond any possibility of intersection with the domain of interactions of the observer. Thus for every living system its organization implies a prediction of a niche, and the niche thus predicted as a domain of classes of interactions constitutes its entire cognitive reality’ (pp. 10-11) This is relevant for the observation of the firms by people as observers and vice versa.

(7) ‘Every unit of interactions can participate in interactions relevant to other, more encompassing units of interactions. If in doing this a living system does not lose its identity, its niche may evolve to be contained by the larger unit of interactions and thus be subservient to it. If this larger unit of interactions is (or becomes) in turn also a self-referring system in which its components (themselves self-referring systems) are subservient to its maintenance as a unit of interactions, then it must itself be (or become) subservient to the maintenance of the circular organization of its components’ (p 11). This is possibly relevant concerning acquisition of firms by other firms (DPB): cells >> bees >> beehive; cells >> people >> firms >> larger firms &c.


(1) Evolutionary change is an aspect of the circular organization that preserves the system’s basic circularity. ‘Reproduction and evolution are not essential for the living organization, but they have been essential for the historical transformation of the cognitive domains of the living systems on earth’ (p 11)

(2) For a change in a unity without losing its identity with respect ot the observer, it must suffer an internal change. If an internal change occurs without the identity of the unity changing then the domain of interactions must change.

(3) After reproduction the new unity has the same domain of interactions as the parent if it has the same organization.

(4) Predictions about the niche are inferences about classes of interactions. Particular interactions may be of the same class and not distinguishable for the system but they may be to the observer.

(5) Aspects of the organization that are subservient to the maintenance of the basic circularity but do not determine it change from generation to generation. The system maintains its organization and its identity through interactions. The basic circularity remains unchanged, the way it is maintained changes. ‘The evolution of the living systems is the evolution of the niches of the units of interactions defined by their self-referring circular organization, hence, the evolution of the cognitive domains’ (p 12)

The Cognitive Process

(1) ‘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 of behaving in this domain. Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition’ (p13)

(2) ‘If a living system enters into a cognitive interaction, its internal state is changed in a manner relevant to its maintenance, and it enters into a new interaction without loss of its identity’ (p 13)

(3) The function of the nervous system is subservient to the necessary circularity of the living organization.

(4) The nervous system has expanded the domain of interactions and hence has transformed the unit of interactions and had subjected interacting to the process of evolution.

(5) This expansion of the cognitive domain (into the domain of ‘pure relations’) allows for non-physical interactions between systems such that the systems orient each other towards interactions within their respective domains. ‘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. .. there are organisms that generate representations of their own interactions by specifying entities with which they interact as if these belonged to an independent domain, while as representations they only map their own interactions. .. a) We become observers through recursively generating representations of our interactions, and by interacting with several representations simultaneously we generate relations with the representations of which we can then interact.. b) We become self-conscious through self-observation; by making descriptions of ourselves (representations), and by interacting with our descriptions we can describe ourselves describing ourselves, in an endless recursive process’ (p 14)


(1) A living system is an inductive system: what happened once will occur again. Its organization is conservative and repeats only that which works. The present state is always specified by the previous state that restricts the field of possible modulations by independent concomitances.

(2) For the observer any one of the system’s behaviors appears as an actualization of the niche, that is, as a first order description of the environment (denoted as Description); this is a description in terms of the behavior (interactions) of the observed system, not representations of environmental states. The relation between behavior and niches exists in the cognitive domain of the observer only.

(3) A living system can modify the behavior of another system by: a) interacting with it in a way that directs both toward each other such that the following behavior of the one depends strictly on the previous behavior of the other. In this case the two systems can be said to interact. b) By orienting the behavior of the other system to some part of its domain of interactions different from the present interaction but comparable to the orientation of the orienting system. This takes place if the domains of interactions of both systems are coincident; no interlocking chain of behavior takes place because the systems’ behavior is based on parallel but independent behavior. In this case the systems can be said to communicate; this is the basis for linguistic behavior. The first generates a Description of its niche that orients the second within its cognitive domain to an interaction, which ensues a conduct parallel but unrelated to the first. The orienting behavior to the observer is a second order behavior, denoted in italics as description (linguistic utterance DPB), that denotes whatever denotation they assign to it: ‘.. that which an orienting behavior connotes is a function of the cognitive domain of the orientee, not the orienter’ (p 28).

(4) In an orienting interaction the orienter’s behavior as a description generates activity in the orientee, which then, in turn makes a Description of its niche connoted by the orienting behavior of the first.

(5) ‘If an organism can generate a communicative description and then interact with its own state of activity that represents this description, generating another such description that orients towards this representation…, the process can in principle be carried on in a potentially infinite recursive manner, and the organism becomes an observer: it generates discourse as a domain of interactions with representations of communicative descriptions (orienting behaviors). Furthermore, if such an observer through orienting behavior can orient himself towards himself, and then generate communicative descriptions that orient him towards his description of his self-orientation, he can, by doing so recursively, describe himself describing himself .. endlessly. This discourse through communicative description originates the apparent paradox of self-description: self-consciousness, a new domain of interactions’ (p 28-9).


(1) Thinking is the neuro-physiological process of interacting with some of its own internal states as if these were independent entities. From thinking behavior emerges in a deterministic manner. The difference with a reflex action is that the concerning the latter a signal can be traced back to the sensory system. In thinking the signal begins with a distinguishable state of activity of the nervous system itself (2) This process above is independent from language.

Natural Language

(1) ‘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. .. Only if the domains of interactions of the two organisms are to some extent comparable, are such consensual orienting interactions possible and are the two organisms able to develop some conventional, but specific, system of communicative descriptions to orient each other to cooperative classes of interactions that are relevant for both’ (p 30). These are the interactions as per Knorr-Cetina.

(2) –

(3) ‘Behavior (function) depends on the anatomical organization (structure) of the living system, hence anatomy and conduct cannot legitimately be separated and the evolution of behavior is the evolution of anatomy and vice versa; anatomy provides the basis for behavior and hence for its variability; behavior provides the ground for the action of natural selection and hence for the historical anatomical transformations of the organism’ (p 31).

(4) ‘However, when it is recognized that language is connotative and not denotative, and that its function is to orient the orientee within his cognitive domain, without regard for the cognitive domain of the orienter, it becomes apparent that there is no transmission of information through language. It behooves the orientee, as a result of an independent internal operation upon his own state, to choose where to orient his cognitive domain; the choice is caused by the ‘message’, but the orientation thus produced is independent of what the ‘message’ represents for the orienter. In a strict sense then, there is no transfer of information from the speaker to his interlocutor; the listener creates information by reducing his uncertainty through his interactions in his cognitive domain. Consensus arises only through cooperative interactions in which the resulting behavior of each organism becomes subservient to the maintenance of both. .. The cooperative conduct that may develop between the interacting organisms from these communicative interactions is a secondary process independent of their operative effectiveness. If it appears to be acceptable to talk about transmission of information in ordinary parlance, this is so because the speaker tacitly assumes the listener to be identical with him and hence as having the same cognitive domain which he has (which never is the case), marveling when a ‘misunderstanding’ arises’ (p 32-3).

(5) –

(6) ‘If one considers linguistic interactions as orienting interactions it is apparent that it is not possible to separate, functionally, semantics and syntax, however separable they may seem in their description by the observer. This is true for two reasons: a) A sequence of communicative desriptions (words in our case) must be expected to cause in the orientee a sequence of successive orientations in his cognitive domain, each arising from the state left by the previous one… b) An entire series of communicative descriptions can itself be a communicative description; the whole sequence once completed may orient the listener from the perspective of the state to which the sequence itself has led him’ (p 33)

(7) ‘Linguistic behavior is an historical process of continuous orientation’ (p 34)

(8) –

(9) ‘Orienting behavior in an organism with a nervous system capable of interacting recursively with its own states expands its cognitive domain by enabling it to interact recursively with descriptions of its interactions. As a result: a) Natural language has emerged as a new domain of interactions in which the organism is modified by its descriptions of its interactions.. b) Natural language is necessarily generative because it results from the recursive application of the same operation (as a neurophysiological process) on the results of this application c) New sequences of orienting interactions (new sentences) within the consensual domain are necessarily understandable by the interlocutor (orient him), because each one of their components has definite orienting functions as a member of the consensual domain that it contributes to define’ (pp. 34- 5)

Memory and Learning

(1) ‘Learning as a process consist in the transformation through experience of the behavior of an organism in a manner that is directly or indirectly subservient to the maintenance of its basic circularity’ (p 35)

(2) ‘Learning occurs in such a manner that, for the observer, the learned behavior of the organism appears justified from the past, through the incorporation of a representation of the environment that acts, modifying its present behavior by recall; notwithstanding this, the system itself functions in the present, and for it learning occurs as an atemporal process of transformation. An organism cannot determine in advance when to change and when not to change during its flow of experience, nor can it determine in advance which is the optimal functional state that it must each; both the advantage of any particular behavior and the mode of behavior itself can only be determined a posteriori, as a result of the actual behaving of the organism subservient to the maintenance of its basic circularity’ (pp. 35-6)

(3 tm 7) –

(8) ‘Past, present and future and time in general belong to the cognitive domain of the observer’ (p 38)

The Observer

(1) The cognitive domain is the entire domain of interactions of the organism. It can be enlarged if new modes of interactions are generated or instruments are applied.

(2) –

(3) The observer generates a spoken description of his cognitive domain (which includes his interactions with and through instruments).

(4) ‘The observer can describe a system that gives rise to a system that can describe, hence, to an oberver. A spoken explanation is a paraphrase, a description of the synthesis of that which is to be explained; the observer explains the observer. A spoken explanation, however, lies in the domain of discourse. Only a full reproduction is a full explanation’ (p 39)

(5) ‘The domain of the discourse is a closed domain, and it is not possible to step outside of it through discourse. Because the domain of discourse is a closed domain it is possible to make the following ontological statement: the logic of the description is the logic of the describing (living) system (and his cognitive domain)’ (p 39) This bears a relation with the Wolfram statement that natural processes are the same as the processes that produced the human powers of perception and analysis.

(6) ‘This logic demands a substratum for the occurrence of the discourse. We cannot talk about this substratum in absolute terms, however, because we would have to describe it, and a description is a set of interactions into which the describer and the listener can enter, and their discourse about these interactions will be another set of descriptive interactions that will remain in the same domain. Thus, although this substratum is required for epistemological reasons, nothing can be said about it other than what is meant in the ontological statement above’(p 39)

(7) ‘We as observers live in a domain of discourse interacting with descriptions of our descriptions in a recursive manner, and thus continuously generate new elements of interaction. 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)’ (p 40)

(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; since entities are generated through the interactions that define them (properties), entities with different classes of properties generate independent domains of interactions: no reductionism is possible’ (p 40)

Post Scriptum

(i) ‘.. That is, man changes and lives in a changing frame of reference in a world continuously created and transformed by him. Successful interactions directly and indirectly subservient to the maintenance of his living organization constitute his only final source of reference for valid behavior within the domain of descriptions, and, hence, for truth; but, since living systems are self-referential systems, any final frame of reference is, necessarily, relative. Accordingly, no absolute system of values is possible and all truth and falsehood in the cultural domain are necessarily relative’ (p 57)

(ii) ‘Language does not transmit information and its functional role 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 where all ultimate truth is contingent to personal experience. Since a frame of reference is defined by the classes of choices which it specifies, linguistic behavior cannot be but rational, that is, determined by relations of necessity within the frame of reference within which it develops. Consequently, no one can ever be rationally convinced of a truth which he did not have already implicitly in his ultimate body of beliefs’ (p 57)

(iii) ‘Man is a rational animal that constructs his rational systems as all rational systems are constructed, that is, based on arbitrarily accepted truths (premises); being himself a relativistic self-referring deterministic system this cannot be otherwise. But if only a relative, arbitrarily chosen system of reference is possible, the unavoidable task of man as a self-conscious animal that can be an observer of its own cognitive processes is to explicitly choose a frame of reference for his system of values. .. ‘ (p 58)

Essay 2:

Autopoiesis – The Organization of the Living

Preface (Stafford Beer)

General: knowledge is categorized and so is our world view. Not wholes seen through different filters but parts derived through analysis and categorized.

The stuff of systems is relations between components. Relation is the essence of synthesis. During categorization the relations between the components are not included. Relations are discarded and alienated and distantiated from. ‘It is an Iron Maiden in whose secure embrace scholarship is trapped‘ (p64).

The world develops exponentially because it is a complex system. Knowledge is developed at a categorically at a linear pace and so in effect the understanding of the world is receding. This book is important in a general sense in that its meaning in a meta-systemic level and not at a interdisciplinary level. And so what appears is not classifiable under the old categories.

Particular: autopoietic systems are homeostats: the variable that keeps a critical system stable is the system’s own organization. Anything can change about the system but as such it survives.

Beer states that human societies are biological systems: ‘..any cohesive social institution is an autopoietic system – because it survives, because its method of survival answers the autopoietic criteria, and because it may well change its entire appearance and its apparent purpose in the process. As examples I list: firms and industries, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals, professional bodies, departments of state, and whole countries’ (p70).

If this view is valid, it has extremely important consequences. In the first place it means that every social institution (in several of which any one individual is embedded at the intersect) is embedded in a larger social institution, and so on recursively – and that all of them are autopoietic. This immediately explains why the process of change at any level of recursion (from the individual to the state) is not only difficult to accomplish but actually impossible – in the full sense of the intention: ‘I am going completely to change myself’. The reason is that the ‘I’, that self-contained autopoietic ‘it’, is a component of another autopoietic system’. These last statements also bear a relation to the experience with change management. It is related to the idea of a funnel resulting from the Western belief in the idea of progress (aka capitalism, aka free-market mechanism).

BELANGRIJK regarding social systems: the authors claim: ‘Our purpose is to understand the organization of living systems in relation to their unitary character’. This formulation of the problem begs the question as to what is allowed to be a called a living system, as theey themselves admit. ‘Unless one knows which is the living organization, one cannot know which organization is living’. They quickly reach the concusion however (Subsection (b) of Section 2 of Chapter 1) that ‘autopiesis is necessary and sufficient to characterize the organization of living systems’. THEN they display some unease, quoting the popular belief: ‘… and no synthetic system is accepted as living.’(p71). This is an important connection with memetics: now it is possible to claim that social systems (that is to say the memetic systems that bring them about) are natural systems and so they are not synthetic by design. I have argued that because it evolves it must be alive so as to be able to define the subject of evolution via the concept of living systems.

AUTOPOIESIS – The Organization of the Living

Systeem causaliteit


Common experience is that living systems are autonomous and they can reproduce. Conversely if something shows signs of autonomy then it is naively often deemed to be alive. Autonomy is exhibited by living systems through their self-asserting capacity to maintain their identity through the active compensation of deformations. The endeavor of the authors is to disclose the nature of the living organization. Their purpose is to understand the organization of living systems in relation to their unitary character. Their approach is mechanistic: no forces or principles will be adduced which are not found in the physical universe. Their interest is in processes and relations between processes realized through components, not in the properties of components (p75). It is assumed that an organization exists that is common to all living systems, regardless the nature of their components (p76). It is assumed that living systems are machines: a non-animistic view, relations are the pivot, not the components, dynamism is a feature of many machines also. The research question is: ‘What is the organization of living systems,, what kind of machines are they, and how is their phenomenology, including reproduction and evolution, determined by their unitary organization?’ (p76).

Chapter I – On Machines, Living and Otherwise

1. Machines

The properties of the components are irrelevant apart from those that participate in the interactions and transformations that constitute the system. The relevant properties determine those relations that determine the working of the machine which they integrate and constitute as a unity.

The organization of the machine is constituted by the relations that define it as a unity and determine the dynamics of the interactions and the transformations it may undergo as such a unity. The structure of the machine is constituted by the actual relations holding between the components integrating the machine in a given space. In this way a given machine can be realized by many different structures (p77).

‘Purpose’ is a means to explain more efficiently the workings of a machine: by using this concept, the imagination of the listener is invoked to reduce the task of explaining of the organization of a particular machine. It is not one of the constitutive properties of such a machine.

2. Living machines

a) Autopoietic machines

Machines can maintain some of their variables constant or within a limited range. This is expressed in the organization of the machine such that the process occurs within the boundaries of the machine which the very organization specifies. These machines are homeostatic and all feedback is internal to them. If there is a machine M with a feedback loop external to it such that a change in the output changes the input, then a M’ exists that includes the feedback loop in the organization that defines it. This is how autopoiesis is defined by the authors: ‘An autopoietic machine is a machine 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 continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) 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’ (p79). In this way the autopoietic machine generates and specifies its own organization through its operation as a system of production of its own components in their endless turnover under conditions of perturbations and compensation thereof.

The relations of production of components are given as processes; if these processes stop then the production stops. In an autopoietic system these relations must be regenerated by the components which they produce such that the system remain autopoietic.

Autopoietic organization means that processes interlace a network of processes of production of components which constitute the network as a unity as they realize it. Every time this organization is realized as a concrete system in a given space, the domain of deformations, which this system can withstand without loss of identity as it maintains its organization constant, is the domain of changes in which it exists as a unity (p80). Autopoietic machine:

(i) are autonomous because they subordinate all change to the maintenance of their own organization

(ii) have an individuality because they keep their organization as an invariant through its continuous production. This represents their identity which is independent of their interactions with an observer

(iii) are unities because of their autopoietic organizations and their operations specify their own boundaries in the processes of self-production

(iv) have no inputs or outputs because even though they can be perturbed by independent events and they can repeatedly undergo structural changes to compensate these. These changes are always subordinated to the maintenance of the autopoietic organization of the machine

The actual implementation of the organization in physical space depends on the properties of the physical materials that embody it. A machine will disintegrate if it is perturbed such that the organization would have to compensate outside of its domain of compensations. The actual way a machine is realized determines the particular perturbations it can suffer without disintegrating.

b. Living systems

In other words we claim that the notion of autopoiesis is necessary and sufficient to characterize the organization of living systems’ (p82).

Chapter II – Dispensability of Teleonomy

Teleology means to describe things by their apparent goal or purpose. Teleonomy means the quality of apparent purposefulness or goal-directedness in living organisms. Both are unnecessary for the understanding of the living organization.

1. Purposelessness

Ontogeny is generally considered as an integrated process toward an adult state following some internal project or program. At different stages certain structures are attained that allow it to perform certain functions. Phylogeny is viewed as the history of adaptive transformations via reproductive processes aimed at satisfying the project of the species with complete subordination of the individual to this end. Purpose or aim and function are not functions of any machine (allo or auto) but they belong to the domain of our actions, namely the domain of descriptions. When applied to some system independent from us, they reflect our considering the machine or system in some encompassing context. Define a set of circumstances that lead the machine to change following a certan path of variations in its output. The connection between these outputs and the corresponding inputs in the selected context is called the aim or purpose of the machine. This aim is necessarily in the domain of the observer. Function can be treated in the same way. Neither aim nor function of the machine constitute its organization and so they are not part of its operation. ‘Living systems, as physical autopoietic machines, are purposeless systems’ (p86).

2. Individuality

In fact, a living system is specified as an individual, as a unitary element of interactions, by its autopoietic organization which determines that any change in it should take place subordinated to its maintenance, and thus sets the boundary conditions that specify what pertains to it and what does not pertain to it in the concreteness of the realization’(p87). In its history as an autopoietic organization, change in a living system can only take place so the extent that it does not interfere with the system’s functioning as a unity; the autopoietic organization remains invariant. Ontogeny in this sense is an expression of the individuality of living systems and the way it is realized; it is a process of the becoming of a system that is fully autopoietic, at every point, the unity in its fullness and not a transit from an incomplete to a complete system. The notion of development (or even progress) is relevant from the perspective of the observer and belongs to their domain.

Chapter III – Embodiments of autopoiesis

The assertion that physical autopoietic systems are living systems requires the proof that all the phenomenology of a living system can be either reduced or subordinated to its autopoiesis .. This proof must consist in showing that autopoiesis constitutes or is necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of all biological phenomena..’(p88).

1. Descriptive and causal notions

The existence of an autopoietic system requires the existence of components with properties that determine their relations such that these realize its organization as a unity. The components are defined by their role in this organization; the domain of the relations of an autopoietic organization is closed. And in this way the autopoietic organization defines a ‘space’ in which it can be realized as a concrete system; the dimensions of this space are the relations of production of the components that realize it, namely Relations of:

(i) Constitution, that determine that the components produced constitute the topology in which the autopoiesis is realized

(ii) Specificity, that determine that the components produced be the specific ones defined by their participation in the autopoiesis

(iii) Order, that determine that the concatenation of the components in the relations of specification, constitution and order be the ones specified by the autopoiesis.

Notions that apply to all autopoietic systems are:

(i) energetic and thermodynamic considerations are not part of the design of autopoietic systems. They are however in vigor implicitly: if the components and their properties, including the relational ones, can be realized then the autopoietic system can be realized.

(ii) Specificity and Order are referential notions in the sense that they carry meaning only in the context of their part in the autopoietic organization of the system under review.

(iii) An autopoietic organization acquires topological unity via its embodiment in a concrete autopoietic system. ‘Furthermore, the space defined by an autopoietic system is self-contained and cannot be described by using dimensions that define another space. When we refer to our interactions with a concrete autopoietic system, however, we project this system upon the space of our manipulations and make a description of this projection… Our description, however, follows the ensuing change of the projection of the autopoietic system in the space of our description, not in the autopoietic space’ (p90)

(iv) Concepts such as coding and transmission of information do not refer to actual processes in an autopoietic system. They do not enter in the realization of the autopoietic system. And so the notion of specificity as described above does not imply coding, information or instructions, but it describes relations between components determined by and produced by the autopoietic organization. The notions of coding and regulation are cognitive and they represent interactions of the observer, not phenomena in the observed domain.

2. Molecular embodiments

(i) Production of constitutive relations; these relations determine the topology of the autopoietic organization including its physical boundaries: ‘There is no specification in the cell of what it is not’(p91)

(ii) Production of relations of specification; these relations determine the identity (properties) of the components of the autopoietic organization and as a consequence its physical factibility. There is no production in the autopoietic system (such as a cell) of relations of specification that do not pertain to it.

(iii) Production of relations of order

These relations determine the dynamics of the autopoietic organization by deteminning the concatenation of the production of relations of constitution, specification and order, and hence its actual realization. This occurs via the production of components that realize the production of relations the production of relations of constitution, specification and order.’There is no ordering through the autopoietic organization of the cell of processes that do not belong to it.’ (p92)

Compensation of deformation keeps the autopoietic system in the autopoietic space.’(p93)

3. Origin

The geometric properties of molecules determine their relations of constitution, namely the topology. Their chemical properties determine their possible interactions hence their relations of specificity. Taken together they determine the sequence and concatenation of the molecular interactions, namely their relations of order. An autopoietic system can exist if its relations of order, is produced and remains constant, concatenate the relations of constitution and specificity in such a way that the system remains autopoietic. Asa consequence, the question about the origin of an autopoietic system is the question about the conditions that must be satisfied for the establishment of an autopoietic space: ‘This problem (of origin DPB), then, is.. a general one of what relations .. any constitutive units should satisfy.’(p93). This leads to the following considerations:

(i) ‘An autopoietic system is defined as a unity by and through its autopoietic organization.’ (p93) ‘Without unity in some space an autopoietic system is not different from the background in which it is supposed to lie, and, hence, can only be a system in the space of our description where its unity is conceptually stipulated’ (p94)

(ii) ‘The establishment of an autopoietic system cannot be a gradual process; either a system is an autopoietic system or it is not’ (p94). ‘Accordingly there are not and there cannot be intermediate systems.’ (p94)

(iii) ‘Auto-catalytic processes do not constitute autopoietic systems because among other things, they do not determine their topology.’ (p94) A unity is defined by operations of distinction as provided by the autopoietic system; .. its origin is co-circumstantial with the establishment of this operation’(p94)

(iv) Two aspects concerning the origin of autopoietic systems: a) factibility and b) the possibility of their spontaneous occurrence. a) the establishment of a system depends on the availability of the components that constitute it and the proper concatenation of their interactions. If these occur then the system is realized. b) given factibility and given the existence of factual autopoietic system, natural conditions exist for the occurrence of autopoietic systems.

Chapter IV – Diversity of Autopoiesis

Reproduction requires the existence of a unity to be reproduced. This is necessarily secondary to the establishment of such a unity. Evolution requires reproduction and the possibility of change and it is necessarily secondary to the establishment of reproduction.

1. Subordination to the condition of unity

Unity is the distinguishability of a unity from a background, hence from other unities. It is the sole necessary condition for existence in a given domain. Its nature and the domain in which it exists are specified by the process of its distinction and determination. ‘Unity distinction is .. an operative notion referring to the process through which a unity becomes asserted or defined: the conditions which specify a unity determine its phenomenology. In living systems, these conditions are determined by their autopoietic organization. In fact, autopoiesis implies the subordination of all change in the autopoietic system to the maintenance of its autopoietic organization, and since this organization defines it as a unity, it implies total subordination of the phenomenology of the system to the maintenance of its unity’ (p97). Consequences of this subordination are:

(i) the establishment of a unity defines the domain of its phenomenology, but the structure of the unity determines the realization of the phenomenology in that domain.

(ii) if the new unity is autopoietic then its phenomenology depends on maintenance of the autopoiesis, which in turn may or may not depend on the autopoiesis of its components

(iii) The identity of an autopoietic unity is maintained while it is autopoietic: as long as it is a unity in physical space and it is a unity in autopoietic space, regardless of the extent to which it is otherwise transformed.

(iv) Only after the autopoietic unity as such is established can it reproduce as a biological phenomenon.

2. Plasticity of ontogeny

The ontogeny means the history of the structural transformation of a unity; in the case of an autopoietic system, it means the history of the maintenance of its identity through continuous autopoiesis in physical space. Comments:

(i) Different classes of autopoietic systems have different classes of ontogenies

(ii) Given that it does not have inputs or outputs, the organization of an autopoietic system determines which changes the system may undergo without loss of identity

(iii) The way the autopoiesis is realized during ontogeny may change, but it should take place without loss of identity meaning uninterrupted autopoiesis

(iv) The changes that an autopoietic system may undergo without a loss of identity are a consequence of deformations; the sequence of the compensating of the deformations is determined by the sequence of the deformations. Nota bene: ‘Although in an autopoietic system all changes are internally determined, for an observer its ontogeny reflects its history of interactions with an independent ambience.’(pp. 98-9)

(v) An observer may distinguish internally and externally generated perturbations even though these are intrinsically indistinguisshable to the autopoietic system itself.

(vi) Changes that an autopoietic system can undergo while maintaining identity can be: a) conservative change in which only the relations between the components change and b) innovative changes, in which the components themselves change. In the first case the system remains positioned on the same point in the autopoietic space, because its components are invariant. In the second case, the interaction leads to a change in the way the autopoiesis is realized and to a change in the position in the autopoietic space, because its components have changed.

3. Reproduction, a complication of the unity

Reproduction is operationally secondary to the establishment of the unity: it cannot be a defining feature of the organization of a unity such as a living system. Living systems are characterized by their autopoietic organization and as a consequence reproduction must be a complication of the autopoietic organization during autopoiesis. ‘.. and its origin must be viewed and understood as secondary to, and independent from the origin of the living organization… in order to understand reproduction and its consequences in autopoietic systems we must analyze the operational nature of this process in relation to autopoiesis’(p100)

(i) Replication – a system generates unities different from itself but in principle identical to each other. Copy – an object or phenomenon is mapped upon a different system so that an isomorphic object or phenomenon is realized in it. Self-reproduction – a system produces another system with a similar organization through a process that is coupled to the process of its own production. ‘It is apparent that only autopoietic systems can self-reproduce because they are realized through a process of self-production (autopoiesis)’ (p101).

(ii) Only in self-replication is the mechanism of reproduction internal (in principle identical) to the pattern reproduced.

(iii) In terrestrial living systems currently known autopoiesis and reproduction are directly coupled. In them reproduction is a moment in autopoiesis and the same mechanism that constitutes the one also constitutes the other, and consequentially: a) self-reproduction must take place during autopoiesis, b) the individuals produced are self-contained and no external self-reproduction is a form of autopoiesis; variation and constancy in each reproductive step are part of the reproductive mechanism but an expression of autopoiesis c) variation of the way autopoiesis is realized can only arise as a modification from a pre-existing autopoietic structure. As a consequence, to maintain autopoiesis constant, variation can only arise from perturbations that require further homeostatic complications d) Replication takes place independently from autopoiesis, copy takes place in heteropoiesis, self-reproduction is exclusive for autopoiesis and its origin is bound to it as a historically secondary phenomenon e) coding, message or information are not applicable to the phenomenon self-reproduction: ‘Thus, in self-reproduction there is no transmission of information between independent entities; the reproducing and the reproduced unities are topologically independent entities produced through a single process of autopoiesis in which all components have a constitutive participation’ (p102).

4. Evolution, a historical network

A state in a sequence of states arises as a modification of a previous state and not as an independent state. The notion of history may refer to the antecedents of a given phenomenon as a succession of events leading up to it or it may be used to characterize the phenomenon as a process.

(i) Evolution is the history of change in the realization of an invariant organization embodied in independent unities sequentially realized through reproductive steps while the structural realization of the unity at each step arises as a modification of the previous one which constitutes its sequential and historical antecedent.

(ii) Reproduction by replication or by copy of an unchanging model implies an uncoupling of the organization of the unities produced and their producing mechanism.

(iii) Ontogeny and evolution are completely different phenomena: in ontogeny the identity is never interrupted, while in evolution a succession of identities is generated through sequential reproduction. Only unities have ontogenies.

(iv) ‘Selection, as a process in a population of unities, is a process of differential realization in a context that specifies the unitary structures that can be realized’ (p105). This is illustrated by the genotypical space and phenotypical space, the first via variation ‘offering’ possibilities to the second as an experiment to select the ones for survival in that specific context a/p quote above.

(v) Evolution takes place as a history of change in the realization of an invariant organization embodied in the realization of successively generated unities. Reproduction must allow for change in the structure of the sequentially reproduced unities.

(vi) ‘Of the two possible mechanisms that can give rise to sequential reproduction, the only one which is accessible to autopoietic systems in the absence of an independent copying mechanism, is self-reproduction, because of the coincidence between the reproducing mechanisms and the reproducing unity. Sequential reproduction through copy takes place a present only in relation to the operation of living systems in their domain of interactions, particularly in cultural learning; cultural evolution takes place through sequential copy of a changing model in the process of social indoctrination, generation after generation’ (p106)

(vii) ‘A species is a population or a collection of populations of reproductively connected individuals which are thus the nodes in a historical network’(p106)

Strictly, a historical network is defined by each and every one of the individuals which constitute its nodes, but it is at any moment represented historically by the species as the collection of all the simultaneously existing nodes of the network; in fact, then, a species does not evolve because as a unity in the historical domain it only has a history of change. What evolves is a pattern of autopoietic realization embodied in many particular variations in a collection of transitory individuals that together define a reproductive historical network. Thus, the individuals, though transitory, are essential, not dispensable, because they constitute a necessary condition for the existence of the historical network which they define. The species is only an abstract entiry in the present, and although it represents a histoorical phenomenon it does not constitute a generative factor in the phenomenology of evolution, it is its result’(p107)

5. Second and third order autopoietic systems

If the conduct of two or more unities is such that is a domain where the conduct of one or more of them is a function of the conduct of the others then the unities are said to be coupled. Coupling arises as a result of mutual modifications undergone by the unities in the course of their ongoing interactions while their identities remain intact. If the identity of a unity is lost then a new unity may be generated as a result of it, but no coupling takes place.’.. coupling leads also to the generation of a new unity that may exist in a different domain from the domain in which the component-coupled unities retain their identity’ (p107)

The nature of the coupling is determined by their autopoietic organization:

(i) Autopoietic systems can interact without loss of identity as long as reciprocally inflicted perturbations lead to compensable disturbances in their structures. They can couple and constitute a new unity while their individual paths of autopoiesis become sources of the specification of each other’s ambience. To persist as a unity the disturbances must remain in the domain permitted by their organizations. As a result the coupling can become invariant while the coupled systems undergo structural changes as a consequence of it. In this way a composite system can develop in which the autopoiesis of the individual systems is subordinate to the ambience defined by the autopoiesis of all the other autopoietic components of the composite unity. Such a system will be defined as a unity by the coupling relations of its component autopoietic systems. A system whose autopoiesis entails the autopoiesis of the coupled unities which realize it, is an autopoietic system of a higher order.

(ii) ‘An autopoietic system can become a component of another system if some aspects of its path of autopoietic change can participate in the realization of this other system’ (p110)

(iii) ‘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 the second order’ (p110) An example on earth is the multicellular pattern of organization.

Chapter 5 – Presence of Autopoiesis

1. Biological Implications

.., hence in a living system, loss of autopoiesis is disintegration as a unity and loss of identity, that is, death’ (p112).

(i) ‘The phenomenology of living systems, then, is the mechanical phenomenology of physical autopoietic machines’(p113)

(ii) ‘A biological explanation must be a reformulation of in terms of processes subordinated to autopoiesis, that is, a reformulation in the biological phenomenological domain’ (p114)


(iv) ‘.. the biological phenomenological is not less and not more than the phenomenology of autopoietic systems in the physical space’ (p114)

2. Epistemological implications

(i) ‘As a result, the biological domain is fully defined and self-contained, no additional notions are necessary, and any adequate biological explanation has the same epistemological validity that any mechanistic explanation of any mechanistic phenomenon in the physical space has’(p116)

(ii) ‘.. an autopoietic system .. must be explained through autopoietic mechanical relations in the mechanical domain, the phenomena generated through interactions of the autopoietic unities must be explained in the domain of interactions of the autopoietic unities through the relations that define that domain’ (p117)

(iii) ‘The organization of the individual is autopoietic and upon this fact rests all its significance: it becomes defined through its existing, and its existing is autopoietic. Thus biology cannot be used anymore to justify the dispensability of the individuals for the benefit of the species, society or mankind under the pretense that its role is to perpetuate them. Biologically the individuals are not dispensable’ (p 118)

3. Cognitive Implications

The domain of all the interactions into which an autopoietic system can enter without loss of identity is its cognitive domain; this is the domain of all the descriptions it can possibly make. The particular mode of autopoiesis determines its cognitive domain hence the diversity of its behavior.

(i) knowledge (its conduct repertoire) is relative to the cognitive domain of the knower. If the way in which the autopoiesis is realized changes then the knowledge of the unity changes. In that sense knowledge is a reflection of the ontogeny of an organism, because it is a process of continual structural change without loss of autopoiesis and a continual specification of the behavioral capacity hence of its actual domain of interactions.

(ii) Autopoietic systems may interact with each other under conditions that result in behavioral coupling. Autopoietic conduct of A is the source of a deformation in B. The compensatory behavior in B is the source of a deformation in A, whose compensatory behavior for B is the source ..&c. These interactions occur in a chain while A and B interact independently based on their internal structure. Their behavior however is a source of compensable deformations to the other which can be described as meaningful in the context of the interactions in light of the coupled behavior. These are communicative interactions. This consensual domain of communicative interactions where behaviorally coupled organisms orient each other with modes of behavior based on their internal structure is the linguistic domain. Communicative and linguistic interactions are non-informative; organism A does not determine the conduct of organism B; that is determined by their proper organizations.

(iii) ‘An autopoietic system capable of interacting with its own states, and capable of developing with others a linguistic consensual domain, can treat its own linguistic states as a source of deformations and thus interact linguistically in a closed linguistic domain’ (p121). Properties of such systems are: a) An autopoietic system can treat some recursively generated states as objects of further interactions. This can give rise to a meta-domain of consensual distinctions appearing to the observer as a domain of interactions with representations of interactions. The system now operates as an observer. This can occur at any time and so the domain of these recursive interactions with its own states is in principle infinite, unless autopoiesis is lost b) A living system capable of being an observer can interact with descriptive states of itself in the sense of interactions with its own self-linguistic states. It is now an observer of itself as an observer, which can be repeated in an endless manner. The domain is called self-observation and consider self-conscious behavior is self-observing behavior, namely in the domain of self-observation. The observer as an observer remains in a descriptive domain as no description of absolute reality is possible. Some such description would require an interaction with the absolute by the autopoietic organization of the observer, not by an agent of it.

Living systems are an existential proof; they exist only to the extent that they can exist. The fantasy of our imagination cannot deny this. Living systems are concatenations of processes in a mechanistic domain; fantasies are concatenations of descriptions in a linguistic domain. In the first case, the concatenated unities are processes; in the second case, they are modes of linguistic behavior’ (p122)

Notities over Methode / Methodologie

Philosophy (φιλοσοφία, philosophia, “love of wisdom”) is the study of general and fundamental problems such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and the systematic presentation of big ideas. Philosophy is the general and fundamental study of almost any topic. Richard Feynman argues that the philosophy of a topic is irrelevant to the primary study of a topic, saying that “philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein’s general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.

Metaphysics replaces the unargued assumptions embodied in such a conception with a rational and organized body of beliefs about the world as a whole. Epistemology seeks by argument to make explicit the rules of correct belief formation. Everyone governs their conduct by directing it to desired or valued ends. Ethics, or moral philosophy, in its most inclusive sense, seeks to articulate, in rationally systematic form, the rules or principles involved.

Methodologie is de verantwoording van de gebruikte methode: die kan de vorm hebben van een debat, een beargumenteerd standpunt van een school, beschrijvend onderzoek naar een standpunt of debat, filosofische analyse.

Volgens welke procedure kunnen wij tot empirisch toetsbare economische theorieen komen en hoe kan een theorie worden getoetst? De hypothetisch deductieve methode schrijft een procedure voor.

Volgens het hypotetisch deductieve model van wetenschappelijk onderzoek wordt bij een toetsing dezelfde procedure gevolgd als bij de toepassing: in beide gevallen wordt volgens Jehle (par. 2.1.2) de theorie opgevat als een wetmatige uitspraak: ‘onder deze set van omstandigheden x doet zich verschijnsel y voor.’

HD-m: observatie >> inductie >> deductie >> toetsing >> evaluatie>> ga terug naar observatie.

Fasen van HD-m volgens Popper: P >> TT >> EE >> P* >> TT* etc (P probleemstelling, T tentative trial, E elimination of error, * volgende ronde, P* is de probeemstelling minus de geconstateerde foute oplossing (error). Economen hebben veel toetsing weggelaten en de cyclus niet volledig doorlopen.

Het doel van HD-m is kennis verwerven die in staat stelt te verklaren of te voorspellen. Hiervoor is het deductief-nomologisch model door Hempel-Oppenheim geformuleerd. De pijlers van dit model zijn: de ‘covering law these’ en de ‘symmetrie these’.

Covering law: een wetenschappelijke verklaring heeft de vorm van een syllogisme. Voor die randvoorwaarden of beginvoorwaarden geldt deze uitspraak altijd: covering.

Symmetrie: verklaren en voorspellen hebben dezelfde logische structuur. Het verschil in aanpak is dat de verklaring uitgaat van een verschijnsel terwijl de voorspelling erop vooruitloopt. Uitgaande van de bekende omstandigheden en kennende de wetten is een verschijnsel te verklaren. Voorspellen werkt andersom: een voorspelling die uitkomt wordt een verklaring. Elke verklaring is potentieel een voorspelling en omgekeerd [Hempel 1965, p 367]. De denkmethode is andersom: progressive of regressive deductie (par. 2.3.1.): op basis van verwachtingen over omstandigheden een voorspeling doen over een ontwikkeling, toetsen of die voorspelling uitkomt en dus het model valide is.

De logische (1 tm 3) en empirische (4) adequaatheidsvereisten voor wetenschappelijke verklaringen zijn [Hempel 1965, pp 247-9]:

1) logisch moeten de premissen relevant zijn voor het te verklaren of te voorspellen verschijnsel

2) de major premisse moet een wet zijn en ten minste 1 premisse moet geldingscondities bevatten

3) De explanans uitspraken moeten zo zijn geformuleerd dat zij empirisch toetsbaar zijn

4) Bij toepassing moet voldaan zijn aan de eis dat de de explanans uitspraak empirisch waar is.

Hypothese = gissing, vermoeden: hoe meer mogelijkheden worden uitgerangeerd des te informatiever de gissing.

Veronderstelling = aanname. Hulphypothese = aanvullende aanname.

Theorema = afgeleide stelling, slotconclusie. Een theorema kan een hypothese zijn.

Lemma = tussentijdse conclusie

Axioma = woord dat zelf niet meer deductief logisch kan worden bewezen

Afnemende graad van algemeenheid: fundamentele veronderstellingen > veronderstellingen over het verklaringsideaal > veldveronderstellingen > hulphypothesen

Verifieren van een hypothese: toetsingsprocedure die ten doel heeft vast te stellen of een bewering waar is, in overeenstemming met de feiten. Universele hypothese (voor alle x geldt) kan niet worden geverifieerd maar wel gefalsifieerd. Existentiele hypothese (er is tenminste 1 x waarvoor geldt) kan alleen worden geverifieerd (geen yeti vinden betekent niet dat niet bestaat). Singuliere hypothese (x is een y) kan worden geverifieerd en gefalsifieerd. Gecorroboreerd betekent: ondanks verschillende pogingen om een hypothese te weerleggen is dat vooralsnog niet gelukt.

Niet goed toetsbaar zijn: tautologie, definitie, normatieve uitspraken, vage uitspraken, hypothesen die wel in theorie maar om allerleid redenen niet in de praktijk toetsbaar zijn.

De combinatie van verifieren en falsifieren is reduceren ofwel herleiden. Het constateren van feiten kan niet alleen met falsificatie. Bij controle van een paspoort wordt eigenschap E n+1 gevonden. Die moet inductief aan de lijst van te controleren elementen voor de vaststelling van de echtheid van het paspoort worden toegevoegd. Een vleugje inductie is nodig om verder te komen.

Via de HD-m methode worden hypotheses getoetst en zo wordt vooruitgang geboekt. Is de kennisaanspraak controleerbaar, is hij terecht, en neemt onze kennis erdoor toe?

Logisch geldige argumentatievormen (Methode – Logica):

1 Modus Ponens: Deductie – Deductief: als p dan q, p, dus q

3 Modus Tollens: Reductie – Deductief: als p dan q, niet q, dus niet p

Logisch niet geldige argumentatievormen (Methode – Logica):

2 Als p dan q, niet p, dan niet q?

4 Drogreden, bevestiging van de consequent: Als p dan q, q, dan p?

Deze zijn logisch dus niet geldig maar kunnen nuttig zijn om een onderzoek op nieuw spoor te zetten 2 of in een bepaalde richting voort te zetten 4.

Nieuwere wetenschapsfilosofie

De epistemologische opdracht is uit te vinden of een hypothese geloofwaardig is of niet. Als p dan q, niet q, dus niet p: als we q betrouwbaarder vinden dan p dan keuren we p af. Wat tegen de hypothese pleit laten we zwaarder wegen dan wat er voor pleit. Omdat de empirie niet zo uitsluitend is als soms wordt aangenomen bestaat het toetsen vooral uit het toetsen van een hypothese aan een andere hypothese [Against Method . Feyerabend 1975]. Want wat wij een feit noemen hebben wij omarmd als vertrouwenwekkend. Maar een feit is niet meer dan een getekende checque: pas iets waard als iemand zijn vertrouwen eraan heeft gegeven.

Maar niet het hele belang van de methode is verloren: met de lancering van een nieuwe theorie krijgt ook het veld vorm en worden nieuwe toetsingsmethodes ontwikkeld. Als p en q dan r, niet r, dus niet (p en q). Waar zit dus de fout, in p of in q? Nooit wordt een hypothese volledig geisoleerd getoetst, vrijwel altijd zijn aanvullende hypotheses nodig, die dan ook worden meegetoetst.

Feiten zijn niet een resultaat van objectieve waarneming en beschrijving, maar van een constructie, een samenspel van analyse en synthese. Bovendien zijn er waarnemingsprotocols, definities en klassificaties. Feiten zijn dus theorie afhankelijk.

Wetenschappelijk observeren is een vorm van experimenteren: het is planmatig en protocollaire activiteit. De eisen eraan zijn: 1) het waarnemingssubject is inwisselbaar, 2) interpretatie en registratie moet gescheiden zijn (vooroordelen vermijden), 3) trefzekere kwalificatie van verschijnselen leidend tot kwantificering ervan.

Introspectie als naar binnen gerichte observatie methode: gezond- of boerenverstand.

Simulatie is proefondervindelijk onderzoek op een model. Het doel is te weten te komen wat er zal gebeuren als de echte condities overeenkomen met de modelcondities. Het gaat niet om de exacte herhaling (ivm de moord op de stand-in) maar om een nabootsing ervan. Simulatie is niet een toestand maar een toedracht. Simulatie als experimentele methode is een manier om via manipulatie van het model informatie te verkrijgen over de structuur of de werking van het systeem dat door dit model wordt gerepresenteerd. Modellen zijn schakels tussen onze wiskundige kennis en de wereld: ‘De wereld is de wereld, alleen onze modellen kunnen wiskundig zijn.’ [Harré, R. . An Introduction to the Logic of Sciences . London . 1960, p 95].

Een simulatie is geen kopie van de werkelijkheid maar komt ermee overeen in belangrijk geachte opzichten. Het fundamentele probleem is een schaalprobleem: hoe de gevonden resultaten kunnen worden ‘teruggeprojecteerd’ op de werkelijkheid.

Logische analyse is het verdelen van complexe uitspraken in kleinere om ze te verhelderen. Russell heeft dat verruimd tot een taalanalyse om samengestelde uitspraken tot elementaire uitspraken te ontleden om van elk de geldigheid te kunnen vaststellen.

De Axiomatisch-deductieve methode (AD-m) bestaat uit:

Stap 1) een theorie opvatten als een onsamenhangend geheel van uitspraken, een aggregaat. Door axiomatisering dit aggregaat omvormen tot een axiomatisch-deductief systeem door uitspraken te verdelen in axioma’s (woorden die zelf niet meer deductief logisch kunnen worden bewezen) en overige uitspraken waarvan bewezen moet worden dat ze ook uit de axioma’s kunnen worden afgeleid. Dit zijn de tussentijdse conclusies (lemma) en slotconclusies (theorema).

Stap 2) omzetting in een calculus: de beschrijvende termen zijn vervangen door symbolen en de regels voor het gebruik van de symbolen. Het axioma stelsel hoeft niet evident te zijn maar wel consistent, namelijk: geen logische tegenspraak, geen axioma voor het bewijzen van het theorema mag ontbreken (volledigheid), de redenering zelf moet uit logisch geldige argumenten bestaan (zindelijk). Als hieraan is voldaan dan is het AD-m systeem ‘logisch adequaat’.

Stap 3) de betekenis van een wiskundig theorema moet worden geinterpreteerd: de betekenis in economische zin moet worden begrepen.

Bij het uitvoeren van een onderzoek zijn deze keuzemomenten van belang:

Keuzemoment 1: het zien van een probleem. In de economie is het coordinatieprobleem bijv. al eeuwenlang het belangrijkst: hoe kunnen de plannen van individuen die op eigen voordeel uit zijn en die via vrijwillige ruil met elkaar in contact staan toch een overeenstemming bereiken?

Bij keuzemoment 1: Realisme (economische theorie is een afspiegeling van het proces zoals dat in feite toegaat) versus idealisme (voorstelling van het beste van alle werelden) versus constructivisme (de werkelijkheid wordt steeds opgebouwd uit kennisstructuren van het systeem, die wij opbouwen door open te staan voor ervaringsgegevens).

Keuzemoment 2: welke probleemstelling verdient de onderzoeksprioriteit? De kunst van het ontdekken (heuristiek) betekent dat de onderzoeker zich realiseert wat de oplossing bijdraagt en niet blind een bepaald onderzoeksgebied uitbouwt.

Bij Keuzemoment 2: Individualisme (economische verschijnselen moeten worden opgebouwd uit individuele keuzes, besissingen en gedrag gegeven de natuurlijke omstandigheden) versus holisme (individueel gedrag moet worden verklaard uit de omstandigheden en het geheel waarvan het individu deel uitmaakt (=holos), bijvoorbeeld alle instituties, stelsel, historische ontwikkelingen.

De laatste is onder te verdelen in sociaal functionalisme de individuele rol wordt bepaald door de functie in het geheel) en sociaal evolutionisme (sociale veranderingen volgen een vast patroon bijv. revolutie theorie van Marx, 5 fasen van Rostow etc).

Bij keuzemoment 2 Deze bovengenoemde tegenstelling in keuzes tussen vrije wilsbeschikking en de situatie hangt af van wat je wilt verklaren: het geheel uit de delen of de delen uit het geheel. Deze tegenstelling kan worden overbrugd met het begrip ‘situatie’ in methodologisch situationalisme [Knorr-Cetina, K. and Cicourel, A.V.. . The micro-sociological challenge of macro-sociology: towards a reconstruction of social theory and methodology . 1981 . Advances in social theory and methodology . Boston . Pp 1-47]. 1

Tot zover ‘weten waarom’.

Keuzemoment 3: welk wetenschapssysteem: de gangbare onderzoeksrichting of een andere volgen? De aantallen alternatieven zijn dan groot: als het geen eik is dan kan het van alles zijn.

Keuzemoment 4: zijn de vooronderstellingen aanvaardbaar? Dit is niet hetzelfde als de veronderstellingen, de aannames. Vooronderstellingen zijn de aannames over het kader van het onderzoek zelf. Dit is vooral causaliteit: traditioneel keten van gebeurtenissen die leidt naar de eerste beweger. Nieuwe causaliteit is een eigenschap die aan een model wordt toegevoegd en kan verschillende vormen hebben zoals statistisch of sequentieel.

Tot hier ‘weten dat’

Een model definieert een systeem, een hypothese is een voorlopige aanspraak, een theorie is een hypothese waarvan de onderzoeker de overtuiging heeft dat die geldig is. Volgens het standaardmodel moet een theorie empirisch bevestigd worden. Een algemene theorie (een economische kringloop) kan niet empirisch worden getoetst: eerst een specifiek model opstellen (de nederlandse economie in jaar x = een toegepast model).

Keuzemoment 5: is de gevolgde methodologie aanvaardbaar? Dit is weten hoe. Wetenschap streeft naar algemeen geldige kennis: universeel geldig (voor alles) en objectief (voor iedereen). Objectiviteit wordt methodisch tot stand gebracht.

Bij Keuzemoment 5: Monisme (1 methode superieur voor alle vakgebieden) versus pluralisme (meerdere methoden voor verschillende vakgebieden mogelijk).


Positieve economie = realisme, individualisme en monisme.

Instrumentalisme (Friedman) = postieve economie minus realisme, theorie beoordelen op voorspellend succes. Pragmatisme maar niet blijvend, whatever works om de theorie te vinden, niet om een permanent lapmiddel te vinden van het pragmatisme.

Analytische school: de economische wetenschap is een manier van denken: Keynes: methode om door bemiddeling van modellen correcte conclusies te trekken over de gang van zaken in een bepaalde situatie; ze hebben betekenis in relatie tot een actief subject dat doeleinden heeft en beslissingen kan nemen (agency). Het gaat hier om het aanpassen van de omgeving aan de mens, kennen is beslissen: als x en y dan z, x en y, z. Doe x en y opdat z!

Oostenrijkse school: indidualisme, dualisme, wijsgerig idealisme (wetenschappelijk kennen prevaleert boven de ervaring).

Von Mises: radicaal subjectivisme (our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience: knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth), dualisme, praxeologie (handeling als causaliteit: handeling in verschillende condities, bij x condities y handeling).

Popper-Hayek programma [Boland, L.A. . 1982 . The foundations of Economic Method . London . p. 178]:

1) Mensen leren van hun ervaring: Poppers opvatting dat alle kennis feilbaar is en wetenschappelijke kennis weerlegbaar – Poppers opvatting dat actoren in hun hoofd niet iets kunnen doen dat logisch niet kan – Hayeks opvatting dat elke actor steeds rationeel handelt gegeven kennis van de situatie – Hayeks opvatting dat behalve veranderingen in de situatie ook leereffecten van de actor bepalend zijn voor zijn doen en laten.

2) Van gedragsverklaring naar handelingsverklaring: Popper probeert dualisme te overwinnen, namelijk een waarheid voor de natuur en iets anders voor de mens. De essentie van die brug is dat gedrag dat bijv. een amoebe vertoont iets anders is dan handelen dat een mens vertoont: het verschil is overleg. Dat kan niet met natuurwetten worden verklaard, omdat daar het overleg en de rationaliteit (precies het verschil tussen de beide wetenschappelijke benaderingen) niet in is inbegrepen.

Toegepaste economie is het aanwenden van kennis of methoden met een bepaald doel, zoals:

1) beschrijven hoe het echt gaat, 2) verklaren waarom het zo gaat, 3) begrijpen hoe het gaat vergeleken met een norm 4) veranderen of ingrijpen van hoe het nu gaat naar een gewenste gang van zaken. Bij 1) en 2) betreft het de specificatie van een concreet geval uit een algemene regel. 3) en 4) betreft het begrijpen van een feitelijke situatie als een bijzonder geval van een andere algemene regel.

Verklaren en voorspellen hebben dezelfde logische structuur (symmetrie these van Hempel). Een verklaring moet antwoord geven op de vraag: ‘waarom is dit het geval?’. Een succesvole verklaring bewijst waarom iets zich in de gegevens omstandigheden wel voor moet doen: een bijzonder geval van een algemene regel (of samenstel van regels = theorie). P1 Als (p en q) dan r, P2 (p en q), dus vandaar r. Volgens het deductief nomologisch model van verklaren moet P1 een algemene empirisch bewezen universele theorie zijn en moet P2 feitelijk waar zijn. Het DM-m model kan gebruikt worden met het doel om te verklaren, te voorspellen of te toetsen.

Er is een spanning tussen de veronderstelling van rationele agenten en de dagelijkse ervaring. Daarom stelt Friedman zich op het standpunt dat theorie geen empirische verklaring voor gedrag kan geven. Popper en Marschak stellen voor theorieen als maatlat of referentie te gebruiken om afwijkingen tussen modelgedrag en de wekelijkheid aan te wijzen.

Het voorspellend argument

P1 Als (hypothetische relatie H en geldingscondities A) dan (Implicatie I), hypothetische relatie H, geldingscondities A, Implicatie = voorspellende uitspraak I >>

P1 Als (H & (modelcondities M & conditie dat er geen verstoringen zijn C) dan I >>

P1 Als (H & M & C) dan I

P2 Welnu (M* & C*)

C Dus I*

* is de zwakke plekken, de major heeft de schuld afgeschoven.

Voorspellende uitspraak

Objectief (volgens waarnemingsprotocol), positief (het duidelijk wat is) en kwantitatief (richting van de verandering en de omvang van de verandering), onafhankelijk (de gegevens van de situatiebeschrijving (M* en C*) mogen niet gebruikt zijn voor het model (konijn in de hoed en dan er weer uit).


M* is een model van de werkelijkheid en voorwaarde C bepaalt dat naast de modelfactoren nog andere een rol kunnen spelen voor de voorspelling die buiten beschouwing zijn gelaten. Dit is de belangrijkste twijfel aan de symmetrie these van Hempel betreft voorspellingen in de toekomst, omdat niet zeker is dat er niets meer veranderen zal. Het heden is open, zodat niet alleen de voorspelling van de verklaring verandert maar ook de predictie van de retrodictie. Namelijk een syllogisme bevat een dubbele voorspelling namelijk de theorie in de major en de theorie over de toekomstige situatie in de minor. C* betekent dat alle relevante factoren in het model zijn opgenomen door d eonderzoeker en ook als ze veranderen geen invloed hebben op de voorspelling.


Dit is het probleem van theorie absorptie [Morgenstern 1972]: als een voorspelling bekend wordt dan gaaan mensen daarop reageren en de voorspelling bevestigen (self fulfilling prophecy) of juist ontkennen (self-denying prophecy). De drogreden is de verwarring tussen kennisverwerving en kennistoepassing.

1Karin Knorr-Cetina works on epistemology and social constructionism. A knowledge object is a theoretical concept to describe the emergence of post-social relations in epistemic cultures. Knowledge objects are different from everyday things and are defined as unfolding structures that are non-identical with themselves (also Jyri Engeström). Social constructionism (also social construction of reality, also social concept) is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notions that human beings rationalize their experience by creating models of the social world and share and reify these models through language. A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event. In that respect, a social construct as an idea would be widely accepted as natural by the society, but may or may not represent a reality shared by those outside the society, and would be an “invention or artifice of that society.”

A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the construction of their perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans. “Social construction” may mean many things to many people. Ian Hacking argues that when something is said to be “socially constructed”, this is shorthand for at least the following two claims:

(0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable.

(1) X need not have existed, or need not be as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.

Hacking adds that the following claims are also often, though not always, implied by the use of the phrase “social construction”:

(2) X is quite bad as it is.

(3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed.

Social constructionism is at the nurture end of the spectrum of the larger nature and nurture debate. Critics have argued that it generally ignores biological influences on behavior or culture, or suggest that they are unimportant to achieve an understanding of human behavior. The view of most psychologists and social scientists is that behavior is a complex outcome of both biological and cultural influences. Other disciplines, such as evolutionary psychology, behavior genetics, behavioral neuroscience, epigenetics, etc., take a nature–nurture interactionism approach to understand behavior or cultural phenomena.


The word Maximen is a contraction of the words ‘maxima sententia’. It represents a game where statements about human behavior are delivered. There are three rules for the game: the maximen must be compact, apply to human behavior in general and contain a ‘pointe’ that guarantees succes as a game. La Rochefoucauld had his first version ciculate in 1663, first published in 1664. More publications with his amendments followed; the last publication bore his strongest signature and was published in 1678.

This is a selection of some Maximen of La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1680). They are an attempt at the identification of universal patterns in human behavior. The principle that such a thing as universal human behavior exists perhaps points at a pattern in human behavior as a result of other, for instance biological motivators, or general held beliefs.

I put some annotations at each, the reasons why these were selected and the ‘Ch’ refers to the chapter of the book in progress I thought it connects to.

106 About the development of knowledge.

Ch Bib de bab?

Om iets goed te kennen moeten we de details kennen, maar omdat er bijna oneindig veel van zijn, blijft onze kennis altijd oppervlakkig en gebrekkig.

153 About in-born skills and how they develop. Analogy to the relation genotype and phenotype. Analogy to skills coming to bear in an environment that ‘folds around you’.

Ch Patterns in space and time?

De natuur schenkt ons talenten, het lot zet ze aan het werk.

161 Something to do with world view, predicting, planning and acting.

Ch Fair Enough

Onze daden moeten in verhouding staan tot onze voornemens als we een optimaal resultaat willen bereiken.

165 About the utilitarian view that to amass wealth is in itself considered ‘good’. Here specific for the populace.

Ch belief in progress

Met onze verdienste verwerven we de waardering van achtenswaardige mensen, met onze voorspoed die van het volk.

230 About the inclination of people to copy other people’s behavior deeply rooted in human nature.

Ch mirror mirror

Niets is zo aanstekelijk als een voorbeeld. Onze grote weldaden brengen andere weldaden, onze grote misdaden andere misdaden voort. We bootsen weldaden na uit rivaliteit, en misdaden door onze boosaardige natuur die de gevangene was van schaamte, maar door het voorbeeld in vrijheid wordt gesteld.

249 About presentation.

Intonatie, oogopslag en voorkomen van de spreker zijn minstens zo welsprekend als de keus van zijn woorden.

256 About the inclination of people to copy other people’s behavior deeply rooted in human nature. See 230

Ch mirror mirror

Onder alle omstandigheden meten we ons uiterlijk het uiterlijk voorkomen aan van degene voor wie we willen doorgaan. Onze wereld is een wereld van toneelspelers.

270 About the role of reputation especially when it concerns moral decisions.

Ch All d

Behaalde eer staat borg voor eer die nog behaald moet worden.

302 About the human tendency to act on what things appear to be; to act on what things are is seen as risky and wise only if not much is at stake. About rationality?

Ch belief systems oid

We nemen alleen het risico ons niet door de schijn te laten bedriegen, als er weinig op het spel staat.

316 About the mechanism of power: if a difference in power exists then incentives exist that motivate the weaker person to follow that incentive, namely how the stronger persoon expects him to behave and as a consequence to behave differently than how he would have otherwise behaved.

Ch The trouble with harry, de veranderende macht van bedrijven

Wie zwak is kan niet oprecht zijn.

345 About the circumstances revealing our identity to others and to us. About the functions forcing us to show our identities in certain circumstances.

Ch darwinian identity: wagensberg quotes

Het zijn de omstandigheden die onthullen wie we zijn, niet alleen aan anderen, maar vooral aan onszelf.

375 About mediocre minds judging negatively on anything out of their reach. Useful?

Middelmatige geesten veroordelen gewoonlijk alles wat buiten hun bereik valt.

447 About manners (etiquette) as a model for behavior being held in high regard. Useful?

Van alle wetten is fatsoen de minst belangrijke, maar de meest gerespecteerde.

Uit de Weggelaten Maximen

14 About the moral rule that property is protected by the group and how it is rooted in the fear that our property is taken from us.

Ch cake eaters

Gevoel voor rechtvaardigheid is niet anders dan de angst dat ons bezit ons wordt afgenomen. Daarom hebben we diep respect voor de belangen van onze naasten, en vermijden we angstvallig hen schade te berokkenen. Deze angst houdt de mens binnen de grenzen van het bezit dat hem door geboorte of of een speling van het lot is toegevallen; zonder deze angst zou hij voortdurend het bezit van anderen najagen.

39 About the existence of order in an otherwise chaotic world that orients every thing to some orderly behavior and to follow its fate.

Ch order kauffman

Hoe onzeker en chaotisch de wereld zich ook aan ons voordoet, er is toch een zekere geheime samenhang in te ontdekken, een eeuwige orde die is vastgesteld door de Voorzienigheid, die maakt dat elk ding in de pas loopt en zijn eigen bestemming volgt.

45 About the need for a reputation of being retaliatory in the iterated games.

Ch all d

We kunnen alleen dan voortdurend het goed doen, als we anderen ervan kunnen overtuigen dat zij ons nooit ongestraft kwaad kunnen doen.

52 About early sign of the decline of nations (organisations). ?

Weelde en oververfijning zijn de zekere voortekens van staten in verval, want enkelingen die zich alleen om hun eigen belang bekommeren, keren zich af van het algemeen belang.

60 About the need for leadership?

Het verstandigste wat onverstandige mensen kunnen doen is zich aan de juiste leiding van anderen te onderwerpen.

DBC Pierre – Lights Out in Wonderland

This is a selection of some quotes of said author in the above novel. I found this to be useful for the development of my theory on the firm. Importantly in the novel some aspects are pointed out concerning the new relation between individual people and firms. Note that these are quotes from a novel: these can be useful in general and in this case (firm theory) in specific, because some novels have the capacity to shed light on new stuff.

Yes it’s over: profit won the game, but like an infection, killed its host. We were the host. Quality died out because we relinquished the right to filter our own choices; profit became the filter of all choice. Truth died out because we no longer filter true experience; media profit became the filter. The infection found every human receptor, bound to every protein of existence, sucking them dry to feed corporate tumours immunised against us by government. Now the host is a carcass, the market a bacterial enzyme. So adieu!’ [DBC Pierre Lights out in Wonderland fn p. 5]

Ah Customer Service. It falls to Dalí girl to work the gulf between a photograph of a glamour model in a telephone headset and a collections department not based at this address. She squirms because despite efforts to erase her common sense, culture has left a nodule of reason intact. That fragment of tumour makes her uncomfortable enforcing outrageous terms. Her employer should have picked up on that’ [DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland fn p. 8]

David West is an origami person.* Spread, creased, and folded by culture into a clever likeness of a man, a napkin adornment without ideas beyond his own folds, unfolding others to crease then back in his own image’ [DBC Pierre Lights Out In Wonderland p. 15]

Free-market economics is an antiquated, smutty and careless box of tricks whose whimsical main flaw is clear even to a child. Still look how many adults fall breathless with lust to its promise – even though they must abandon empathy and moral judgment to embrace it. Their dirty secret puts all their intelligence to work throwing dust in the air around one glaring truth: that without trickery or eroding value, without extortion, manipulation, deceit or outright theft – profit will simply not perpetually grow’ [DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland fn p. 20].

Remember this: there are no receptors left for cleverness in the public domain. You need never be more than slightly clever or slightly nice. Anything more will arouse suspicion and rage, and confound the software that runs the country. This is because society’s mechanisms are calibrated for stupidity and indolence – and not to be that way is now, by definition, anti-social’ [DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland p. 29].

Stupid nature, which the church led us to admire as a perfect system, has crippled us as it cripples and kills everything through shoddy design’[DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland pp. 31-2].

Capitalism is a limbo. Not a structure but an anti-structure. Driven not towards a defined end, but hovering over a permanent present, harvesting a flow of helpless human impulses. It builds no safe futures, leaves no great structures, prepares no one for roads ahead. And why would it? We don’t march through an age of civilization, but float between Windows and Mac, treading water’[DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland p. 36]

The head of a pharmaceutical company admitted that only thirty percent of drugs work properly on thirty percent of people. And if you observe life you’ll see that he merely identifies the mean threshold of human success in nature. The drug company was a working model of the mathematics of expectation, endeavour, whim and fortune. Therefore abolish the notion of one-hundred-per-cent solutions to touted by culture. According to nature, thirty percent is a windfall’[DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland pp. 43].

And if it was profitable it must be true´ [DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland p. 64].

.. and highlights are the pixels of a life. We’re all witnesses together of the jumping fish, nobody else in the world is. The same pixel is added to each of our lives, ..’[DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland p 79]

It has done this thinking that I am a food writer’ [DBC Pierre Lights Out in Wonderland p 104].

Sculptor’s Testament by Rodin

Nov 12, 1840 – Nov 17, 1917
(As translated by Paul Schnell)

You young people about to make yourselves beauty’s servants, perhaps it will please you to find here, a résumé of much experience.

Love with devotion the master that preceded you. Bow to Phidias and Michelangelo. Admire the divine gaiety in the one and the savage melancholy in the other. Admiration is the wine of the noble spirit. But guard against imitating your predecessors.While paying attention to the delivery, you must understand the essence of what is eternally fruitful, namely the love of nature and truthfulness. These are the two great passions of all geniuses. All have loved nature without compromise. Acquiring this knowledge will help you avoid affectations. Tradition recommends that you consult with reality and forbids all blind following of any master. Nature is your only goddess, believe in her without reservation and be convinced that she is never ugly, nor will she ever inhibit your ambition to serve her. All is beautiful to the artist, his penetrating gaze discovers the true character of all things and all beings, that is to say, the inner truth that shines through the form and this truth is beauty—and you will meet up with this truth—-work persistently.

You sculptors
, strengthen your sense of spacial depth. The intellect finds it difficult to deal with this concept and stays preoccupied with that which represents the surface. To think of the form in terms of material density is hard, but it is your task. Establish clearly, above all, in the figures you are shaping, the total layout. Emphasize strongly the postures. Every part of the body, head, shoulders, hips and bones declares itself to you. Art demands certainty, only withcertainty of stated lines are you diving into space and taking possession of it. When your composition of the large and whole is firmly in place, you are home free, as your figures are already living. All the rest seems to comply with the whole and details appear to materialize as if by themselves. (‘Quand vos plans sont arrêtés, tout est trouvé. Votre statue vit déjà. Les détails naissent et ils se disposent ensuite d’eux-mêmes’). So when you sculpt, do not think in terms of surface, but rather in terms of space. Let your intellect perceive of every plane as if a mass, where its final appearance is struggling to escape its background. Imagine having it grow upon you by itself. All life emanates from a center, wherefrom it sprouts and spreads from the inside out. It is in this manner that one feels in all good sculpture, a powerful inner strength, that is the secret in ancient art.

You painters,
observe in reality, depth extensions (perspective), the third dimension and look at a painting by Rafael and see how this master, when showing a frontal view of awoman, he lets the breast recede at a slant and thereby creates the illusion of the third dimension. All great painters work spatially. In their knowledge of the spatial lies their strength. Think about the fact that mass, rather than line, tells the story. When you sketch, do not worry about the outlines, but only that which is bodily, the bodily determines the outline. Practice without let up, devote yourself completely to the work. Art is nothing but feeling, but if you don’t know about mass, proportions, color and lack dexterity of hand, all living feeling is for naught. What indeed would become of even the greatest poet in a foreign land, whose language he did not know. Unfortunately, in thenew generation of artists, one finds poets not wanting to learn to speak, which is the reason they can only stutter. Be patient, do not believe in the value of impulse, it does not exist. An artist’s most noble virtues are reflection, care, honesty and willpower. Create your work with straightforward workers. Be truthful, you young people, I don’t mean for you to be exact in a boring way, such as that found in photography and castings. Art begins first and foremost from the inner truth. All your shapes, all your colors, must express feeling. The artist who is content with a superficial likeness and who slavishly reproduces worthless details, will never become a master. When visiting an Italian Campo Santo, you have no doubt seen the childish manner with which the artists entrusted with decorating the graves, busy themselves reproducing literally all garment embroidery, lace and braids worn by the statues. I suppose you can call them exact, but they are not the truth, because they do not point to the soul. Almost all sculpture remind us of Italian cemeteries or the memorials in our public places, where one sees only capes, tables, chairs, machines, balloons and telegraphs. No inner truth, therefore no art. Abhor this kind of rubbish, be truth-loving to the extreme. Do not ever hesitate to express what you feel, despite stepping in opposition to commonly accepted concepts, you may not be understood at first, but fear not being lonely, soon friends will follow you. That which is the deepest truth for one human being, is the same for all. Make no grimaces, no fancy twisting to attract the public. Simplicity and naturalness, the fairest is right before your eyes. Those people you know the best, my very dear and great friend Eugene Carriere, who departed us so early in life, knew in his painterly rendition of his wife and child, that he only had to glorify the maternal love to be exalted.

Masters are those who observe with their own eyes, what the world has seen and by perceiving the beauty in all things—too simple for others to catch sight of. Accept the criticism, you will understand it easily—it is what will make you sure of yourself when torn by doubt. Be not confused by criticism that does not affect your conscience. Fear not unjust criticism—it will upset your friends and force them to reflect on the love they bear you and realize the foundation on which it rests, making them, as a result, more determined to stand by your side. When your talent is at an early stage of development, you will begin to acquire just a few followers, and on the other hand, quite a few enemies. Do not lose courage, the first group will be victorious, because they know why they love you—the others do not know why they hate you. The first is passionately involved with the truth and constantly supplying you with new followers. The others show no durable eagerness for their false opinions—the first is tough, the other go as the wind blows, the truth wins inevitably. Do not waste your time with social or political connections. You will come to see many of your contemporaries, with the help of intrigue, gain fortune and fame, they are not truthful artists. Some of them, in the meantime, are quite worldly clever and if you allow yourself to tangle with them on their territory, you will waste all your life’s energies on this and not have a minute left over for your art. Love with devotion and passion your artistic calling, there is nothing more beautiful. It is more sublime than the common man suspects.

The artist provides a grand example, he loves his work, his pay is the joy he receives from work well done. The world will become a worthwhile place, when all the people in it, have the souls of artists, that is to say, when all enjoy their life’s work. Art is also a wonderful guide to sincerity. The true artist always expresses what he thinks, at the risk of offending all existing prejudices.

Wagensberg on Identity / Individuality

‘Any real object divides the world into two parts: itself and the rest of the universe. Both parts mutually influence each other through some boundary. So that changes in one part induce changes in the other. Living systems are characterized by their tendency to become independent of the uncertainties of their environments, which is equivalent to to the perpetuation of a certain identity of their own.’

Wagensberg – 2010

I have taken the view that a firm be seen as a ‘black box’ or as transparant with regards to their inner workings, the mechanisms that drive the subsystems. My claim is that it is entirely possible to make valuable expressions about the behaviour of a firm in its context, without knowing every detail that is going on. However, to allow me to move away from the detail of the subsystems, I need a new perspective, i.e. that of the firm as a system. Taking the systems view, or defining the boundary between the system and its environment, I need to be able to identify what separates the firm from its environment, at least what it is that interacts with its context, e.g. competes for scarce resources. Taking a view of the firm as such a unit of evolution (in a Universal Darwinian sense), allows me to treat it as a single unit, a single individual so to say. In this chapter I will not (yet) engage in the logic that moves the system, but rather to suggest a terminology (for everyday use so to say) as a basis to enable the conversation about this logic to develop. In this chapter I will, in other words, attempt to bridge the gap between biological evolution and memetic (or cultural) evolution of a firm, or in fact reduce the size of it in light of Universal Darwinism.

Darwinian thought is driven by individualism: reproduction and selection act on individuals in a species. The success of the species hinges on this school of thought, i.e. on the sequential successes of individuals: it is based on their successful matings, their battles and in the long run, their adaptations when changes in their context occur. However, natural selection acts on many levels, not only on an individual level. In addition, the concept of individuality of some lifeforms is unclear, which leads to the question whether the concept of individuality has degrees. In the same vein to suggest the treatment of a firm as a single unit, while it encompasses many subsystems and people at its core requires a clear vocabulary at least. Wagensberg c.s. have proposed a conceptual scheme in which selection levels at that above that of the individual organism is interpreted as the evolutionary emergence of higher-level individuality [Wagensberg, García Leal, Lins de Barros, 2010] with an eye on the development of a hierarchichal evolution theory.

Biological individuality can, based on the quote above this chapter be defined as: ‘A living individual is a part of the world with some identity that tends to become independent from the uncertainty of the rest of the world‘ [Wagensberg, 2009]. Because all isolated systems tend to thermodynamic equilibrium, in biological terms this means death, any such system cannot afford to isolate itself from its environment. To remain alive, the system must maintain some steady state far from thermodynamic equilibrium by exchanging material , energy and information with its environment. The exchange of material and energy is described by the entropy balance:

δS = δiS + δeS (6)

Where: δS = the variation in the entropy of the system; δiS = the production of entropy dependent on the irreversible processes inside the system; δeS = the exchange of entropy bewteen the system and its environment.

The steady state is described by this necesssary condition:

δiS = – δeS (7)

The exchange of information bewteen the system and its environment is described by information theory [Shannon, 1948]:

H (E) – H (E / B) = H (B) – H (B / E) = I (E, B) (8)

Where: E = source of information the environment; B = source of information the system (B for Biota); H (E) = the complexity of the environment; H (B) = complexity of the system; H (E / B) = the ability of the system to anticipate uncertainty of the environment; H(E / B) = the sensitivity (to change) of the environment with regards to the complexity of the system; I (E, B) = I (E, B) = the information transfer bewteen the system and the environment.

Assume as an example an increase in the complexity of the environment H (E). Is the system now capable of establishing a new steady state? The system can survive this by: increasing its own complexity H (B), by increasing its ability to cope with the environmental uncertainty by learning new tricks. Another option is by moving away from the environment or by changing it.

It may also change itself, lose some of its own identity, by joining forces with other individual systems and in so doing recover independance from the uncertainty in the environment. The ‘objective’ of this exercise of course is to arrive at a nee steady state as per the above. This method of evolutionary innovation is called association (the other method is mutation).

In a biological sense the ways of generating a new identity by changing its identity are: cloning (corals, siphonophores), symbiosis in which species permanently rely on each others existence to fulfill (replace) a metabolic requirement, and kinship in which structured and differentiated societies consisting of family groups (insects, e.g. species of bees, ants). Associations lead to a rise in the hierarchichal level of organisation of living matter. In a biological sense, cloning does not pose a problem with regards to identity, because there is no genetic differentiation: the members of the identity are all of the same genetic make-up and so the unit of selection can be extended to the entire population. Symbiosis also doesn’t pose a problem, because the individuals participating in the association evolve mutually genetically independent, albeit in a process of parallel co-evolution. However in a biological context, sexual reproduction poses problems to the unit of selection, because it hinges on crossover and mutation. When sexual selection has occured, the selection pressures are on the descendants of the unit reproducing. The offspring ar per definition not equal to the unit reproducing: gene and organism selections are not equivalent. By transferring the unit from the phenotypic level to the genotype, the problem is not solved: a gene is not a material but merely a packet of information with no capability to directly interact with the world. The process of sexual selaction does not preserve the genotype. It does, however, protect the genome, that part of the genotype (the set of genes) that defines each species. In other word, although a lot of information in the genotype is prone to change, the set that detemines the identity, and prevents humans from turning out to be a cow or a lizard in the next generation. Variations in genotype provide not an increase the average apritude but in variation in aptitude: descendants have more capabilities to adapt built-in. In summary: what is selected is not a ‘clone with optimal aptitude’ but a clad (a set of organisms related through descendancy and with an array of different aptitudes). This therefore is the unit of selection and its definition must connect with the definition of identity. Wagensberg suggest to rise above the level of organisms instead of dropping down to the level of genes. A higher level of individuality is required. The identity that is perpetuated is is not the genotype, but rather that defined by the a reproductively compatible genomen and a shared gene pool. That is the identity of a biological species. As an example: sexual reproduction represents a minimum case of group selection, in this case two individuals, a male and a female and this group represents a higher-level individuality, which is the minimum unit of selection in this case. From this follows the definition:

A Darwinian individuality is any living entity that is the object of selection as a whole and has a genetic identity that can be perpetuated.

This in turn leads to the extension of the definition from an individual organism to a degree of individuality for organisms: an example of a minimum is a reversible symbiotic relation, an example of a maximum is a human being, in which many different species of organisms have evolved into one unit. Useful criteria to identify the degree of individuality, relevant from an evolutionary perspective are:

Unit of selection – is the pressure of selection rather on the whole or on the parts (i.e. on the higher-level individuality or on the constituents – negative -1, positive +1, 0 no significant change if we change level

Identity – individualities must have a genetic identity that can be perpetuated. We can assess the degree of genetic individuality of a group of individuals as the intersection between the genotypic identities of the elements making up the group. The (metaphorical) equation is:


Where: i = individual in the group of n; identity of individual, characterised by j attributes Ai = {ai ,1 ,ai ,2 , ai ,3 , .. ai ,j }

Identity of individual member i of the group, Ii is defined by:

Ii = Ai – Ω


The collective identity is minimum (individual identity is maximum) when there is no intersection, Ω = φ, and Ii = Ai. Collective identity is maximum (individual identity is minimum) when there is perfect homogeneity and Ai = A = Ω. This can be scored as follows:

+1 if the members of the whole share the same genotype (Volvox, siphonophores, corals, to a lesser extent mole rats, fungus cultivating ants, termites), 0 to individual associations of of the same species and -1 to symbiotic associations between individuals of different species.

Independence of the whole from the parts – an individuality is an independent whole made up of interdependent parts. Examples in biology are the male and the female in any sexually reproductive relation. Another is the relation between the sterile worker and the fertile reproductive castes; this is a seeming paradox if the individuality of the object of selection is transferred to the entire swarm. Another aspect of the parts sacrificing some their independence to the whole is that the individual parts are less viable than the whole: the death of an ant is less unlikely than the extinction of an ant’s nest. The related question: is the whole more (+1), equally (0) or less (-1) viable than its parts? Or: are the individuals more (+1), equally (0) or less (-1) dedicated to the whole (the individuality) than to the preservation of themselves? This is relevant as individuals group into a new individuality as a defence against an environment whose uncertainty is rising.

Irreversibility – This means that the collective identity of an individuality constructed by association becomes so robust that the new cohesion is irreversible. In the article at hand this aspect is merely illustrated with examples from biology. The question to ask is: to what extent are the individuals that consitute a higher-level individuality capable of disassociating themselves to return to an independent life? Not at all (+1), to some extent (0) or without effort (-1).

Internal organisation – If the individuality is of a higher order, the functions of the parts are at the service of the whole and the activities of the associated elements are connected and coordinated. A Darwinian individuality is closer to an individual the more centralised the control of its activities and specialisation in the functions of its parts. The question to ask is: does the higher-level individuality exhibit centralisation and functional differentiation: to a large extent (+1), some of these (0), none at all (-1).

Reproduction – an individuality resembles an individual in the classical sense when, in addition to consituting a selective unit, it also represents a reproductive unit. This means that such individuality can give rise to another similar individuality. The question to ask is whether the individuality reproduces as such and whether it needs (some of) the constituent individuals to reassociate after the reproduction? The collective completely achieves (+1), partially (0) or not achieved (-1) relative to the individuals.

Development – the issue here is whether the individuals associating have a common history in terms of growth and differentiation in the acquisition of their steady state? If construction takes place though growth and differentitation (+1), if either one (0) and neither (-1). As an example: all cells in a zebras descend from one zygote and all ants in a mount descend from the same queen, but not all zebras in a herd come from the same ‘source’.

Compactness – does the collective individuality have a well defined exterior and an interior and is it possible for any point in the collective to identiy exactly where it belongs? In mathematical terms: are two point on the interior (or the exterior) always connectable via points at the interior (or the exterior) of the individuality? Maximally compact, such as a zebra (+1), loosely joint colonies (0), ant’s nest or a herd of zebras (-1).

With regards to the firm, biological evolution is of course irrelevant, because no biological reporoduction takes place, not through any of the mecanisms above. And yet the concept is appealiing, because some group of individuals shows collective behaviour. So here goes, let score the concept of a firm to these citeria:

Unit of selection = +1

Identity = 0 (there is no population from which the intersection can be observed)

Independence of the whole from the parts = +1

Irreversibility = 0

Internal organisation = +1

Reproduction = -1 (from a memetic perspective 0 or +1?)

Development = -1

Compactness = +1

The overall score is +1! That leaves the firm as a unit of selection and reproduction between an ant’s nest and a lichen. In other words: the conclusion from this score is that firms can not be seen as per the definitions given, as a individuality, or only to a very limited extent. That is mainly due to the criteria related to the reproductive powers of the whole.

This might be far more interesting from the meme’s eye view.

The Game of Life

This game was developed by John Conway in 1970. It is a version of a 2-D cellular automaton. As such it has been proven to be Turing complete by Stephen Wolfram.

In other words: what you see here is capable of showing complex behaviour AND it is a computer at work. To be sure: the CA’s work on a computer, but they are collectively a computer too.

Kranen / Cranes

20150518_170830I had originally intended to write this blog as a marketing tool, using the proceeds from my reportedly fundamental research into complexity and business. This objective has failed miserably from the outset: the subject is perceived as technical, abstract with no immediate application or use for potenital reader.

The literature I am basing my research upon is largely in the English language; potential readers of my research proceeds are not necessarily proficient in Dutch.

Dennett says it (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p.338) as follows: ‘Human culture .. is not just a crane composed of cranes, but a crane-making crane.’ followed by: ‘Cultural evolution operates many orders of magnitude faster then genetic evolution and this is part of its role in making our species special, but it had also turned us into creatures with an entirely different outlook on life from any other species.’.

To cut a long story short: as you may not have noticed, I am changing to writing more posts in English, because I reckon it is a better crane to build my ‘addition to human culture’ with, and so, hopefully, delivering knowledge that is more useful to others (or useful to more others), as the language itself can no longer be the hurdle.

The Trouble With Harry

harry2Harry is characterized by the trouble he causes others dealing with him, in vein with Hitchcock’s 1955 film. However, where the movie character is deceased, in the story below he is much alive and kicking. Now try this: (loosely) replace Harry below with some other protagonist of your choice kicking up trouble, like ‘my local bank’, ‘soccer league’ or … Enjoy it!

Harry in general works poorly or not at all. He grows 5-6% each year and as he does, he tends to encroach (make you do stuff), redistributing human effort into different forms. He either works by himself or not at all and if he doesn’t, you can’t make him – forcing doesn’t help. Should he work, leave him alone and don’t change anything.

A new Harry generates new problems, so do without him if possible. If you can’t, then keep him as small as possible. If designed from scratch for a complex task, he will never work and cannot be made to work. You then need to start over, beginning with a simple design. If made by expanding the dimensions of a smaller version, he will not behave like the smaller version. You need to start over also. Plan to scrap the first version, you will anyway.

He develops his own goals the instant he comes into being and follows those unscrupulously, regardless of any need or of changed conditions. He can’t be fully known and is his own best explanation. Harry is capable of failing in an infinite number of ways and will be operating in failure mode most of the time. Growing in size and complexity, new functions appear suddenly in a stepwise fashion as he loses basic functions.

Harry typically displays unexpected ‘prima donna’ behavior: he kicks back, gets in the way and tends to oppose his own functions. Now fully prepared for the past, he tends to malfunction conspicuously just after his greatest triumph. Temporary patches meant to improve will become permanent and former versions continue to haunt later ones. Internal operations define his functions and the larger he is, the less is the variety offered. If large, he is capable of bringing about errors of mind-boggling proportions.

He tends to attract Harry-kind-of-people. People ‘in his circles’ do not do what he says they are doing. His interface with individuals tends to be narrow anyway. To be fair: he himself is not exactly doing what he says he is doing. So the names of things are not the thing itself: they are what they are reported to be: if Harry says it happened, it happened.

Information from outside his inner circle tends to decrease and ‘home grown information’ increases for individuals in it: the outside fades and becomes less important. The meaning of communication with Harry is: feedback hasn’t fed back, until he changes his course. If he ignores it, he has begun the process of terminal instability.

In order to remain unchanged, he must change and that is The Trouble With Harry.