Chemical Organization Theory as a Modeling Tool

Heylighen, F., Beigi, S. and Veloz, T. . Chemical Organization Theory as a modeling framework for self-organization, autopoiesis and resilience . Paper to be submitted based on working paper 2015-01.

Introduction

Complex systems consist of many interacting elements that self-organize: coherent patterns of organization or form emerge from their interactions. There is a need of theoretical understanding of self-organization and adaptation: our mathematical and conceptual tools are limited for the description of emergence and interaction. The reductionist approach analyzes a system into its constituent static parts and their variable properties; the state of the system is determined by the values of these variable properties and processes are transitions between states; the different possible states determine an a priori predefined state-space; only after introducing all these static elements and setting up a set of conditions for the state-space can we study the evolution of the system in that state-space. This approach makes it difficult to understand a system property such as emergent behavior. Process metaphysics and action ontology assume that reality is not constituted from things but from processes or actions; the difficulty is to represent these processes in a precise, simple, and concrete way. This paper aims to formalize these processes as reaction networks of chemical organization theory; here the reactions are the fundamental elements, the processes are primary; states take the second place as the changing of the ingredients as the processes go on; the molecules are not static objects but raw materials that are produced and consumed by the reactions. COT is a process ontology; it can describe processes in any sphere and hence in scientific discipline; ‘.. method to define and construct organizations, i.e. self-sustaining networks of interactions within a larger network of potential interactions. .. suited to describe self-organization, autopoiesis, individuation, sustainability, resilience, and the emergence of complex, adaptive systems out of simpler components’ [p 2]. DPB: this reminds me of the landscape of Jobs; all the relevant aspects are there. It is hoped that this approach helps to answer the question: How does a system self-organize; how are complex wholes constructed out of simpler elements?

Reaction Networks

A reaction network consists of resources and reactions. The resources are distinguishable phenomena in some shared space, a reaction vessel, called the medium. The reactions are elementary processes that create or destroy resources. RN = <R,M>, where RM is a reaction network, R is a reaction, M is a resource: M = {a,b,c,…} and R is a subset of P(M) x P(M), where P is the power set (set of all subsets) of M and each reaction transforms a subset Input of M into a subset Output of M; the resources in I are the reactants and the resources in O are the products; I and O are multisets meaning that resources can occur more than once. R:x1+x2+x3+..→y1+y2+… The + in the left term means a conjunction of necessary resources x: if all are simultaneously present in I(r) then the reaction takes place and produces the products y.

Reaction Networks vs. Traditional Networks

The system <M,R> forms a network because the resources in M are linked by the reactions in R transforming one resource into another. What is specific for COT is that a reaction represents the transform from a multiplicity of resources into another multiplicity of them: a set I transforms to a set O. DPB: this reminds me of category theory. My principal question at this point is whether the problem of where organization is produced is not relocated: first the question was how to tweak static object into self-organization, now it is which molecules in which quantities and combination to conjuncture to get them to produce other resources and showing patterns at it. In RN theory the transform of resources can occur through a disjunction or a conjunction: the disjunction is represented by the juxtaposed reaction formulae, the conjunction by the + within a reaction formula.

Reaction Networks and Propositional Logic

Conjunction: AND: &; Disjunction: OR: new reaction line; Implication: FOLLOWS: →; Negation: NOT: -. For instance: a&b&c&..x. But the resources at the I side are not destroyed by the process then formally a&b&..→a&b&x&… Logic is static because no propositions are destroyed: new implications can be found, but nothing new is created. Negation can be thought of as the production of the absence of a resource: a+bc+ d = ac+ d – b. I and O can be empty and a resource can be created from nothing (affirmation, a) or a resource can create nothing (elimination, aor →-a). Another example is aa and hence a+(-a) = a-aand a-a: the idea is that a particle and its anti-particle annihilate one another, but they can be created together from nothing.

Competition and cooperation

The concept of negative resources allow the expression of conflict, contradiction or inhibition: a→-b what is the same as a+b0 (empty set): the more of a produced, the less of b is present: the causal relation is negative. The relation “a inhibits b” holds if: : a is required to consume but not produce b. The opposite “a promotes b” means that a is required to produce but not to consume b. When the inhibiting and promoting relations are symmetrical, a and b inhibit (a and b competitors) or promote (a and b cooperators) each other, but they do not need to be. Inhibition is a negative causality and promotion is a positive influence. If only positive influences or an even number of negative influences are included in a cycle then negative feedback occurs. When the number of negative influences is uneven then a positive feedback occurs. Negative feedback leads to stabilization or oscillation, positive feedback leads to exponential growth. In a social network a particular message can be promoted, suppressed or inhibited by another. Interaction sin the network occur through their shared resources.

Organizations

In COT and organization is defined as a self-sustaining reaction system: produced and consumed resources are the same: ‘This means that although the system is intrinsically dynamic or process-based, constantly creating or destroying its own components, the complete set of its components (resources) remains invariant, because what disappears in one reaction is recreated by another on, while no qualitatively new components are added’ [p 8]. DPB: I find this an appealing idea. But I find it also hard to think of the basic components that would make up a particular memeplex, even using the connotations. What in other words would the resources have to be and what the reactions to construct a memeplex from them? If the resource is an idea then one idea leads to another, which matches my theory. But this method would have to cater for reinforcement: and the idea itself does not much change, it does get reinforced as it is repeated. And in addition how would the connotation be attached to them: or must it be seen as an ‘envelope’ that contains the address &c, and that ‘arms’ the connoted idea (meme) to react (compare) with others such that the ranking order in the mind of the person is established? And such that stable network of memes is established such that they form a memeplex. The property of organization above, is central to the theory of autopoiesis, but, as stated in the text, without the boundary of a living system. But I don’t agree with this: the RC church has a very strong boundary that separates it from everything that is not the RC church. And so the RN model should cater for more complexity than only the forming of molecules (‘prior to the first cell’). The organization of a subRN <M’,R> of a larger RN <M,R> is defined by these characteristics: 1. closure: when I(r) is a part of M’ then O(r) is a part of M’ for all resources 2. semi-self-maintenance: no existing resource is removed, each resource consumed by some reaction is produced again by some other reaction working on the same starting set and 3. self-maintenance: each consumed resource x element of M’ is produced by some reaction in <M’,R> in at least the same amount as the amount consumed (this is a difficult one, because a ledger is required over the existence of the system to account for the quantities of each resource). ‘We are now able to define the crucial concept of organization: a subset of resources and reactions <M’,R> is an organization when it is closed and self-maintaining. This basically means that while the reactions in R are processing the resources in set M’, they leave the set M’ invariant: no resources are added (closure) and no resources are removed (Self-maintenance)’( emphasis of the author) [p 9]. The difference with other models is that the basic assumption is that everything changes, but this concept of organization means that stability can arise while everything changes continually, in fact this is the definition of autopoiesis.

Some examples

If a resource appears in both the I and the O then it is a catalyst.

Extending the model

A quantitative shortcoming, a possible extension, is the absence of relative proportions and of the relative speeds of the reactions. To extend quantitatively the model can be detailed to encompass all the processes that make up some particular ecology of reactions.

Self-organization

If we apply the rules for closure and maintenance we can know how organization emerges. If a reaction is added, a source for some resource is added which interrupts closure, or a sink is added which interrupts the self-maintenance. In general a starting set of resources will not be closed; their reactions will lead to new resources and so on; but the production of new ones will stop if no new resources are possible given the resources in the system; at that point closure is reached: ‘Thus, closure can be seen as an attractor of the dynamics defined by resource addition: it is the end point of the evolution, where further evolution stops’ [p 12]. In regards to self-maintenance, starting at the closed set, some of the resources will be consumed but not produced in sufficient amounts to replace the used amounts; these will disappear from the set; this does not affect closure because loss of resources cannot add new resources; resources now start to disappear one by one from the set; this process stops when the remaining resources only depend on the remaining ones (and not the disappeared ones): ‘Thus, self-maintenance too can be seen as an attractor of the dynamics defined by resource removal. The combination of resource addition ending in closure followed by resource removal ending in self-maintenance produces an invariant set of resources and reactions. This unchanging reaction network is by definition an organization’ [p 12]. Every dynamic system will end up in a attractor, namely a stationary regime that the system cannot leave: ‘In the attractor regime the different components of the system have mutually adapted, in the sense that the one no longer threatens to extinguish the other they have co-evolved to a “symbiotic”state, where they either peacefully live next to each other, or actively help one another to be produced, thus sustaining their overall interaction’ [p 12]. DPB: from the push and pull of these different attractors emerges (or is selected) an attractor that manages the behavior of the system.

Sustainability and resilience

An organization in the above sense is by definition self-maintaining and therefore sustainable. Many organizations grow because they produce more resources than they consume (e.g. positive feedback of resources: overproduced). Sustainability means the ability of an organization to grow without outside interference. Resilience means the ability to maintain the essential organization in the face of outside disturbances; a disturbance can be represented by the injection or the removal of a resource that reacts with others in the system. Processes of control are: buffering, negative feedback, feedforward (neutralizing the disturbance before it has taken effect). The larger the variety of controls the systems sports, the more disturbances it can handle, an implementation of Asby’s law of requisite variety. Arbitrary networks of reactions will self-organize to produce sustainable organizations, because an organization is an attractor of their dynamics. DPB: this attractor issue and bearing in mind the difficulties with change management, this reminds me of the text about the limited room an attracted system takes up in state-space (containment) explains why a system once it is ‘attracted’ it will not change to another state without an effort of galactic proportions. ‘However, evolutionary reasoning shows that resilient outcomes are more likely in the long run than fragile ones. First, any evolutionary process starts from some arbitrary point in the state space of the system, while eventually reaching some attractor region within that space. Attractors are surrounded by basins, from which all states lead into the attractor (Heylighen, 2001). The larger the basin of an attractor, the larger the probability that the starting point is in that basin. Therefore, the system is more likely to end up in an attractor with a large basin than in one with a small basin. The larger the basin, the smaller the probability that a disturbance pushing the system out of its attractor would also push it out of the basin, and therefore the more resilient the organization corresponding to the attractor. Large basins normally represent stable systems characterized by negative feedback, since the deviation from the attractor is automatically counteracted by the descent back into the attractor. .. However, these unstable attractors will normally not survive long, as nearly any perturbation will push the system out of that attractor’s basin into the basin of a different attractor. . This very general, abstract reasoning makes it plausible that systems that are regularly perturbed will eventually settle down in a stable, resilient organization’ [p 15].

Metasystem transitions and topological structures

A metasystem transition = a major evolutionary transition = the emergence of a higher order organization from lower order organizations. COT can be understood in this way if an organization S (itself a system of elements, albeit organized) behaves like a resource of the catalyst type: invariant under reactions but it has an input of resources it consumes I(S) and an output of resources it produces O(S), resulting in this higher order reaction: I(S) + S S + O(S), assume that I(S) = {a,b} and O(S) = {c,d,e}, then this can be rewritten as a+b+S S+c+d+e. S itself constitutes of organized elements and it behaves like a black box processing some input to an output. If S is resilient it can even respond to changes in its input with a changed output. Now the design space of meta-systems can be widened to include catalyst resources of the type S, organizations that are self-maintaining and closed.

Concrete applications

It is possible to mix different kinds of resources; this enables the modeling of complex environments; this is likely to make the ensuing systems’ organizations more stable. ‘Like all living systems, the goal or intention of an organizatrion is to maintain and grow. To achieve this, it needs to produce the right actions for the right conditions (e.g. produce the right resource to neutralize a particular disturbance). This means that it implicitly contains a series of “condition-action rules” that play the role of the organization’s “knowledge”on how to act in its environment. The capability of selecting the right (sequence of) action(s) to solve a given problem constitutes the organization’s “intelligence”. To do this, it needs to perceive what is going on in its environment, i.e. to sense particular conditions (the presence or absence of certain resources) that are relevant to its goals. Thus, an organization can be seen as a rudimentary “intelligence” or “mind”’ [p 20]. DPB: I find this interesting because of the explanation of how such a model would work: the resources are the rules that the organization needs to sort out and to put in place at the right occasion.

How Social System Program Human Behavior

Heylighen, F., Lenartowicz, M., Kingsbury, K., Beigi, S., Harmsen, T. . Social Systems Programming I: neural and behavioral control mechanisms

Abstract

Social systems can be defined as autopoietic networks of distinctions and rules that specify which actions should be performed under which conditions. Social systems have an enormous power over human individuals, as they can “program” them, ..’ [draft p 1]. DPB: I like the summary ‘distinctions and rules’, but I’m not sure why (maybe it is the definitiveness of this very small list). I also like the phrase ‘which actions .. under which conditions’: this is interesting because social systems are ‘made of’ communication, which in turn is ‘made of’ signals, which in turns are built up from selections of utterances &c., understandings and information. The meaning is that information depends on its frame, namely its environment. And so this phrase above makes the link between the communication, rule-based systems and the assigning of meaning by (in) a system. Lastly these social mechanisms hold a strong influence over humans, even up to the point of damaging themselves. This paper is about the basic neural and behavioral mechanisms used for programming in social systems. This should be important for my landscape of the mind, and familiarization.

Introduction

Humans experience a large influence from many different social systems on a daily basis: ‘Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions are to an important extent determined by the norms, culture and morals that we acquired via processes of education, socialization and communication’ [p 1]. DPB: this resonates with me, because of the choice of the words ‘beliefs’ and ‘thoughts’: these must nicely match the same words in my text, where I explain how these mechanisms operate. In addition I like this phrase because of the concept of acquisition, although I doubt that the word ‘communication’ above is used in the sense of Luhmann. This is not easy to critique or even to realize that these processes are ‘social construction’ and difficult to understand them to be so (the one making a distinction cannot talk about it). Also what is reality in this sense: is it what would have been without the behavior based on these socialized rules or the behavior as-is (the latter I guess)? ‘Social systems can be defined as autopoietic networks of distinctions and rules that govern the interactions between individuals’ (I preferred this one from the abstract: which actions should be performed under which conditions, DPB). The distinctions structure reality into a number of socially sanctioned categories of conditions, while ignoring phenomena that fall outside these categories. The rules specify how the individuals should act under the thus specified conditions. Thus, a social system can be modeled as a network of condition-action rules that directs the behavior of individuals agents. These rules have evolved through the repeated reinforcement of certain types of social actions’ [p 2]. DPB: this is a nice summary of how I also believe things work: rule- based systems – distinctions (social categories) – conditions per distinction – behavior as per the condition-action rules – rules evolve through repeated reinforcement of social actions. ‘Such a system of rules tends to self-organize towards a self-perpetuating configuration. This means that the actions or communications abiding by these rules engender other actions that abide by these same general rules. In other words, the network of social actions or communications perpetually reproduces itself. It is closed in the sense that it does not generate actions of a type that are not already part of the system; it is self-maintaining in the sense that all the actions that deifne parts of the system are eventually produced again (Dittrich & Winter, 2008). This autopoiesis turns the social system into an autonomous, organism-like agent, with its own ideintity that separates it from its environment. This identity or “self” is preserved by the processes taking place inside the system, aand therefore actively defended against outside or “non-self” influences that may endanger it’ [p 2]. DPB: this almost literally explains how cultural evolution takes place. This might be a good quote to include and cut a lot of grass in one go! Social systems wield a powerful influence over people, up to the point of acting against their own health. The workings of social systems is likened to parasites such as the rabies virus which ‘motivates’ its host to become aggressive and bite others such as to spread the virus. ‘We examine the simple neural reinforcement mechanism that is the basis for the process of conditioning whilst also ensuring self-organization of social systems’ (emphasis by the author) [p 3]. DPB: very important: this is at the pivot where the human mind is conditioned such that it incites (motivates) it to act in a specific way and where the self-organization of the social system occurs. This is how my bubbles / situations / jobs work! An element of this process is familiarization: the neural reinforcement mechanism.

The Power of Social Systems

In the hunter gatherer period, humans lived in small groups and individuals could come and go as they wanted to join or form a new group [p 3]. DPB: I question whether free choice was involved in those decisions to stay or leave – or whether they were rather kicked out – and if it was a smooth transfer to other bands – or whether they lost standing and had to settle for a lower rank in a new group. ‘These first human groupings were “social” in the sense of forming a cooperative, caring community, but they were not yet consolidated into autopoietic systems governed by formal rules, and defined by clear boundaries’ [p 4]. DPB: I have some doubts because it sounds too idealistic / normal; however, if taken for face value then this is a great argument to illustrate the developing positions of Kev and Gav against. In sharp contrast are the agricultural communities: they set themselves apart from nature and other social systems, everything outside of their domain fair game for exploitation, hierarchically organized, upheld with symbolic order: authorities, divinities paid homage to with offerings, rituals, prescriptions and taboos. In the latter society it is dangerous to not live by the rules: ‘Thus, social systems acquired a physical power over life and death. As they evolved and refined their network of rules, this physical power engendered a more indirect moral or symbolic power that could make people obey the norms with increasingly less need for physical coercion’ [p 4]. DPB: I always miss the concept of ‘autopolicing’ in the ECCO texts. Individuation of a social system: 1. a contour forms from first utterances in a context (mbwa!) 2. these are mutually understood and get repeated 3. when outside the distinction (norm) there will be a remark 4. autopolicing. Our capacity to cognize depend on the words our society offer to describe what we perceive: ‘More fundamentally, what we think and understand is largely dependent on the concepts and categories provided y the social systems, and by the rules that say which category is associated with which other category of expectations or actions’ [p 5]. DPB: this adds to my theory the idea that not only the rules for decision making and for action depend on the belief systems, namely the memeplexes, but also people’s ‘powers of perception’.

How Social Systems Impede Self-actualization

Social rules govern the whole of our worldview, namely our picture of reality and our role within it (emphasis DPB re definition worldview): ‘They tell us which are the major categories of existence (e.g. mind vs. body, duty vs. desire), what properties these categories have (e.g. mind is insubstantial, the body is inert and solid, duty is real and desire is phantasmagoric), and what our attitudes and behaviors towards each of these categories should be (e.g. the body is to be ignored and despised, desire is to be suppressed)’ [p 5]. DPB: I like this because it gives some background to motivations; however, I believe they are more varied than this and that they do not only reflect the major categories but everything one can know (or rather believe). They are just-so in the sense that they can be (seen or perceived as) useful for something like human well-being or limiting for it. They are generally tacit and believed to be universal and so it is difficult to know which of the above they are. ‘.. these rules have self-organized out of distributed social interactions. Therefore, there is no individual or authority that has the power to change them or announce them obsolete. This means that in practice we are enslaved by the autopoietic social system: we are programmed to obey its rules without questioning’ [ p6]. DPB: I agree, there is no other valid option than that from a variety of just-so stories a few are selected that are more fitting with the existing ones. For people it may now appear that these are the more useful ones, but the used arguments serve a mere narrative that explains why people do stuff, lest they appear to do stuff without knowing why. And as a consequence the motivation to do things only if they serve a purpose is itself meme that tells us to act in this way especially vis a vis others, namely to construct a narrative such that this behavior is explained. The rules driving behavior can be interpreted more or less strictly: ‘Moreover, some rules (like covering the feet) tend to be enforced much less strictly than others (like covering the genitals)‘ [p 6]. DPB: hahaa: Fokke & Sukke. Some of the rules that govern a society are allowed some margin of interpretation and so a variety of them exist; others are assumed to be generally valid, and hence they are more strictly interpreted, exhibiting less variety, leaving people unaware that they are in fact obeying a rule at all. As a consequence of a particular rule being part of a much larger system they cannot be easily changed, especially because the behavior of the person herself is – perhaps unknowingly – steered by that rule or system of rules. In this sense it can be said to hinder or impede people’s self-actualization. ‘The obstruction of societal change and self-actualization is not a mere side effect of the rigidity of social systems; it is an essential part of their identity. An autopoietic system aims at self-maintenance. Therefore, it will counteract any processes that threaten to perturb its organization (Maturana& Varela, 1980, Mingers, 1994). In particular, it will suppress anything that would put into question the rules that define it. This includes self-actualization, which is a condition generally characterized by openness to new ideas, autonomy, and enduring exploration (Heylighen, 1992; Maslow, 1970). Therefore, if we wish to promote self-actualization, we will need to better understand how these mechanisms of suppression used by social systems function’ [p 7]. DPB: I fully agree with the mechanism and I honestly wonder if it is at all possible to know one’s state of mind (what one has been familiarized with in one’s life experience so far, framed in the current environment), and hence if it is possible to self-actualize in a different way from what the actual state of mind (known or not) rules.

Reinforcement: reward and punishment

Conditioning, or reinforcement learning, is a way to induce a particular behavior. Behavior rewarded with a pleasant stimulus tends to be repeated, while behavior punished by an unpleasant stimulus tends to be suppressed. The more often a combination of the above occurs, the more will the relation be internalized, such that it can take the shape of a condition-action (stimulus-response) rule. This differential or selective reinforcement occurs in a process of socialization; the affirmation need to be a material reward, a simple acknowledgement and confirmation suffices (smile, thumbs up, like!); these signals suffice for the release of dopamine in the brain. ‘Social interaction is a nearly ubiquitous source of such reinforcing stimuli. Therefore, it has a wide-ranging power in shaping our categorizations, associations and behavior. Maintaining this dopamine-releasing and therefore rewarding stimulation requires continuing participation in the social system. That means acting according to the system’s rules. Thus, social systems program individuals in part through the same neural mechanisms that create conditioning and addiction. This ensures not only that these individuals automatically and uncritically follow the rules, but that they would feel unhappy if somehow prevented from participating in this on-going social reinforcement game. Immediate reward and punishment are only the simplest mechanisms of reinforcement and conditioning. Reinforcement can also be achieved through rewards or penalties that are anticipated, but that may never occur in reality’ (emphasis by the author) [ p 8].

The power of narratives

People are capable of symbolic cognition and they can conceive of situations that have never occurred (to them): ‘These imagined situations can function as “virtual” (but therefore not less effective) rewards that reinforce behavior’ [p 8]. Narratives (for instance tales) feature tales where the characters are punished or rewarded for their specific behavior. Social systems exploit people’s capacity of symbolic cognition using narratives, and hence build on the anticipatory powers of people to maintain and spread. ‘Such narratives have the advantage that they are easy to grasp, remember and communicate, because they embed abstract norms, rules and values into sequences of concrete events experienced by concrete individuals with whom the audience can easily empathize (Bruner, 1991; Heylighen, 2009; Oatley, 2002). In this way, virtual rewards that in practice are unreachably remote (like becoming a superstar, president of the USA, or billionaire) become easy to imagine as realities’ (emphasis by the author) [p 9]. Narratives can become more believable when communicated via media, celebrities, scripture deemed holy, &c.

Conformist transmission

Reinforcement is more effective when it is repeated more often. Given that social systems are self-reproducing networks of communications (Luhmann, 1995), the information they contain will be heard time and again. Conformist transmission means that you are more liable to adopt an idea, behavior or a narrative if you are communicated it by more other individuals; once adopted you are more likely to convert others to it and to confirm it when others express it. DPB: I agree and I never thought of this in this way: once familiarized with it, then not only can one become more convinced of an idea, but also can one become more evangelical about it. In that way an idea spreads quicker if it is more familiar to more people who then talk about it simultaneously. Now it can become a common opinion; and at that point it becomes more difficult to retain other ideas, up to the point that direct observation can be overruled. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet exist!

Cognitive dissonance and institutionalized action

People have a preference for coherence in thought and action: ‘When an individual has mutually inconsistent beliefs, this creates an unpleasant tension, known as cognitive dissonance; this can be remedied by rejecting or ignoring some of these thoughts, so that the remaining ones are consistent. This can be used by the social systems to suppress non-conformist ideas by having a person act in accordance with the rules of the social system but conflicting with the person’s rules: the conformist actions cannot be denied and now the person must cull the non-conformist ideas to release tensions [p 10]. ‘This mechanism becomes more effective when the actions that confirm the social norms are formalized, ritualized or institutionalized, so that they are repeatedly and unambiguously reinforced’ [p 10]. DPB: an illustration is given from [Zizek 2010]: by performing the rituals one becomes religious, because the rituals are the religion. This is an example of a meme: an expression of the core idea; conversely by repeating the expression one repeats the core idea also, and thereby familiarizes oneself with that idea as it becomes reinforced in one’s mind. But that reminds me of the idea of the pencil between the lips making a person happier (left to right) or unhappy (sticking forward). And to top it off: ‘Indeed, the undeniable act of praying to God can only be safeguarded from cognitive dissonance by denying any doubts you may have about the existence of God. This creates a coherence between inner beliefs and socially sanctioned actions, which now come to mutually reinforce each other in an autopoietic closure’ [p 10]. DPB: this is the role of dogma in any belief system: the questions that cannot be asked, the nogo areas, &c.

Distributed Intelligence

Heylighen, F. and Beigi, S. . mind outside brain: a radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition . Socially Extended Epistemology (Eds. Carter, Clark, Kallestrup, Palermos, Pritchard) . Oxford University Press . 2016

Abstract

We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or experience. [DPB: the rationale behind this is the determinism argument: if everything is determined by the rules of physics (nature) then nothing can be avoided and the future is determined. There can be no agency because there is nothing to choose, there can be no intentionality because people’s choices are determined by the rules of physics (it appears to be their intention but it is physics talking) and there can be no personal experience because which events a person encounters is indifferent from the existence of the (physical) person]. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. [DPB: I agree with the idea that mind and body are ‘functions of the same processes’. The intentional stance implies the question: What would I desire, want, feel in his place in this circumstance, and hence what can I be expected to do?] Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex superagents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. [DPB: for the challenges model: see the article Evo mailed]. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. [DPB: this is important and I have discussed this in the section about the Shell operator, who cannot physically be aware of the processes out of his own scope of professional activities]. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalizes process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organization, and cognition. [DPB: I must decide how to apply the concepts of individuation, virtual/real/present, process ontology and/or action ontology, distributed cognition and distributed intelligence (do I need that?), and computation/thinking/information processing in my arguments].

Introduction

Socially extended knowledge is a part of the philosophical theory of the extended mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998; Palermos & Pritchard, 2013; Pritchard, 2010): mental phenomena such as memory, knowledge and sensation extend outside the individual human brain, and into the material and social environment. DPB: this reminds of the Shell narrative. The idea is that human cognition is not confined to information processing within the brain, but depends on phenomena external to the brain: ‘These include the body, cognitive tools such as notebooks and computers, the situation, the interactions between agent and environment, communications with other agents, and social systems. We will summarize this broad scale of “extensions” under the header of distributed cognition (Hutchins, 2000), as they all imply that cognitive content and processes are distributed across a variety of agents, objects and actions. Only some of those are located inside the human brain; yet all of them contribute to human decisions by providing part of the information necessary to make these decisions’ [pp. 1-2]. The aim of this paper is to propose a radical resolution to this controversy (between processes such as belief, desire and intention are considered mental and other such as information transmission and processing, and storage as mechanical): we assume that mind is a ubiquitous property of all minimally active matter (Heylighen, 2011)’ (emphasis DPB: this statement is similar to (analogous to?) the statement that all processes in nature are computational processes or that all processes are cognitive and individuating processes) [p 2].

From dualism to action ontology

Descartes argued that people are free to choose: therefore the human mind does not follow physical laws. But since all matter follows such laws, the mind cannot be material. Therefore the mind must be independent, belonging to a separate, non-material realm. This is illustrated by the narrative that the mind leaves the body when a person dies. But a paradox rises: if mind and matter are separate then how can one affect the other? Most scientists agree that the mind ‘supervenes’ on the matter of the brain and it cannot exist without it. But many still reserve some quality that is specific for the mind, thereby leaving the thinking dualist. An evolutionary worldview explains the increasing complexity: elements and systems are interconnected and the mind does not need to be explained as a separate entity, but as a ‘.. mind appears .. as a natural emanation of the way processes and networks self-organize into goal-directed, adaptive agents’ [p 5], a conception known as process metaphysics. The thesis here is that the theory of the mind can be both non-dual AND analytic. To that end the vagueness of the process metaphysics is replaced with action ontology: ‘That will allow us to “extend” the mind not just across notebooks and social systems, but across the whole of nature and society’ [p 5].

Agents and the intentional stance

Action ontology is based on reactions as per COT. Probability is a factor and so determinism does not apply. Reactions or processes are the pivot in action ontology and states are secondary: ‘States can be defined in terms of the reactions that are possible in that state (Heylighen, 2011; Turchin, 1993)’ [p 7]. DPB: this reminds of the restrictions of Oudemans, the attractors and repellers that promote the probability that some states and restrict the probability that other states can follow from this particular one. In that sense it reminds also of the perception that systems can give to the observer that they are intentional. The list of actions that an agent can perform defines a dynamical system (Beer, 1995, 2000). The states that lead into an attractor define the attractor’s basin and the process of attaining that position in phase-space is called equifinality: different initial states produce the same final state (Bertalanffy, 1973). The attractor, the place the system tends to move towards is its ‘goal’ and the trajectory towards it as it is chosen by the agent at each consecutive state is its ‘course of action’ in order to reach that ‘goal’. The disturbances that might bring the agents off its course can be seen as challenges, which the agent does not control, but which the agent might be able to tackle by changing its course of action appropriately. To interpret the dynamics of a system as a goal-directed agent in an environment is the intentional stance (Dennett, 1989).

Panpsychism and the Theory of Mind

The “sensations” we introduced previously can be seen as rudimentary “beliefs” that an agent has about the conditions it is experiencing’ [p 10]. DPB: conversely beliefs can be seen as sensations in the sense of internalized I-O rules. ‘The prediction (of the intentional stance DPB) is that the agent will perform those actions that are most likely to realize its desires given its beliefs about the situation it is in’ [p 10]. DPB: and this is applicable to all kinds of systems. Indeed Dennett has designed different classes for physical systems, and I agree with the authors that there is no need for that, given that these systems are all considered to be agents (/ computational processes). Action ontology generalizes the application of the intentional stance to all conceivable systems and processes. To view non-human processes and systems in this way is in a sense ‘animistic’: all phenomena are sentient beings.

Organizations

In the action ontology a network of coupled reactions can be modeled: the output of one reaction forms the input for the next and so on. In this way it can be shown that a new level of coherence emerges. If such a network produces its own components including the elements required for its own reproduction it is autopoietic. In spite of ever changing states, its organization remains invariant. The states are characterized by the current configurations of the system’s elements, the states change as a consequence of the perturbations external to the system. Its organization lends the network system its (stable) identity despite the fact that it is in ongoing flux. The organization and its identity render it autonomous, namely independent of the uncertainties in its environment: ‘Still, the autopoietic network A interacts with the environment, by producing the actions Y appropriate to deal with the external challenges X. This defines the autopoietic organism as a higher-order agent: A+XA+Y. At the abstract level of this overall reaction, there is no difference between a complex agent, such as an animal or a human, and an elementary agent, such as a particle. The difference becomes clear when we zoom in and investigate the changing state of the network of reactions inside the agent’ [p 14]. DPB: this is a kind of a definition of the emergence of organization of a multitude of elements into a larger body. This relates to my black-box / transparency narrative. This line of thought is further elaborated on in the COT, where closure and self-maintenance are introduced to explain the notion of autopoiesis in networks. Closure means that eventually no new elements are produced, self-maintenance means that eventually all the elements are produced again (nothing is lost), and together they imply that all the essential parts are eventually recycled. This leads to states on an attractor. Also see COT article Francis. //INTERESTING!! In simple agents the input is directly transformed into an action: there is no internal state and these agents are reactive. In complex networks an input affects the internal state, the agent keeps an internal memory of previous experiences. That memory is determined by the sequence of sensations the agent has undergone. This memory together with its present sensations (perceptions of the environment) constitutes the agent’s belief system. A state is processed (to the next state) by the system’s network of internal reactions, the design of which depends on its autopoietic organization. A signal may or may not be the result of this processing and hence this process can be seen as a ‘deliberation’ or ‘sense-making’. Given the state of the environment, and given the memory of the system resulting from its previous experience, and given its propensity to maintain its autopoiesis, an input is processed (interpreted) to formulate an action to deal with the changed situation. If the action turns out to be appropriate then the action was justified and the rule leading up to it was true and the beliefs are knowledge: ‘This is equivalent to the original argument that autopoiesis necessarily entails cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980), since the autopoietic agent must “know” how to act on a potentially perturbing situation in order to safeguard its autopoiesis’. This is connected to the notion of “virtue reliabilism”, that asserts that beliefs can be seen as knowledge when their reliability is evidenced by the cognitive capabilities (“virtues”) they grant the agent (Palermos, 2015; Pritchard, 2010) [p 15]. UP TO HERE //.

Socially distributed cognition

In our own approach to social systems, we conceive such processes as a propagation of challenges (Heylighen, 2014a). This can be seen as a generalization of Hutchins’s analysis of socially distributed cognition taking place through the propagation of “state” (Hutchins, 1995, 2000): the state of some agent determines that agentś action or communication, which in turn affects the state of the next agent receiving that communication or undergoing that action. Since a state is a selection out of a variety of potential states, it carries information. Therefore, the propagation of state from agent to agent is equivalent to the transmission and processing of information. This is an adequate model of distributed cognition if cognition is conceived as merely complex information processing. But if we want to analyze cognition as the functioning of a mind or agency, then we need to also include that agent’s desires, or more broadly its system of values and preferences. .. in how far does a state help to either help or hinder the agent in realizing its desires? This shifts our view of information from the traditional syntactic perspective of information theory (information as selection among possibilities) (Shannon & Weaver, 1963)) to a pragmatic perspective (information as trigger for goal-directed action (Gernert, 2006)(emphasis of DPB) [pp. 17-8]. DPB: this is an important connection to my idea that not only people’s minds process information, but the organization as such processes information also. This can explain how a multitude of people can be autonomous as an entity ‘an sich’. Distributed cognition is the cognition of the whole thing and in that sense the wording is not good, because the focus is no longer the human individual but the multitude as a single entity; a better word would be ‘integrated cognition’? It is propose to replace the terms “information” or “state” to “challenge”: a challenge is defined as a situation (i.e. a conjunction of conditions sensed by some agent) that stimulated the agent to act. DPB: Heylighen suggests that acting on this challenge brings benefit to the agent, I think it is more prosaic than that. I am not sure that I need the concept of a challenge. Below is an illustration of my Shell example: an individual know that action A leads to result B, but no one knows that U →Y, but the employees together know this: the knowledge is not in one person, but in the whole (the organization): John : U V, Ann : V→W, Barbara : W→X, Tom : X→Y. Each person recognizes the issue, does not know the (partial) answer, but knows (or finds out) who does; the persons are aware of their position in the organization and who else is there and (more or less) doing what. ‘Together, the “mental properties” of these human and non-human agents will determine the overall course of action of he organization. This course of action moves towards a certain “attractor”, which defines the collective desire or system of values of the organization’ [p 21]. DPB: if I want to model the organization using COT then this above section can be a starting point. I’m not sure I do want to, because I find it impracticable to identify the mix of the ingredients that should enter the concoction that is the initial condition to evolve into the memeplex that is a firm. How many of ‘get a job’ per what amount of ‘the shareholder is king’ should be in it?

Experiencing non-duality

Using the intentional stance it is possible to conceptualize a variety of processes as mind-like agencies. The mind does not reside in the brain, it sits in all kinds of processes in a distributed way.

Social Systems and Autopoiesis

Lenartowicz, M. . Linking Social Communication to Individual Cognition: Communication Science between Social Constructionism and Radical Constructivism . Constructivist Foundations vol. 12 No 1 . 2016

I wish to differentiate between between a social species in the organic, animalistic sense and the interconnectivity of social personas in social science’s sense. While the former expresses its sense structures, co-opting language and other available symbolic tools towards its own autopoietic self-perpetuation and survival, the latter (personas) self-organize out of the usages of these tools – and aggregate up into larger self-organizing social constructs’ [p 50]. DPB: I find this important because it adds a category of behavior to the existing ones: biological (love of kin &c.), the social (altruism) of the category that improves the probability that the organisms survives, and added is now externally directed behavior that produces self-organization in their aggregate. ‘If we agree to approach social systems as cognitive agents per se, we must assume that there will be instances, or aspects, of human expression that are rather pulled by the “creatures of the semiosphere”, as I call the autopoietic constructs of the social (Lenartowicz 2016), for the sake of their own self-perpetuation, than pushed by the sense-structures of the human self’ [p 50]. DPB: I like this idea of the human mind being attracted by some aspects of social systems (and / or repelled by others); a term that is much used in ECCO is whether ‘something resonates with someone’. The argument above is that a push and a pull exist and that in the case of the social, the semiotic creatures have the upper hand, over the proffered biological motivations. ‘The RC (radical constructivist) approach to human consciousness must, then, be balanced by the RC view of the social as an individuated, survival-seeking locus of cognition. The difference between the two kinds of organic and symbolic expressions of sociality, which are here suggested as perpetuating the two distinct autopoietic systems, .. has finally settled the long-standing controversy about whether social systems are autopoietic (..), demonstrating that both sides were right. They were simply addressing two angles of the social. Maturana’s objections originated from his understanding of social relatedness as a biological phenomenon (the organic social), whereas the position summarized by Cadenas and Arnold-Cathalifaud was addressing the social as it is conceived by the social sciences (the symbolic social). The difference here is not in the different disciplinary lenses being applied to the same phenomenon. Rather, it is between two kinds of phenomena, stemming from the cognitive operation of two kinds of autopoietic embodiments. For one, the social is an extension, or an expression, of the organic, physical embodiment of a social species. It does not form an operational closure itself. For the other, the social has happened to self-organize and evolve in a manner that has led it to spawn autonomous, autopoietic and individuating cognitive agents – the “social systems” about which Luhmann wrote’ [p 50]. DPB: this is a long quote with some important elements. First the dichotomy is explained between the social aspects of humans. Second the reason why Maturana was, of all people, opposed to the applicability of autopoiesis to social systems. Now it seems clear why. Third, embodiment is introduced: for the organic social, the social is an extension of the physical embodiment of the individual, but without the autonomy; for the other the social ís the embodiment, namely it self-organizes and evolves into autonomous systems. I like that: the organization at the scale of the human and the organization at the level of the aggregate of the humans.

Autopoiesis

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

Foreword

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. ..social 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.

Evolution

(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)

Description

(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).

Thinking

(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

Introduction

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)

(iii)

(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)