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.