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


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

Essay 1: Biology of Cognition

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

It was in these circumstances that one day, while talking to a friend (José Bulnes) about an essay of this on Don Quixote de la Mancha, in which he analyzed Don Quixote’s dilemma of whether to follow the path of arms (praxis, action) or the path of letters (poiesis, creation, production), and his eventual choice of the path of praxis deferring any attempts at poiesis, I understood for the first time the power of the word ‘poiesis’ and invented the word that we needed: autopoiesis. This was a word without a history, a word that could directly mean what takes place in the dynamics of the autonomy proper to living systems’ (p xvii)

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

Unity, Organization and Structure

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

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

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

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

Society and Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(13) (14) (15)

Biology of Cognition

1. Introduction

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

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

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

III Cognitive Function in General

The Observer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Living System

(1) ‘Living systems are units of interactions; they exist in an ambience. From a purely biological point of view they cannot be understood independently of that part of the ambience with which they interact: the niche; nor can the niche be defined independently of the living system that specifies it’ (p 9)

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

(3) ‘It is the circularity of its organization that makes a living system a unit of interactions, and it is this circularity that it must maintain in order to remain a living system and to retain its identity through different interactions’ (p 9)

(4) ‘Due to the circular nature of its organization a living system has a self-referring domain of interactions (it is a self-referring system), and its condition of being a unit of interactions is maintained because its organization has functional significance only in relation to the maintenance of its circularity and defines its domain of interactions accordingly’ (p 10)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Cognitive Process

(1) ‘A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself, and the process of cognition is the actual (inductive) acting of behaving in this domain. Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition’ (p13)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Natural Language

(1) ‘Linguistic behavior is orienting behavior; it orients the orientee within his cognitive domain to interactions that are independent of the nature of the orienting interactions themselves. .. Only if the domains of interactions of the two organisms are to some extent comparable, are such consensual orienting interactions possible and are the two organisms able to develop some conventional, but specific, system of communicative descriptions to orient each other to cooperative classes of interactions that are relevant for both’ (p 30). These are the interactions as per Knorr-Cetina.

(2) –

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

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

(5) –

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

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

(8) –

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

Memory and Learning

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

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

(3 tm 7) –

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

The Observer

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

(2) –

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

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

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

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

(7) ‘We as observers live in a domain of discourse interacting with descriptions of our descriptions in a recursive manner, and thus continuously generate new elements of interaction. As living systems, however, we are closed systems modulated by interactions through which we define independent entities whose only reality lies in the interactions that specify them (their Description)’ (p 40)

(8) ‘For epistemological reasons we can say: there are properties which are manifold and remain constant through interactions. The invariance of properties through interactions provides a functional origin to entities or units of interactions; since entities are generated through the interactions that define them (properties), entities with different classes of properties generate independent domains of interactions: no reductionism is possible’ (p 40)

Post Scriptum

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

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

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

Essay 2:

Autopoiesis – The Organization of the Living

Preface (Stafford Beer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTOPOIESIS – The Organization of the Living

Systeem causaliteit


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

Chapter I – On Machines, Living and Otherwise

1. Machines

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

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

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

2. Living machines

a) Autopoietic machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Living systems

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

Chapter II – Dispensability of Teleonomy

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

1. Purposelessness

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

2. Individuality

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

Chapter III – Embodiments of autopoiesis

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

1. Descriptive and causal notions

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

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

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

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

Notions that apply to all autopoietic systems are:

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

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

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

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

2. Molecular embodiments

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

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

(iii) Production of relations of order

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

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

3. Origin

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter IV – Diversity of Autopoiesis

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

1. Subordination to the condition of unity

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

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

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

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

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

2. Plasticity of ontogeny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Reproduction, a complication of the unity

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

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

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

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

4. Evolution, a historical network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Second and third order autopoietic systems

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

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

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

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

(iii) ‘If the autopoiesis of the component unities of a composite autopoietic system conforms to allopoietic roles that through the production of relations of constitution, specification and order, define an autopoietic space, the new system becomes in its own right an autopoietic unity of the second order’ (p110) An example on earth is the multicellular pattern of organization.

Chapter 5 – Presence of Autopoiesis

1. Biological Implications

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

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

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


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

2. Epistemological implications

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

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

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

3. Cognitive Implications

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

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

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

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

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

Darwinian Philosophy


[Th. C. W. Oudemans and N. G. J. Peeters, Plantaardig – Vegetatieve Filosofie, KNNV Uitgeverij, 2014]

Find below some original clippings from the above book on the philosophy of Darwinism in general and the perception of plants in ecosystems. Some of them were used in my English book on the concept of the firm.

Dat mensen de natuur beschouwen als beheersings- en als beheersgebied – is dat vreemd of zelfs maar vermijdbaar? Helemaal niet, want mensen zijn levende wezens, en er zijn geen levende wezens die zich niet vermenigvuldigen. Wat zich vermenigvuldigt zal moeten proberen zijn omgeving naar zijn hand te zetten, op gevaar van uitsterven af. Mensen wijken ook in dit opzicht niet af van andere levensvormen. Ieder levend wezen beschouwt zichzelf als subject in zijn eigen wereld.‘ [Oudemans e.a. 2014, p 15]. metafysiche indeling van de natuur: je hebt planten die groeien en verwelken, maar niet voelen of streven, je hebt dieren die wel voelen of streven, maar niet nadenken, en je hebt mensen die niet alleen groeien, voelen en streven, maar ook nog eens nadenken. Omdat planten zo laag op de semantische ladder staan zijn ze zielloos, en daarmee nauwelijks medeschepselen van mensen. .. Planten bewegen maar zelden, en als zij dat doen dan meestal onzichtbaar voor het oog. Dat neemt niet weg dat zij een even actieve als intelligente verhouding met hun omgeving hebben – een verhouding waarop vervolgens alle dieren en alle mensen parasiteren’ [Oudemans e.a. 2014 p 16]

Ieder dier, dus ook iedere mens parasiteert direct of indirect op planten. Ook dieren en mensen leven van opgeslagen zonlicht, maar dat kunnen zij alleen door op planten te teren, al is het indirect, door elkaar te consumeren. .. Ook zijn ‘zelfstandig’ denken parasiteert op het plantaardige. Dit omgeeft alles wat ik erover te zeggen denk te kunnen hebben. De semantiek waarbinnen ik mijzelf in mijn verhouding tot de levende natuur zie is zelf weer van natuurlijke oorsprong – al kan ik die natuur niet maar zo tegenover mij plaatsen en bespreken‘ [ Oudemans e.a. p 21].

Darwin ziet het leven als een oever waarop alles wat leeft met elkaar verstrengeld en in elkaar verstrikt is. Dit betekent – een conclusie die Darwin niet trekt – dat ook het menselijk leven en daarmee het menselijke denken op hun eigen manier verstrikt zijn in en verweven met dezelfde oever. De oever is niet te overzien. Als filosoof denk ik hierbij na, terwijl ik er toch binnenin blijf.‘ [Oudeman e.a. 2014 p 23].

Een plant is geen plant wanneer hij zich niet vemenigvuldigt. Wat zich vermenigvuldigt, dat bestaat als reeks. Een reeks bestaat als zich voortzettende opeenvolging van kopiëen en is dus nooit definitief af- of aanwezig. Stopt de voortzetting, dan is het organisme dood. Stopt de voortzetting van een soort dan is die uitgestorven. Waar iets bestaat als zich voortzettende reeks kopiëen, daar zullen uiteenlopende varianten ontstaan, en wel zo dat aard en omvang van de variatie zelf niet te voorspellen valt‘ [Oudemans e.a. 2014 p 30].

Leibnitz spreekt van de opeenvolging der dingen die verspreid zijn over het universum van de levende wezens. Ieder levend wezen maakt deel uit van een serie die niet beëindigd is, zowel in de richting van het verleden als in de richting van de toekomst, series interminata. Leibnitz onderkent dat reeksen niet immuun zijn voor variatie. Wat leeft, dat plant zich voort, maar wat zich voortplant heeft de tendens om mutaties te genereren. Hij spreekt van een tendentia interna ad mutationem. In het wereldbeeld van Newton en Descartes is er uiteindelijk één mogelijkheid, en die wordt al dan niet gerealiseerd, en dat is de mogelijkheid van het universum zoals dat er nu uitziet. Dat dit universum zo is ontstaan en niet anders, is causaal bepaald – het had niet anders af kunnen lopen. Bij Leibnitz komt een heel ander universum naar voren, namelijk een wereld waarin telkens uiteenlopende mogelijkheden tegelijkertijd gerealiseerd worden. Maar dat kan zo niet blijven: er zijn teveel mogelijkhjeden die op hetzelfde moement vragen om een realisatie. En omdat deze mogelijkheden zich allemaal vermenigvuldigen zullen er varianten moeten afvallen. Er ontstaat steeds weer strijd (conflictus) .. Je kunt nooit zeggen da de beste variant gewonnen heeft. Het is onmogelijk om in de wereld van levende kopieën te maken te krijgen met een echt toereikende grond. De toereikende grond zou zich moeten bevinden buiten de opeenvolging van kopieën. .. Wie deze God niet aanneemt, die zal moeten aanvaarden dat er in deze wereld uitsluitend en alleen sprake is van ontoereikende gronden. Wat er is had anders kunnen zijn. Of het had er niet kunnen zijn. Of de omstandigheden veranderen, waardoor datgene wat vroeger verloor het misschien nu opperbest had gedaan. [Oudemans 2014 pp. 31-2].

De vraag naar de species of identiteit is de vraag naar het wezen van iets, maar tegelijkertijd ook de vraag naar de benaming daarvan. Kan ik in mijn benaming de echte aard van het ding zelf raken of niet?‘ [Oudemans 2014 pp. 31-2]. Het zoeken naar en het benoemen van Aristoteliaanse essentie van dingen. Linneaus nam ook het bestaan van essentiële soorten aan. Afwijkingen in voorkomen waren alleen het gevolg van bijzondere natuurlijke omstandigheden.

Hobbes valt met de deur in huis: dat namen arbitrair zijn – dat kan zonder verdere vragen worden verondersteld. Namen hebben wel de pretentie universeeel te zijn, maar uiteindelijk is die universaliteit niets anders dan het samenbrengen van allerlei concrete op elkaar lijkende gevallen (bijvoorbeeld van een madeliefje) onder een verzonnen noemer. .. Locke beseft: de levende natuur is niet zomaar in vaste species in te delen, zij is eindeloos transformeerbaar. Mensen classificeren twee paarden als behorend tot dezelfde soort, en een paard en een zebra niet. Maar dat is niet meer dan een pragmatische beslissing die niet gedicteerd wordt door welke werkelijkheid dan ook‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 37]. Die benadering wordt conventionalisme of nominalisme genoemd: essentialisme is niet van toepassing op de natuur. Niet de genus bepaalt de aard van de plant maar andersom.

Met Darwin is een nieuwe mogelijkheid binnengetreden in de betekeniswereld die mens en natuur verbindt, namelijk dat noch de natuurlijke soorten noch de benamingen ervoor scherp van elkaar te scheiden zijn, en dat ze toch qua indeling niet willekeurig zijn, omdat er sprake is van verwantschapsrelaties die succes laten zien in de strijd om het bestaan. De scheidingen tussen de soorten zijn er wel, maar ze zijn vaag en poreus, en ze liggen, dankzij de variabiliteit van het levende en de onvoorspelbare wijzigingen in de omgeving, niet vooor eeuwig vast. Beide bestaan als variatie en daaropvolgende selectie van de overlevers, zonder dat de selectie ooit leidt tot een definitief resultaat, want de vermenigvuldiging en dus de variatie gaan door zonder einde‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 41]

Co-evolutie van bloeiende planten en insecten (Darwin en de Saporta).

Wat leeft, dat vermenigvuldigt zich. En het varieert. Maar al die varianten kunnen op de eindig bewoonbare aarde niet tegelijkertijd blijven bestaan. Sommige varianten oveerleven, andere sterven uit. Dat gaat niet zomaar: daar is sprake van een confrontatie met de omgeving, waardoor de ene variant geschikter blijkt dan de andere. Dat heeft betekenis voor de manier waarop dieren en planten begrepen moeten worden. Zij zijn niet, zoals in de mathesis universalis verondersteld wordt, substanties of krachten, die zich vervolgens in een bepaalde entourage bevinden, maar zij bestaan als verhouding tot hun omgeving. Er is niet een levend wezen dat vervolgens een betekenisvolle relatie aangaat met andere levende wezens en de rest van de natuur, maar die relaties zijn bepalend voor de aard ervan. Dat wordt in dit boek het monadische ervan genoemd: monaden bestaan als spiegel van hun omgeving. .. Om te beginnen vormt ieder levend wezen een eigen perspectief op de wereld. Maar dan kan het niet langer restloos opgenomen worden in de menselijke kennis en beheersing van de natuur. Het zal blijken dat het nog vreemder is: mensen denken planten te manipuleren, maar het omgekeerde gebeurt even goed. .. Wanneer planten en bomen bestaan als hun verhoudingen tot hun omgeving, dan hebben zij een heel eigen begrenzing: zij kunnen de buitenwereld deels toelaten en de deels buitensluiten. Zij worden getekend doordat zij zijn omgeven door membranen. .. Niet ik hecht deze betekenis aan deze boom, dat doet hij zelf in samenspraak met zijn omgeving‘ [Oudemans 2014 pp. 54-5].

..levende wezens niet begrepen kunnen worden in de semantiek van de zelfstandige substanties en de zelfstandige subjecten. Levende wezens vormen namelijk zelf perspectieven op de wereld die ze omringt. Een substantie is geen zelfstandig zijnde, maar een eigen perspectief op de wereld, dat tegelijkertijd een spiegel is van diezelfde wereld. Dat noemt Leibnitz een monade. Spiegeling hoeft daarbij geen afbeelding te zijn – het kan gaan om afgestemd zijn van het een op het ander, zoals het oor aan een kopje is afgestemd op de hand van de theedrinker en een boomblad is afgestemd op het zonlicht.’[Oudemans 2014 p. 57]

Levende wezens vormen reeksen die zich vermenigvuldigen en muteren. Maar in een eindig bewoonbare wereld kunnen zij niet allemaal tegelijk blijven bestaan. Omdat er sprake is van meerdere gevarieerde reeksen wordt er differentieel overleefd, afhankelijk van de omgeving. De ene reeks verminigvuldigt zich meer dan de andere. Dat is de zin van het monadische van de levende natuur. De omgeving heeft betekenis voor het overleven van de reeks. De ene reeks is ‘rationeler’ dan de andere, want beter aangepast aan een bepaalde omgeving. De eigenschappen van de omgeving waarop organismen zijn afgestemd raken in de loop van de tijd in deze organismen geïnternaliseerd. Dat gebeurt keer op keer in de onafzienbare rij organismen die elkaars nakomelingen zijn. Dat houdt in dat je een levend wezen nooit los kunt zien van zijn omgeving en evenmin van zijn voorouders in hun omgeving’ [Oudemans 2014 p. 57-8].

De monadische aard van gewassen blijkt uit de verhouding tussen bomen, grassen en mensen. Ieder gewas wordt geconfronteerd met het vraagstuk: hoe voorkom ik dat ik word opgegeten en dat ik overschaduwd raak door mijn concurrenten. .. Gras verspreidt zich bijzonder snel. Het zet in op groei en verspreiding, niet op permanentie, zoals bomen. Gras groeit telkens aan, uit een goed verborgen knoop (vlak boven deze knoop bevindt zich een deelvaardig weefsel – intercalair meristeem – van waaruit nieuwe stengelleden groeien) die niet gemakkelijk op te eten is. Het kan zich niet vermenigvuldigen zonder de grote hoefdieren die het opeten en verspreiden. De hoefdieren zijn op hun beurt zijn aangepast geraakt aan gras: van hun maag tot aan hun gebit zijn zij erdoor getekend. Gras en het merendeel van de hoefdieren zijn met elkaar verweven – niet los van elkaar te denken. Mensen behoren tot deze vergraste soorten (aangezien ze door mensen worden gebruikt en geconsumeerd DPB). [Oudemans 2014 p. 60]

De voorheen vaste identiteiten van levende wezens blijken poreus, veranderlijk en onoverzichtelijk te zijn. Bij planten is dit nog extremer dan bij dieren: de individualiteit daarvan is onzeker en volatiel‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 62]

De dominante soorten raken geadapteerd aan uiteenlopende plaatsen in de economie van de natuur (note 235). Darwin’s inzicht is te danken aan de semantiek van de monade. Een levend wezen is alleen een levend wezen wanneer het zich in een omgeving bevindt, in een over en weer ermee. Varianten van planten overleven wanneer zij nieuwe omgevingen vinden, niches, die voor deze bewoonbaar zijn en voor de andere variant niet. Anders geformuleerd: de strijd om het bestaan vergt een strijdperk. Wanneer het strijdperk waarbinnen gestreden wordt muteert, muteert ook de strijd. Wie geschikt is vooor het ene strijdperk kan verliezen in het andere’ [Oudemans 2014 p. 68].

Overal waar leven is, daar bestaan half doorlatende grenzen, membranen, op alle niveaus. Van onderdelen van cellen via cellen als geheel, via onderdelen van organismen zoals bladeren naar organismen als geheel, van regenwouden naar de aarde als geheel, overal houden membranen het onderscheid in stand tussen de binnenzijde en de buitenkant, veelal van energetische aard… In Leibnitz’ wereld van varianten en toeval bleek later entropie een hoofdrol te spelen. Die houdt in: laat een gesloten systeem zijn gang gaan en de daarin bestaande verschillen in energie zullen worden opgeheven. De ordening van het systeem tendeert naar wanorde. Waarom? Omdat er veel meer wanordelijke dan ordelijke mogelijkheden voor het systeem bestaan. De statistische mogelijkheid dat een systeem wanordelijk wordt is enorm groot‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 73]

Wanneer een blad helemaal open zou staan naar de buitenwereld, dan zou het vervloeien en opgaan in zijn omgeving. Wanneer een blad helemaal gesloten zou zijn, dan zou het direct het lot ondergaan, dat het nu enige tijd uit weet te stellen, namelijk dood zijn, overeenkomstig het beginsel van de entropie‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 73].

De natuur is een strijd van mogelijkheden, die nu eenmaal niet allemaal verwerkelijkt kunnen worden. Dat houdt in dat de grond waarom iets er is en iets anders niet, niet beperkt kan worden tot werkoorzaken – de (dat DPB) dingen een verandering in beweging bewerkstelligen door tegen andere aan te stoten. Er is sprake van restricties die ervoor zorgen dat de ene mogelijkheid verwerkelijkt wordt en de andere niet. .. dat restricties niet alleen begrepen kunnen worden als beperkingen die mogelijkheden afknijpen. Zij sluiten mogelijkheden uit en juist daardoor worden nieuwe mogelijkheden vewezenlijkt. Iedere zet (op een schaakbord) begrenst het aantal mogelijke tegenzetten, en juist daardoor kunnen er prachtige en ongekende patronen op het schaakbord ontstaan.’ [Oudemans 2014 p. 77].

Het leven op aarde is niet in evenwicht. Voortdurend moet energie worden opgenomen uit de omgeving en weer worden afgestoten. Er moet een energetisch verschil gehandhaafd blijven tussen een levend wezen en zijn omgeving. En toch: levende wezens die naar hun aard ‘far-from-equilibrium’ zijn, zijn niettemin uiterst stabiel. Veel plantaardige en menselijke genen zijn letterlijk miljarden jaren oud. Terwijl de wind en de golven van entropie alles op aarde eroderen behoudt het leven zijn onevenwichtige stabiliteit over kosmische tijdsspannen.‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 79].

De mechanische reductie lijkt in eerste instantie aan levende wezens nu juist hun leven te ontnemen. Een plant wordt tot machine gereduceerd en dat is een plant niet. .. Maar uiteindelijk is niet de objectieve werkelijkheid primair, maar. Zoals Leibnitz heeft laten zien, het over en weer tussen mij en de plant. .. Dat is het punt dat Heidegger naar voren heeft gebracht. Je kunt een boom wel begrijpen als machine, maarmee heb je nog geen zicht op de verhouding tussen het plantaardige en het menselijke. Wat een boom is en wat ik zelf ben, hoe het plantaardige mede bepalend is voor mijn eigen identiteit – dat alles betreft de manier waarop de een de ander tegemoet treedt. De aard van dit tegemoet treden is semantisch, ligt niet in de feiten en de wetmatigheden aan de objectzijde, maar in het over en weer, waarbinnen de feiten en wetmatigheden zich afspelen.‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 87].

Kenmerkend voor de overgeleverde semantiek is dat levende wezens op de een of andere manier zelf handelen. Zij hebben het begin van hun beweging in zichzelf, zoals Aristoteles het uitdrukt. Maar dat is bij planten maar in beperkte mate het geval. Zij kunnen niet denken, zij kunnen niet waarnemenen dus nergens naar streven en zij kunnen niet van hun plaats komen, zegt Aristoteles. Het enige wat een plant kenmerkt is het soort beweging dat samenhangt met voeding, groei en ontbinding. .. Planten staan op een lage tree van ontwikkeling, die loopt van planten via strevende en voelende dieren tot aan de denkende mens. Deze semantiek beheerst het moderne Europese denken tot in de huidige tijd. .. Dankzij het Darwinisme is het aristotelisme zo vanzelfsprekend niet meer. Planten verkeren allerminst in de comateuze toestand die ze wordt toegedicht. De bewegingen van planten zijn dikwijls zo traag dat zij verborgen blijven voor de menselijke blik. Zij leven in een andere tijdsschaal.‘ [Oudemans 2014 pp. 88-9]. Er zijn legio voorbeelden bekend van de activiteiten van planten die erop zijn gericht invloed uit te oefenen op hun plantwardige of dierlijke omgeving [Oudemans 2014 pp. 89-100].

Een automaat is een machine die zichzelf in stand houdt en zichzelf vermenigvuldigt. Dat kunnen chemische machines, maar mechanische niet. Zo bezien hebben mensen nog nooit een automaat vervaardigd, terwijl alle levende wezens in deze zin automaten zijn. .. Mensenmachines hebben altijd mensen nodig om in stand te blijven en zich te vermenigvuldigen. Zij zijn niet echt autark, geen echte automaten, zoals Leibnitz verduidelijkt heeft.‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 105].

Nature abhors self-fertilisation, nature abhors self-pollination’ [Wallace, Darwin in Oudemans 2014 p. 108] wereld is niet causaal bepaald, maar is een strijd tussen zich vermenigvuldigende reeksen mutanten, waarbij telkens selectie plaatsvindt. Daar komt geen doel aan te pas, terwijl in de strijd om de vermenigvuldiging toch telkens datgene komt bovendrijven wat op dat moment functioneel is. Functioneel wil niets anders zeggen dan: onder bepaalde omstandigheden overleeft de ene variant talrijker dan de andere‘ [Oudemans 2014 pp. 109-10]

Dawkins heeft het duidelijk gemaakt. Genen manipuleren de wereld. Het is alsof zij een doel hebben, namelijk hun overleving te maximaliseren. Maar dat doen zij niet. Het is eenvoudig zo dat de varianten met de meeste overlevers overleven. Doelen en strevingen komen er niet aan te pas. Maar dat is voor mij als individu, als werktuig van het genoom, niet anders: individuen streven er niet bewust naar om wat dan ook te maximaliseren; zij gedragen zich alsof zij iets maximaliseren. ..

Mensen zien zich graag als wezens die doelbewust, doelgericht of doelmatig zijn. Dat is een uitvloeisel van de subject-objectgedachte. Als blijkt dat de wereld monadisch is, een over en weer van perspectieven en communicatie, dan is het beter om te spreken van aantrekkingskracht. Dat zegt iets over de verhouding tussen het ene wezen en het andere. Aantrekkingskracht heeft al gauw betekenis voor beide perspectieven: x oefent aantrekkingskracht uit op y (waarbij het er niet zoveel toe doet of x daar zelf ook weet van heeft). Dat kan in het voordeel van y zijn, maar ook van x. Wat mij een eigen doel toeschijnt, dat is de aantrekkingskracht van een aantrekkelijk wezen‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 110].

De menselijke cultivering is naar haar aard erop gericht alles wat onzuiver is uit te bannen, teneinde zich te verzekeren van maximale beheersing tegen alle verwilderende invloeden. Mensen hebben harde, ondoordringbare scheidingen nodig, geen half doorlatende membranen. Dat blijkt op allerlei manieren, om te beginnen bij de taal die mensen bezigen: in het voorgaande werd duidelijk hoezeer Linnaeus gedreven werd door het verlangen naar zuivere en ondoordringbare categoriseringen.‘ [Oudemans 2014 p. 124].

Iedere keer dat een oude appelvariëteit wegvalt uit de cultivering is een pakket van genen – dat wil zeggen een pakket kwaliteiten van smaak, kleur en textuur, en van bestendigheid tegen parasieten – van de aarbodem verdwenen[M. Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World, 2001 p. 57 in Oudemans 2014 p. 130]

Wij speelden van onze kant onze rol. Wij vermenigvuldigden de bloemen buiten alle proportie. Wij verplaatsten hun zaden de planeet rond, wij schreven bnoeken om hun roem te verspreiden en hun geluk zeker te stellen. Voor de bloem was het hetzelfde oude liedje. Weer een grote evolutionairre deal met een willig, lichtgelovig dier[M. Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World, 2001 p. 119 in Oudemans 2014 p. 137]

Scrabbelen met alleen Q-s en X-en.

Geen herder en één kudde. Ieder wil hetzelfde, ieder is gelijk: wie anders voelt gaat vrijwillig het gekkenhuis in’. .. Geen mens die zich druk maakt over bureaucratisering, onderlinge afhankelijkheid, vernietiging van ‘privacy’, overlevering aan sociale media en vooral: overgeleverd zijn aan een almachtige, overal doordringende, alwetende staat, die vrijwel alles heeft opgeslokt wat voorheen als een menselijk bestaan heeft gegolden, zonder dat dit doordringt tot zijn burgers.[‘Also Sprach Zarathustra, p. 20 in Oudemans 2014 p. 142′, Oudemans 2014 p. 142]

The Utility of Diversity

The main cause of death of firms, their loss of autonomy of sales registration, is explained by them being the subject of a merger or an acquisition and only a small portion of firm deaths is caused by bankruptcy. In the previous section the question was aked whether it is a ‘bad’ thing if an organism disappears, apart from the sense of loss it generates. The same can be asked if a firm disappears: is it a ‘bad’ thing if the firm disappears by bankrupty or via a merger or an acquisition? And conversely is it a ‘good’ thing if a firm survives to a ripe old age? In order to be able to explain why firms die as they do, consider this argument below about biological diversity and whether a loss of biodiversity is a ‘bad’ thing and for whom.

Biodiversity literally means the diversity of life. As a concept per se it holds no value because the total number of species is unknown – let alone the number of organisms, not all species are relevant, their numbers are not equal, some are a nuisance and the argument can be defended that extinction of many species is inevitable anyway. What is the use of the concept biodiversity and to generalize it what is its value hence its utility? People having co-evolved with other species, their histories intertwined as they are, cannot be considered qualified to assess the utility of some other species, lest the same question be asked about them also. To that end the concept of universal utility is developed in a larger perspective, people not center stage.

What is life (step 1)?

‘Only organisms, from simple bacteria to complex animals with brains, meet the definition of life’ [Jager 2014 p. 18]. This definition includes a circular reference: organisms are living beings and life resulted in organisms because of evolution. ‘Individual organisms are descendants of the ‘first’ cell’ [Jager 2014 p. 18]. The ‘first’ cell is some complicated yet badly functioning cell that importantly did not require an organism to be able to reproduce, but only to be an offspring to its parents. Later the descent from a parent will be abandoned also. An important consequence is that collectives such as an ecosystem can not be considered alive, because they are not individual descendants of the first cell.

What is diversity?

Because every organism – above every species – on earth is unique, the total diversity of all individuals is incalculable. Details depending on differences such as age, gender or location (phenotypic) are lost if their numbers are narrowed down by taxonomically grouping. Genetic categorization doesn’t solve the problem either, because genetic differences do not determine all phenotypical differences and for instance disregard the neuron connections in complicated animals’ brains. A focus on phenotypes thus resolves that and makes brain diversity part of biodiversity. An ecosystem approach is equally unhelpful, because ecosystems are interlinked and in a sense only one ecosystem exists that also includes abiotic earth.

Diversity in the biological sphere, biodiversity, is defined as: ‘Biodiversity consists of all the differences between organisms’ [Jager 2014 p. 22]. This is useful because it includes organisms’ genetic and phenotypic characteristics as well as the basic elements of ecosystems. It mentions that there are differences, but it does not attempt to measure diversity or its conservation. It does however provide a basis for conservation strategies, because conservation implies maintenance of all the diversity of organisms and therefore also of all the processes upon which this diversity depends [p 23]. These processes include the interactions between the organisms and the interactions between the organisms and their environment, together defining he ecosystem.

This can serve as the umbrella term in the protection of organisms. From this can follow this conservation objective: ‘the preservation of a selection of ecosystem elements (and their associated processes) that in principle guarantee that the numbers of individuals of ALL relevant species (a species or its substitute) of the ecosystem remain above the minimum required for viable populations hence a minimum basis for evolution. In addition: ‘Biodiversity is in a constant state of flux as a result of the evolutionary process in which the numbers of the populations of the species in the ecosystem varies.’ [p 23]. As a consequence species’ extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process, including those that occur as a result of human action.

Individual Utility

People consider something to be useful – to have some utility – if it changes a less satisfactory situation into a more satisfactory situation. Animals with primitive brains nor plants think about utility (the concept), but they can try to avoid unpleasant stimuli and they can try to find food. For all organisms utility relates to the minimum physiological conditions required to stay alive. For thinking animals and people utility includes the satisfaction of mental objectives such as needs and desires. In more general terms: utility is the whole of the things and activities that ensure that an organism can function normally or without too much stress [p 24]. The subjects experiencing utility exclude non-living things, nature and ecosystems, because they are not an organism and as a consequence they have no normal state of being (that can be improved).

Universal Utility

All processes and forms in the universe result from mechanisms resulting in the acquisition of degrees of freedom. ‘Acquiring degrees of freedom leads to greater differentiation in the universe. Differentiation can proceed towards more organisation and towards chaos. In both directions nature turns potential into reality. And all the while energy disperses throughout the universe at an increasing rate. Acquiring degrees of freedom means the realisation of potential’ [p. 25]. An example of the acquisition of degrees of freedom towards more order is the transition of a single-cell organism to a mutli-cell organism. The multi-cell organism is itself more difficult to eat, can eat larger food and can extend itself to higher places where there is more light. Just because of such advantages these transitions were invented by evolution: the degree of freedom of the single-cell organism as an autonomous entity was traded for the degree of freedom as multicellular entities, now having access to the advantages of a larger size and a more complex shape.

The principle of degrees of freedom also goes from atomic to molecular and from individual nerve cells to brains, from bees to a beehive and from individual people to an organisation. However, beehives and human communities cannot be organisms, because earlier it was established provisionally that any such organisation can not have descended from a first cell and can therefore not be alive.

Processes can also be associated with acquisition of degrees of freedom towards less organisation. These processes are connected with the dispersal of energy leading to the production of entropy. An example is the death of a multicellular organism: it no longer eats or breathes and the cells in its body suffocate or starve. Its body rots and the organisation of its cells is traded in for disordered molecules. The orderly degree of freedom of the organisation of molecules of the late body is now replaced with the disorderly degrees of freedom of the individual molecules. Nature in this sense can acquire orderly as well as disorderly degrees of freedom.

The generation of order implies the dispersal of energy. On balance, more energy is dispersed than corresponding order is generated and entropy always increases. Growth and metabolism are associated with the degradation of free energy (energy that can do mechanic work) from sunlight or food. This degradation of energy thus leads to an increase of diffuse energy (that can do less mechanic work) and an increase of entropy outside of the body of the organism. ‘The entropy that organisms create is a necessary consequence of the creation and maintenance of order in (a) their bodies and (b) in the environment (their burrows, communities, cities, etc)’ [p 26].

In this way all processes in nature lead to the acquisition of degrees of freedom. This acquisition is associated with universal utility (not to be mistaken with individual utility). It can therefore be said that a process that makes a larger contribution to the acquisition of degrees of freedom is more useful for nature – has a higher universal utility. ‘Universal utility is a measure of the relative contribution made by processes to the acquisition of the degrees of freedom. Universal utility does not serve a purpose – though it does have a direction – and does not satisfy any needs or desires.’ [p 27].

Biological Evolution

Viruses evolve but they are molecules with a protein coat, not organisms. In evolution something gets copied, in the case of a virus the copying of the DNA is outsourced. By replacing reproduction with replication, the scope of evolution is widened. But a new definition is required that also includes the evolution of viral dna, endosymbiontic cells (a bacterium in which another bacterium can live), cells containing dna, cells containing endosymbionts, complete multicellular organisms, etc. It must explain how existing structures give rise to the formation of new related structures. The phrase ‘give ris to’ is used instead of replication or copying etc, to include the evolution of the above list of special cases also. ‘The evolution algorithm can be described in a generic way as the repetition of two subprocesses: (1) Diversification, in which an original structure gives rise to the formation of related or derived new structures; and (2) Selection, in which the functioning of the new structuresw depends on their relativecapacities to exist in a certain environment and succeed in diversifying in the next round’ [Donald Campbell Psychological Review (journal) 1960 , Karl Popper Objective Knowledge 1972]. According to this definition, diversification in companies occurs through changes in company culture and selection takes place at the level of the ‘newly arisen’ group.

The darwinian algorithm contained reproduction, variation and selection; this is now simplified into diversification and selection. This universal (darwinian) evolution applies to everything as a framework for the evolution of everything – particles to stars and organisms – and specific theories are required for specific areas of interest, such as biological evolution.

The step of selection is associated with the capacity to acquire the next organisational degree of freedom. In organisms selection is based on survival but in the transition between particle types selection is based on the realisation of a new degree of freedom. (voor allebei geldt dat de degree of freedom groter wordt: organism: more independent of the uncertainties of the environment, particle: more randomness).

Evolution as an algorithm including the above two steps (diversification and selection) from the Chapter Replication? is able to solve problems concerning the acquisition of degrees of freedom without prior knowledge. All evolutionary steps lead to increasing dispersal of energy and increasing randomness hence increasing degrees of freedom. Simultaneously the increase of organisation leads to the acquisition of degrees of freedom also. In this way both chaotic and organisational degrees of freedom are acquired simultaneously, in turn leading to high universal utility.

Sources of biodiversity, Utility of a waterfall

What is the universal utility of water falling or more general: what is the utility of the water cycle on earth?

Particles from the previous level form the building blocks of larger, more complex particles and organisms from the previous level: all particles and organisms can be seen as steps on the particle ladder. In this sense organisms can be thought of as particles with similar features on a functional level. The steps of evolution on the particle ladder are roughly: fundamental particles > nuclear particles > atoms > molecules > bacteria > endosymbiotic cells > multicellular plants > multicellular animals.

The Organism as an Energy Vortex

Orderly structures in organisms and particles are the outcome of a self-organising process. ‘In contrast to physical and chemical particles, organisms can only maintain their structure if there is a continuous influx of free energy and building materials from the environment’ [p 38]. Organisms in this sense can be likened to the bathtub vortex, which is maintained as long as there is water in the tub, flowing out. Likewise organisms need energy and material flowing though them. Because in the process they produce low-grade energy, they can be said to be contracted by nature to convert high-grade energy to low-grade energy and in so doing to reduce the amount of free energy and increase entropy. Thus it is established that organisms contribute to the increase in the degrees of freedom in nature thus increasing universal utility. The remaining question is whether this works better in case there is more biodiversity, namely if there are more organisms.

A foaming waterfall

Some of the energy of the waterfall is used to produce froth on the surface of the river downstream. Metaphorically this waterfoam as a byproduct of falling water can be likened to biofoam as a by-product of sunlight. However, biofoam can make more biofoam using sunlight, which waterfoam cannot do. Firms can replicate themselves as biofoam.

A wellspring of biofoam

Sunlight forces cells to make more cells: ‘a wellspring of biofoam at the bottom of the sunfall’ [p. 40]. The wellspring pumps the biofoam under high pressure into the ecosystem. This pressure combined with competition and selection drives the river of evolution uphill and automatically leads to increasingly complex lifeforms. The organisms that do best are those that acquire the most resources and which are the most succesful parents can only be known after some time, when the performance of the offspring is known also.

Biofoam creates new waterfalls

When converting high-grade energy to low-grade energy it is useful if new cells are created that eat the primary producers, digest them and excrete the waste products. Utility is created for the eaters of the primary producers and so on.

Food chains

This is a sequene of alternating wellsprings and waterfalls and ever more species of organisms interspersed intensifying the process of degrading energy. At each step of degradation there are typically more than one species competing as a consequence of the mechanism of diversification.

The struggle for existence, Running with the red queen

Species populations flow through the ecosystem and flowing fastest along the path of least resistance. The Red Queen hypothesis applies the Waterfall model of the breakdown of free energy in the universe to species.

The Red Queen and the Constructal Law

The Red Queen and the concept of evolution are connected by this constructal law (variation to original by Ardrian Bejan) : ‘For a finite-size flow system to persist in time, its configuration must change such that the flow through the system meets less and less resistance’ [43]. This law is principally about the direction of the development or evolution of the patterns. The two types of flow systems are the organism and the environment. At each generation the flow passes through the organism more easily. The constructal law also predicts that the component systems and processes all develop to a stage at which they can all take the same level of stress. The environment and the whole ecosystem (inclusing biodiversity) is itself a flow system. The constructal law predicts that all organisms evolve together to reduce resistance to the material and energy flows involved from generation to generation converting sunlight to water vapour and waste products.

Here diversity can help with each organism filling its own niche in the ecosystem. But the same service can be rendered by one dominant species. It pays to be more active so as to get to the resources before your competitors do. The most active survive but overactive and overspending suffer the consequences also: biodiverity is dynamic but not chaotic, at the edge of chaos [Kauffman 1993].

People must also run

Comparison with the past and with other people create desires and motivates people as consumers and as collegues. People must run hard to sustain their level of satisfaction constant.

On the brink of chaos

The Red Queen hypothesis explains that species can go extinct but not how many or which. Long periods of constant biodiversity are intermitted with bursts of violent change in numbers of species. Explanations are external causes and, more importantly, competition between individuals. Competition leads to immediate change in the rate of species extinction: the average fitness of the species shifts to a dynamic balance which fluctuates around a ‘critical value’. [Per Bak How Nature Works 1996] argues that these critical values happen in many situations in nature. The waves of extinction in this game are similar to the species creation and extinction consistent with the Red Queen hypothesis.

Arms races and utility chains

Organisms must compete with others for resources while simultaneously avoid being used as a resource by another organism. Selection affects forms of bodies by learning how to use new abiotic resources and arms races. More abiotic and biotic resources implies more biodiversity. In case of biotic resources, the learning of the predator incites learning in the prey to avoid being preyed upon: this can become an arms race. Adaptations can be categorized as: interactions based on energy, structure, information, relocation in space and time.

Resource chains and humans

Reason, tools, industrial processes and foresight have made humans flexible to use almost all resources or their substitutes.

Competition and complexity

If fifty percent of single celled algae in a nutrient rich solution are replaced every twenty minutes with fresh solution, then the algae will not evolve towards more complexity but to a more simple version that is fitter to deal with the rapid sequence of changes in its environment by reproducing faster. This generally occurs when the object of evolution is simpler. Therefore, evolution does not necessarily lead to greater complexity of the species.

Big meets big

Shaking a box with small beads and big ones, the small beads end up at the bottom and the big ones at the surface, because the probability of a big space opening up for a big bead is smaller than a small space opening up for a small one. Following this metaphor (this example is physical in nature), more complexity is invited by competition because smaller organisms compete for resources with many others, while larger organisms compete mainly with other large organisms. In this way more complexity is invited into the process, because the bigger organisms have a better chance to survive hence every organism has the tendency to become larger hence more complex. In this way complexity depends entirely on the continual pressure of unstoppable reproduction combined with competition. [p 52]

A pile of sand on the table

Lines of descent and organisational levels

Diversification and selection leads to evolution in turn leads to diversity. Organisms’ offspring has different heritable characteristics and then the ecosystem selects which of the offspring takes part in the next round. Diversification leads to a pattern of division in different species and a pattern of the emergence of organisms of similar complexity at different locations in the ecosystem.

The origins of genetics and information

Diversity of life on earth is connected with the diversity of ‘information’ locked in the genetic material in organisms. RNA and DNA are mere structures, not information, as are the proteins that RNA and DNA code for. The actual information they represent is revealed how they contribute to the physiology and the structure of the organism. In this way the information harboured in the structures is conditional to their context. How does this relate to the acquisition of degrees of freedom of information during evolution?

Whispering down the generations

Under competitive circumstances it is hard for a cell to maintain strict control over the copying of its DNA.

Why sloppiness pays

If exact copies are made then the offspring becomes more vulnerabele for instance for virus. Not only is it cheaper to be somewhat sloppy, it results in better restistance to external influences. A ‘social’ reason exists also, because the search for a susceptible individual slows down the spreading of the disease. A reasonable balance must exist between the occurrence of changes in DNA and occurrence of changes in the environment.

Biodiversity and information

The complexity of an organism detemines the number of genes required to code for its physiology, structure and behavior. The information carried by the genes depends on the role of the cell that the genetic information belongs to: information equals data plus meaning [Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes, Systems Methodology in Action 1990].

During evolution nature is looking for new degrees of freedom for the information in organisms: continue to exist in a cell, change their structure through mutation, relocate with the cell. A degree of freedom to copy enabled the passing on of information to the offspring. A degree of freedom of sexual reproduction allowed the exchange of information between individuals.

Organisms over generations collect a genepool and are considered to constitute a species population; this represents the collective memory of the genes in the organisms.

Compulsory sex, rapid adaptation and dumping ‘waste’

Phenotypic characters and biodiversity

Diversification and selection operate mainly via individual phenotypes, but when individuals cooperate then the group ‘pays the bill’ instead of the individual. When groups compete then the individuals that work well as a group benefit over the ones that do not. The feature allowing an individual to cooperate is part of the ‘extended phenotype’ of other individuals that help it shield from external influences. Humand extend their phenotypes too by cooperating?

Biodiversity is what is left over

Extreme variations resulting in eccentric phenotyes are probably less efficient fast and smart and have a lesser chance to survive competing with others. This results in ‘pathways’ or strategies after the species explosion such as Cambrian Fauna. This comes about via a rigourous selection process that point the genes in the direction of the phenotypes most beneficial for their inhabitants. As a consequence the biodiversity curently existing on earth is just a fraction of all the possibilities. Not all variations result in a change in phenotype: some are neutral but not useless as they are experiments to build possible new foundations for the mergence of other mutations in the future.

A tree of structures

Organisational levels and biodiversity

‘Organisational levels not only represent a fundamental ranking of structures in nature, they also provide a frame of reference for evaluating biodiversity’ [p 64]

What is the value of an organisational level?

The structure at each level of organisation depends on the structure of the lower levels. The greater the number of transitions to get at some level, the higher the rank. This also enables the assessment of the cost of reaching some level: ‘By taking account for the resources and invenstions needed to achieve subsequent levels, organisational levels provide a framework for estimating how ‘bad’ it is when a species becomes extinct’ [p 65]. In light of this it is worthwhile ot take good care of the current level of human organisation, because it has taken many generations, a lot of energy and resources to get to where it stands now. Human culture is therefore a valuable invention, although it begs the question how robust it is agaionst large scale catastrophe, because of the availability of resources that have at this point become scarce.

Future biodiversity

What is Life, The difference between Life and Living (step 2)

Living is a state of being active. Life is an attribute of being in (able to be switched to) the state of living. All activities consistent with ‘living’ are therefore not relevant to a definition of ‘life’ [67].

‘If something possesses the material organisation corresponding to life and it is active then it is living’ [p 67, Société de Biologie, Paris 1860].

The Material Organisation of Life

[Maturana and Varela 1972] named the distinguishing characteristic autopoiesis, the ability of the organism to maintain itself. This does not say anything about the maintaining mechanism, but it becomes clear that the organism must have a boundary, that allows it to maintain the ‘self’. The type of organisation is spatially defined and cyclical because the molecules act as a group so as to maintain each other.

[Manfred Eigen and Peter Schuster 1977-1978, The Hypercycle: A principle of Natural Self-Organisation], A material desription of life in this sense requires interaction between a chemical hypercycle and an enclosing membrane which is maintained by the internal processes and in turn supports those processes. Structure and function are two sides of the same coin and this model can clarify the life of bacteriae.

Levels of organisation

Which structural configurations (organisation) of matter must the definition of life include? Nature has three fundamental degrees of freedom to allow complexity to emerge: inward, outward, upward. Complex systems use the structures available at the preceding level of complexity. Making the transition to a next level requires a new form of internal organisation or a new form of interaction. ‘The formation of a more complex particle is always accompanied by the formation of a new type of spatial configuration and a new type of process. Here, ‘new’ means that the new attributes are impossible at he previous level of organisation’ [p 71] Each time an existing particle forms a building block for a new attribute, a new ‘particle’ is born.

Particles + organisms = operators

The operator theory says that strict and comparable rules for building with forms apply to all operators, both physical particles and organisms. The hierarchy is quarks, hadrons, atoms, molecules, bacterial cells, endosymbiotic cells, multicellular endosymbiotic organisms and multicellular endosymbiotic organisms with a neural network. Throughout this entire hierarchy the physical laws on structural configuration place restrictions on the transitions between organisational levels. ‘What it (operator theory DPB ) does say is that the levels of complexity are not accidental. This is because nature must use the existing simple forms as the basis for building new, more complex forms, and because each time it does so, nature must follow strict design laws to meet the requirements of the next higher level of organisation in the operator hierarchy’ [p 72]. The main benefit of operator theory is that it allows us to define life in a way that avoids a circular argument, and that it is crucial to define life precisely because it is the basis for defining biodiversity.

What is Life? (third step)

Defining life by referring to organisms and defining organisms as ‘living beings’ results in a circular argument. This is avoided because the existence of the operators at one level determine the nature of the operators that will arise at the next level and each transition leads to a higher level of complexity. A transition to a higher level accompanied by a structural and a functional cyclical process, a ‘closure’. ‘All operators at least as complex as a cell are organisms. Life is a general term for the presence of the typical closures found in organisms. .. The above definition of life also implicitly includes future organisms as life forms and is therefore open-ended in the ‘upward direction’ [p 73-4]. Ecosystems and viruses do not match the definition because they do not appear in the operator ladder. As a consequence neither a virus nor the ecosystem belong in the definition of biodiversity. This implies that the structure determines whether something is alive, rather than its activity or how it is produced.

Memes and imitation

Human species can imitate. Memes are units of information that can be imitated. The exchange of memes means that people are not just memebers of genetic populations, but also members of memetic popuations. ‘In this sense, cultures can be seen as complex networks of certain memes, which give rise to generic forms of behaviour. Differences in behavioural patterns distinguish one group of people from another.

The brain

Information is categorized by the brain and by making combinations of these categories, a small neural network can make a large ‘inner world’. The diverssity can be measured in two ways: 1) counting the number of nerve cells, their connections between them and the strenght of the connections, 2) derive the complexity of the network from answers to questions. The brain contains vast numbers of categories and new categories are created at all times. Ideas in this sense can evolve quickly, provided that new ideas are subject to some selection process. ‘The evolutionary potential of brains and memes represents a whole new dimension in the development of biodiversity’ [p 77].

Predicting the future of biodiversity is too big a task to be realistic at this point. The bacteria existing today will almost certainly remain bacteria and whatever evolves from the existing realms, say a new endosymbiontic cell, will be one of many in existence already in some shape or form. The same reasoning goes for the other species groups. As a consequence the future depends on new structural configurations to emerge that is more complex than the neural networks in humans and animals.

‘Operator theory is the first method for predicting the evolution of new structures’ [p 78]. Using the operator theory to predict future operators above the level of humans being the level above the level of the organisms with neural networks. This organism should at least be able to copy itself including all the information required for its functioning as a cell does: by replicating the structures of all the molecules on a structural level. This requires structural copying, not the same thing as learning. It is the copying the structure of the neural network. Organisms with powerful brains do not have the ability to read and write their neural patterns so as to make a copy of them for later use. An organism with a programmed brain in principle could make a back-up and that information could be restored to a subsequent phenotype. Knowledge is passed on without upbringing. Given that this structural copying of information is an attribute of the next operator, then the next operator can only be a technical life form. This makes way for competition between brain codes files for phenotypes equivalent to selfish behavior of genes in phenotypes. Competition between groups of technical organisms can be instrumental in the development of group skills such as collaboration. This scenario open new avanues for the development of biodiversity.

The Pursuit of Complexity

Degrees of freedom are all the ways in which energy and matter can be distributed throughout the universe. The terms ‘acquisition of degrees of freedom’ suggests that the corresponding form of organisation already exists in potential; the acquisition involves its material realisation in the universe. All changes to the configuration of matter and energy result in a change in the state, whether leading to more order or more chaos; a change in the degree of freedom of the system is the consequence. Because the physical laws of conservation must hold true, a local reduction in entropy as a conseuene of the acquisition of degrees of freedom towards more order leads to an increase of entropy elsewhere in the universe. The more biodiversity contributes to the acquisiton of degrees of freedom, the more universal utility it has.

Individual utility for human beings (in the traditional sense) is associated with the development of their needs and desires. That development is connected with the acquisition of degrees of freedom, such as images and wishes in the brain. Everything that contributes to the satisfaction of needs and desires has utility to human beings. Biodiversity is complicated also, because of the ‘bio’ part: the definition of life is still outstanding. This was solved with the use of the organisational ladder of the operator theory: additonal degrees of freedom are acquired by nature by following a series of construction steps defined by the laws of nature. The higher a step is on the ladder the higher the structural complexity of an entity on that step. Life is an attribute of the presence of the closures of an organism as per its position on the organisational ladder. An organism is an operator that is at least as complex, and therefore as high on the ladder, as a bacterium. Biodiversity equals all the differences between organisms.

Continuing biodiversity implies the continuing of the minimum conditions for ecosystems implies ensuring the minimum population numbers of the species associated with the ecosystems implies that species can emerge and go extinct as they would unencumbered, namely with a sufficient platform for its survival and this implies the survival of humans as one of the species in the ecosystems. Conserving biodiversity implies conserving the human species.

Utility of biodiversity

Acquisition of degrees of freedom drives towards more efficient conversion from solar energy to low-grade waste. Individual organisms and all of biodiversity contribute to universal utility as much they can. A small part of universal utility is the utility of biodiversity to individual organisms for meeting their needs. Species have evolved together and they dependd on ech other for the fulfillment of their needs. Because new species are added by evolutionary processes many interactions and entire ecosystems have become more robust in the face of the needs of individual species. Humans are the top generalists, able to disconnect from many environmental uncertainties. People are consuming energy at a high rate pro rata and entropy production is very high. They are creating order and chaos at a high rate and acquisition of degrees of freedom is high as a result. When people come into play, acquisition of degrees of freedom accelerates in both directions. This leads to a reaction of the system – as it would without the intervention of people. ‘Evolution resolves such problems (reaction of the system to change DPB) by always finding paths towards maximum use of existing possibilities’ [p 86]. ‘The consumption of free energy is ‘payment’ for the order humans create’ [87]. ‘As the Red Queen goads all organisms into running faster, evolution and biodiversity ensure that new organisms will acquire increasingly complex degrees of freedom at an ever faster pace. In essence, then, the universal utility of biodiversity is the part it plays in the construction of increasingly advanced forms of life’ [p 88].

Contributions of individual species to human well-being can not easily be understood; a tool to adress this issue is ecosystem services (clean air, water, availability of fish etc). This tool is unreliable because it tends to fluctuate. For that reason people make an effort to control these ecosystem services, such as farming ect. The tool focuses on the use that the ecosystems have for human beings. No clear relation exists between the wealth of people and the biodiversity of the region they inhabit nor vice versa. The sense of loss when a species goes extinct can be specified as the feeling of a loss of potential wereas we like to keep our options open and a sense of responsibility for the event. To be fair: many species can go extinct before the human species is threatened in its existence. Many people have no noticeable relation with nature anyhow, apart from some insects and trees in the park and a pet.While people ae responsible for the decline in numbers of species, they have also introduced new biodiversity into the world such as new crops, pedigree dogs, fashion clothing, architectural styles and so on. As our societies became more industrialized, our arcadian nature changed for cultivated nature and our love of arcadian nature shifted to a love of wild nature.

De Halfwaardetijd van Bedrijven

Deze post is naar aanleiding van een onderzoek dat is uitgevoerd door SFI (Santa Fé Institute) naar de levensduur van bedrijven. De halfwaardetijd van de onderzochte bedrijven is circa 10 jaar is, ongeacht de sector of de leeftijd van een bepaald bedrijf. De belangrijkste oorzaak van ‘overlijden’ van een zelfstandig bedrijf is een fusie of een overname. Kan dit leiden tot een wetmatigheid voor de leeftijd van bedrijven: katten 18, mensen 80, bedrijven 10? En wat is de reden dat bedrijven na verloop van tijd onderdeel van een ander bedrijf worden:  Schumpeter, Hubris van de bestuurders of bedrijfs’ecologische’ redenen? Dit is de link naar het oorspronkelijke artikel.

Origins of Order

Maxwell’s Demon revisited
De demon scheidt snelle deeltjes van de langzame en laat ze toe in vat B door telkens een klep te openen als een snel deeltje in de richting van vat B gaat (vat A bevat dus steeds meer langzame deeltjes). Er ontstaat dan een tegendruk in vat B, namelijk omdat de snelle deeltjes daarin een grotere kans hebben om met elkaar te botsen. Die tegendruk kan alleen worden opgeheven als de demon sterk is: hij blijft dan snel genoeg om de klep voldoende snel open te doen om de administratie bij te blijven houden van de banen van de deeltjes in het systeem. Als de demon zwak is dan is die toenemende tegendruk een steeds groter probleem om de toegang te blijven regelen.
Lees verder Origins of Order

Kans, Tijd en Orde

In eerdere posts is het begrip entropie voorbij gekomen. En in het verlengde daarvan is het begrip tijdpijl (‘arrow of time’) besproken. Het verband tussen die begrippen is dat de tijdpijl in de richting wijst van toenemende entropie, oftewel van de entropieproductie. Entropie wordt geassocieerd met toenemende chaos en afnemende structuur, maar de correcte omschrijving is de richting van een onomkeerbaar proces. Lees verder Kans, Tijd en Orde

Signals and Boundaries

Uitgangspunt was om de ontwikkeling van een onderneming te zien in haar omgeving zoals organismes co-evolueren in hun omgeving. In eerdere posts komt steeds de vraag terug waar het één, de onderneming, eindigt en het ander, de omgeving, begint. Voortbordurend op wat in de vorige post, Inductie, is geschreven: wat zijn de communicaties (‘messages’) tussen die verschillende entiteiten. En in dezelfde categorie: waaruit bestaat de communicatie binnen deelsystemen van ondernemingen. En de (of in elk geval een) heilige graal: zijn organismes, netwerken en CAS en de verschillende deelsystemen daarbinnen te sturen? Lees verder Signals and Boundaries


Een uitgangspunt van dit onderzoek is het gedrag van ondernemingen in hun context te onderzoeken als een organisme, zie onder andere de post Leven. Ik benader ondernemingen daarbij als een systeem: als geheel in haar context en zonder te kijken naar de details, zie ook de post Complicity en Simplexity. Op dit abstractieniveau heb ik geen verklaring voor het bestaan of het functioneren van bedrijven: het model heeft als het ware geen motor. Mogelijk zouden daarvoor vanuit de details wel (deel)verklaringen kunnen worden gevonden, maar die kan ik niet gebruiken. Lees verder Inductie


Eén van de aannames van deze blog is dat ondernemingen in feite levende organismen zijn. Of minstens dat ze zoveel overeenkomsten hebben wat betreft hun gedrag dat het gerechtvaardigd is om analogieën tussen bedrijven en organismen te onderzoeken. Een ander uitgangspunt is om niet te steunen op mogelijk mystieke of ‘iets-istische’ uitwegen. Er zijn geen ‘skyhooks’: mocht er (onverwacht) een model of een voorspellend systeem uit dit onderzoek volgen, dan moet dat op zichzelf kunnen staan. Er mogen best dingen onverklaard blijven (daar ga ik wel van uit), maar als een ‘goddelijke ingreep’ nodig is om het in de lucht te houden dan is dat op zijn zachtst gezegd een zwakke plek in het model. Lees verder Leven

Hive Mind

In elk bedrijf bestaat de neiging de activiteiten uit te breiden met nieuwe mogelijkheden om die bij voldoende belang in de gelederen op te nemen of iets bestaands af te stoten. Hetzelfde geldt voor het onderzoeken van werkwijzen om de huidige status-quo eventueel in te ruilen voor of aan te passen tot een verbeterde versie. Tegelijkertijd heeft een onderneming de neiging om bij haar ‘leest’ te blijven en om het huidige arsenaal aan activiteiten intact te houden en de bestaande werkwijze te behouden. Mijn vermoeden is (zie ook mijn eerdere posts) dat er één of andere balans is tussen die twee neigingen. Of is het: er moét een belans zijn om succesvol te zijn als bedrijf? In deze post 2 van 7 in deze conversatie zoek ik uit wat die samenbindende factor is die maakt dat bedrijven als zodanig in stand blijven. Lees verder Hive Mind