Re: Information basics 2

Chris Lees (
Thu, 22 Apr 1999 15:31:29 +0100

Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1999 15:31:29 +0100
From: Chris Lees <>
Subject: Re: Information basics 2

Robin wrote :

> >Pellucidity factor is fine. I'm paying attention.
> >Just not sure what to think yet. The only semi-
> >intelligent question I can come up with, is, I 'm
> >curious as to how, if at all, these ideas match
> >up against M. & V.'s Autopoesis ?
> I'm not really up on that, but I believe it's about self-organisation?
> Though that's probably not completely irrelevant, it's not something I
> see as playing a significant part in this particular story. It may well
> be necessary to explain how information processing capacity emerged, but
> I'm more interested in understanding what that means and how it works.
> On the other hand, coming from a slightly different direction, you might
> see autopoesis as indispensable! But we all have to draw lines
> somewhere, if only temporary ones. You can't specialise in everything!

Yes, I understand what you are saying, Robin.
I like to look at things from as many angles as possible. I guess, that,
from an autopoietical stance, that might be called something like shifting
'the cognitive domain' or moving through ' alternative or supplementary
explanatory pathways'; possibly what Richard means, when he speaks of
'flexing meme-space on the fly'.

Brief synopsis of Autopoesis attached below.

> Overview of Autopoietic Theory
> Background for Maturana and Varela's Work
> Maturana's early experimental work in neurophysiology and perception
> (Maturana, 1960; Maturana, 1968) led him to question
> information-theoretic notions of cognition. The theory he subsequently
> created and refined with Varela was originally intended to address issues
> theretofore subsumed under studies of 'cognition' and/or 'perception'. The
> theory's scope has not remained limited to those issues. It builds from its
> cognitive base to generate implications for (among other things)
> epistemology, communication and social systems theory. These additional foci
> have traditionally been placed under the jurisdictions of (respectively)
> philosophy, linguistics, and sociology. Why, then, should we consider them a
> subject of concern for a biologist? Maturana's direct reply is that
> 'Cognition is a biological phenomenon and can only be understood as such;
> any epistemological insight into the domain of knowledge requires this
> understanding.' (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 7)
> As a biological phenomenon, cognition is viewed with respect to the
> organism(s) whose conduct realizes that phenomenon. In autopoietic theory,
> cognition is a consequence of circularity and complexity in the form of any
> system whose behavior includes maintenance of that selfsame form. This
> shifts the focus from discernment of active agencies and replicable actions
> through which a given process ('cognition') is conducted (the viewpoint of
> cognitive science) to the discernment of those features of an organism's
> form which determine its engagement with its milieu.
> This orientation led to a systematic description of organisms as
> self-producing units in the physical space. The principles and definitions
> making up this systematic schema will be termed autopoietic theory's formal
> aspects. Deriving from this formal foundation a set of operational
> characteristics (e.g., self-regulation; self-reference), Maturana and Varela
> developed a systemic explanation of cognition and a descriptive
> phenomenology. The principles and definitions making up this systemic
> description will be termed autopoietic theory's phenomenological aspects.
> Autopoietic theory has been applied in diverse fields such as software
> engineering, artificial intelligence, sociology, and psychotherapy.

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