Monday, 1 December 2008

Self-creation alias Autopoiesis

Those who have mastered to read though the intricate works of Maturana and Varela will have noticed that these gents talk about living species as machines. They state that flies, humans, plants, cars, factories, etc. are machines! But fortunately, they see two types:
  • Allopoietic - machines that create other types of machines, such as a car factory that produces cars.
  • Autopoietic - machines that are capable of producting themselves, such as women that "produce" babies.

I really like this way of thinking. And thinkering about it a bit makes one realize how little mankind has been able to produce autopoietically. For almost every aspect of life we depend on allopoietic machines. Our electricity comes out of power stations that have a constant need for new fuel. New products like cars, phones, bricks, gas, coal, gold, books, carpet, precious metals, etc, all are produced by factories or mines that have no clue how to reproduce themselves. According to Maturana this is because autopoietic machines are capable of reproducting their organization, while allopoeitic machines can't do that.

Only in agriculture we are a bit near autopoietic-like production. Crops can be harvested over and over again from the same soil in the so-called circle-of-life, provided we are a bit cautious with the land and don't overuse it. Just like Life itself, it has to be looked after.

The only other category I know is the organization. How oftendo we speak about reinventing the firm? And indeed, more recently scientists like Stuart Kaufmann have pointed at the resemblances between the way organizations and living systems are autopoietic: they can both recreate themselves.

Another striking similarity is that many living systems and organizations have a kind of language. Many organizations have whole vocabularies of their own, just like any human being has its own version of reality, command language in his/her unique way, and formulates from his unique perspective.

Perspective, language and autopoiesis must therefore be deeply connected. Somewhere between Maturana, Varela and Kauffman there are links worthy to explore.

Hope this helps.

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