Month: January 2016


Autopoiesis – from the Greek ‘poiesis’ meaning reproduction – means simply self-reproduction. The concept was developed by the evolutionary biologist Humberto Maturana to describe a system capable of reproducing itself using only its own elements; elements produced by the system itself. Luhmann redefines the concept so that it is capable of describing self referential systems. In the following short passage he states that autopoietic systems can be identified by: ‘… their ability to reproduce the elements of which they consist by using the elements of which they consist. Autopoietic systems are not only self-organising systems, able to form and change their own structure; they also produce their own elementary units, which the system treats as undecomposable, as consisting of an ultimate “substance”. Hence autopoietic systems are closed systems dependent on themselves for continuing their own operations. They define and specify their own boundaries. The environment, of course, remains a necessary condition for self-organisation and for autopoiesis as well, but it does not specify system states. It interpenetrates as “noise”, as irritation, as perturbation, and may or …

Popper’s Theology Paradox

Having read as a teenager, and on his father’s advice, Spinoza’s Ethics and Principles According to Descartes, Popper concludes they are both: ‘… full of definitions which seemed to me arbitrary, pointless, and question-begging, so far as there was any question at all. It gave me a lifetime’s dislike of theorizing about God. (Theology, I still think, is due to lack of faith.)’ In Popper’s view, then, true faith stands alone. A commitment to theology, usually associated with only the most devout, has other connotations. A commitment to theology far from denoting the presence of true faith actually illustrates an element of doubt, of wavering of faithlessness. A References Popper, Karl Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (London: Routledge Classics, 2005) p. 14.

Richard Flanagan on the Autology of Literature

Novelist Richard Flanagan says English-language culture tends to see literature as a moral guide. If that were true, literature would issue from an external vantage point – a God-like perch from which it observes and describes us and offers us guidance on how to live: “But literature cannot do that, it doesn’t do that. It is of life, and part of life. And therefore it cannot escape life, and all it can do is remind us of the chaos at the heart of things, and in that chaos remind us that we’re not alone.” A Source: Bausells, M. ‘Richard Flanagan on Love, Life and Writing’, The Guardian, 26 September 2015.

The Knowledge Society

In an early formulation, Nico Stehr details nine key characteristics of what he terms the ‘knowledge society’. Stehr adopts this term in preference to ‘post-industrial’ society because, he argues, industry and manufacturing will always be with us even if they are no longer the dynamic drivers of growth and innovation that they once were. Accordingly, Stehr argues that “… the advance of science into the life-world and economic production may be described in various terms: As the penetration of most sphere of social action, including production, by scientific knowledge (‘scientization’); As the displacement, although by not means the elimination, of other forms of knowledge by scientific knowledge, mediated by the growing [11] stratum of and dependence on experts, advisers and counsellors, and the corresponding institutions based on the deployment of specialised knowledge; As the emergence of science as an immediately productive force; As the differentiation of new forms of political action (e.g. science and educational policy); As the development of a new sector of production (the production of knowledge); As the change of power structures (technocracy …

Humberto Maturana

Humberto Maturana was born in Santiago, Chile in September 1928. He began studying medicine in 1950 and received a PhD in biology from Harvard in 1958. In 1954 he studied anatomy and neurophysiology at University College London. He joined Heinz von Foerster at the Biological Computer Lab at the University of Illinois as a visiting professor from 1969-70. Known variously as a biologist, cybernetician and scientist, Maturana is probably best known for developing the concept of autopoiesis with his student Francisco Varela. This concept of autopoiesis, self-production, came from his readings of Bateson, Wittgenstein, Vico among others. It is a paradigm that insists on the autonomy of living systems and examines the reflexive feedback mechanisms they use. His work has been very influential in the biology of cognition, cybernetics, systems theory and beyond. His publications include: Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (with Varela) (1979) The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (with Varela) (1992) From Being to Doing: The Origins of the Biology of Cognition (with Poerksen) (2004)     Here …