The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Autopoiesis: an organization of components or of processes?

Posted in General by Tom Froese on February 8, 2007

There recently has been some discussion within our group about the fact that there are two distinct ways of defining autopoiesis, namely that it can either be defined as a specific organization of components or of processes.

Up to now I could not really see any advantage of preferring one way over the other, except that talking about an autopoietic organization of processes rather than components seemed to complicate things without any added benefit. However, while reading Bickhard’s (2000) paper “Autonomy, Function, and Representation, I realized that there actually might be a significant advantage in phrasing autopoiesis in terms of processes.

In order to avoid Kim’s major challenge to any claim of non-epiphenomenal emergence, Bickhard points out that the challenge is based on a false premise, because it crucially depends on a particle metaphysics while our best contemporary science tells that there are no particles, only processes. Bickhard concludes that “all scales of organization of process are candidates for the non-epiphenomenal emergence of new causally efficious power” (my italics).

It seems that if we want to be able to talk about a kind of “reciprocal” causality obtaining between the autopoietic system as a system and the autopoietic system as a unity, then (in order to avoid Kim’s charge of epiphenomenality) it is necessary to define the autopoiesis in terms of processes.



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