Autopoiesis and closure
This is just a comment on something that occurred to me after today’s seminar. While I was of the opinion then (and previously) that operational closure and organizational closure are probably just two different concepts describing exactly the same phenomena, I’ve now changed my mind. I now see the crucial concepts as follows:
– autopoiesis: a network of processes that produces itself in the physical domain
– organizational closure: a network of processes that produces itself in any domain
– operational closure: a network of processes that is characterized by self-reference
If we ignore the additional requirement that autopoiesis is limited to the physical domain, then it turns out that actually autopoiesis and organizational closure are one and the same. This could explain why the latter notion has hardly been used in recent literature, especially since it is not at all clear what the role of physicality in all of this exactly is.
Accordingly, the notion of operational closure appears more of a particular kind of non-representationalist epistemological stance which an observer can choose to adopt when studying a system’s behavior.
This is the case, for example, when we want to explain the operations of a system that is characterized by organizational closure (what Varela calls an “autonomous system”), and we do not want to make reference to any knowledge of the observer (because only the observer has epistemic access to both the system and the environment to which it is structurally coupled), but only to the system itself.
Of course, this is not to say that we cannot also study such a system in representationalist terms by distinguishing it as having inputs and outputs which somehow correspond to its environment, but we have to be clear that in such a case we make use of distinctions which do not pertain to the cognitive domain of the system itself.
Does this seem to be a reasonable way of interpreting these notions?