The Life & Mind Seminar Network

The Role of the Spatial Boundary in Autopoiesis

Posted in Seminars by matthewegbert on August 21, 2008

At the Life & Mind Seminar on Tuesday we very briefly discussed the importance of a spatial (physical) boundary in the context of autopoietic systems. I am interested in this topic, so here is my attempt to rekindle a discussion of it. Here is my view on the importance of a spatial boundary in autopoietic systems.

Much of the conversation on Tuesday focused on the idea of `boundary’ in the context of autopoiesis. There are two boundaries with which we are concerned: the spatial (yesterday often refered to as `the physical’) and the organisational.

A spatial boundary is a delimitation of a contiguous region of space. Examples of spatial boundaries include a soap bubble, a cardboard box and a cell membrane.

An organisational boundary is less easily visualized. It is a delimitation of a set of influential factors. From all of the influential factors involved in a car moving down a road, we can select a certain subset of factors – say those factors that keep the car on the road. However, the organizational boundary from autopoietic theory is a more restrictive concept than just a selection of influential factors. Unlike the selection described above, an autopoietic organizational boundary delimits a contiguous set of enabling processes. If we consider figure 1, this may become clear.

Figure 1: Two types of boundary. End points of arrows represent processes while the arrows themselves represent `enable’.