Publication 2324

Marks-Tarlow T., Robertson R. & Combs A. (2002) Varela and the Uroboros: The Psychological Significance of Reentry. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9(2): 31–47. Fulltext at
The Uroboros, or snake that swallows its own tail, symbolizes regeneration and renewal the world over. It was adopted by Francisco Varela as an icon for his reentry term in “A Calculus for SelfReference.” The present paper examines how the notion of reentry can be applied psychologically, to issues of autonomy and identity. According to Varela, all autonomous systems are structurally open and functionally closed, which leads to paradoxical qualities particularly evident in higher order cybernetics. First Varela’s early work is placed within a philosophical and historical context. Next, notions about biological autonomy are examined from the perspective of nonlinear dynamics. Then, the recursive dynamics of consciousness are explored through social mirror theories of identity formation. Finally, Varela’s ideas are applied selfreferentially to descriptions of his own experience as he neared death.


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