Publication 7847

Damiano L. (2016) Autopoiesis: Three research directions for future developments. In: Luisi P. L. (ed.) The emergence of life. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 135–139. Fulltext at
Excerpt: My current research work on autopoietic biology relies on one of its most discussed and, in my view, promising operations: leading the two central questions of cognitive biology – i.e., “What is life?” and “What is cognition?” – to converge in one theoretical solution. Maturana and Varela conceptualized life and cognition as expressions of the distinctive form of autonomy characterizing biological systems. They defined this property as autopoiesis, and identified it as the capability of these systems to exercise on themselves an activity of self-production through an internal process of permanent (re-)constitution of their elemental components. In line with the emergentist approach developed by the early studies on biological autonomy, the two researchers referred this property not to single components, but to the organization of living systems, that is, to the functional correlation integrating the components in the dynamic units that these systems constitute. This approach defined the main theoretical issue addressed by autopoietic biology: characterizing the organization of biological systems, that is, hypothesizing a form of organization able to generate and maintain their autopoiesis – their self-production. Maturana and Varela offered a rigorous solution to this issue at the level of the minimal living system, providing the description of an organizational mechanism supporting the self-productive dynamics of the cell – its topological self-distinction included. This theoretical result, expressed in the notion of autopoietic organization, conveys the Santiago School’s most innovative contributions to the disciplinary areas related to cognitive biology – results on which my research work draws.

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