Publication 882

Hall W. P. (2011) Physical basis for the emergence of autopoiesis, cognition and knowledge. Kororoit Working Paper No. 2. Fulltext at
Background(s): Physics, biology, epistemology. Perspectives: Theory of autopoietic systems, Popperian constructivist evolutionary epistemology and the biology of cognition. Context: This paper is a contribution to developing the theories of hierarchically complex living systems and the natures of knowledge in such systems. Problem: Dissonance between the literatures of knowledge management and organization theory and my observations of the living organization led to consideration of the foundational questions: What does it mean to be alive? What is knowledge? How are life and knowledge related? Method: The approach is synthetic and multidisciplinary. A theory of knowledge-based living systems is developed from first principles regarding the behavior of dynamical systems over time to combine the concepts of autopoiesis (after Maturana, not Luhmann), and knowledge (after Popper). Results: Autopoiesis and the construction of knowledge are inseparable aspects of physical phenomena scalable to many levels of organized complexity (e.g., cells, multicellular organisms, organizations, social systems, etc.). The result unifies theories of epistemology, physical dynamics, life, biological evolution, knowledge and social systems. Implications: The results highlight the importance of understanding autopoiesis as first defined by Maturana and Varela as a complex physical phenomenon persisting over time. Autopoietic “self-observation” is not paradoxical. As dynamic physical processes, any internal/external activities relating to “observations” are displaced in time. The worlds that living systems act on are not those observed. “Circularly closed” systems are actually open spirals along the axis of time. Relevance: The paper provides a framework for a unified theory of living systems based on autopoiesis and an evolutionary constructivist theory of knowledge. It provides a strong theoretical basis for a radical constructivism that remains connected to an external reality.


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