Publication 885

Hall W. P. & Nousala S. (2010) Autopoiesis and knowledge in self-sustaining organizational systems. In: Proceedings 4th international multi-conference on society, cybernetics and informatics (IMSCI 2010), 29 June–2 July 2010, Orlando FL. Fulltext at
Knowledge and the communication of knowledge are critical for self-sustaining organizations comprised of people and the tools and machines that extend peoples’ physical and cognitive capacities. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela proposed the concept of autopoiesis (“self” + “production”) as a definition of life in the 1970s. Niklas Luhmann extended this concept to establish a theory of social systems, where intangible human social systems were formed by recursive networks of communications. We show here that Luhmann fundamentally misunderstood Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis by thinking that the self-observation necessary for self-maintenance formed a paradoxically vicious circle. Luhmann tried to resolve this apparent paradox by placing the communication networks on an imaginary plane orthogonal to the networked people. However, Karl Popper’s evolutionary epistemology and the theory of hierarchically complex systems turn what Luhmann thought was a vicious circle into a virtuous spiral of organizational learning and knowledge. There is no closed circle that needs to be explained via Luhmann’s extraordinarily paradoxical linguistic contortions. Relevance: This paper criticises Luhmann’s concept of social systems based in recursive networks of communications and shows that an evolutionary constructivist unification of Maturana and Varela’s version of autopoiesis and Popperian (1972 and later) evolutionary epistemology provides a non-paradoxical understanding of the emergence of knowledge-based social systems.


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