Publication 4888

Collier J. D. (2000) Autonomy and process closure as the basis for functionality. In: Chandler J. & Vijver G. V. de (eds.) Closure: Emergent organizations and their dynamics. New York Academy of Sciences, New York: 280–291. Fulltext at
Most accounts of functionality are based in etiology, either design or selection. In this paper I give an account of function as serving autonomy, which is the closure of self-maintaining processes, including those interacting with the environment. Autonomy is inherently dynamic, being based entirely on interacting processes, whose organization constitutes the integrity of the autonomous system. The etiological account focuses on external factors, either intentions in design or outcomes in selection. It ignores any but idiosyncratic organizational requirements within the biological entity and in its interactions with its environment, even though these may play a central role in the functionality of the trait in question. In particular, there is no simple relation between adaptation on the etiological account and adaptability, a higher order emergent trait that plays a central role in behavior and the evolutionary and developmental genesis of intelligence. I propose redefining adaptiveness in terms of autonomy. The definition naturally extends to adaptability and focuses on the organizational character of adaptiveness, forcing attention on this central biological characteristic, which is easily ignored in the etiological account. The result is a much richer account of both adaptation and selection.

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