# Author R. Robertson

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 https://cepa.info/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 https://cepa.info/2324
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.

Robertson R. (1999) Some-thing from no-thing: G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 6(4): 43–55.

Robertson R.
(

1999)

Some-thing from no-thing: G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form.
Cybernetics & Human Knowing 6(4): 43–55.
G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form is summarized and the philosophical implications examined. Laws of Form is a mathematical system which deals with the emergence of anything out of the void. It traces how a single distinction in a void leads to the creation of space, where space is considered at its most primitive, without dimension. This in turn leads to two seemingly self-evident “laws.” With those laws taken as axioms, first an arithmetic is developed, then an algebra based on the arithmetic. The algebra is formally equivalent to Boolean algebra, though it satisfies all 2-valued systems. By following the implications of the algebra to its logical conclusions, self-reference emerges within the system in the guise of re-entry into the system. Spencer-Brown interprets this re-entry as creating time in much the same way in which distinction created space. Finally the paper considers the question of self-reference as seen in Francisco Varela’s Principles of Biological Autonomy, which extended Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form to a 3-valued system.

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