Bich L. (2016) Systems and organizations: Theoretical tools, conceptual distinctions and epistemological implications. In: Minati G., Ambram M. & Pessa E. (eds.) Towards a post-Bertalanffy systemics. Springer, New York: 203–209. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/3666

The aim of this paper is to present some system-theoretical notions – such as constraint, closure, integration, coordination, etc. – which have recently raised a renovated interest and have undergone a deep development, especially in those branches of philosophy of biology characterized by a systemic approach. The implications of these notions for the analysis and characterization of self-maintaining organizations will be discussed with the aid of examples taken from models of minimal living systems, and some conceptual distinctions will be provided. In the last part of the paper the epistemic implications of these ideas will be presented.

Bourgine P. & Stewart J. (2004) Autopoiesis and cognition. Artificial Life 10: 327–345. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/2263

This article revisits the concept of autopoiesis and examines its relation to cognition and life. We present a mathematical model of a 3D tesselation automaton, considered as a minimal example of autopoiesis. This leads us to a thesis T1: “An autopoietic system can be described as a random dynamical system, which is defined only within its organized autopoietic domain.” We propose a modified definition of autopoiesis: “An autopoietic system is a network of processes that produces the components that reproduce the network, and that also regulates the boundary conditions necessary for its ongoing existence as a network.” We also propose a definition of cognition: “A system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint.” It follows from these definitions that the concepts of autopoiesis and cognition, although deeply related in their connection with the regulation of the boundary conditions of the system, are not immediately identical: a system can be autopoietic without being cognitive, and cognitive without being autopoietic. Finally, we propose a thesis T2: “A system that is both autopoietic and cognitive is a living system.”

This paper reviews Pattee’s ideas about the symbolic domain as a phenomenon related to the self-simplifying processes of certain hierarchical systems, such as the living. We distinguish the concepts of constraint, record, and symbol to explain how the Semantic Closure Principle, that is to say, the view that symbols are self-interpreted by the cell, emerges. Related to this, the notion of complementarity is discussed both as an epistemological and as an ontological principle. In the final discussion we consider whether autonomous systems can exist in which constraints are not symbolically preserved, and if biological symbols can be considered to have a descriptive nature.

Fischer T. & Richards L. D. (2017) From goal-oriented to constraint-oriented design: The cybernetic intersection of design theory and systems theory. Leonardo 50(1): 36–41. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/2299

This paper traces the changing notions of constraints in design and of systems since the mid-20th century in the intersection of design theory and systems theory. Taking a second-order cybernetic perspective, the paper develops constraints as observer dependent, and it analyzes conditions under which constraints tend to be beneficial or detrimental. Ethical implications of constraints in design processes are established with reference to system boundaries. Constraint-oriented design is discussed as an alternative to goal-oriented design, and a method called constraint reversal is introduced as a strategy of deliberate defiance of constraints to support design exploration.

Hackenberg A. J. (2013) The fractional knowledge and algebraic reasoning of students with the first multiplicative concept. Journal of Mathematical Behavior 33: 1. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/992

To understand relationships between students’ quantitative reasoning with fractions and their algebraic reasoning, a clinical interview study was conducted with 18 middle and high school students. Six students, with each of three different multiplicative concepts, participated. This paper reports on the fractional knowledge and algebraic reasoning of six students with the most basic multiplicative concept. The fractional knowledge of these students was found to be consistent with prior research, in that the students had constructed partitioning and iteration operations but not disembedding operations, and that the students conceived of fractions as parts within wholes. The students’ iterating operations facilitated their work on algebra problems, but the lack of disembedding operations was a significant constraint in writing algebraic equations and expressions, as well as in generalizing relationships. Implications for teaching these students are discussed. Relevance: In this paper the author uses second-order models of students’ multiplicative concepts and fractional knowledge built from radical constructivism to explore relationships between students’ fractional knowledge and algebraic reasoning. The paper is therefore one contribution to the construction of second-order models of students’ algebraic reasoning, which is sorely needed by the field of mathematics education, particularly for students who struggle to learn algebra.

Hayles N. K. (2001) Desiring agency: Limiting metaphors and enabling constraints in Dawkins and Deleuze/Guattari. SubStance 94/95: 144–159. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4093

Excerpt: My focus is this essay will be somewhat different than in How We Became Posthuman. Whereas there I emphasized connecting embodiment with information, here I will be concerned with the role of metaphor and constraint in re-envisioning agency within posthuman contexts. If the posthuman implies distributed cognition, then it must imply distributed agency as well, for multiplying the sites at which cognizing can take place also multiplies the entities who can count as agents. I will take as my tutor texts Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Enacting the posthuman primarily through speech acts, these two texts mirror each other. One is a work of popular science that occasionally looks as if it is trying to do philosophy, the other a work of philosophy that occasionally looks as if it is trying to do popular science. Both propose radical reconfigurations of agency, Dawkins through the selfish gene and Deleuze and Guattari through “desiring machines” that engage in a ceaseless play of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. What can their mobilizations of metaphor tell us about the cultural significance of the posthuman, and what does their use or neglect of constraints imply about the viability of their respective projects? What is at stake in redefining agency, and how do these redefinitions of agency fit together with distributed cognition? Perhaps most significantly, what do these projects imply about our ability to exercise agency? Should we count as conscious human subjects capable of meaningful action, or are we rather assemblages of selfish genes and mutating desiring machines?

Ikegami T. & Suzuki K. (2008) From a homeostatic to a homeodynamic self. Biosystems 91(2): 388–400.

Life as an autonomous homeostatic system is discussed. A mechanism that drives a homeostatic state to an autonomous self-moving state is examined with two computational cell models. The mechanism is met with Ashby’s ultrastability, where random parameter searching is activated when a system breaks a viability constraint. Such a random search process is replaced by the membrane shape in the first model and by chaotic population dynamics in the second model. Emergence of sensors, motors and the recursive coupling between them is shown to be a natural outcome of an autonomous homeostatic system.

Johnson D. K. (2010) Footprints in the Sand: Radical Constructivism and the Mystery of the Other. Constructivist Foundations 6(1): 90–99. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/177

Context: Few professional philosophers have addressed in any detail radical constructivism, but have focused instead on the related assumptions and limitations of postmodern epistemology, various anti-realisms, and subjective relativism. Problem: In an attempt to supply a philosophical answer to the guest editors’ question, “Why isn’t everyone a radical constructivist?” I address the realist (hence non-radical) implications of the theory’s invocation of “others” as an invariable, observer-independent, “external” constraint. Results: I argue that constructivists cannot consistently defend a radically subjectivist theory of knowing while remaining entirely agnostic about the nature and existence of the larger world (including independent others). That is, any non-solipsistic account of human experience must explicitly acknowledge its extra-subjective, ontological dimension. Implications: It follows that no pedagogical, social, philosophical, or commonsensical insight associated with so-called “trivial” or “social” constructivism survives or receives any support from the move to radical constructivism.

Kravchenko A. (2016) Constructivism and the Epistemological Trap of Language. Constructivist Foundations 12(1): 39–41. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/3802

Open peer commentary on the article “Constructivism as a Key Towards Further Understanding of Communication, Culture and Society” by Raivo Palmaru. Upshot: Arguments are given against cognitive autonomy and individual consciousness as the premises in understanding social processes. The notion of the epistemological trap of language is introduced, and its constraint on how we construct the world is highlighted.

Moreno A. & Ruiz-Mirazo K. (1999) Metabolism and the problem of its universalization. BioSystems 49: 45–61.

Metabolism tends to be conceived either as an operationally closed network of production of components or as an autonomous apparatus of management of energy flows. Taking up some recent ideas that connect the concept of autonomy with thermodynamic requirements, we move further to defend the hypothesis that there must be a deep intertwinement between the relational-constructive logic of a basic biological system and the logic of its thermodynamic implementation. Hence, we propose that metabolism should be universally defined as the recursive self-maintenance of controls upon the energy flows necessary for the physical realization of a component production system operationally closed. Finally, being critical with some claims of the so-called ‘strong’ artificial life approach, we try to show that present ‘computational metabolisms’ are necessarily different in their structure and functioning from any real metabolic system, due to the distinct type of causal relations and mechanisms which are respectively established in them.