Baecker D. (1994) The intelligence of ignorance in self-referential systems. In: Trappl R. (ed.) Cybernetics and systems: Proceedings of the Twelfth European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research, Vienna, Austria, 5–8 April 1994. World Scientific, Singapore: 1555–1562. https://cepa.info/7609
Self-referential systems theory does not provide for a concept of intelligence. There is even a certain resistance to intelligence that seems to block any explicit exchange of concepts with artificial systems theory. The paper describes the intelligence service in self-referential systems as the self-referential and, hence, paradoxical switching from the self-reference of these systems to other-reference. How this might work is shown by means of G. Spencer Brown’s calculus of indications and Heinz von Foerster’s notion of double closure.
Between 1984 and his death in 1998, German sociologist Niklas Luhmann developed a comprehensive theory of what he called autopoietic or self-referential systems. He worked out this approach both at the level of a social system as a whole and at the level of various social subsystems, such as state, economy, science, religion, education, art, family, and – the concern of the present article – law. My particular topics in this critical introduction to Luhmann’s theory are (a) its relation to more standard legal theory, (b) foundational or self-referential problems in law, and (c) the problem of law’s relation to other social spheres, especially politics and the economy.
Charlton M. C. (1993) Self-referential systems theory: A discussion of some theoretical developments. In: Stowell F. A., West D. & Howell J. G. (eds.) Systems science: Addressing global issues. Springer, Boston MA: 631–635. https://cepa.info/7638
This paper is essentially one about reflection upon theoretical development in Systems thinking. It starts from the ideas popularised by Fenton Robb and John Mingers in a debate about social autopoiesis in 1989. With some regret this debate has lost its vigour and an attempt is made in this paper to revive some of the arguments by discussing the self-referential systems theory of Niklas Luhmann. With a basic outline of Luhmann’s ideas in place, and a more general theory of social autopoiesis explained, I will use this framework to reflect upon some of the intellectual activity in contemporary systems thinking.
Clarke B. (2012) Autopoiesis and the planet. In: Sussman H. (ed.) Impasses of the post-global theory in the era of climate change. Volume 2. Open Humanities Press, Ann Arbor: 58–75. https://cepa.info/6171
Excerpt: From its inception in 1971 as a cybernetic theory of biological form, to its current presence on research fronts extending from immunology to Earth system science to sociology, from geobiology, artificial life, and cognitive science to a range of literary and cultural theories, the concept of autopoiesis has developed on the margins, not in the strongholds, of mainstream Anglo-American science. It may be that its persistent Continental and countercultural vogue has made it suspect there, and also, that its outsider status within this scientific academy has increased its extrascientific traffic. Additionally, as a recent Italian commentator has pointed out, “autopoiesis originated in a time-window (the early 1970s) when the world of biology was completely dominated by a vision of DNA and RNA as the holy grail of life. Alternative views about the mechanism of life didn’t have much chance of appearing in mainstream journals” (Luisi, “Autopoiesis” 179). The concept of autopoiesis is interesting, then, for its multifarious cultural history, itinerant discursive career, and contrarian stance. Moreover, it has been particularly important for enabling microbiologist Lynn Margulis to outline a second-order form of Gaia theory (see Clarke, “Neocybernetics”). Here I will connect the conceptual linkage of autopoiesis and Gaia theory to the wider discourse of self-referential systems.
Clarke B. & Hansen M. (2009) Emergence and embodiment: New essays in second-order systems theory. Duke University Press, Durham.
Emergence and Embodiment focuses on cybernetic developments that stem from the second-order turn in the 1970s, when the cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster catalyzed new thinking about the cognitive implications of self-referential systems. The collection opens with an interview with von Foerster and includes essays by Varela and Luhmann. It engages with Maturana and Varela’s creation of the concept of autopoiesis, Varela’s later work on neurophenomenology, and Luhmann’s adaptations of autopoiesis to social systems theory. Taken together, these essays illuminate the shared commitments uniting the broader discourse of neocybernetics.
Egner H. (2012) Who Observes? An Appropriate Theory of Observation is in Demand. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 12–13. https://constructivist.info/8/1/012
Open peer commentary on the article “Between Realism and Constructivism? Luhmann’s Ambivalent Epistemological Standpoint” by Armin Scholl. Upshot: One of the key aspects of constructivism is the role of the observer. As Scholl shows in his article, Luhmann shares this perspective, and beyond that opens up the concept of observation by transferring it from the micro level of individuals to the macro level of society. Luhmann goes even further by stating that all autopoietic and self-referential systems, i.e., all living, psychic, and social systems, can observe, leaving an anthropological view behind. With this, the question of the “who” in “who observes” gains new insights that, surprisingly, touch on one of the central research questions in quantum physics.
Fuchs C. & Hofkirchner W. (2009) Autopoiesis and critical social systems theory. In: Magalhães R. & Sanchez R. (eds.) Autopoiesis in organization theory and practice. Emerald, Bingley UK: 111–129. https://cepa.info/8264
Excerpt: First, we discuss Niklas Luhmann’s approach of self-referential systems, which can be considered as the most important approach of autopoietic social theory. Second, based on a critique of Luhmann, we introduce an alternative approach that we term critical social systems theory.
Gonzalez M. & Pessoa O. (2008) Emergence of Autonomy in Contemporary Artificial Agents: Any Novelty? Cybernetics & Human Knowing 15(3–4): 42–49. https://cepa.info/3334
The article by Arnellos, Spyrou and Darzentas discusses the question of whether an artificial system, such as a robot or artificial life, can be made genuinely autonomous. The negative answer that they present is sound, but seems to us to be a simple consequence of the definitions adopted. We argue that the theoretical considerations presented, based on the notions of functional emergence and meaning, need further explanation in order to give support for their argument. As it is presented so far, not very much novelty is added to the already existent research on autonomous and cognitive robotics and artificial life. Also, we would like to challenge the defenders of the ‘theory of self-referential systems’ to set up conditions in which the theory would be considered falsified. The problem of whether life and autonomy could in principle be sustained with components other than carbon-
Luhmann N. (1985) Society, meaning, religion – based on self-reference. Sociological Analysis 46(1): 5–20. https://cepa.info/2996
Excerpt: In recent years, general systems theory has taken a fascinating turn toward a general theory of self-referential systems, and I want to explore some of its consequences for a theory of society and a functional analysis of religion.
Märtsin M. (2007) Self and other in communication and cognition: The role of auto-communication and intersubjectivity in autopoiesis of psychic systems [The sense of the individual: Questions to Peter Fuchs: Autopoiesis, microdiversity, interaction]. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 42(2): 208–211.
By referring to Niklas Luhmann’s theory of self-referential systems, Aldo Mascareño (2008, submitted for publication) gives an account of system-environment interrelatedness, explaining how social and individual constitute each other through the process of communication and co-creation of meanings. Two possible extensions to his account are discussed. Firstly, auto-communication within the system that happens without any external reference needs to be taken into account while describing the existence and constant re-creation of psychic systems. Secondly, in order for the system and environment or two systems to communicate, an imagined and temporary intersubjectivity between the two needs to be assumed.