Castoriadis’s encounter with autopoiesis was a decisive factor for his philosophical trajectory. Its influence can be seen on four interconnected levels of his thought: his reconsideration of Greek sources for his later interpretation of trans-regional being as self-creating; his rethinking of objective knowledge; his ventures into philosophical cosmology; and his re-evaluation of the living being, especially in light of his dialogue with Varela. In brief, Castoriadis’s engagement with autopoiesis was significant for his shift towards an ontology of radical physis. His shift to radical physis does not point so much to a rejection of the project of autonomy, however, as, paradoxically, its simultaneous radicalization and relativization.
Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2012) Observing Environments. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 39–52. https://constructivist.info/8/1/039
Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
Analyzing the outline of the endless literature on consciousness, the separation between science and philosophy rather than being overcome, seems to come back in different shapes. According to this point of view, the hard problem seems to be how to study consciousness while avoiding a slip back to the old dualism. This article outlines the advantages of the phenomenological method. This method, more than getting over the mind-body separation, anticipates it through an open gaze, able to bring back the human presence as something structurally “ambiguous.” Reintroducing Husserl’s scientific project in a complete way, Francisco Varela opened up a research area yet to be explored, which promises to be fertile for neuroscience, provided that we accept that radicalism essential to phenomenology.
Ataria Y. (2017) The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything: Or some reflections on the feasibility of the neurophenomenology research programme. Journal of Consciousness Studies 24(1–2): 7–30. https://cepa.info/7757
In 1996 Varela established the neurophenomenology research programme (NRP). This project was not designed to solve what Chalmers has defined as the hard problem, but rather to offer a methodological remedy for this problem. The NRP seeks to bridge the explanatory gap by creating a reciprocal dialogue between the firstperson perspective on the one hand and third-person perspective on the other. Yet, twenty years after Varela’s NRP kicked off, it seems that the explanatory gap is still very much alive. This paper argues that as long as subjective experience remains at least somewhat inaccessible, we will not be able to bridge this gap.
Bäcker A. (2021) Zur Autopoiesis der Einbildungskraft [Towards the autopoiesis of imagination]. Gestalt Theory 43(2): 167–178. https://cepa.info/7444
Already in the romantic it has been assumed, that there is an existential interrelation between nature, human being and mind. According to this idea, there is a narrow interrelation of creation between literature, science, dream and reality, which should be expressed in a progressive universal poetry. Gestalt theory and the concept of autopoiesis, developed by Maturana and Varela, could be regarded as a scientific enhancement of this approach and are united in that sense. By analyses of dreams, it becomes evident, that neurobiological and mental processes are determined by the same principles of self-constitution and gestalt production. They are attending in equal measures to homeostatic conditions. The interaction of living systems with their environment as well as their evolution base on recursive reorganisation. Following this principle, imagination, speech and self-reflection are developed. The observer comes to existence by his own distinctions. Phenomenal appearance and real existence, poetry and scientific findings are results of the autopoietic organisation of living, of which we form a part.
Baecker D. (2013) A calculus for autopoiesis [Maturana and education as a multivocal and transforming daily experience]. In: Baecker D. & Priddat B. P. (eds.) Ökonomie der Werte: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Michael Hutter. Metropolis, Marburg: 249–226. https://cepa.info/7679
The paper looks once more at the understanding and definition of autopoiesis as developed by Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela, and Ricardo Uribe. We will focus on the question whether George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form presents us with a possibility of translating Maturana’s definition into a kind of a calculus. We look at Maturana’s emphasis on components, networks, and boundaries and try to figure out how this emphasis can translate into an understanding of form that knows about self-reference, paradox, and play.
Baerveldt C. & Verheggen T. (1999) Enactivism and the experiential reality of culture: Rethinking the epistemological basis of cultural psychology. Culture & Psychology 5(2): 183–206. https://cepa.info/2414
The key problem of cultural psychology comprises a paradox: while people believe they act on the basis of their own authentic experience, cultural psychologists observe their behavior to be socially patterned. It is argued that, in order to account for those patterns, cultural psychology should take human experience as its analytical starting point. Nevertheless, there is a tendency within cultural psychology to either neglect human experience, by focusing exclusively on discourse, or to consider the structure of this experience to originate in an already produced cultural order. For an alternative approach, we turn to the enactive view of cognition developed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Their theory of autonomy can provide the epistemological basis for a cultural psychology that explains how experience can become socially patterned in the first place. Cultural life forms are then considered as consensually coordinated, embodied practices.
Constructivism is an approach to knowledge and learning that focuses on the active role of knowers. Sanchez and Loredo propose a classification of constructivist thinkers and address what they perceive to be internal problems of present-day constructivism. The remedy they propose is a return to the genetic constructivism of James Mark Baldwin, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. In this article we first raise the question of whether thinkers like Baldwin, Vygotsky, Maturana and Varela are adequately depicted as constructivists, and subsequently argue that constructivism is caught in an overly epistemic version of the subject/object dichotomy. We then introduce a genetic logic that is not based on the Hegelian dialectics of negation and mediation, but rather on the idea of the recursive consensual coordination of actions that give rise to stylized cultural practices. We argue that a genuinely genetic and generative psychology should be concerned with the multifarious and ever-changing nature of human “life” and not merely with the construction of knowledge about life. Relevance: The article deals with perceived “internal” problems of constructivist approaches and proposes a genetic and generative psychology that is centrally concerned with human life-as-lived and not merely with life-as-known. The article furthermore raises the question whether key thinkers like Vygotsky, Maturana and Varela and are adequately depicted as constructivists.
Open peer commentary on the article “From Problem Solving to Problem Posing, and from Strategies to Laying Down a Path in Solving: Taking Varela’s Ideas to Mathematics Education Research” by Jérôme Proulx & Jean-François Maheux. Upshot: The aim of this commentary is to extend the work of Proulx and Maheux to include consideration of the teacher-observer whose role (in part) in the mathematics classroom is to ensure that curriculum goals are being met.