Publication 2536

Swenson R. (1992) Autocatakinetics, yes – autopoiesis, no: Steps toward a unified theory of evolutionary ordering. International Journal of General Systems 21(2): 207–228. Fulltext at
Autopoiesis was introduced into the literature by Maturana and Varela as the name for a particular system description which they claimed was necessary and sufficient to define the living and also to explain it. The term has been widely applied in the literature instead to spontaneous order production or self-organization in general, whether living or not. Zeleny and Hufford, authors of the focal paper for this volume, would like to continue this tradition. While their effort to seek the generic behavior of spontaneous order is to be commended, this particular move must be rejected. In the first place, if the concept of autopoiesis can be used in this way it immediately shows the concept’s failure to define and explain the living, making it enigmatic as to what is being generalized. In the second place, the whole concept of autopoiesis is contrived at its foundations where it is miraculously decoupled from the physical world to promulgate a solipsistic epistemology with abhorrent social consequences. An alternative ecological physical view is presented here which shows that purposive, creative behavior is a consequence of natural law itself where order is produced such that order acts back upon order to produce more order. The ecological view rejects subject-vs, -object debates (“us” vs. “reality”) as academic; all ordered states are higher-order symmetry states of the world itself. Social praxis and evolutionary competence have an amplifed meaning in such a world, one that is not yet fully determined and where small actions, intended or unintended, can produce large consequences.


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