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Autopoiesis

a brief working definition for metadesigners


Staying Alive

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  • in the 1970s, biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela described the self-organizing capacity of living systems as autopoiesis (from Greek):
    • ‘Auto’ means ‘self’
    • ‘Poiesis’ means ‘production’ or ‘creation.’
  • This autonomy is expressed in their internal unity as an organized self-realizing, ‘autopoietic’ system.
  • An autopoietic system is described as a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which:
    • 1) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them
    • 2) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network (Maturana & Varela, 1973: 78-9)

Relevance for metadesigners

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  • Maturana and Varela’s theory puts great store by the way that respective ‘self-identities’ are managed.
  • Autopoiesis works when organisms manage the relationship between their self-identity and their image, as conveyed back to them by the environment (e.g. other organisms and conditions that impinge on their world).
  • This theory is useful for metadesigners, and managers of brand identities.
  • Whether the term ‘living system’ refers to a small biological organism, or to a large institution or corporation, is irrelevant to the theory.
  • It suggests that survival always depends on self-adaptation to new conditions and/or changing one's identity.
  • Maturana and Varela theory implies that the only cause of an organism's 'death' is an insufficient match (i.e. operationally) between its internal and its external identity.
  • The idea of ‘self-identity’ is, therefore, of paramount important, as it encompasses the existential predicament of all human beings, irrespective of location, tongue, age, class or ethnicity.
  • Nevertheless, it is habits of language and culture that regulate the (different) ways that people interpret what is meant, here, by ‘identity’.

Further reading

  • Maturana, H. R. (1997), Metadesign, accessed from Instituto de Terapia Cognitiva INTECO, Providencia 2608 of. 62, Santiago, CHILE.
  • Maturana, H. & Varela, F.,(1992). The Tree of Knowledge; biological roots of understanding. Boston: Shambala.
  • Maturana, H. & Varela, F. (1980). “Autopoiesis and Cognition; the realisation of the Living.” In Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science. Boston: Reidel.
  • Varela, F., Maturana, H. & Uribe, R. (1974) "Autopoiesis: the organization of living systems, its characterization and a model". Biosystems 5, pp. 187–196.
  • See Biesecker, A., (1998), Economic Rationales and a Wealth of Time, in pursuit of a new economy of time

See Sympoiesis
See Allopoiesis
See Apoptosis
See Languaging
See Jeong
See Structural Coupling
Return to Glossary

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