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Autopoiesis literally means "auto (self)-creation" (from the Greek: auto - αυτό for self- and poiesis - ποίησις for creation or production) and expresses a fundamental complementarity between structure and function. The term was originally introduced by Chilean biologists Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana in 1973:
- "An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network." (Maturana, Varela, 1973, p. 78)
- "[…] the space defined by an autopoietic system is self-contained and cannot be described by using dimensions that define another space. When we refer to our interactions with a concrete autopoietic system, however, we project this system on the space of our manipulations and make a description of this projection." (Maturana, Varela, 1973, p. 89)
The canonical example of an autopoietic system, and one of the entities that motivated Varela and Maturana to define autopoiesis, is the biological cell. The eukaryotic cell, for example, is made of various biochemical components such as nucleic acids and proteins, and is organized into bounded structures such as the cell nucleus, various organelles, a cell membrane and cytoskeleton. These structures, based on an external flow of molecules and energy, produce the components which, in turn, continue to maintain the organized bounded structure that gives rise to these components. An autopoietic system is to be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (a factory).
More generally, the term autopoiesis refers to the dynamics of a non-equilibrium ( or non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) (Dyke, Charles, 1988, ch. 9)) system; that is, organized states (sometimes also called dissipative structures) that remain stable for long periods of time despite matter and energy continually flowing through them. A vivid example of such a non-equilibrium structure is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, which is essentially a gigantic whirlpool of gases in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. This vortex has persisted for a much longer time (on the order of centuries) than the average amount of time any one gas molecule has spent within it.
From this very general point of view, the notion of autopoiesis is often associated with that of self-organization.
An application of the concept to sociology can be found in the Luhmann's system theory, while the autopoïetic approach of Limone and Bastias was popularized at the Commercial School of the Catholic University of Valparaiso, starting from the thesis of Aquiles Limone (published in 1977) and model CIBORGA (popularized of 1998) with the collaboration of Luis Bastias, Cardemártori and others.
- Capra, Fritjof (1997). The Web of Life. Random House. ISBN 0385476760 —general introduction to the ideas behind autopoiesis
- Dyke, Charles (1988). The Evolutionary Dynamics of Complex Systems: A Study in Biosocial Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Maturana, Humberto & Varela, Francisco ([1st edition 1973] 1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living. Robert S. Cohen and Marx W. Wartofsky (Eds.), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 42. Dordecht: D. Reidel Publishing Co. ISBN 9027710155 (hardback), ISBN 9027710163 (paper) —the main published reference on autopoiesis
- Mingers, John (1994). Self-Producing Systems. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. ISBN 0306447975 —a book on the autopoiesis concept in many different areas
- Luisi, Pier L. (2003). Autopoiesis: a review and a reappraisal. Naturwissenschaften 90 49–59. —biologist view of autopoiesis
- Varela, Francisco J.; Maturana, Humberto R.; & Uribe, R. (1974). Autopoiesis: the organization of living systems, its characterization and a model. Biosystems 5 187–196. —one of the original papers on the concept of autopoiesis
- Luhmann, Niklas (1990). Essays on Self-Reference. Columbia University Press. —Luhmann's adaptation of autopoiesis to social systems
- Winograd, Terry and Fernando Flores (1990). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Ablex Pub. Corp. —cognitive systems perspective on autopoiesis
- Livingston, Ira (2005). Between Science and Literature: An Introduction to Autopoetics. University of Illinois Press. —an adaptation of autpoiesis to language.
- The Observer Web: Autopoiesis and Enaction: a website with more explanations
- An email list on autopoiesis: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Several papers on autopoietic theory are available through archonic.net
- A mindmap-collection of links and papers visualized by Ragnar Heil
- Autopoiesis in the Enterprise by Luis E. Bastias
- A short 'Introductory Overview' of Autopoiesis by Tom Quick
- Autopoiesis and knowledge in the organization by Aquiles Limone, Luis E. Bastiasde:Autopoiesis
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