sitemap Encyclopaedia Autopoietica: Entry Point / Introduction

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Dr. Randall Whitaker
Copyright © 2001 Randall Whitaker

Randall Whitaker
Observer Web

Background Information

Enola Gaia

Copyright © 1998, 2001 Randall Whitaker


See the Copyright Restrictions for more info



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Copyright © 1998, 2001 Randall Whitaker
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, except as specified herein

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  What is This Encyclopaedia Autopoietica ?
The Encyclopaedia Autopoietica was compiled to provide an annotated compendium of the terminology developed and employed by Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela in devising their theories on the biology of cognition, the phenomenology of the living, and enactive cognitive science. Strictly speaking, the Encyclopaedia is therefore more of a dictionary than an encyclopaedia per se.

Because most of the seminal literature exists in the form of obscure papers or hard-to-find books, it was felt necessary to attempt to bring together such basic reference material in one resource which could be made globally accessible via the Internet through the World Wide Web nexus known as The Observer Web (Randall Whitaker / Umeå Universitet).

The goal of this herculean project was to generate a centralized reference work to aid students, researchers, and other interested parties in accessing and exploring this significant body of work.

The Encyclopaedia is designed to supplement and integrate the documentation base for Maturana and Varela's work. It is not designed to be a standalone textbook, tutorial or guide book. Phrased another way, the Encyclopaedia is designed to be employed as reinforcement for other readings and explorations of this work (or for idle browsing, if you share my perverse passion for reading the Dictionary... -- Ed.).

The Encyclopaedia was begun in 1996, and its construction has been ongoing. There is no claim that the Encyclopaedia is complete at the date of this edition's issuance. Owing to repeated requests from the global autopoiesis community, I had (during 1997) begun distributing ASCII text versions of this manuscript on a "need" basis. As the number of such requests (and the number of inquiries about the release of the Encyclopaedia's first edition) increased, it seemed that the time had arrived to make an initial version available on the Web.

This document therefore represents an evolving resource. With any luck, you will find this intermediate version adequate to your needs.


  What Material does the Encyclopaedia Offer?
The Encyclopaedia contains a listing of entries for the key terms and concepts which comprise the terminological base for Maturana and Varela's work.

The entries included in this compendium have been selected on the basis of:

  • Judged centrality to the theories covered

  • Presentation in the core / primary literature (1970-1980)

  • Significance of clarification / extension of the core theory after 1980 (by which time both Autopoiesis and Cognition and Principles of Biological Autonomy had been published).

  • Editorial whim.... ;-)

The editor (Dr. Randall Whitaker) is solely responsible for the selection / compilation work done to date in generating the Encyclopaedia. Concomitantly, the editor retains sole discretion as to the terms, sources, and other material which have been (and may be) added to this resource. Decisions of the editor are final.

The editor (Dr. Randall Whitaker) is solely responsible for the annotations and commentary which accompany the lexical entries. As such, this reference work may reflect opinions and / or qualifications to which Maturana and / or Varela may not subscribe. To the maximum extent feasible, the editor has worked to (a) emphasize points as they explicitly appear in the primary literature and (b) provide additional remarks judged defensible based on this textual foundation.


  How is the Encyclopaedia Arranged ?
The material is alphabetically ordered by key terms / words. Where there are two or more synonymous entries differentiated only by exact phrasing, both entries will be listed (although in some cases one entry may simply point to the other). Where there are nearly-identical, but different, spellings or phrasings for a single term, they may be collected together as one entry. In such a case, the phrasing / spelling employed for indexing / labeling the entry should not be taken as indicating any priority or preference.

A Topical Index (alphabetical listing of the contents, "hot-linked" to the respective entries) is provided at the end of this document.

There is an Encyclopaedia section corresponding to each letter of the English alphabet (with two merged sections for 'PQ' and 'XYZ'). At the beginning of each section, along with the title (the letter, of course) will be an entire set of alphabetic "hot links". By clicking on one of the "link letters", the reader can move directly to the beginning of any alphabetical section in the Encyclopaedia.

A Bibliography of reference materials cited in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica is given at the end of the document. This is not intended to be a complete listing of the primary literature on autopoiesis and enaction. Such a comprehensive listing of references can be found in The Observer Web's online Bibliography.

NOTE: The cross-reference "hot-links" are one-way pointers. By this I mean that they necessarily allow you to jump to the entry for the given term designated as the cross-reference label. Because multiple such items in the Encyclopaedia text may point to any given entry, there is no mechanism for automatically taking the reader back to the specific point from which she jumped.

You can use the "Back" button (or equivalent feature) in your Web browser to enable you to backtrack through your progression of jumps through the Encyclopaedia. !HOWEVER!: For most browsers, a 'Back' action will trigger a reloading of this entire file. Given the file's large size, this may prove to be slow. It is recommended that you use your Web browser's 'scrolling' feature(s) and the Encyclopaedia's built-in hot-link navigation aids as much as possible. These will be much faster than continously reloading the entire file.


  How are the Encyclopaedia's Entries Formatted ?
Each entry consists of a Title followed by a body of Text. The Text is comprised of my own prose with heavy dosages of citations drawn directly from the relevant literature. Large blocks of quoted material are separated into indented Block Quotations. At the end of many entries will be a line denoted "Cf. : ", followed by one or more Cross-References judged particularly relevant to the given entry. These cross-references are "hot-linked" so that you may jump to the entry for the listed term by simply clicking upon it. Cross-references may also be noted and "hot-linked" within the body of a given (sub-)entry.

Where there exists more than one sense, definition, or application of a term, the alternatives will be presented as numerically designated (1. , 2. , ...) Subentries. There is no particular criterion for assigning the subentries' numerical designations, and no prioritization or other factor should be read into the numerical ordering. Where cross-references are sufficiently differentiable between or among multiple alternative subentries, cross-reference listings (the "Cf. : " lines) may be provided for each subentry. When a cross-reference is made to a particular sense of a term (which has been accorded multiple subentries), the cross-reference will be of the form X N., where X is the term being referred to, and N. is the numerical designation of the specific subentry to which allusion is made.


  What Types of Illustrations are Provided?
There are three general types of illustrations incorporated within the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica. Each of the 3 types is described as follows:


A figure is a purely graphical image (i.e., a unary GIF) which in and of itself illustrates some point or issue. Figures are downloaded as separate GIF files and presented in the proper place by your Web browser. Figures are the most memory-intensive form of illustration used. In an attempt to conserve the readers' time and resources, figures have been limited to greyscale GIF files, and they are employed solely in those cases where the editor feels that "only a picture will suffice."


A table is a body of text elements arranged in an orderly manner -- typically for the sake of presenting comparisons / contrasts among multiple points or issues. Consistent and coherent browser-independent access to HTML tables did not occur prior to the HTML 3 standards. In an attempt to conserve the readers' time and resources, tables have been employed wherever possible as a more efficient alternative to figures.


A tableau is a combination of the figure's graphical effectiveness and the table's textual orderliness and efficiency. The device of a tableau has been employed in those cases where the editor found it necessary to merge the relative advantages of both figures and tables -- i.e., where illustrative effectiveness and expositional clarity required some of each.

How are the Illustrations Labeled?

The illustrations provided in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica are not serially numbered. Instead, they are labeled with (what may appear to be bizarre...) textual names. This was done to facilitate modularity (the figures being separate graphics files), ongoing evolutionary modifications (i.e., by avoiding repeatedly renumbering everything), and to provide the editor some measure of mnemonic support for linking all these things together.


  What Intellectual Property Restrictions Apply to this Documentation?
This document is copyrighted material: Copyright © 1998 Randall Whitaker.

As such, it is a proprietary product to which access is allowed subject to certain terms and provisions. I am happy to share it, but I am most definitely not 'giving it away.' The author / editor reserves the right to remove this document from general access at any time.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, except as follows:

  • Material excerpted from the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica may be freely used, provided author and source attributions are given.

  • Any individual may download and keep one (1) copy of the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica for personal reference.

  • University teachers may download and distribute the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica to students if and only if: (a) such distribution is done to support a specific class or course, and (b) said distribution is limited to one copy per person.

  • Any other copying, stockpiling, distributing, re-posting (e.g., on WWW) of the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica is expressly prohibited.

  • Any commercial or for-profit use of the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica (including distribution in non-university courses or seminars, or provision as a component of paid services) is expressly prohibited.

  • Any exploitation of this proprietary document outside the limits of the provisions given here will be considered an actionable infraction of international copyright law, unless done with advance written permission of the author.


  What Do I Need to Know to Access the Documentation?
First, for the 'bad news'. The HTML file that contains the textual corpus of the Encyclopaedia is over 750 Kb in size. By the time you consider the graphics files, etc., the downloadable 'mass' of the Encyclopaedia totals over 1 megabyte.

The 'good news' is that the Encyclopaedia is designed to be a standalone, self-contained resource. Once you get it downloaded, you will not have to spend any further time waiting -- you can navigate throughout the entire file without additional downloads.

Once you can see the Encyclopaedia, you in fact have all visible components resident on your computer (e.g., in your browser's cache file). From most browsers, you will be able to directly save the main file (the HTML file that contains the textual corpus) to your hard disk. If you wish to retain the entire set of resources (HTML file plus the graphics files) in a coherent browsable form, this is feasible if you are sufficiently proficient with your computer, your browser, etc. Consult your documentation (or simply experiment).


  What are my Downloading Options?

Direct Download of the HTML File

In other words, proceed to browse the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica like any other Web page.

This is a HUGE file!

Main HTML file (the text corpus) exceeds 850 Kilobytes

With all graphics, the total download burden is approximately 1.5 Megabytes

The size of this file may strain your computer's working memory (RAM). If your browser cannot successfully download the HTML file, try increasing the RAM allocation for your browser software, disabling the graphics download, etc. Actual demands, limitations, problems, and options will depend on your specific equipment and browser software.



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