sitemap Tutorial 2: Concepts and Constructs
Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer
Observer Web
Brought to You By:

Dr. Randall Whitaker
Copyright © 2001 Randall Whitaker

Randall Whitaker
Observer Web

Concepts and Constructs

Enola Gaia
Copyright © 2000 Randall Whitaker

This material may be freely cited, copied, and/or distributed, so long as the author attribution is included.




Already Presented in Tutorial 1:



autopoiesis, enaction, Maturana, Varela, autopoietic theory, biology of cognition, systems theory, second-order cybernetics, languaging, cognition, cognitive science, observer, phenomenology, epistemology, radical constructivism, enactive cognitive science



This tutorial designed to extend and deepen the basic orientation you should have received from Tutorial 1: Introductory Orientation regarding autopoietic theory / the biology of cognition.

The following sections each provide a summary overview of a key portion or aspect of these theories.


If you wish to go beyond this tutorial

...and learn even more about autopoiesis and enaction, the Observer Web offers you the largest single collection of materials and links for further exploration of these topics.

  • The literature cited in this brief tutorial is but a small subset of all the materials listed in the comprehensive Bibliography available here at the Observer Web.

  • Guidance for more detailed exploration of this field can be found in the Study Plan available here at the Observer Web.

  • Key articles and other materials available online can be accessed in the Observer Web's Online Reading Room.

  • To support more 'industrial strength' exploration, a massive compilation of this field's terminology and key concepts can be found in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica.

  • Finally, in-print books relevant to this field can be accessed through the Observer Web's Book Shop.






 Mechanicism: The Explanatory Approach



Here in Tutorial 2, we shall explore the concepts and constructs by which Maturana and Varela explain living systems and their phenomenology. Before we begin this exploration, we should acknowledge the particular 'stance' or 'approach' Maturana and Varela employed in undertaking their explanations.

Recall (cf. Tutorial 1) that autopoietic theory is characterized as following the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis. This path acknowledges the biological basis of the observer as the starting point for explaining cognition. The other path (objectivity-without-parenthesis) is characterized by a negligence to or rejection of the biological basis for the observer. The path of objectivity-without-parenthesis subsumes those explanations whose starting point is an 'objective reality' external to the observer (e.g., the physicists' basis of atoms and molecules). This does not , however, mean the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis denies or rejects the relevance of what lies outside the observer-unity's boundary. It only means the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis rejects the objectivity of an observer's knowledge of such extrinsic elements (i.e., their being knowable without qualification vis a vis the observer's biological nature and circumstances of observation).

This point is crucial to prevent astonishment upon learning that Maturana's and Varela's theoretical efforts were undertaken with strict regard to the physical universe within which living systems are embedded. In their early joint papers their approach was characterized as mechanicism. The admitted connotations of this mechanicism included ".. a biological outlook which asserts that the only factors operating in the organization of living systems are physical factors, and that no non-material vital organizing force is necessary." (Maturana & Varela,1980, p. 137) Phrased another way, this is an explanatory stance from which "...[n]o forces or principles will be adduced which are not found in the physical universe." (Varela, 1979, p. 6)

At this point you may be wondering if this mechanicism somehow contradicts the claim that the biology of cognition is itself an exercise in the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis. The answer to that question is, "No, there is no contradiction." The basis for that answer is that Maturana and Varela's mechanicism, though framed with regard to the tangible, is not dependent upon tangibility. Phrased another way, the fact that living systems were to be addressed solely in terms of 'physical factors' does not mean they were to be explained in terms of their 'physicality' -- i.e., the properties of the physical components constituting the living system.

"...[O]ur problem is the living organization, and therefore our interest will not be in properties of components, but in processes and relations between processes realized through components." (Varela, 1979, p. 6)

Maturana and Varela's mechanistic allusions extended to addressing living systems as 'machines'. Indeed, the seminal definitions for the concept of autopoiesis were presented as descriptions of an 'autopoietic machine'. The invocation of the term 'machine' stripped away fuzzy vitalistic attributions and afforded a clear focus on the living system in terms of what it essentially is and how it most essentially operates.


"In saying that living systems are "machines", we are pointing to several notions that should be made explicit.

  • First, we imply a nonanimistic view, which it should be unnecessary to discuss any further.

  • Second, we are emphasizing that a living system is defined by its organization, and hence that it can be explained as any organization is explained, that is, in terms of relations, not of component properties.

  • Finally, we are pointing out from the start the dynamism apparent in living systems and which the word "machine" or "system" connotes."

(Varela, 1979, p. 7, vertical spacing added for readability)



Because autopoietic theory was undertaken from the starting point of the observer's biological nature, it is consistent with the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis. In addition, the explanatory stance emphasizing relations is an instance of what Maturana would later call a mechanistic explanation:


"In a mechanistic explanation, the observer explicitly or implicitly accepts that the properties of the system to be explained are generated by relations of the components of the system and are not to be found among the properties of those components. The same applies to the mechanistic explanation of a phenomenon, in which case the observer explicitly or implicitly accepts that the characteristics of the phenomenon to be explained result from the relations of its constitutive processes, and are not to be found among the characteristics of these processes. ... In a mechanistic explanation the relations between components are necessary ..."

(Maturana, 1978, p. 30)



Now that the explanatory path and the explanatory approach have been presented, we are now ready to look into the theory's best-known concept -- autopoeisis.





 Autopoiesis and Autonomy

To many people, Maturana and Varela's work boils down to one thing -- the concpet of autopoiesis. This is why the body of Maturana and Varela's work is commonly labeled "autopoiesis", "theory of autopoiesis", and "autopoietic theory."

Maturana (cf. Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. xvii) coined the term around 1972 by combining the Greek auto (self-) and poiesis (creation; production). This combination of connotations was required to label the type of phenomenon which Maturana and Varela had identified as the definitive characteristic of living systems.



It is important to bear in mind that the construct of 'autopoiesis' was developed to characterize living systems (as opposed to any other systems). Maturana's original goal was to develop a novel perspective on perception and cognition. His starting point was the claim that "cognition is a biological phenomenon." In the course of his pursuit he found it understandably necessary to specify what 'biological phenomenon' means. This in turn meant he had to devise a definition of living systems before he and Varela could explain cognition as a biological phenomenon. 'Autopoiesis' became the core of the required definition, and as such it served as the explanatory context for subsequent constructs and concepts addressing the phenomenology of living systems.

Now let's move on to see what 'autopoiesis' is...

Living systems are composite unities (cf. Tutorial 1) -- i.e., they are comprised of components which cooperatively participate in realizing the system as a unary whole. However, there are composite unities which we do not consider to be living (e.g., bicycles or computers). To define living systems requires explaining what it is about them that distinguishes them from other composite unities.

As Maturana (1980a, p. 45) puts it, the concept of autopoiesis:

"...resulted from the direct attempt ... to provide a complete characterization of the organization that makes living systems self-contained autonomous unities, and that makes explicit the relations among their components which must remain invariant under a continuous structural transformation and material turnover."

Living systems (like all composite unities) exhibit both organization and structure (cf. the preceding section). The mere presence of organization and structure cannot therefore distinguish living systems from other systems. Maturana and Varela's insight was that living systems are peculiar in the sense that their organization is such as to facilitate their structure being continuously maintained. This structure is constantly being 'regenerated' through the production of new components.

In other words the living system is a living system because it produces itself via production of its own components. More specifically, the living system is a composite unity whose components constitute it via interwoven processes which generate the components themselves.

This was this perspective of intra-system component production within which Maturana and Varela framed the canonical definition for 'autopoiesis':



"An autopoietic system is organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components that:

  1. through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and

  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."

(Varela, 1979, p. 13)




  Any unity meeting these specifications is an autopoietic system, and any such autopoietic system realized in physical space is a living system.

What makes 'autopoiesis' distinctive as a definition for living systems?

If you go back and check most definitions (e.g., in a biology textbook), you are likely to find nothing more coherent than a list of features and functional attributes (e.g., 'reproduction', 'metabolism') which describe what living systems do, but not what they are. Because it is framed with respect to the constitution of a living system (as a specific class of systems), autopoiesis is a unique means for defining living systems in terms of their essential character (as opposed to their subsidiary features).

Autopoietic theory provides the primary (perhaps the only...) definition for life which is framed purely with respect to a candidate system in and of itself.

A deeper discussion of this theory's ramifications for biology is beyond the scope of this tutorial. If you want to explore this issue more deeply, you can begin with the following article:

Margaret A. Boden, Autopoiesis and life, Cognitive Science Quarterly, (2000), no. 1, pp. 117-145.

Available in PDF (Adobe Acrobat Reader) format at:


How does one determine if an entity is autopoietic?


  Varela, Maturana and Uribe (1974) laid out a six-step procedure for judging whether a composite unity is autopoietic. I have adapted that procedure to produce the Autopoiesis Checklist as a quick guide to evaluating whether or not an entity is autopoietic.


Two key points to bear in mind:



(1) Autopoiesis is not the entirety of autopoietic theory.

The fact that cognition was analyzed and explained in the context of autopoietic living systems does not mean that all constructs and concepts of autopoietic theory necessarily entail 'autopoiesis'. Neither does it mean that any application of Maturana and/or Varela's ideas must proceed from the basis of first evaluating an object of interest (e.g., a social network, a business process) as autopoietic.


(2) 'Self-(re-)production' is not the entirety of 'autopoiesis'.

The term 'autopoiesis' is commonly cited only in terms of meaning 'self-production'. The component-production perspective in which the canonical definition was framed reinforces this apparent priority on production. However, this is not the entirety of the concept. If you leap to the conclusion that autopoiesis is primarily a matter of (re-)producing one's own structure, you will miss the truly central theme of the concept.

The particular manifestation of a given unity -- its structure -- is not sufficient to define it as a unity. The key feature of a living system is maintenance of its organization, i.e, preservation of the relational network which defines it as a systemic unity. This organizational invariance or persistence is the critical outcome of 'autopoiesis', whereas componential (re-)production is the means by which it is accomplished.

The centrality of organizational preservation is illustrated by the fact that it is this (and not componential (re-)production) which Maturana cites in offering the single most concise definition of 'autopoiesis' to be found in the literature:


"...[A]utopoietic systems operate as homeostatic systems that have their own organization as the critical fundamental variable that they actively maintain constant."

(Maturana, 1975, p. 318)




  We therefore see the concept of 'autopoiesis' involves both organizational preservation and componential (re-)production, with the former being the central theme and the latter being the specific means characteristic of the class of autopoietic systems.

This way of looking at the concept raises the issue of whether or not autopoietic systems are a subclass of a more general class delineated in terms of organizational preservation. Phrased another way, the distinctions drawn above leave room to wonder if autopoietic systems are distinguished by their componential self (re-)production from a broader family of system types delineated within a broader context.

This was one of the themes Varela pursued in his work during the mid- to late 1970's. Varela expanded on autopoietic theory's original formalizations to delineate the systemic attribute of autonomy, of which autopoiesis is a subset.

The formal specification of autonomy is given in the following quote:





[Autonomous systems are]  "...defined as a composite unity by a network of interactions of components that



(i) through their interactions recursively regenerate the network of interactions that produced them, and

(ii) realize the network as a unity in the space in which the components exist by constituting and specifying the unity's boundaries as a cleavage from the background..."


(Varela, 1981, p. 15)



The difference between autonomy and autopoiesis is that autopoietic systems must produce their own components in addition to conserving their organization. Beyond this one distinction, autonomous systems exhibit the same defining characteristics originally specified for autopoietic systems.

Varela (1979) does not simply define autonomous systems as autopoietic systems minus the self-production of components. He emphasizes that the more general class of autonomous systems is defined by the attribute of organizational closure. The formal specification for this concept is given in the following quote:


Organizational Closure

[Systems exhibit organizational closure if...] "...their organization is characterized by processes such that

  1. the processes are related as a network, so that they recursively depend on each other in the generation and realization of the processes themselves, and

  2. they constitute the system as a unity recognizable in the space (domain) in which the processes exist."

(Varela, 1979, p. 55)



It is important to note that this property of 'closure' does not make autonomous systems 'closed' in the classic cybernetic sense of 'isolated from the environment; impervious to environmental influence'.

'Closure' doesn't mean autonomous systems are unresponsive; it only means that their changes of state in response to changes in their medium are realized and propagated solely within the network of processes constituting them (as they are defined).

Phrased another way, the difference has more to do with the way a system is defined than how that system (once defined) operates. A fuller explanation of this point can be obtained in Varela (1979).


The utility of autonomy versus autopoiesis



The organizational closure that defines autonomous systems is the characteristic most closely linked to the behavior of those systems being guided by their constitutions (as opposed to being determined by external causative events). Invoking autonomy, rather than autopoiesis, allows you to address and analyze a system's operations without the necessity of either demonstrating or reducing your explanations to the process of componential self (re-)production.

Some of the fields in which Maturana and Varela's work has been applied attempt to address as 'systems' entities which are difficult to describe (much less explain) in terms of their components and the self (re-)production of those components. The classic example is the 'social system' -- a composite entity clearly comprised of its participating (biological) social actors, but difficult to treat as the necessary producer of these human components. Much of the work dedicated to analysis of social systems as autopoietic has bogged down on demonstration of autopoiesis in the 'social space'. Indeed, no such analysis has yet succeeded in demonstrating social autopoiesis in terms of the clear-cut criteria found in the core literature (cf. the Autopoiesis Checklist).

Such impasses might well be avoided if analysts were to approach their subject matter in terms of autonomy rather than autopoiesis. Unfortunately, it would appear few if any researchers in these other fields are cognizant of the autonomy / autopoiesis distinction.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer




 Structural Determination




The organization and structure of a structure-determined system ... continuously determine:


  (a) the domain of states of the system, by specifying the states that it may adopt in the course of its internal dynamics or as a result of its interactions;

(b) its domain of perturbations, by specifying the matching configurations of properties of the medium that may perturb it; and

(c) its domain of disintegration, by specifying all the configurations of properties of the medium that may trigger its disintegration.


(Maturana, 1978a, p. 34, vertical spacing added for readability)



Structural determination is the principle that the actual course of change in a systemic entity is controlled by its structure (the totality of specific components' individual and synergistic properties within the arrangement by which they constitute the system) rather than direct influence of its environment.

The basic thrust of this principle is that the behavior of a system is constrained by its constitution, and potential system changes are circumscribed by:

  • the system's range of potential structural transformations

  • the set of potential perturbations impinging upon the system

Actual change is compensable behavior by the system's structure under perturbation by the environment and / or other systems in the course of its operation (cf. 'structural coupling', defined below). While a given perturbation may 'trigger' a change of system state, the particular change triggered is a function of the system's own organization and structure.

Since 'structure' refers to any constitutive element of a discerned unity, structural determination concerns the manner in which observed (-able) phenomena are explained, not some formalized manner in which those phenomena objectively occur. As such, structural determination is not simply a variation on materialistic reductionism, but an epistemological qualification.

Structural determination should not be equated with strict causal determinism, in which all specific interactions are predetermined. It only means the space of all possible classes of interactions is determined.

For example, in re-engineering an enterprise, the subject's structure does not uniquely predict its best new form. However, its structure circumscribes the range of new forms into which it can evolve without violating its organization (i.e., ceasing to exist as its current identity).

Structural determination does not constrain the set of interactions in which a system can be observed to engage -- only the set in which that system can observe itself to be engaged:

"If the living system enters into an interaction not prescribed by its organization, it enters it not as the unit of interactions defined by this organization ... and this interaction remains outside its cognitive domain."

(Maturana, 1970, p. 6)

This point is important to enterprise analysts and (re-)engineers. To the extent they proceed as observers 'external' to everyday operations, they engage enterprises at the intersection of the enterprise's domain of operations and their own domain of analytical activity. The behavior analysts observe in this 'intersection zone' may not be either representative of, or defined in accordance with, the domain of enterprise operations in which it is ordinarily realized.

Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer




 Structural Coupling




"In general, when two or more plastic dynamic systems interact recursively under conditions in which their identities are maintained, the process of structural coupling takes place as a process of reciprocal selection of congruent paths of structural changes in the interacting systems which result in the continuous selection in them of congruent dynamics of state."

(Maturana & Guiloff, 1980, p. 139)



Structural coupling is the central explanatory construct provided by autopoietic theory in addressing interaction / interactivity among systems or unities.

Given the principle of structural determination, interaction among systems is explained as "...a history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems." (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 75).

Structural coupling, then, is the term for structure-determined (and structure-determining) engagement of a given unity with either its environment or another unity. Ontogeny -- "the history of the structural transformations of a unity" (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 137) -- is the course of an organism's structural coupling. Put another way, ontogeny is "...the history of maintenance of [the system's] identity through continuous autopoiesis in the physical space." (Varela, 1979, p. 32) The reason Varela qualifies ontogenic coupling with respect to the physical space is that he was addressing living systems realized in that space (cf. earlier definition of living systems).


[Structural coupling is] "...a historical process leading to the spatio-temporal coincidence between the changes of state.." [in the participants.]

(Maturana,1975, p. 321)

[Structurally-coupled systems] "... will have an interlocked history of structural transformations, selecting each other's trajectories."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 48-49)



As such, structural coupling has connotations of both coordination and co-evolution.

It connotes 'coordination' in the sense that the coupled systems will (to an observer) exhibit some measure of correspondence or correlation in the manner and the course of their behaviors during coupling.

It connotes 'co-evolution' in the sense that the behaviors of the coupled systems may (to an observer) exhibit some measure of progressive individual 'attunement' during coupling and/or as a persistent (apparent) result of coupling.

In conjunction with the principle of structural determination, this provides a novel perspective on the interplay among systemic unities. The effect of the coupled behavior (e.g., 'coordination' / 'co-evolution') is thereby qualified with respect to the structures of the interacting systems, and not to some additional explanatory referent 'projected' onto the situation.


Case 1:  A System Coupling with its Environment

  "If one of the plastic systems is an organism and the other its medium, the result is ontogenic adaptation of the organism to its medium: the changes of state of the organism correspond to the change of state of the medium."

(Maturana, 1975, p. 326)



This is the case addressing the ongoing interaction(s) between (e.g.) a living system and its environs.

The reciprocal effect of organism and environment on each other provides an explanatory basis for addressing:

  • The particular state(s) in which these coupled unities / systems are observed

  • The course or trajectory of states observed over time

  • The ultimate viability of the organism to continue operation in the given environment illustrated by the following passage:

"(T)he continued interactions of a structurally plastic system in an environment with recurrent perturbations will produce a continual selection of the system's structure. This structure will determine, on the one hand, the state of the system and its domain of allowable perturbations, and on the other hand will allow the system to operate in an environment without disintegration."

(Varela, 1979, p. 33)


Case 2:  A System Coupling with Another System

"If the two plastic systems are organisms, the result of the ontogenic structural coupling is a consensual domain."

(Maturana, 1975, p. 326)



This case is the one most commonly invoked, because it sets the stage for addressing linguistic interactivity in mechanicistic terms.

In this case, however, the juncture between two observers in coupling is itself a higher-order domain of description, for which a specific label ("consensual domain") is provided.

A consensual domain is therefore defined as ".. a domain of interlocked (intercalated and mutually triggering) sequences of states, established and determined through ontogenic interactions between structurally plastic state-determined systems." (Maturana, 1975, p. 316).


"In each interaction the conduct of each organism is constitutively independent in its generation of the conduct of the other, because it is internally determined by the structure of the behaving organism only; but it is for the other organism, while the chain [of interactions] lasts, a source of compensable deformations that can be described as meaningful in the context of the coupled behavior."

(Varela, 1979, pp. 48 - 49)



Because consensual domains are defined both by the structures of their participants and the history by which they came to exist, they are not reducible to descriptions framed only in terms of either:

Phrased in a slightly different way, the participating systems reciprocally serve as sources of compensable perturbations for each other.

The effects of interaction on each participating system are 'perturbations' in the sense of indirect effect or effectuation of change without having penetrated the boundary of the affected system.

These effects are 'compensable' in both the senses that:

  1. there is a range of 'compensation' bounded by the limit beyond which each system ceases to be a functional whole, and

  2. each iteration of the reciprocal interaction is affected by the one(s) before.

This is why the structurally-coupled systems "... will have an interlocked history of structural transformations, selecting each other's trajectories." (Varela, 1979, pp. 48 - 49)


The notions of 'structural determination' and 'structural coupling' provide a basis for addressing human (inter-)activity in new and constructive ways.

To give a specific example, structural coupling describes inter-human communicative activity without being based upon allusion to a transfer of some ephemeral force or information across the boundaries of the interactors.

To give another example, this permits analysis of enterprises and their operations in terms of their general and actual form (i.e., their organization and structure). This approach maintains a focus on the subject enterprise and minimizes counterproductive bias toward a priori allusions to abstractions such as 'information flows', 'market forces', and the like.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer




 Cognition as (Inter-) Activity




"Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition."

(Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)



We attribute 'cognition' to a system when it is able to discriminate (in terms of response) among unit phenomena in its medium, synchronically (at a given moment) and diachronically (over time).

The evidence for this 'cognition' is effectiveness of system behavior in response to the dynamics of its milieu.

Today's dominant perspective on cognition is 'cognitivism' -- the idea that effective action is explainable in terms of algorithmic procedures for manipulating abstracted 'data' with respect to 'knowledge structures'. This approach is best known from the 'Human Information Processing' (HIP) school of psychology, artificial intelligence (AI), and the 'cognitive sciences' lying at their intersection. During the last decade, there has been a growing realization that cognitivism is at best a limited way of analyzing humans and their interactivity (cf. Winograd & Flores, 1986).


"A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself, and the process of cognition is the actual (inductive) acting or behaving in this domain."

(Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13)



Cognition is contingent on embodiment, because this ability to discriminate is a consequence of the organism's specific structure. From this perspective, cognition is what we attribute to systems exhibiting flexible and effective changes during structural coupling. A living system's organization circumscribes a domain of interactions within which activity relevant (and appropriate) to maintaining its autopoiesis is manifested.

Owing to this perspective, the object of cognition (e.g., the 'real world' or 'the environment') is necessarily qualified with respect to the observing organism. '[F]or every living system, its organization implies a prediction of a niche, and the niche thus predicted as a domain of classes of interaction constitutes its entire cognitive reality." (Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 11)

In later writings, this circumscribed 'cognitive reality' is usually termed a cognitive domain -- "... all the interactions in which an autopoietic system can enter without loss of identity..." or, with regard to the system as an observer, "...the domain of all the descriptions which it can possibly make." (Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 136)

Cognition in the autopoietic view is no more and no less than a living system's effective behavior within its domain of interactions. In other words, cognition is a matter of interacting in the manner(s) in which one is capable of interacting, not processing what is objectively there to be seen. As such, Maturana and Varela do not address cognition in the currently conventional sense as an internal manipulation of extrinsic 'information' or 'signals', as the cognitivist viewpoint would have us believe:

"This would mean that such inputs or outputs are part of the definition of the system, as in the case of a computer or other machines that have been engineered. To do this is entirely reasonable when one has designed a machine whose central feature is the manner in which we interact with it. The nervous system (or the organism), however, has not been designed by anyone... (T)he nervous system does not 'pick up information' from the environment, as we often hear... The popular metaphor of calling the brain an 'information-processing device' is not only ambiguous but patently wrong."
(Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 169)


A full exploration and analysis of Maturana and Varela's views on cognition lies well outside the scope of this brief Tutorial.


For now, it must suffice to say that their reinterpretation of cognition grounds cognitive activity in the embodiment of the actor and the specific context of activity. As such, autopoietic theory fits very well with current trends toward emphasizing 'contextualization' and 'auto-determination' studies of humans, their interactions, and their social systems.

Varela et al. (1991) provide a recent extension of these principles into an enactive cognitive science, which will be introduced and discussed later in this Tutorial.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer





Building from the tenets of structural determinism and structural coupling, Maturana constructs a model of languaging -- activity in which interactors mutually orient themselves to each other and to a subject.


"Linguistic behavior is orienting behavior; it orients the orientee within his cognitive domain to interactions that are independent of the nature of the orienting interactions themselves.

To the extent that the part of its cognitive domain toward which the orientee is thus oriented is not genetically determined and becomes specified through interactions, one organism can in principle orient another to any part of its cognitive domain by means of arbitrary modes of conduct also specified through interactions. However, only if the domains of interactions of the two organisms are to some extent comparable, are such consensual orienting interactions possible and are the two organisms able to develop some conventional, but specific, system of communicative descriptions to orient each other to cooperative classes of interactions that are relevant for both."

(Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 30)




Mutual Orientation in Conversation



'Orientation', as used here, does not mean directed acknowledgement or knowledge of some objective entity (cf. colloquial use of 'orientation' to mean 'instruction'). Instead, it refers to three types of co-orientations (coordinations) enacted within conversations among the interactors:

Coordination of embodiment

Coordination of embodiment refers to structural changes in the bodyhoods of the interactors. Co-orientation in terms of bodyhood (as contrasted with descriptions / explanations) is primarily a matter of facilitating the "mechanics" of interaction (e.g., addressing each other via posture, voice, etc.). This form of orientation is generally not available to an (external) observer.

Coordination of emotions

The second type of coordination is coordination of emotions. Maturana (1988a, p. 49) defines emotions in terms of "...dynamic body dispositions for actions ... that specify at any moment the domains of action in which the organisms move." As organisms, we are subject to emotioning -- "...a continuous flow of emotions and moods ... that changes the domain of actions in which the organisms move and operate, ... in a manner contingent on the course of their interactions." (Ibid.) The relevance to interaction is that "...languaging flows in the co-ordination of actions of human beings in a background of emotioning that constitutes the operational possibility of its occurrence, and specifies at any instant the consensual domains in which it takes place." (Ibid.) Coordinations of emotions are observable as coordinations of domains of action.

Coordination of actions

This third type of coordination does not refer to "coordination" in the sense of planning future activity. Instead, it connotes progressive harmonization in the behavior(s) of interacting unities. These are the primary orientational foci which will be explored further -- the progressive co-orientation of actions which an observer educes as common or similar behaviors indicative of (e.g.) protocol or consensus. Here lies the intersection with conventional accounts of discourse as a 'rational' activity, for Maturana defines rationality as "...the operation of the observer according to the operational coherences of languaging in a particular domain..." (Maturana, 1988a, p. 42).

Maturana's view of conversations as orientational dance is quite distinct from conventional perspectives on interactions in language. In colloquial discussions generally (and cognitivism specifically), interpersonal communication is typically treated as a 'piping' of 'information' among conversants. This view presumes 'information' is a quantum commodity, and it shifts the focus of observation from interactors to a presumed commerce in this commodity.

In their book Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson describe this view as a 'conduit metaphor' for communication, as illustrated below.



Conduit metaphor for communication
The Conduit Metaphor for Communication
(from Whitaker, 1992)



The notion of the conduit metaphor originated with Reddy (1979). The purported viability of this metaphor is based on the following assumptions:

  1. "language functions like a conduit, transferring thoughts bodily from one person to another;

  2. in writing and speaking, people insert their thoughts or feelings in the words;

  3. words accomplish the transfer by containing the thoughts or feelings and conveying them to others; and

  4. in listening or reading, people extract the thoughts and feelings once again from the words." (Reddy, 1979, p. 290)


Maturana and Varela (1987, p. 196) directly address the conduit metaphor (using the label "metaphor of the tube"). Their rebuttal of this viewpoint is based on their own principle of structural determination. They note that cognitivistic approaches conventionally treat this commerce in 'information' as a process through which the 'receiver' adopts a state determined by the state of the 'sender' as projected via the 'message', " though what happens to a system in an interaction is determined by the perturbing agent and not by its structural dynamics..." (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 196). Maturana (1978a) labels such events instructive interactions.

To say that the perturbations determine the state of the receiver is to put explanatory emphasis on the perturbations themselves, and this is why cognitivists prioritize the symbols and the signals over the interactors. In other words, for a sender to project 'meaning' in her symbolic utterances there must be 'meaningfulness' attributable to the symbols themselves. This is why the cognitivistic view of language concentrates on "...a denotative system of symbolic communication, consisting of words that denote entities regardless of the domain in which these entities may exist." (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p.50) The problem is that such an approach fails to explain how denotation can become conventionalized among interactors. It overlooks the fact that "Denotation ... requires agreement -- consensus for the specification of the denotant and the denoted." (Ibid.)


"So long as language is considered to be denotative it will be necessary to look at it as a means for the transmission of information, as if something were transmitted from organism to organism, in a manner such that the domain of uncertainties of the 'receiver' should be reduced according to the specifications of the 'sender'. However, when it is recognized that language is connotative and not denotative, and that its function is to orient the orientee within his cognitive domain without regard for the cognitive domain of the orienter, it becomes apparent that there is no transmission of information through language. It behooves the orientee, as a result of an independent internal operation upon his own state, to choose where to orient his cognitive domain; the choice is caused by the 'message', but the orientation thus produced is independent of what the 'message' represents for the orienter. In a strict sense then, there is no transfer of thought from the speaker to his interlocutor; the listener creates information by reducing his uncertainty through his interactions in his cognitive domain."

(Maturana, 1970: reprinted in Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 32)



In analyzing actual communication, the prevailing approach (presuming both denotation and the conduit metaphor) is very problematical. For most analytical purposes, communication is of interest with regard to what happens with or to the person 'receiving' it ('persons' in the case of reciprocal dialogue or one-to-many broadcasting). Because a quantum 'information' commodity is not defined with regard to the structure of the interactor(s), focusing on the 'message' blinds an observer (e.g., an enterprise analyst) to the actor and her activity during conversation. This leaves the analyst to wonder about cases in which apparently clear-cut 'messages' were not 'instructive' -- i.e., didn't induce the effect of their content.

In my long experience with team decision processes and other collaborative activities, I've found that such cases tend to be the rule and not the exception. For example, meeting participants are often operating with very different views of topics, intentions, and outcomes. Meeting participants may These in turn may be quite different from the views or orientations of an observer watching the interaction. This lack of consensual orientation is illustrated below.



Illustration of ambiguity among conversants
Ambiguity in Communication
(from Whitaker, 1992)



If one presumes instructive interactions, this sort of divergent orientation among interactors must be taken as evidence that either (a) the interactors are impeded in 'being instructed' (in the sense described above) or (b) the fault lies within the denotative system itself (i.e., suboptimal symbolizations). The most straightforward explanation is that of Maturana and Varela -- i.e., that language is connotative, and meaning is constructed rather than absorbed by the listener.

Now let's make another, deeper, pass through this theory's interpretation of linguistic behaviors...


"If recursion is possible in a particular kind of behavior ... a closed generative domain of behavior is produced. ... What is peculiar about a language, however, is that this recursion takes place through the behavior of organisms in a consensual domain."

(Maturana, 1978a, p. 52)



Maturana views language as the archetypal illustration of a human consensual domain.

Linguistic interaction is a venue for action, coupling the cognitive domains of two or more actors. This is reflected in Maturana's preference for discussing languaging (the act) as opposed to 'language' (a symbolic schema).

The primary function of linguistic interaction is therefore not conveyance of 'information quanta', but the mutual orientation of the conversants within the consensual domain realized by their interactivity. 'Communication' becomes a matter of mutual orientation -- primarily with respect to each other's behavior, and secondarily (only via the primary orientation) with respect to some subject. This is extremely important for delimiting the constraints on an observer's (e.g., an enterprise analysts') analysis of communicative interactions. In today's conventional (e.g., cognitivistic) approaches, such interaction is described as a semantic coupling -- a process by which each of the observed interactors computes the appropriate response state from some informative input from the other. Maturana warns that this is not warranted ...


Maturana argues against this notion of semantic coupling...

"(a) because the notion of information is valid only in the descriptive domain as an expression of the cognitive uncertainty of the observer, and does not represent any component actually operant ... and (b) because the changes of state of a [structurally] determined system, be it autopoietic or not, are determined by its structure, regardless of whether these changes of state are adequate or not for some purpose that the observer may consider applicable."

(Maturana, 1975, p. 322)



This moves linguistic interaction to a conceptual base whose elements apply to a much broader range of actors and interactions than symbolic data. The structural coupling of the participating organisms is the only operative element -- all other items treated in descriptions of linguistic behavior are secondary.

How, then, can one account for the seemingly secure framework within which we ordinarily consider conversation to occur -- shared lexicons, objective meanings, and syntactic conventions?

Maturana's writings evidence the following rebuttals:

  1. such a question is biased in its presumption that such a framework objectively exists, and

  2. such regularities are imposed by an observer.


"[T]he superficial syntactic structure or grammar of a given natural language can only be a description of the regularities in the concatenation of the elements of the consensual behavior. ...This superficial syntax can be any, because its determination is contingent on the history of consensual coupling ... (T)he 'universal grammar' of which linguists speak as the necessary set of underlying rules common to all human natural languages can refer only to the universality of the process of recursive structural coupling."

(Maturana, 1978a, p. 52)



The reclassification of communicational behavior from conceptual commerce to mutual orientation expands the range of behaviors we may consider as 'communicative'.

The autopoietic view of language is not constrained to coded symbols for the manner in which interactors couple. "The richness attained by a language ... depends necessarily both on the diversity of behaviors that can be generated and distinguished by the organisms that participate in the consensual domain, and on the actual historical realization of such behaviors and distinctions." (Op. cit., p. 51)

By disengaging interaction from lexical reference and grammatical performance, the autopoietic model implicitly allows for all manner of non-verbal or extra-verbal signalling -- a scope more akin to semiotics than mainstream linguistics.

By linking linguistic interaction with structural coupling, the context for signification (determination of meaning) is unified with the context of the interaction. This unification 'grounds' context in the individual's experience, rather than leaving it as a receding horizon of meta-symbolic determinants. This in turn unifies the two senses of 'context'-- determinant of linguistic 'meaning' and relevant situational background. This affords autopoietic theory a sound basis for addressing the context-dependent aspects of actual interactions.



Maturana (1978a) is the key source for autopoietic theory's account of linguistic interaction. If you'd like to read it in its entirety (and its original published form), you can jump to the Observer Web Archive Edition of this article (recommended only after you finish the Tutorial). The full URL for this resource is:

Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer








"...[T]he mind-body question need not be, What is the ontological relation between body and mind, regardless of anyone's experience? -- but rather, What are the relations of body and mind in actual experience ... how do these relations develop, [and] what forms can they take?'

(Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, p. 30)



Autopoietic theory's formal tenets provide us with novel means for explaining how biology underlies cognition. However, the ongoing processual flow of cognition is not so clearly explained, even though (as a process) its basic mechanisms have been described. The next step is to delve into the observing system's phenomenology -- 'the domain of all the phenomena defined in the interactions of a class of unities' (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 253). To address the phenomenology of everyday life one must shift the focus to those interactions through which lived experience is realized.

In their 1991 book The Embodied Mind, Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch bring phenomenological concerns into the world of cognitive science. Their goal is to incorporate everyday experience into the scope of studies which have heretofore addressed cognition in terms of disembodied rational processes, circumscribed by abstract concept units purported to mirror an objective milieu. This situation derives from the Western segregation of mind and body, a perspective commonly attributed to Rene Descartes.

Descarte: Mind versus Body

"Our science has been founded on simple location and misplaced concreteness' [and it] 'divides the seamless coat - or to change the metaphor into a happier form, it examines the coat, which is superficial, and neglects the body, which is fundamental. The disastrous separation of body and mind which has been fixed on European thought by Descartes is responsible for this blindness of science."  -- Alfred North Whitehead



Varela et al. reject Cartesian dualism because it has forced Western philosophers to postpone addressing experience until both the mind and body involved in experiencing have themselves been analyzed. Such analysis is necessarily hampered (if not prevented) by the fact that the segregation of mind from body leaves two competing starting points from which to proceed. Varela and his co-authors term the resulting malaise Cartesian anxiety -- an overwhelming desire for some fixed ontological reference point, and a corresponding dread of the chaos presumed to be the only alternative.

In Western philosophy, this fetish for fixity has historically led to prioritizing one of two foundations. Choosing the body (the material, the objective) leads in the extreme to a position of philosophical realism. Choosing the mind (the abstract, the subjective) leads in the extreme to the opposite position of philosophical idealism. These polar positions are twin horns of the dilemma for cognitive science -- these extremes "...both take representation as their central notion: in the [realist] case representation is used to recover what is outer; in the [idealist] case it is used to project what is inner." (Ibid., p. 172)

In The Tree of Knowledge Maturana and Varela (1987) characterized this dilemma as "(t)he epistemologic Odyssey: sailing between the Scylla monster of representationism and the Charybdis whirlpool of solipsism" (p. 134, Figure 35) "On one side there is a trap: the impossibility of understanding cognitive phenomena if we assume a world of objects that informs us because there is no mechanism that makes that "information" possible. ...On the other side, there is another trap: the chaos and arbitrariness of nonobjectivity... " (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 133)

In The Embodied Mind, Varela et al. restate this more precisely as "...the Scylla of cognition as the recovery of a pregiven outer world (realism) and the Charybdis of cognition as the projection of a pregiven inner world (idealism)." (p. 172) This later version clearly centers on representation as the crux of the matter -- objectivism mandating projection of its intrinsic features onto a passively reflective nervous system (mind as speculum mundi), and subjectivism mandating actively projection of the observer's intrinsic ideal(s) onto a reflective medium (world as mirror of the mind).

One of the dangers in this dilemma is the confusion caused by using 'mind' to understand the otherness of the 'world', one part of which is the 'body', which provides the basis for the 'mind', and so on ...


"Minds awaken in the world. We did not design our world. We simply found ourselves with it; we awoke both to ourselves and to the world we inhabit. We come to reflect on that world as we grow and live. We reflect on a world that is not made, but found, and yet it is also our structure that enables us to reflect upon this world. Thus in reflection we find ourselves in a circle: we are in a world that seems to be there before reflection begins, but that world is not separate from us."

(Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, p. 3)



They term this a "fundamental circularity" affecting all investigations of cognition. The "mind" reflecting on the world is itself dependent on its embodiment or structure (its biological base). Any knowledge of that structure is mediated by this same "mind". Another way to describe this is that any categorical statement about "the world" and / or "the mind" is made by an enquirer (observer), who remains outside the scope of the enquiry. This "standing apart" excludes the observing enquirer from the phenomenon she studies, even though her enquiry is conducted on the basis of that selfsame phenomenon.

Varela et al. proceed from the assumption experience necessarily predates and underpins enquiry. To overcome the "fundamental circularity" requires an explanation for lived experience to form a coherent foundation for description of mind, world (as experienced), and the relation(s) between them -- not the other way around. Maintaining a focus on experience as action allows inspection and reflection on the manner in which "mind" and "body" reciprocally engage to consummate experience.


Enactive Cognitive Science


The cognitivist and connectionist paradigms remain subject to the theoretical limitations outlined earlier. As a result, Varela, Thompson and Rosch suggest creation of an enactive cognitive science which:

Addresses commonsense action by...

"...treating context-dependent know-how not as a residual artifact that can be progressively eliminated by the discovery of more sophisticated rules but as, in fact, the very essence of creative cognition."

(Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991, p. 148)

Embraces the hermeneutic viewpoint that...

"...knowledge depends on being in a world that is inseparable from our bodies, our language, and our social history -- in short, from our embodiment."

(Op. cit., p. 149)

Denies epistemological absolutism by acknowledging...

"...knowledge is the result of an ongoing interpretation that emerges from our capacities of understanding ... rooted in the structures of our biological embodiment but ... lived and experienced within a domain of consensual action and cultural history."

(Op. cit., p. 149)

Admits cognition is embodied action, in which...

"...cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities ... themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context."

(Op. cit., p. 173)


To Summarize:


Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) outline what they see as the problematical positions evidenced in the dominant cognitive science paradigm (cognitivism) and the recently ascendant interest in connectionism.

They outline their enactive perspective as a third alternative, contrasted with the other two.

To Explore More Deeply...

Because the definition of enactive cognitive science is accomplished primarily through comparisons and contrasts with the other two paradigms, it is best explained in the same manner. I have prepared two tables presenting the general and the specific comparative analyses presented in The Embodied Mind. The first (Table ECS1) offers a summary overview of the three cognitive science traditions. The second (Table ECS2) provides a summary of how these three traditions address the key questions which the authors delineated as the criteria for cognitive science as a coherent explanation.

These tables are available on the Enactive Cognitive Science in Context Focus File page here at The Observer Web.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer









Autopoietic theory provides a rigorous theoretical basis for addressing humans and the social systems in which they participate.

Because the theory proceeds from formal specifications on systemic unities, its tenets can conceivably be applied to both.

Owing to the extent of Maturana and Varela's expansion of the core concepts to describe a phenomenology of living systems, the theory's scope is relatively broad. This permits researchers to apply its principles across a broader range of subject phenomena than is the case for other current approaches.

Because it is rooted in a formal analysis of living systems and cognition, the theory can support research focusing on individual subjects and their activities within an enterprise (e.g., workflow analyses, human factors / HCI analyses of specific information system users).

Because the theory includes an explanation for linguistic interaction, it can support research focusing on enterprise social interactions and communications (e.g., ethnographic studies; qualitative research).

The more recent focus on enaction initiated in The Embodied Mind has moved autopoietic theory's focus forward from formal models to dynamic phenomenology.

Having completed this overview, it should be clearer to you how autopoietic theory intrinsically supports attention to the three emergent themes in current studies of cognition, interaction, and social systems:

  • systemic perspective,

  • auto-determination, and

  • contextualization.

The first occurs by definition, the second by focus, and the third by the manner in which Maturana and/or Varela lay out the phenomenological aspects of the theory.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer
Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer




 Where to Go from Here...




This completes the Introductory Tutorial on the biology of cognition / autopoietic theory.

If you are interested in learning more about autopoiesis and enaction, the Observer Web offers you the largest single collection of materials and links for further exploration of these topics.


  • The literature cited in this brief tutorial is but a small subset of all the materials listed in the comprehensive Bibliography available here at the Observer Web.

  • Guidance for more detailed exploration of this field can be found in the Study Plan available here at the Observer Web.

  • Key articles and other materials available online can be accessed in the Observer Web's Online Reading Room.

  • To support more 'industrial strength' exploration, a massive compilation of this field's terminology and key concepts can be found in the Encyclopaedia Autopoietica.

  • Additionally, in-print books relevant to this field can be accessed through the Observer Web's Book Shop.

  • Finally, links to other Internet resources can be found in the Observer Web's Internet Resource Guide.


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer
Observer Web:  Autopoiesis & Enaction



Enola Gaia


GO ON to:
GO: Top of Page


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer



 Cited References



Maturana, Humberto R. (1970)

Biology of Cognition, Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report BCL 9.0., Urbana IL: Univ. of Illinois, 1970. This is Maturana's seminal presentation of the concepts and constructs comprising the biology of cognition. Although the material in this paper appears in revised or modified form in many of Maturana's subsequent articles, this remains the single best source for understanding the basic perspectives and positions of his theories. The critical status of this paper is evidenced by its inclusion as the first section of the primary reference book in this area: Autopoiesis and Cognition.

You can now access this important reference as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- a Web-based presentation of the material in its original format. Because this paper is very difficult to obtain in the form of its original BCL Report, it is primarily known via its appearance in Autopoiesis and Cognition. As a result, I have formatted the BCL Report document to reflect the pagination of its appearance in that 1980 book. This allows you to reference and cite the material with respect to the book's page numbers.

You can access it here at The Observer Web:

Maturana, Humberto R. (1975)

The organization of the living: A theory of the living organization, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, Vol. 7 (1975), pp. 313-332.

Maturana, Humberto R. (1978a)

Biology of language: The epistemology of reality, in Miller, George A., and Elizabeth Lenneberg (eds.), Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Eric Lenneberg, New York: Academic Press, 1978, pp. 27-63.

This paper is now available (with the gracious permission of Academic Press) as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- formatted to faithfully replicate the layout and pagination of the original publication. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

Maturana, Humberto R. (1978b)

Cognition, in Hejl, Köck, and Roth (eds.), Wahrnehmung und Kommunikation, Frankfurt: Lang, 1978, pp. 29-49.

This 1978 paper is one of the best papers to read if you need a quick introduction to Maturana's perspective on living systems, their cognition, and their phenomenology. Unfortunately, it is also the single most difficult Maturana article to obtain.

The volume in which it was published is a hard-to-find collection of papers given at a conference in April 1978 on the theme of 'The Theory of Autopoietic Systems as a New Foundation for the Social Sciences'. All the papers are in German, with the exception of Maturana's contribution, entitled 'Cognition'. It is a very concise article on issues of cognition, making it a highly-recommended paper for the beginner (if he/she can find it).

This paper is now available as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- formatted to faithfully replicate the layout and pagination of the original publication. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

Maturana, Humberto R. (1983)

What is it to see? (?Que es ver?), Arch. Biol. Med. Exp., Vol. 6 (1983), pp. 255-269.

This paper was originally presented in the International Symposium Comparative Neurobiology of Vision in Vertebrates, held at Punta de Tralca, Chile,. November 25th-27th, 1982.

Maturana, Humberto R. (1988a)

Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument, The Irish Journal of Psychology , Vol. 9 (1988), no. 1, pp. 25-82.

This paper is now available (with the gracious permission of The Irish Journal of Psychology) as an Observer Web Archive Edition -- formatted to precisely replicate the layout and pagination of the original publication. You can access it here at The Observer Web:

Maturana, H. (1988b)

Ontology of observing: The biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence, in Donaldson, R. (Ed.), Texts in Cybernetic Theory: An In- Depth Exploration of the Thought of Humberto Maturana, William T. Powers, and Ernst von Glasersfeld, Felton CA: American Society for Cybernetics [conference workbook], 1988.

An online version of this paper, edited by Alfredo Ruiz, is available via WWW at:

Maturana, H., and G. Guiloff (1980)

The quest for the intelligence of intelligence, Journal of Social and Biological Structures, 3 (1980), 135-148.

Maturana, H., Lettvin, J., Mcculloch, S. and Pitts, W. (1960)

Anatomy and physiology of vision in the frog, Jrnl. of General Physiology, Vol.43 (1960), pp. 129-175.

Maturana, Humberto R., G. Uribe, and Samy G. Frenk (1968)

A biological theory of relativistic colour coding in the primate retina: A discussion of nervous system closure with reference to certain visual effects, Archiva de Biologia y Medicina Experimentales, Suplemento Vol. 1 (1968), pp. 1-30.

Maturana, Humberto, and Francisco Varela (1973)

Autopoiesis: the organization of the living, a 1973 paper reprinted in: Autopoiesis and Cognition (Maturana & Varela, 1980), pp. 63-134.

Maturana, Humberto, and Francisco Varela (1980)

Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science [ Cohen, Robert S., and Marx W. Wartofsky (eds.) ], Vol. 42, Dordecht: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1980.

You can pursue this book now through the Observer Web Book Shop

Maturana, Humberto, and Francisco Varela (1987; 1992)

The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston: Shambhala / New Science Press, 1987. Revised edition 1992.

You can pursue this book now through the Observer Web Book Shop

Reddy, Michael (1979)

The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language, in Ortony, A. (ed.), Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979, pp. 284-324.

Varela, Francisco J. (1979)

Principles of Biological Autonomy, New York: Elsevier (North Holland), 1979.

Varela, Francisco J. (1981)

Autonomy and autopoiesis, in Roth, Gerhard, and Helmut Schwegler (eds.) Self-organizing Systems: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 1981, pp. 14-23.

Varela, Francisco J., Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch (1991)

The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience , Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1991.

You can pursue this book now through the Observer Web Book Shop

Whitaker, Randall (1992)

Venues for Contexture: A critical analysis and enactive reformulation of group decision support systems, Umeå (Sweden): Umeå Universitet, ADB (Dept. of Administrative Data Processing / Informatics) dissertation / report UMADP-RRIPCS 15.92, 1992.

Winograd, Terry, and Fernando Flores (1986)

Understanding Computers and Cognition , Norwood NJ: Ablex, 1986.

You can pursue this book now through the Observer Web Book Shop


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer
Observer Web:  Autopoiesis & Enaction



Enola Gaia


GO ON to:
GO: Top of Page


Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer Spacer