autopoiectic systems

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Autopoiesis is a neologism created by Chilean scientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. From the Greek word auto: self, and poiesis: creation, it is the property of a system to regenerate itself.

Maturana and Varela present this concept in a series of publications, which were originally part of a complex and ambitious approach: defining the living; determining what constitutes the essence of a living organism and allowing it to be characterized as such.

After several years of research, they finally came to this conclusion: it is its capacity for self-creation that defines life. In other words, an autopoietic system is created by itself: it is in perpetual renewal, and this regeneration is autonomous.

The autopoietic system par excellence is the biological cell, whose components are continuously renewed without modifying the internal structure of the cell that is organized in nucleus, membrane etc.

On the contrary, the canonical counter-example is that of the factory, which produces a product (a car for example) distinct from what it is itself (a factory). Here we find the essential distinction between production and regeneration. In addition, an autopoietic system has the particularity of being both closed, i. e. distinguishable, and open to its environment.

A border is organic or operational depending on the nature of the system being studied. These systems could be social, organic or biological. The border separates a system from its environment. However, it remains sensitive, finding in particular the resources necessary for its regeneration.  

The sociologist Niklas Luhmann, a prominent thinker in systems theory, later took up the concept of self-possession and related it to non-biological systems, arguing that it applied to them as well as to biological structures.

He therefore developed a social application of self-possession, where systems are described as combinations of interactions, which reproduce and call each other.

It is therefore on internal communications that the self-replicating dynamics of all social organizations are based.

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