Autopoiesis

Evaluation Uncertainty

Beverly Parsons
Executive Director, InSites
www.insites.org
bparsons@insites.org
Autopoiesis is one of my favorite systems concepts because of its importance in helping us understand a crucial difference between mechanistic systems and  living systems. The term was coined by Humberto Maturana, a Chilean biologist. It means “self-making” or “self-producing” (the combination of auto meaning “self” and poiesis meaning “making”). In the 1970s, Maturana and his colleague, Francisco Varela, built their theory about what is life from observing how biological cells function. Maturana and Varela viewed the main characteristic of life as self-maintenance through the “internal networking of a chemical system that continuously reproduces itself within a boundary of its own making”.[1]

There are many transformations continually going on in a biological cell while at the same time “there is cellular self-maintenance—the fact that the cell maintains its individuality”.[2] A person, a tree, a bear, and a flower all differ…

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