getting a grip on autopoiesis

Not knowing where to start… I decided to get a better understanding of this very interesting term that Petra said last week: autopoiesis.

I looked up ‘poiesis’ and this is the definition that I thought put it in simple enough terms:
Poïesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιέω, which means “to make”. This word, the root of our modern “poetry”, was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time, and man with the world. It is often used as a suffix as in the biology terms hematopoiesis and erythropoiesis. The former being the general formation of blood cells and the latter being the formation of red blood cells specifically.

I liked this interpretation of the word by Heidegger – he refers to it as “a bringing forth in its widest sense”; “the blooming of a blossom, the coming out of a butterfly from a coocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins…
… Until the moment of “ecstatis” is reached.. when something moves away from its standing as one to become another.”

The adding of “auto” to the start of this refers to self-reliant nature of the system/ organism to carry out this ‘process’. I thought i was getting lost in definitions, so I looked up Ken Rinaldo to check out some examples – and now I see why Petra said to look at his work after reading up on the concept of autopoiesis first.
He describes his work as “interdisciplinary media art installations look to the intersection between natural and technological systems. Integration of the organic and electro-mechanical elements asserts a confluence and co-evolution between living and evolving technological material. I am fascinated and encouraged with human kinds struggle to evolve technological systems that move toward intelligence and autonomy which are modeled from our current conceptions of the natural. “

Furthermore, he talks about the evolving nature coupled between human, machine, nature and culture. Even though his work is influenced by living systems, aritifical life, natural patterns and interspecies communication, I think I can draw a lot from it for my own project – where the relationships will be more between the “rules of engagement” (so to speak) and the gestural communication between bodies and a space. These exchanges between the “elements” involved (bodies, space, onlookers) of the will be used to design the mechanical aspects of the piece – determining the reactions and evolution of the entire system.

Rinaldo’s work is “self-organising”. The short clip that is posted below is an example of one of his ‘interactive sculptures’. More on this to come…

I found a lovely video on youtube, describing the concept of autopoiesis by a cute boy, which made it even more of a pleasure to watch… 🙂

I took some notes:
Organisation of an autopoetic system, is to produce it’s own structure. Not determined by their environment – Matrana and Varela were trying to come up with a way in not only describing what life does, they wanted to get to the “essence” of life – what is essential quality that separates an organic system from a non organic system – the notion of “operational closure” – structure of my body determines the input – the input is not a function of the deterministic structure – inputs do not exist objectively – internal structure that perceives the world.

From the perspective of autopoiesis, the essential characteristic of life – is not reproduction – just as a man who is sterile would still be considered to be alive; a self enclosed, self-creating, auto-poetic system would still be alive, – the essential characteristic of life becomes “autopoeisis” – self-creation – not reproduction.

My own operational closure, interacting with the environment – it would seem that the environment pressures the system and evolves the system… BUT if you look a little closer – the changes occur from my own internal structure – the evolutionary changes (physical and behavioural) occur is the environment permits… SO; There is a CO-EVOLUTION – being driven from inside-out AND outside-in. To a certain extent, there is enough freedom for the organism to decide it’s own evolutionary paths – so long as the evolution doesn’t contradict the environment’s restraints on what will allow the organism to survive, then the organism can proceed.
(Leads on the discuss the application of this perspective to questions related to free-will vs. determinism.)


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