July 10, 2008
Autopoiesis or What is Life?
I just thought you might want to be taken on a trip through my current academic topic. You may never have heard of it, but it is probably the best definition of what life really is. The theory of autopoiesis was made popular by two Chilean neurobiologists, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, who started out with a theory on visual perception and ended up with this general theory on cognition and life.
It basically says that you call things alive that have boundaries that are produced by the thing itself and that consist of components that all interact and thereby also produce themselves :D Freaky, huh?
In other words, autopoiesis means self-reproduction and tries to explain the difference between a lifeless car factory, where you put things in on one end and get cars at the other end without fail, and a biological organism that is intertwined with its environment, but only uses the material that surrounds it to maintain its own metabolism, not to produce things it can't use itself. That is what life does! It sustains itself :) Stunning!
Varela also says that the study of buddhist meditation techniques and philosophy can help western cognitive science advance in their understanding of the mind. I am for it! There should be more interdisciplinary teaching everywhere!