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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars paradigm change, 31 May 2010
Roger John Harnden (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science) (Paperback)
This small volume is a seminal work. It is made up of four papers, each of which can be read in its own right: Humberto Maturana wrote the Introduction and the essay 'Biology of Cognition' (1970); while together with Francisco Varela he co-authored 'Autopoeisis: the organization of the living' (1973). Stafford Beer contributes an enthusiastic and clear Preface for the joint paper, in which he described its historical importance.

The significance of this book has not lessened since the time of its first publication in 1980. In all this time, there have been no substantive refutations as to the authors' claims, that autopoiesis represents a ground shift in our understanding of the molecular dynamics which realise living. Many readers might be reading this review from the context of other disciplines than biology: such as cognitive science, A.I. artificial life, social theory, philosophy, law, family therapy, in all of which this work has had a major impact over the past forty years. The reader from neurophysiology and biology is likely to have a somewhat different experience, in that the authors describe a radically new approach to living, one which has important statements about the biological bases for the evolutionary emergence of so-called higher human functions such as cognition, mind, and language.

The original investigations described here provided a key component for the development of reflexive approaches whether in the arts, philosophy or psychotherapy.

The long term implications of this new paradigm are still to be decided, but this foundational work is enormously relevant to the contemporary debate concerning sustainability and the emergence (or not) of a truly global community.

This is not an easy book, nor should it be. But it is fascinating and enormously rewarding for the serious reader in whatever the domain. It explains the theoretical grounding for recent studies concerning the origins of humanness in the biology of love, by Gerda Verden Zoller and Maturana.

Both Maturana and Varela in somewhat different ways, were to go on to indicate reasons to seriously question the notion of genetic determinism and any biological bases for inequality in human affairs, demonstrating how and why humanness itself in its more benevolent aspects can be shown to emerges from the biological autonomy of organisms, which when braided in their recurrent coordinations of actions to other autonomous individuals through the mechanisms they describe, realise an ethics of personal responsibility and love.
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