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SozSys 1 (1995), H.2


Ecosocieties: Societal Aspects of Biological Self-Productions - Milan Zeleny

(1) In this sense, talking about, for example, "social insects" is inadequate as all insects - and also all other organisms - must be social by the virtue of their existence.

(2) So called "giant organisms" are good examples of genetically uniform societies. The Northern-Michigan creeping mega-fungus (30 acres, 100 tons) is just the "tip of an iceberg" of the unknown and to be uncovered world of biological societies. The Utah Wasatch Mountains stand of some 47,000 quaking aspen trees (106 acres, 6,000 tons) is another example of a communicating society, "marching" harmoniously over the mountainscape. Humans can hardly see the "whole thing," identify its boundaries or "prove" its intactness.

(3) In fact a very old (since 1896) and mostly exhausted paradigm (or paradigmatic aberration), fatally unable to explain even the prevalence of stasis in the fossil record or how one species could evolve from another.

(4) Holistic here does not coincide with the popular "wholistic" as the opposite or the complement to reductionism or atomism. J. Ch. Smuts's holism (1926) is based on the essential circularity of autopoietic systems: a whole is a unity of parts that affects the interactions of those parts. There can be no parts apart from the whole, and the whole cannot be contemplated apart from its parts: the whole is the parts.

(5) An infant is sustainable through his mother's care, but it is not self-sustainable as a separate, autonomous system. A mother-infant metasystem is not only sustainable by others, but also self-sustainable in its social or even physical milieu.

(6) We do not discuss the human-engineered and purposefully constructed social systems and institutions, although they are undoubtedly of great importance. Autopoietic behavior of groups can take place within them, at least temporarily, but it is not constitutive of them. There are spontaneous social orders and systems within a concentration camp, but the concentration camp does not emerge from them.

(7) This system is also reminiscent of the famous Bata-system of management in the 1920s and 1930s in Moravia (Bata 1992; Zeleny 1988c).

(8) This topological notion of "separation" still persists in some theories of systems, see, e. g., Miller/Miller 1992: A living system's boundary is a region at its perimeter that separates the system from its environment.

(9) The food moving through mouth and the digestive tube is not necessarily "inside" the body, but remains "outside," in the "captured" or "enveloped" environment of the body torus. The same holds true for all other "boundary" organs; there is no inside or outside, and boundary does not separate anything, except in the human observer's mind.

(10) Yet, the true roots of cybernetics are essentially non-mechanistic and rooted in protoautopoiesis and spontaneous self-organization (Zeleny 1990).

(11) This analogy was first suggested by the British geneticist Sydney Brenner.

(12) Why do biologists study protein production and cell proliferation, while neglecting protein degradation and cell death, amounts to one of the great mysteries of life. Is it the result of extreme specialization (Zeleny 1988b), where some study only the "ins" and others only the "outs" of the intellectual intercourse? Can such be a way towards understanding a "conception”?

(13) A promising start could be made by learning to properly pronounce the term apoptosis , meaning "falling from the trees," coined by Andrew Wyllie of Edinburgh.

(14) The index of this remarkable text does not contain any references to Autopoiesis, Maturana, or Artificial Life (AL). Yet it refers quite profusely to Abhidharma, Madhyamika, Mahayana, and Sunyata. This constitutes a profound enigma: the book clearly builds upon or motivates the former, while being profoundly irrelevant to the latter.


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