The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Autonomous Systems

The Chilean neurologist Francisco Varela adapted Humberto Maturana's biological ideas to his theory of autonomous systems. He merged the themes of autonomy of natural systems (i.e. internal regulation) and their informational abilities (i.e., cognition) into the theme of a system maintaining an identity and interacting with the rest of the world. 

The organization of a system is the set of relations that define it as a unity. The structure of a system, on the other hand, is the set of relations among its components. Components and relations among them may change over time without necessarily changing the overall organization. For example, a machine can be implemented by different sets of components and relations among them.

“Homeostatic” systems are systems that keep the values of their variables within a small range of values.

An “autopoietic” system is a homeostatic system that continuously generates its own organization, by continuously producing components that are capable of reproducing the organization that created them.

Autopoietic systems turn out to be autonomous, to have an identity, to be unities, and to compensate external perturbations with internal structural changes.

Living systems are autopoietic systems in the physical space. Self-reproduction can only occur in autopoietic systems, and evolution is a direct consequence of self-reproduction. 

By definition, an autonomous system is organizationally closed. The cognitive domain of an autonomous system is the domain of interaction that it can enter without losing that closure.

An autonomous system always exhibits two aspects: it specifies the distinction between self and non-self, and deals with its environment in a cognitive fashion. Therefore, every autonomous system (ecosystems, societies, brains, even conversations) is a "mind”.


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