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I have been reading through "Autopoiesis and Cognition" by Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela. One of their goals in defining autopoiesis and the supporting concepts of simple and composite unity, structure, and organization seems to be to have a better language for expressing questions about what it means to be a living thing. At some point in the book, Maturana even mentions that this is a step towards a formal language and treatment of the subject. However, in the book, the discussion remains a step away from being formal.

Has there been a formal description of Maturana's autopoiesis proposed that would appeal to an analytic philosopher, mathematician, or theoretical computer scientist?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

A quick Google search came up with two promising papers, both available online.

The first is "Formal Description of Autopoiesis for Analytic Models of Life and Social Systems" by Tatsuya Nomura; the second is "Category Theoretical Formalization of Autopoeisis from Persepctive of Distinction between Organization and Structure", by the same author.

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As I understand it - being not an expert on the subject - some consider George Spencer-Brown: Laws of Form to be a formally logic equivalent of Maturana's autopoiesis concept (as well as of Luhmann's concept of society or Bateson's psychological approach), starting with the axiomatic instruction to draw a distinction (like drawing a circle in a 2-dimensional system) so that you have inside and outside. In Maturana's view (and he is said to have been influenced by Spencer-Brown) this distinction would be the organism. So, whenever organisms emerge in an environment, a basic distinction in the Spencer-Brownian sense has been made.

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