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
(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
(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.