Autopoiesis and Spirituality

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The term “autopoiesis” was introduced by Maturana and Varela [1] around 1972 by combining the Greek words auto (self-) and poiesis (creation, production) to refer to the mechanism by which living systems continually produce themselves as autonomous unities.

When we speak of living beings, we presuppose something in common between them… Our proposition is that living beings are characterised in that, literally, they are continually self-producing. We indicate this process when we call the organization that defines them an autopoietic system… The most striking feature of an autopoietic system is that it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps and becomes distinct from its environment through its own dynamics, in such a way that both things are inseparable.

Inseparability of living systems from their environment claimed by autopoietic theory expresses the unity of universe and this unity is at the core of any spiritual doctrine and experience. To see and grasp the unity of life is the ultimate drive of any spiritual endeavour.

In the stream of spiritual writing the idea of inseparability is usually extended to encompass not only species in relation to their environment bit also species in relation to each other. For this reason, spirituality resists Darwinian biology where evolution is considered as a chronic, bloody competition (struggle for survival) among individuals and species. The new biology rooted in Complexity Science (and autopoiesis is in this biology) alters this view of evolution. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking. Life forms multiplied and grew more complex by co-opting others, not just by killing them.

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