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The concept of autopoiesis depicts a living system as an autonomously self-fabricating and self-organizing unit within its physical boundary, generating and continually regenerating its own components, thereby maintaining the molecular and supramolecular hierarchy of interacting networks that self-assemble, self-organize and self-perpetuate the system.[1]

Roughly speaking, an autopoietic (literally, self-producing) system is a network of component-producing processes with the property that the interactions between the components generate the very same network of processes that produced them, as well as constituting it as a distinct entity in the space in which it exists. The paradigmatic example of autopoiesis is a cell, in which the components are molecules, the interactions are chemical reactions, and the cell membrane serves as a physical boundary that spatially localizes these reactions into an entity (or “unity”) distinguishable from its environment.[2]


  1. Luisi PL. (2003) Autopoiesis: a review and a reappraisal. Naturwissenschaften 90:49-59.
    • From the Abstract: The basic principles of autopoiesis as a theory of cellular life are then described, emphasizing also what autopoiesis is not: not an abstract theory, not a concept of artificial life, not a theory about the origin of life-but rather a pragmatic blueprint of life based on cellular life. It shown how this view leads to a conceptually clear definition of minimal life and to a logical link with related notions, such as self-organization, emergence, biological autonomy, auto-referentiality, and interactions with the environment.
  2. Beer RD. (2004) Autopoiesis and cognition in the game of life. Artif Life 10:309-26.
    • Abstract: Maturana and Varela's notion of autopoiesis has the potential to transform the conceptual foundation of biology as well as the cognitive, behavioral, and brain sciences. In order to fully realize this potential, however, the concept of autopoiesis and its many consequences require significant further theoretical and empirical development. A crucial step in this direction is the formulation and analysis of models of autopoietic systems. This article sketches the beginnings of such a project by examining a glider from Conway's game of life in autopoietic terms. Such analyses can clarify some of the key ideas underlying autopoiesis and draw attention to some of the central open issues. This article also examines the relationship between an autopoietic perspective on cognition and recent work on dynamical approaches to the behavior and cognition of situated, embodied agents.