4 Elaboration (I)

Autopoiesis grew and developed in many different directions after 1974. The computational approach was specifically pursued by Milan Zeleny, in a series of publications between 1975 and 1978 [49,54,53,48].

Zeleny first re-implemented the original model in the programming language APL, and then explored a number of different elaborations of this. In particular, he reported such phenomena as growth, change in shape, oscillation in chemical activity, and self-reproduction of autopoietic entities [49,48].

Prima facie these represent important demonstrations of progressively richer, life-like, phenomena within the framework of computational autopoiesis. However, there are some serious difficulties in assessing the significance of these results. The papers cited above do not detail the exact modifications of the original algorithm that gave rise to the new phenomena; but the qualitative descriptions suggest that, in at least some cases, the original constraints of local interaction, random motion of particles, and time-independent particle dynamics, may have been rather arbitrarily relaxed. If that were so, the interest of these results would be seriously diminished--in the sense that the more complex ``macroscopic'' phenomena may have been, in effect, implicitly programmed into individual microscopic particles.

The ideal way to address these questions would be, of course, to directly examine the software responsible. Indeed, this software was made available for use by interested researchers at the time [50, Note 11], although it is not entirely clear whether this was in a form that allowed access to inspect the source code. In any case, and unfortunately, it appears that no copies of this software have survived.1It is therefore now impossible to come to any more definitive conclusions. However, this very impasse clearly suggests an implicit lesson for the methodology of scientific research where the phenomena under investigation have their primary realization in the form of computers executing specific programmes. I will return to this important methodological question below.

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Timestamp: 2004-06-14