Preamble: A Personal Retrospect

I must begin by acknowledging my debt, both personal and intellectual, to Francisco Varela.

I met Francisco for the first time in 1991--at the very first European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL). As co-organiser of the conference he was, of course, rather busy, so I was quite diffident in approaching him. Yet he was immediately welcoming, and happy to take the time to sit and discuss with me my initial tentative exploration of the concept of autopoiesis.

Subsequently we corresponded at some length, and in 1992 he accepted an invitation to Dublin to participate in the workshop Autopoiesis and Perception, which I co-organised with my colleague Noel Murphy [32]. We continued to correspond and meet at intervals over the following years. I particularly remember a discussion over dinner one evening during the third ECAL (Grenada, Spain, in 1995), where he dazzled me not only with his ability to maintain three simultaneous conversations with different people, but to do so in three (or more?) different languages, switching continuously between them!

In any case, that particular conversation laid the basis for a more intense correspondence over the following two years that culminated in an exhaustive (and exhausting?) re-examination of the original, computational model of autopoiesis [46]. This will be discussed in more detail below; for now it is enough to note that it ultimately resolved a number of difficult questions regarding the earlier work--but that this resolution was possible only because of Francisco's unfailing patience with my questions, and cheerful willingness to dredge both his memory and his files to locate critical contemporary records of the work.

Francisco Varela was a brilliant and original scientist. But my enduring memory is of Francisco the man: his enthusiasm, his infectious good humour, his idealism, and his sheer appetite for life. He is sorely missed.

Copyright © 2004 All Rights Reserved.
Timestamp: 2004-06-14