Some Remarks on Autocatalysis and Autopoiesis

Barry McMullin


Presented at the workshop
Closure: Emergent Organizations and their Dynamics
May 3-5, 1999, University of Ghent, Belgium.

Dublin City University
School of Electronic Engineering
Artificial Life Laboratory
Technical Report Number: bmcm9901


The notions of collective autocatalysis and of autopoiesis are clearly related; equally clearly, they are not quite the same. The purpose of this paper is to try to clarify the relationship. Specifically I suggest that autopoiesis can be at least roughly characterized as ``collective autocatalysis plus spatial individuation''. While some mechanism of spatial confinement or concentration is probably necessary to the effective operation of any collectively autocatalytic reaction network, autopoiesis requires, in addition, that the mechanism for maintaining this confinement should itself be a product of the reaction network--and should thus (?) be capable of separating or individuating otherwise identically organized networks.

I suggest an informal heuristic test to discriminate the (merely) collectively autocatalytic from the (properly?) autopoietic. Finally, in the light of this, I review a variety of published abstract or model systems (Alchemy, $ \alpha$-universes, Tierra, SCL).

Keys: Autopoiesis, Collective Autocatalysis, Individuality, Artificial Life.

Copyright © 1999 All Rights Reserved.
Timestamp: 2003-03-28