Table of Contents
Life and persistence
Function and Metabolism
The Thought Experiment
Life as a dynamic system
What is catalysis?
What are solitons?
Solitons in biology
Scale invariance in biology
Structure, energy, unity and resonance
Application of catalysis 1
Application of catalysis 2
Life as catalysis
Ontology of consciousness
Fractal catalysis and autopoiesis 1
Fractal catalysis and autopoiesis 2
Fractal catalysis and autopoiesis - 2
Given the predominance of the theme of catalysis, is the concept of autopoiesis relevant to the scale invariant catalytic model? The answer to this question is 'Yes.' There is striking similarity between the central idea of autopoiesis as a dynamic self generating process and the proposed agent of catalysis -- the soliton wave. As has already been discussed, the soliton is a highly dynamic non-linear wave that maintains its structure and energy over long distances in time and/or space. This is achieved because the soliton has a highly dynamic organization where the organization can be understood to be instrumental in preserving that same organization. However, there is a clear difference. The theory of autopoiesis involves the idea of a cycle. It must be pointed out that solitons are not cyclic phenomena. If one imagines a soliton moving down a canal we can clearly see that water moves through the soliton - there is no aspect of the soliton that can be regarded as cyclic. The essential difference then, is that the organization is preserved, not as a result of a circular organization, but rather, as a consequence of invariance in the boundary conditions.
The most striking similarity between the central concept of autopoiesis and the scale invariant catalytic model is found in the way in which the soliton is applied to the problem of cognition. The concept of autopoiesis, a process which unites the various components of a system into a single unified organization, is applied directly to the problem of cognition to show that the 'content' of our perceptions equates to a unique ontological state, where each aspect of the of the object of perception exists in relation to each other aspect. This may seem to imply a kind of circularity; however, if we consider the triangle before it is perceived, (i.e., as a set of discontinuous events in space and time) and compare it to the unified neural phenomena of perception, we can see that the coherence of the triangle as an object of perception requires the constant 'throughput' of invariance to sustain itself. Again, this underscores the fact that the soliton is not cyclic.
The collapse of production and maintenance into a single process is the primary insight of the theory of autopoiesis. However, within the scale invariant catalytic model, autopoiesis is seen to be possible only within the context of catalysis, which itself involves a more basic collapse -- that between energy and structure. Any classical process is an interplay of energy and matter which means that an autopoietic process involves both these elements also. The theory of catalysis that is being suggested here argues that the phenomenon of catalysis necessarily involves a unique synthesis between energy and matter and the structure that it embodies.
Imagine the problem for an autopoietic process, not only must it embody a set of highly dynamic relationships that generate the same set of relationships, but they must also utilize energy to do so in such a way that integrates itself seamlessly into the organization. Autopoiesis itself does not suggest a simple solution to how this comes about. I suggest that catalysis does precisely this. Although it is, as yet, not generally agreed how the soliton effects the process of catalysis, nevertheless, from its general properties we can gain a little insight. For the soliton to exist at all there must be invariance in the environment. This invariance is equivalent to the 'order' or structure in the environment (substrate). To utilize an analogy with the proviso that it may be inappropriate, there would appear to be a resonance phenomenon at work. Energy (in the form of a soliton) is not simply being utilized to effect a transition - as in a machine. It is rather that the energy is 'tuned' to the order implicit in the substrate such that energy and structure work together.
The soliton is making the boundary condition of the bottom of the canal continuous with the dynamic of the wave. This is consistent with one of the major ideas being developed in the scale invariant catalytic theory, i.e. that catalysis is a process that works by removing the discontinuity between energy and structure and thus enabling them to work together. By contextualizing autopoiesis within catalysis we can readily see that matter and energy do not represent separate aspects of the autopoietic process; rather the bringing together of energy and structure in the form of a soliton is the baseline of any catalytic process.
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Having studied autopoiesis in a limited way (and therefore I offer apologies in advance if this evaluation proves incorrect), I was very surprised to find that the concept of autopoiesis was not applied in a direct way to the problem of cognition. This seems to be underlined by the fact that cognition, within the theory of autopoiesis, is considered to be a phenomenon that is an internal state of the organism. Furthermore, the phenomena of cognition are primarily determined by the organization of the organism rather than the organization of the stimulus (Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13). Conversely, within the scale invariant catalytic model the phenomena of cognition are essentially autopoietic where the organizational elements necessary for autopoiesis are determined by the spatial and temporal properties of the stimulus:
In the example above the boundary conditions for the soliton are determined by the spatial and temporal relationships implicit in the triangle as they are imposed upon the nervous system at the retina and the visual cortex. Although, like Maturana and Varela, the scale invariant catalytic model abandons the idea that cognition is representational, there is, nevertheless, a direct correspondence between the spatio/temporal relationships implicit in the stimulus and the phenomenology of cognition. The abandonment of representation is not due to relating the phenomena of cognition to the organization of the organism, but, rather, the phenomena of cognition is correlated to the ontological state of the living processes generally. That is to say, that whereas the triangle in the world is only implicit in its spatio/ temporal relationships, the triangle of perception makes those spatio/temporal relationships explicit as a continuous and persisting unified phenomenon -- the soliton. So, just like Maturana and Varela concluded, life (and cognition) may be understood as an inductive process. (Although, as we shall see below, induction does not imply that life is an epistemological process).
This is an important point. Life exists and persists as a consequence of the 'order' in the environment. However, by eliminating 'function' from the nomenclature of biology, this process cannot be epistemological; that is to say, life does not 'work out' what the 'order' is in the environment and then utilize that order to persist. Rather, the living process is an ontological dynamic, the existence and persistence of which is to be understood in terms of the relationship between the 'order' in the environment and the nature of the dynamic that can persist by making that order explicit. There is no division between the 'order' and the dynamic; the order is embodied by the dynamic as part of a continuous process. I believe that the soliton is an example of what may be described as 'dynamic induction.' That is to say that it will persist for as long as the 'order' that it makes explicit exists.