Autopoiesis, Observation and Informatics: Lessons from the Development of Autopoietic Systems Theory in Japan

  • Wataru Hashimoto
Keywords: autopoiesis, observation, radical constructivism, Fundamental Informatics, hierarchical autonomous system


This article is concerned with redefining the notion of information from a perspective of systems theory. In recent years, the notion of information, which was closely related to the framework of old cybernetics, has been refined in parallel with the emergence of new cybernetics, especially second-order cybernetics and autopoiesis. The systemic view of new cybernetics provides us with the notion of “informationally closed system.” This notion is congruent with the epistemological implications of radical constructivism. In order to help understand this argument, we aim at highlighting the development of autopoietic systems theory in Japan. Autopoiesis has often been considered as a thoroughly closed system in Japan, where the relationships between autopoiesis and radical constructivism have frequently been overlooked. This is mainly because the importance which autopoietic systems theory originally attaches to the notion of observer and observation has been inadequately discussed, and autopoietic systems theory is regarded as distinct from second-order cybernetics and radical constructivism. However, they must be dealt with together, and Humberto Maturana should be given credit for his ontology of observing. Since the publication of his paper “Biology of Cognition,” Maturana has been attempting to explain the notion of observation as a biological phenomenon in his own way. Likewise, by taking into consideration the notion of observation, we can build a unified theory of information. Fundamental Informatics, which is being developed by Toru Nishigaki, outlines a unified approach to information by putting human observers at the center of his theory. Social and mechanical information is generated only when human observers conduct observations on the basis of biological information, and this mechanism of generation of information is discussed through the notion of “hierarchical autonomous system.” For an autopoietic organi- zation to be realized, of course, no hierarchy of systems is required, but observers are likely to construct some hierarchy between two systems. The construction of certain hierarchies of systems by observers is of great use for the explanation of fictitious phenomena of information transmission.

Author Biography

Wataru Hashimoto
Wataru Hashimoto is a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, the University of Tokyo. He holds a master's degree in Interdisciplinary Information Studies from the University of Tokyo. His research focuses on the episte- mology of cybernetics, communication studies and informatics. He published the Japanese edition of Ernst von Glasers- feld's Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning from NTT Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2010.
Special Issue: Towards a New Science of Information