Is the self of a cellular self and the self of a sensorimotor self the same self, or are they different selves joined together by the power of a single abstraction? If autopoieisis can be thought of as a process of the reduplicationthere's a reason for that redundancy, I'm sureof self, is it then, paradoxically, an allopoietic process as well? It surely must be polypoietic or carry a potential for the generation of multiple instances of self, but until we can clear up the question of whether autopoiesis generates different instances of the same self or different selves even this must be placed in doubt. But we are just beginning to ask questions. Evan Thompson has some things to say about autopoeisis (Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Harvard University Press, 2007). I'll get deeper into his thinking on the subject in the near future. For now let's take a brief look at how he addresses the question of autonomy, which I reckon has everything to do with the business of autopoiesis.
In addition to these cellular and sensorimotor forms of selfhood, other forms of selfhood arise from other organizationally and operationally closed systems. The immune system, for instanceunderstood as an autonomous immune network that establishes a coherent somatic identity for the organism, rather than as a mere mechanism of defensebrings forth a dynamic, somatic identity at a distributed cellular and molecular level. The animate form of our living body is thus the place of intersection for numerous emergent patterns of selfhood and coupling. Whether cellular, somatic, sensorimotor, or neurocognitive, these patterns derive not from any homuncular self or agent inside the system organizing it or directing, but from distributed networks with operational closure. In Varela's image, our organism is a meshwork of "selfless selves," and we are and live this meshwork.
(p. 49, citations omitted)
The selfless self would be a paradox, no? Well, Thompson goes on to argue that the whole business of calling something autonomous or heteronomous has merely a heuristic value (p. 50), so my inclination then is to regard the reality of autopoeisis as unsettled. Of course if a self isn't real it can easily be paradoxical or an absurdity (like reduplication for instance), and that puts me at a loss to account for what we have discovered by differentiating between autonomous and heteronomous systems. (Here I've gone and redoubled my critique of repetition without knowing what the other players are holding.) Is there a Russian doll aspect to all this production of interiors? Or do we simply find various meshes more or less overlapping as if by accident? I rather doubt I'm going to get to the bottom of this any time soon. I'll dig into autopoiesis a little deeper next week.