That understanding can be improved from a somewhat surprising source, the Chilean biologists, Umberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. They advance a principle of autopoeisis or self-making, and they claim, with a great deal of evidence and reasoning, that it provides a fundamental biological law, extending evolutionarily from the simplest one-cell animals to the complexities of the individual human being and human social groups. As with Lichtenstein, the principle says that an organism's deepest motivation, the one that underlies all others, is the necessity of maintaining its own inner nature. Thus, the quests for food, air, water, sex and information all serve to re-create identity. At the amoeba's level, the organism accepts into itself stuff that will make more amoeba and it does not accept stuff that will not, ignoring it, and moving on. At the level of the individual human, each of us eats, drinks, relates to other human beings, heeds language, and all the rest, so as to satisfy our psychological wishes which in turn express our inner nature. At the level of human social groupings, it is our common experience that corporations hire executives who will fit into the corporate culture, and the corporate culture thereby re-creates itself again and again. A given university will hire and promote those teachers who will contribute to the proclaimed aims and self-esteem of that university. Nations get leaders and act in such a way as to fulfill the imagined character of the nation.
M&V 1980, xxvii.2 just before 7. A society, therefore, operates as a homeostatic system that stabilizes the relations that define it as a social system of a particular kind.
M&V 1980 xxv i: (i) The realization of the autopoiesis of the components of a social system is constitutive to the realization of the social system itself. ENDIT? This cannot be ignored in any consideration about the operation of a social system without negating it,
Cyberneticist Sir Stafford Beer sums up their claim:
Beer 1976 66 all: 66. The authors first of all say that an autopoietic system is a homeostat . . . a device for holding a critical systemic variable within physiological limits. They go on to the definitive point: in tbe case of autopoietic homeostasis, the critical variable is the system's own organization. It does not matter, it seems, whether every measurable property of that organizational structure changes utterly in the system's process of continuing adaptation. It survives. * * * You cannot find it by analysis, because its categories may all have changed since your look. . . . The very continuation is `it.' (66).
Varela puts autopoiesis this way:
17.4: "If living systems are machlnes, that they are physical autopoietic machlnes is trivially obvious: they transform matter into themselves in a manner such that the product of their operation is their own organization. However, we deem the converse as also true: A physical system if autopoietlc is living. In other words, we claim that the notion of autopoiesis is necessary and sufficient to characterize the organization of living systems." (V 1979, 17.4)
Autopoiesis, in other words, as a principle covers all the ground that Freud's death instinct does. Further, it is closely tied to the repetition compulsion and that "conservatism of the instincts" of which Freud wrote.
M&V 1980 26.9: 26.9: "A living system, due to its circular organization, is an inductive system 27 27 27 and functions always in a predictive manner: what happened once will occur again. Its organization (genetic and otherwise) is conservative and repeats only that which works. For this same reason living systems are historical systems; the relevance of a given conduct or mode of behavior is always determined in the past."
SF: The theoretical importance of the instincts of self-preservation of self-assertion and of mastery greatly diminishes. They are component instincts whose function it is to assure tuan the organism shall follow its own path to death, and to ward off any possible ways of returning to inorganic existence other than those which are immanent in the organism itself. . . . . The organism wishes to die only in its own fashion.