Autotpoiesis is a term coined by Humberto Maturana to refer to a property common to all living organisms. It might be said that autopoiesis defines a living organism because it is necessary to sustain life. Auto – self, poiesis – creating, identifies the property of a living organism that enables it to sustain life by maintaining a continuous connection with the environment. At a biological level, that connection involves the inflow of life sustaining elements – water, air, nutrients; and the outflow of the waste produced from processing those elements – gas, fluids, solids. The property of autopoiesis enables a living organism to maintain a connection to the environment in order to carry out these life sustaining activities. The living organism must continually adapt to its changing environment: other living organisms, objects it encounters, and the quality of the environment itself; position of the sun, quality of water, quality of air, quality of nutrients, temperature, etc. Without this capacity to maintain a connection to the environment, the living organism would die, it would not engage in the necessary adaptations to moderate environmental changes in relation to its own internal needs.
I have been thinking of autopoiesis as a drive for connectivity. Without that drive, the living organism could not sustain life. The activity of autopoiesis is a constant scanning of internal states and external conditions, and seeking possible points of connection. At a biological level, those points of connection are essential, without them, life ends. When we talk about intrinsic motivation, I suggest we are talking about autopoiesis and the drive for connection. When we talk about extrinsic motivation, we are still talking about autopoiesis and the drive for connection, we are thinking about the ways the environment can be shaped to foster connection (coercive, attractive, mimetic, etc.).
For example, my human body is comprised of living cellular organisms. They coexist as an organizational structure through the autopoietic activity of each cell. When a cell no longer engages in connection through its own autopoietic activity, it dies and the body treats it differently – the relational attachments that were once sustained by its autopoietic activity are no longer active and the organizational structure of the body changes: ie. skin cells slough off.
There are different qualities of connection, some are rigid, some are flexible, some are proximal. The main point I am making here is that autopoiesis is not only a property of self creation that sustains life, it is also a drive for connectivity.
I have been thinking about autopoiesis and the drive for connectivity in human life. I have been asking myself whether the biological property of autopoiesis can also be understood as psychological, emotional, intellectual, social, and cultural.