Autopoiesis as the Process of Inner Work
To move toward renewal, the soul must recognize and respect her dissipative nature, and allow the process of autopoiesis to resume, or to resume more fully. This becomes the process of inner work, in which older structures are made transparent, dissolve, and allow for new structures of experience to emerge in a way that integrates the learning of the old structures. This is a metabolic process where the conscious medium of the soul is liberated from its rigid structuring, and develops by becoming increasingly structured by her essential nature and qualities. This process leads to realization and liberation, which is the regaining of the full autopoietic function of the self-organizing principle of the soul. More precisely, this function is the way the soul’s inherent creative morphing dynamism expresses itself in evolutionary self-renewal, culminating in self-liberation.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 559
Autopoiesis, the Function of Continuous Self-Renewal
A self-organizing open living system has a central function, which is that of autopoiesis, a concept introduced by the Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana, who further developed it with cognitive scientist Francisco Varela. (Maturana, Biology of Cognition; Maturana and Varela, Autopoietic Systems.) Autopoiesis is the mechanism that makes living beings into autonomous systems; it is the function of continuous self-renewal through exchange with the environment and the regulation of this process in such a way that integrity of structure is maintained. Such a “dissipative structure continuously renews itself and maintains a particular dynamic regime, a globally stable space-time structure.” (Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe, p. 31.) An autopoietic system is one primarily characterized by self-renewal, rather than being allopoietic, geared primarily toward the production of a product or function, as in the case of a machine. The human fetus is a clear example, for it continuously renews and develops itself into a coherent dynamic living system, in constant exchange with its uterine environment, a process that continues after birth with increasing autonomy. Thus an autopoietic system is one that can renew itself by constantly dissolving old structures and developing new ones, through the exchange with the environment and the metabolism of this exchange in interaction with the system’s own dynamic potentials.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 556
Properties of the Soul
As a self-organizing (autopoietic) system, the soul has the following intrinsic properties:
- She is a dynamic continuous system, a field.
- She is an open system in interaction with an environment, not a closed or isolated system.
- She renews herself through the interplay of what she receives from the environment with her inner potentials, which results in output into the environment.
- She is not a static structure, but a dynamic and evolving consciousness. In other words, it is inherent to the soul that she is both presence and process, inseparable as presence in dynamic self-renewal.
- She is an evolving system of consciousness.
- She evolves through the dissolving of older structures as new ones develop. In other words, her development involves constant restructuring.
- She is self-organizing, developing through the evolution of more complex higher-order organization. This means that new structures do not simply replace old ones, but include them in a higher order of organization. This inclusion involves temporary dissolution of structures preceding the emergence of higher structures that include in their constituents the developments of the early structures.
- She is a non-equilibrium open system, which allows her to maintain a coherent order with openness, through fluctuation or change.
The soul is actually the prototype of self-organizing systems, which can be experienced directly as a self-organizing Riemannian manifold. Appreciating the characteristics of self-organization and autopoiesis can help us understand some of the difficulties we encounter in our inner journey of development. It shows that the flexibility and malleability of the soul are necessary for her self-renewal, for her to continue to function as an autopoietic system, rather than a machine.