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Emergence and Growth of Knowledge and Diversity in Hierarchically Complex Living Systems

46 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2011 Last revised: 29 Aug 2015

William P. Hall

University of Melbourne - Melbourne School of Engineering; Kororoit Institute

Date Written: November 3, 2006


An environment conducting a flux of energy and materials between temporally or spatially separated sources and sinks may become more complexly structured due to the emergence of cyclical, dissipative transport systems. Selection favors transport systems able to stabilize themselves against environmental perturbations through feedback. Continuing selection for self-stabilization over long periods of time may eventuate in the emergence of an autopoietic assembly of subsystems (i.e., an autocatalytic set). The stabilizing 'control information' inherent in the instantaneous structure of the autopoietic system represents a form of knowledge that enables the stabilized system to continue an existence as a living and evolving entity. Such self-referential knowledge (defined by Karl Popper as "solutions to problems of life") is integral to the differential survival of nascent autopoietic systems. Maturana and Varela developed the concept of autopoiesis for the autopoietic cybernetics of self-maintenance and self-production. They also equated the cybernetics of autopoiesis with cognition. Concepts of "meaning", "memory", "learning" and "heredity" can also be derived from this framework of Popperian autopoiesis. Hall has argued that autopoiesis has emerged at cellular, (multicellular) organismic, and economic organizational levels. Given an acceptance that different orders of autopoiesis exist, it follows that forms of regulatory knowledge (i.e., solutions to problems of life) exist at each organizational level where autopoiesis occurs. Knowledge may be "tacit", "implicit" or "explicit".

Note: Earlier draft presented, Workshop "Selection, Self-Organization and Diversity CSIRO Centre for Complex Systems Science and ARC Complex Open Systems Network, Katoomba, NSW, Australia 17-18 May 2006.

Keywords: autopoiesis, emergence of complexity, origin of life, structural and codified knowledge, evolutionary epistemology, scalar hierarchy theory

Suggested Citation

Hall, William P., Emergence and Growth of Knowledge and Diversity in Hierarchically Complex Living Systems (November 3, 2006). Available at SSRN: or

William P. Hall (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Melbourne School of Engineering ( email )

185 Pelham Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053
Melbourne, Victoria 3010


Kororoit Institute ( email )

127 Power Street
St Albans, Vic. 3021


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