Patterns of Life: Intertwining Identity and Cognition
Varela (Francisco J.)
Source: Brain and Cognition 34, 72-87, 1997
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Artificial Life’s (AL) vocation is to contribute to a better scientific theory of life and of living organisms. I take AL to be guided by two principal motivations.
    1. Building artificial living beings/objects as a proof for competing claims about different aspects of life and different levels of the living organization. This is the same motivation of artificial intelligence1 in regards to cognitive science. It is indeed an innovation in science, since physics relied principally on prediction for proof and validation. In these cases we also have validation by construction, quite a different matter.
    2. Using the results of AL for practical and technological concerns. I think that the circulation between research and technological innovation is to a large extent what made this new wave of AL attractive. There is, again, a parallel to the AI of the early 60s, where the technological loop was first established with expert systems and such. In the case of AL, applications to nanotechnology and robotics play a similar role, at least in the public and the funder’s eyes.
  2. It is clear that AL has long historical roots and that it has fed to and from many parallel endeavors, of which it is a recent reincarnation, so to speak. These roots comprise most patently the cybernetics movement in the 50s, and the cognitive science and AI in the 80s, but it surely it is complex and multiple-branched tree. This is not to deny that AL has a specificity today which is amplified significantly by the convergence of previous results and new research tools. However, in so far as it is important in science to see where one comes from, among many other reasons to avoid repeating mistakes, the historical roots of AL should be investigated in a serious manner.
  3. It is also clear that there are a number of epistemological options for diverse research programs in AL. We need to be clear about them. For this special issue, my purpose here is to sketch the options that I have been cultivating for some 20 years and why.


For the full text, see Varela - Patterns of Life: Intertwining Identity and Cognition

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