Ontology of Observing
THE BIOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF SELF CONSCIOUSNESS AND
THE PHYSICAL DOMAIN OF EXISTENCE
Humberto R. Maturana
 

7. Basis for the answer: the living system 

The answer to the question of cognition requires now that we reflect upon the constitution and operation of living system, and that we make some additonal epistemological and ontological considerations about the conditions that our understanding of living systems must satisfy.

i) Science deals only with structure determined systems. To the extent that a scientific explanation entails the proposition of a structure determined system as the mechanism that generates the phenomenon to be explained, we as scientists can deal only with structure determined systems, and we cannot handle systems that change in a manner specified by the external agents that impinge upon them. Accordingly, whatever I say about living systems will be said in the understanding that all the phenomena to which they give rise arise through their operation as structure determined systems in a domain of existence also brought forth as a structure determined system by the observer is distinction.

ii) Regulation and control. As was indicated in section 6 xii, the distinction of a composite unity entails the distinction in the praxis of living of the observer of two phenomenal domains that do not intersect because the operation of a composite unity as a simple one is secondary to its composition. As a result, the whole cannot operate as its own component, and a component cannot operate in place of the whole that it integrates. In these circumstances, notions of control or regulation do not connote actual operations in the composition of a composite unity, because such operations take place only in the realization in the present of the properties of the composite unity is components in their actual interactions. Notions of regulation and control only connote relations taking place in a descriptive domain as the observer relates mappings in language of his or her distinctions of a whole and its components in his or her praxis of living.

iii) Living systems are structure determined system. In order to explain the phenomenon of cognition as biological phenomenon, I must treat living systems as structure determined systems. I consider that to do so is legitimate for several reasons. I shall mention three. The first is an operational one: we know as a feature of our praxis of living that any structural change in a living system results in a change in its characteristics and properties, and that similar structural changes in different members of the same species result in similar changes in their characteristics and properties. The second is an epistemological one: if we do not treat living systems as structure determined systems we cannot provide scientific explanations for the phenomena proper to them. The third is an ontological one: the only systems that we can explain scientifically are structure determined systems, therefore, if I provide a scientific explanation of the phenomenon of cognition in living systems, I provide a proof that living systems are structure determined systems in our praxis of living as standard observers, which is where we distinguish them.

iv) Determinism and prediction. The fact that a structure determined system is deterministic does not mean that an observer should be able to predict the course of its structural changes. Determinism and predictability pertain to different operational domains in the praxis of living of the obsever. Determinism is a feature that characterizes a system in terms of the operational coherences that constitute it, and its domain of existence, as it is brought forth in the operations of distinction of the observer. Accordingly, there are as many different domains of determinism as domains of different operational coherences the observer brings forth in her or his domain of experience. At difference with this, a prediction is a computation that an observer makes of the structural changes of a structure determined system as she or he follows the consequence of the operation of the properties of the components of the system in the realization of the domain of determinism that these properties constitute. As such, a prediction can only take place after the observer has completely described the system as a structure determined system in terms of the operational coherences that constitute it in his or her domain of experiences. Therefore, the success or failure of a prediction only reflect the ability or inability of an observer to not confuse phenomenal domains in his or her praxis of living, and to indeed make the computation that constitutes the prediction in the phenomenal domain where he or she claims to make it. In these circumstances, there are two occasions in which an observer who does not confuse phenomenal domains in dealing with a structure determined system will not be able to predict its structural changes.

One ocassion is when an observer knows that she or he is dealing with a structure determined system by virtue experience, in the praxis of living, with its components, but cannot encompass it in his or her descriptions, and, thus, cannot effectively treat it as such in its domain of existence and compute its changes of state. The other ocassion is when an observer in his or her praxis of living aims at characterizing the present unknown state of a system assumed to be structure determined, by interacting with some of its components. By doing this the observer triggers in the system an unpredictable change of state that he or she then uses to characterize its initial state and predict in it a later one within the domain of determinism specified by the properties of its components. Therefore, since the domain of determinism of a structure determined system as the domain of operational coherences of its components is brought forth in its distinction in the praxis of living of the observer, and since in order to compute a change of state in a system the observer must determine its present state through an interaction with its components, any attempt to compute a change of state in a structure determined system entails a necessary uncertainty due to the manner of determination of its initial state within the constraints of the operational coherences of its domain of existence. This predictive uncertainty may vary in magnitude in different domains of distinctions, but it is always present because it is constitutive of the phenomenon of cognition as a feature of the ontology of oberving and not of an objective independent reality. With this I am also saying that the uncertainty principle of physics pertains to the ontology of observing, and that it does not characterize an independent universe because, as I shall show further on, the physical domain of existence is a cognitive domain brought forth in the praxis of living of the observer by the observer as an explanation of his or her praxis of living.

v) Ontogenic structural drift. It is said that a boat is drifting when it slides floating on the sea without rudder and oars, following a course that is generated moment after moment in its encounter with the waves and wind that impinge upon it, and which lasts as long as it remains floating (conserves adaptation) and keeps the shape of a boat (conserves organization). As such a drifting boat follows a course without alternatives that is deterministically generated moment after moment in its encounters with the waves and the wind. As a consequence of this, a drifting boat is also always, and at any moment, in the only place where it can be, in a present that is continuously emerging from the sequence of its interactions in the drift. The deterministic process that generates the course followed by a drifting boat takes place as a feature of the structural dynamics of the structure determined system constituted by the boat, the wind, and the waves, as these are brought forth by the observer in his or her praxis of living. Therefore, if an observer cannot predict the course of a drifting boat, it is not because his or her distinction of the boat, the wind, and the waves, in his or her domain of experiences, does not entail a structure determined system in which the course followed by the boat arises in a deterministic manner, but because he or she cannot encompass in his or her description of the interactions between the boat, the wind, and the waves, the whole structure of the structure determined system in which the course followed by the boat is a feature of its changes of structure.

What happens with the generation of the course followed by a drifting boat, is the general case for the generation of the course followed by the structural changes of any structure determined system that the observer distinguishes in his or her praxis of living, as it interacts in the medium as if with an independent entity with conservation of class indentity (organization) and adaptation (structural coupling). Since living systems are dynamic structure determined systems, this applies to them, and the ontogeny of a living system, as its history of structural changes with conservation of organization and adaptation, is its ontogenic structural drift. All that applies to the course followed by a drifting boat applies to the course followed by the structural changes that take place in the ontogeny of a living system and to the course followed by the displacement of a living system in the medium during its ontogeny. Let me make this clear. In general terms, a drift is the course followed by the structural changes of a structure determined system that arises moment after moment generated in the interactions of the system with another independent system, while its relation of correspondence (adaptation) with this other system (medium) and its organization (class identity) remain invariant. Accordingly the individual life history of a living system as a history of continuous structural changes that follows a course generated moment after moment in the braiding of its internally generated structural dynamics with the structural changes triggered in it by its recurrent interactions with the medium as an independent entity, and which lasts as long as its organization and adaptation are conserved, takes place as a structural drift. Similarly, since the course of the displacement of a living system in the medium is generated moment after moment as a result of its interactions with the medium as an independent entity while its organization and adaptation are conserved, the displacement of a living system in the medium while it realizes its niche takes place as a drift. Living systems exist in continuous structural and positional drift (ontogenic drift) while they are alive, as a matter of constitution.

As in the case of a drifting boat, at any moment a living system is where it is in the medium, and has the structure that it has, as the present of its ontogenic drift in a deterministic manner, and could not be anywhere other than where it is, nor could it have a structure different from the one that it has. The many different paths that an observer may consider possible for a drifting boat to follow at any instant, or the many different ontogenic courses that an observer may consider for a living system at at any moment, are possible only as imagined alternatives in the description of what would happen in each case if the conditions were different, and not actual alternatives in the course of the boat or in the ontogeny of the living system. A drift is a process of change, and as in the case with all processes of change in structure determined systems, it follows a course without alternatives in the domain of determinism in which it is brought forth by the distinctions of the observer. Indeed, such imagined alternatives are imaginable only from the perspective of the inability of the observer to treat the boat, the wind, and the waves, (or the living system and the medium that he or she brings forth in his or her praxis of living) as a known structure detemined system whose changes of structure he or she can compute. If we are serious about our explanations as scientists, then we must accept as an ontological feature of what we do as observers that every entity that we bring forth in our distinctions is where it is, and has the structure that it has, in the only manner that it can be, given the domain of operational coherences (domain of determinism) that we also bring forth as its domain of existence in its distinction.

Finally, let me mention several implications of all this for the entities that we bring forth as living systems in our praxis of living: a) Since for a living system a history of interactions without disintegration can only be a history of perturbations, that is, a history of interactions in the niche, a living system while living necessarily slides in ontogenic drift through the medium in the realization of its niche. This means that aim, goal, purpose or intention, do not enter into the realization of a living system as a structure determined system. b) Since the structure of a living system is continuously changing, both through its internal dynamics and through the structural changes triggered in it in its interactions with operationally independent entities, the niche of a living system (the feature of the medium that it actually encounters in its interactions) is necessarily in continuous change congruent with the continuous structural drift of the living system while it remains alive. Furthermore, this is so regardless or whether the observer considers that the environment of the living system changes or remains constant. This means that as an observer brings forth a living system in her or his praxis of living, it may appear to her or him as continuously changing in its use of a constant environment, or, conversely, as unchanging in a continuously changing environment, because the observer cannot see the encounter of a living system and its niche, which is where conservation of adaptation takes place. c) Conservation of adaptation does not mean that the manner of a living system remains invariant. It means that a living system has an ontogeny only while it conserves its class identity and its dynamic structural correspondence with the medium as it undergoes its interactions, and that there is no constitutive restriction about the magnitude of its moment after moment structural changes other than that they should take place within the constraints of its structural determinism and its conservation of organization and adaptation. Indeed, I could speak of the laws of conservation of organization and adaptation as ontological conditions for the existence of any structure determined system in the same manner as physicists speak of the laws of conservation in physics as ontological conditions for the occurrence of physical phenomena.

Every living system, including us observers, is at any moment where it is, has the structure that it has, and does what it does at that moment, always in a structural and relational situation that is the present of an ontogenic drift that starts at its inception as much in a particular structure, and follows the only course that it can follow. Different kinds of living systems differ in the spectrum of ontogenies that an observer can consider possible for each of them in his or her discourse as a result of their different initial structures and different starting places, but each ontogeny that takes place takes place as a unique ontogenic drift in a process without alternatives.

vi) Structural intersection. When an observer brings forth a composite unity in his or her praxis of living, he or she brings forth an entity in which the configuration of relations between components that constitute its organization, is a subset of all the actual relations that take place between its components as these realize its structure and constitute it as a whole in the domain of existence in which they are brought forth (see sction 6,iv). As such, the organization of a composite unity does not exhaust the relations and interactions in which the components that realize it may participate in their domain of existence. The result of this circumstance is that in the structural realization of a composite unity, its components may participate, through other properties that those that involve them in the realization of its organization, in the realization of the organization of many other composite unities which, thus, interesect structurally with it. Furthermore, when the components of a composite unity are themselves composit unities, The composite unity may participate in structural intersections that take place through the components of its components. In any case, when an observer distinguishes two or more structurally intersecting systems, he or she distinguishes two or more different composite unities realized through the same body.

Structurally intersecting systems exist and operate as simple unities in different phenomenal domains specified by their different organizations. Yet, depending on how their structural intersection takes place, structurally intersecting composite unities may exist as such in the same or different domains of existence. Thus, when two composite unities structurally intersect through their components, they share components and have as composite unities the same domain of existence. But, when two composite unities structurally intersect through the components of the components of one or both, they do not share components and as composite unities have different domains of existence. Nevertheless, since in a structural intersection there are components or components of components, or both, that simultaneously participate in the structure of several systems, structural changes that take place in one of several structurally intersecting systems as part of its ontogenic drift may give rise to structural changes in the other intersecting systems and thus participate in their otherwise independent ontogenic drifts. In other words, structurally intersecting systems are structurally interdependent because, either through the intersection of their domains of structural determinism, or through the intersection of the domains of structural determinism of their components, or through both, they affect each other's structure in the course of their independently generated structural changes, and although they may exist as composite unities in different domains their ontogenic drifts intersect forming a network of coontogenic drifts. Thus, an observer may distinguish in the structural realization of a human being as a living system the simultaneous or successive intersection of a mammal, a person, a woman, a doctor, and a mother, all of which are different composite unities defined by different organizations that are simultaneously or successively conserved while they are realized in their different domains of existence, with particular characteristics that result from the continuous braiding of their different ontogenic drift through the continuous interplay of their structural changes. Furthermore, these structural intersections result in dependent domains of disintegrations as well as dependent domains of conservations which need not be reciprocal, when the conservation of one class identify entails the conservation of structural features that are involved in the conservation of another. For example, in the structural intersection of a student and a human being in a living system, the conservation of the class identity student entails the conservation of the class identity "human being", but not the reverse: the desintegration of the student does not entail the disintegration of the human being, but the disintegration of the human being carries with it the disintegration of the student. Also, a particular composite unity may disintegrate through different kinds of structural changes, like disintegrating as a student through failing an examination or through attaining the final degree, with different consequences in the network of structural intersections to which it belongs.

The structural intersection of systems does not mean that the same system is wiewed in different manners from different prespectives, because due to their different organizations structural intersecting systems exist in different phenomenal domains and are realized through different structural dynamics. It only means that the elements that realize a particular composite unity as its components through some ot their properties as simple unities, participate through other of their properties as simple unities as components of other unities that exist as legitimately different ones because they have different domains of disintegrations. The interactions and relations in which the components of a system participate through dimensions other than those through which they constitute it, I call orthogonal interactions and relations, and it is through these that structurally intersecting systems may exist in nonintersecting phenomenal domains and yet have unidirectional or reciprocal relations of structural dependency. Finally, it is also through the orthogonal interactions of their components that structurally independent systems that exist in nonintersecting phenomenal domains may also have coontogenic drifts.

vii) The living system. In 1970 I proposed that living systems are dynamic systems constituted as autonomous unities through being closed circular concatenations (closed networks) of molecular productions in which the different kinds of molecules that composed them participated in the production of each other, and in which everything can change except the closed circularity of the concatenation of molecular productions that constitutes them as unities (see Maturana 1970, in Maturana and Varela 1980). In 1973 Francisco Varela and I expanded this characterization of living systems by saying: first, that a composite unity whose organization can be described as a closed network of productions of components that through their interactions constitute the network of productions that produce them and specify its extension by constituting its boundaries in their domain of existence, is an autopoietic system; and second, that a living system is an autopoietic system whose components are molecules. Or, in other words, we proposed that living systems are molecular autopoietic systems and that as much they exist in the molecular space as closed networks of molecular productions that specify their own limits, (see Maturana and Varela 1973, in Maturana and Varela 1980; and Maturana 1975). Nothing is said in this description of the molecular constitution of living systems as autopoietic systems about thermodynamic constraints, because the realization of living systems as molecular systems entails the satisfaction of such constraints. In fact, the statement that a composite unity exists as such in the domain of existence of its components, implies the satifaction of the conditions of existence of these components.

The recognition that living systems are molecular autopoietic systems carries with it several implications and consequences of which I shall mention a few:

A. Implications: a) Living systems as autopoietic systems are structure determined systems, and everything that applies to structure determined systems applies to them. In particular this means that everything that occurs in a living system takes place in it in the actual operation of the properties of its components through relations of neighbourhood (relations of contiguity) constituted in these very same operations. Accordingly, notions of regulation and control do not and cannot reflect actual operations in the structural realization of a living system because they do not connote actual relations of neighbourhood in it. These notions only reveal relations that the observer establishes when he or she compares different moments in the course of transformations in the network of processes that take place in the structural realization of a particular living system. Therefore, the only peculiar thing about living systems as structured determined systems is that they are molecular autopoietic systems. b) Autopoiesis is a dynamic process that take place in the ongoing flow of its occurrence and cannot be grasped in a static instantaneous view of distribution of components. Therefore, a living system exists only through the continuous structural transformation entailed in its autopoiesis, and only while this is conserved in the constitution of its ontogeny. This circumstance has two basic results: one is that living systems can be realized through many different changing dynamic structures, the other is that in the generation of lineages through reproduction, living system are constitutively open to continuous phylogenic structural change. c) A living system either exists as a dynamic structure determined system in structural coupling in the medium in which it is brought forth by the observer, that is, in a relation of conservation of adaptation through it continuous structural change in the realization of its niche, or it does not exist. Or, in other words, a living system while living is necessarily in a dynamic relation of correspondence with the medium through its operation in its domain of existence, and to live is to glide through a domain of perturbations in an ontogenic drift that takes place through the realization of an ever changing niche. d) A living system as a structure determined system operates only in the present, that is, it is determined by the structure that it has at any instant in the realization in its autopoiesis in the molecular space; and, therefore it is necessarily open to the flow of molecules through it. At the same time, a living system as an autopoietic system gives rise only states in autopoiesis: otherwise it disintegrates. Accordingly, living systems are closed systems with respect to their dynamics of states.

B. Consequences: a) To the extent that a living system is a structure determined system, and everything in it takes place through neigbourhood relation between its components in the present, notions of purpose and goal that imply that at every instant a later state of a system as a whole operates as part of its structure in the present do not apply to living systems and cannot be used to characterize their operation. A living system may appear to operate as a purposeful or goal-directed system only to an observer who, having seen the ontogeny of other living systems of the same kind in the same circumstances in his or her praxis of living, confuses phenomenal domains by putting the consequences of its operation as a whole among the processes that constitute it. b) Because they are structure determined systems, for living systems there is no inside or outside in their operation as autopoietic unities; they are in autopoiesis as closed wholes in their dynamics of states, or they disintegrate.

At the same time, and for the same reason, living systems do not use or misuse an environment in their operation as autopoietic unities, nor do they commit mistakes in their ontogenic drifts. In fact, a living system in its operation in a medium with conservation of organization and adaptation as befit it as a structure determined system, brings forth its ever changing niche as it realizes itself in its domains of existence, the background of operational coherences which it does not distinguish and with which it does not interact, but which the observer sees as containing it. c) Living systems necessarily form, through their recurrent interactions with each other as well as with the nonbiotic medium, coontogenic and cophylogenic systems of braided structural drifts that last as long as they conserve their autopoiesis through the conservation of their reciprocal structural couplings. Such is biological evolution. As a result, every living system, including us human beings as observers, is always found in its spontaneous realization in its domain of existence in congruence with a biotic and nonbiotic medium. Or, in other words, every living system is at every instant as it is and where it is a node of a network of coontogenic drifts that necessarily involves all the entities with which it interacts in the domain in which it is brought forth by the observer in his or her praxis of living. As a consequence, an observer as a living system can only distinguish an entity as a node of the network of coontogenic drifts to which it belongs, and where it exists in structural coupling. d) The only thing peculiar to living systems is that they are autopoietic systems in the molecular space. In these circumstances, a given phenomenon is a biological phenomenon only to the extent that its realization entails the realization of the autopoiesis of at least one autopoietic system in the molecular space. e) Modern procariotic and eucariotic cells are typical autopoietic systems in the molecular space, and because their autopoiesis is not the result of their being composed by more basic autopoietic subsystems, I call them first order autopoietic systems. I call second order autopoietic systems systems whose autopoiesis is the result of their being composed of more basic autopoietic unities, organisms as multicellular systems are such. Yet, organisms may also "be", and I think that most of them actually are, first order autopoietic systems as closed networks of molecular productions that involve intercellular processes as much as intracellular ones. Accordingly, an organism would exist as such in the structural intersection of a first order autopoietic system with a second order one, both realized through the autopoiesis of the cells that compose the latter. This happened originally with the eucariotic cell as this arose through the endosymbiosis of procariotic ones (Margulis 1981). f) An organism as a second order autopoietic system is an ectocellular symbiont composed of cells, usually of common origin but not always so, that constitute it through their coontogenic drift. An organism as a first order autopoietic system, however, is not composed of cells even though its realization depends on the realization of the autopoiesis of the cells that intersect structurally with it as the constitute it in their ontogenic drift. The first and second order autopoietic systems that intersect structurally in the realization of an organism, exist in different nonintersecting phenomenal domains.

viii) Phylogenic structural drift. Reproduction is a process in which a system gives origin through its fracture to systems characterized by the same organization (class identity) that characterized the original one, but with structure that vary with respect to it (Maturana 1980).

A reproducting phylogeny or lineage, then, is a succession of systems generated through sequential reproductions that conserve a particular organization. Accordingly, each particular reproductive lineage or phylogeny is defined by the particular organization conserved through the sequential reproductions that constitute it. Therefore, a reproductive phylogeny or lineage lasts only as long as the organization that defines it is conserved, regardless of how much the structure that realizes this organization in each successive member of the lineage changes with each reproductive step (see Maturana 1980, and Maturana and Varela 1984). If follows that a reproductive phylogenic or lineage as a succession of ontogenic drifts, constitutively occurs as a drift of the structures that realize the organization conserved along it. It also follows that each of the reproductive steps that constitute a reproductive phylogeny is the ocassion that opens the possibility for a discrete, large or small, change in the course of its structural drift. As such, a reproductive phylogeny or lineage comes to an end through the structural changes of its members. And this occurs either because autopoiesis is lost after the last of them, or because through the conservation of autopoiesis in the offspring of the last of them, a particular set of relations of the drifting structure beings to be conserved through the following sequential reproductions as the organization that defines and starts a new lineage. This has several general implications or which I shall mention only a few: a) A member of a reproductive phylogeny either stays in structural coupling (conserves adaptation) in its domain of existence until its reproduction, and the phylogeny continues, or it disintegrates before and then the phylogeny ends with it. b) A living system is a member of the reproductive phylogeny in which it arises only if it conserves through its ontogeny the organization that defines the phylogeny, and continues the phylogeny only if such organization is conserved through its reproduction. c) Many different reproductive phylogenies can be conserved operationally embedded in each other, forming a system of nested phylogenies, if there is an intersection of the structural realization of the different organizations that define them. When this happens there is always a fundamental reproductive phylogeny whose realization is necessary for the realization of all the others. This has occurred in the evolution of living systems in the form of the phylogenic drift of a system of branching nested reproductive phylogenis in which the fundamental reproductive phylogeny is that in which autopoiesis is conserved (see Maturana 1980,. and Maturana y Varela 1984). Thus, the system of branching phylogenies defined by the conservation of autopoiesis through reproductive cells in eucariotic organisms, has carried embedded in it, through the structural intersection of their realizations, many staggered nested organizations that characterize the coincident lineages conserved through it. This circumstance we recognize in the many nested taxonomic categories that we distinguish in any organism when we classify it. For example, a human being is, a vertebrate, a mammal, a primate, a Homo, and a Homo sapiens, all different categories corresponding to different systems of partially overplaying phylogenies that are conserved together through the conservation of the human being's autopoiesis. d) The ontogenic drifts of the members of a reproductive phylogeny take place in reciprocal structural coupling with many different, and also continuously changing, living and non living systems that form part of the medium in which they realize their niches. As a result, every individual ontogeny in living systems follows a course embedded in a system of coontogenies taht constitutes a network of cophylogenic structural drifts. This can be generalized by saying that evolution is constitutively a coevolution, and that every living system is at any moment where it is, and has the structure that it has, as an expression of the present state of the domain of operational coherences constituted by the network of cophylogenic structural drifts to which it belongs. As a result, the operational coherences of every living system at every instant necessarily entail the operational coherences of the whole biosphere. e) The observer as a living system is not an exception to all that has been said above. Accordingly, an observer can only make distinctions that, as operations in his or her praxis of living, take place as operations within the present state of the domain of operational coherences constituted by the network of coontogenic and cophylogenic structural drifts to which he or she belongs.

ix) Ontogenic possibilities. The ontogeny of every structure determined systems starts with an initial structure that is the structure that realizes the system at the begining of its existence in its inception. In living systems such initial structure is a cellular unity that may originate either, a) as an single cell or as a small multicellular entity through a reproductive fracture from a cellular maternal system whose organization it conserves, or b) as a single cell de novo from noncellular elements. In every living system the system's initial structure constitutes the structural starting point that specifies in it what an observer sees as the configuration of all the courses of ontogenic drifts that it may undergo under different circumstances of interactions in the medium. As a result, what constitutes a lineage in living systems is the conservation through their reproduction of a particular initial structure that specifies a particular configuration of possible ontogenic drifts; and what constitutes the organization conserved through reproductions that specifies the identity of the lineage is that configuration. Accordingly, a lineage comes to and end when the configuration of possible ontogenic drifts that defines it stops being conserved. The configuration of possible ontogenic drifts that specifies a lineage through its conservation I call the ontogenic phenotype of the lineage. In each particular living system, however, only one of the ontogenic courses deemed as posible in the ontogenic phenotype by the observer, is realized as a result of its internal dynamics under the contingencies of the particular perturbations that it undergoes in its domain of existence with conservation of organization and adaptation. Consequently, and in general, it is only within the domain of possibilities set by their different or similar initial structures that different composite unities may have different or similar ontogenic structural drifts under different or similar histories of perturbations in their domains of existence. Indeed, nothing can happen in the ontogeny of a living system as a composite unity that is not permitted in its initial structure. Or, in other words, and under the understanding that the initial structure of a living system is its genetic constitution, it is apparent that nothing can happen in the ontogenic structural drift of a living system that is not allowed in its genetic constitution as a feature of its possible ontogenies. At the same time, under this understanding it is also apparent that nothing is determined in the initial structure or genetic constitution of a living system, because for anything to occur in a living system, the living system must undergo an actual ontogenic structural drift as an actual epigenic structural transformation that take place in an actual history of interactions in the realization of a domain of existence. This is so even in the case of those particular ontogenic features or characters that we call genetically determined because they can be expected to appear in all the ontogenic drifts that a living system can possibly undergo up to the moment of its observation, because such a feature or character will appear only if there is an actual ontogeny. In these circumstances, a biological system of lineages, or system of phylogenies, is defined by the ontogenic phenotype conserved in the living systems that constitute it through their sequential reproductions. As a result, all the members of a system of lineages resemble each other through the ontogenic phenotype that defines the system of lineages, and not through a common genetic constitution maintained by means of a genetic flow.

x) Selection. An observer may claim that the actual ontogenic course followed by the structural changes of a living system is, moment by moment, selected by the medium from the many other ontogenic courses that he or she considers available to it at every instant along its life history. Yet, strictly, selection does not take place in the life history of a living system. The life history of a living system is the particular course followed by its ontogenic drift under the contigencie of a particular sequence of interactions. As such, a life history is deterministically generated instant after instant as the structure of the living system changes through its own structurally determined dynamics in its continuous encounter with the medium as an independent entity, and lasts while the living system lasts. Each ontongeny therefore, is uniquely generated as it takes place as a process that follows a course without actual alternatives or decision points along it. The different ontogenic courses that an observer may describe as possible for a living system, are alternative ontongenic courses only for her or him as she or he imagines the living system in different circumstances in the attempt to predict the one that will take place while she or he is unable to compute it by virtue of not being able to treat the living system and the medium as a known structure determined system. The same argument applies to what an observer can say about the phylogenies structural drift, or about the historic genetic change in the population. What an observer in fact does when speaking of selection in relation to living systems, then, is to refer to a discrepancy between an expected and an actual historical outcome, and he or she does so by comparing the actual with the imagined in the phylogenic and the ontogenic structural drifts of living systems. Selection is not the mechanism that generates phylogenic structural change and adaptation. In fact, ontogenic and phylogenic structural changes and adaptation need to be explained. They are constitutive features of the condition of existence of living systems. All that has to be explained in the course followed by the continuous structural change that takes place in linving systems, both in ontogeny and phylogeny, and this is explained by the mechanism of structural drift.


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