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Home \ Актуальное \ Lavanderos, Leonardo; Malpartida, Alejandro. ECOPOIESIS. LIFE AS A RELATIONAL UNIT

Lavanderos, Leonardo; Malpartida, Alejandro. ECOPOIESIS. LIFE AS A RELATIONAL UNIT

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Leonardo Lavanderos

Doctor of Biological Sciences. Academic of the Faculty of Engineering UPLA Chile, Professor of Management and Leadership at the Business School of Tec de Monterrey. Director of SINTESYS Corporation (Santiago, Chile).


Alejandro Malpartida

Doctor of Natural Sciences, specialising in Ecology, Universidad Nacional de La Plata Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo (UNLP-FCNyM). Doctor of Medicine. Faculty of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires (FCM UBA) (Buenos Aires. Republic of Argentina). President of SINTESYS Corporation.



The article is interdisciplinary in nature, covering relational cybernetics and epistemology, biology, ecology, and systems theory. The authors define life as a relational unit, ecopoiesis, which is a constant spiral dance between differentiation and the maintenance of integrity. Based on the concepts of relational cybernetics, new ecological concepts, the category of ecopoiesis, the authors claim that the relation is the basis by which and upon which we say that, as observers, we draw differences and that those differences drawn from the relation are argued as distinctions. Strictly speaking, it is a trifference since the process implies the one that generates. In this process, information is the first step of trifferentiation. This leads us to the proposition that all cognitive processes occur in an entity capable of generating trifferences and processing them as information. On this basis, we have called the process that explains life as a relational unit, ecopoiesis, since it is a constant spiral dance between differentiation and the abduction of its complexity.

Keywords: ecopoiesis, autopoiesis, entorno, trifference, ecology, biology, relational epistemology

In the creature, all is names, maps, and relation names- but still the name of the name is not the name, and the name of the relation is not the relation- even when the relation between A and B is of the kind, we denote B by saying that A is the name of B.

(Bateson, G, and M.C. Bateson)


This research work argues that the various explanations about the understanding of life have been absent in relational concepts and the idea of relationship itself. From positivism and the classical paradigm to the conception of autopoiesis, self-organization, the ecological niche and in the use of words such as medium and environment. Thus, counter-intuitively, we maintain that the maintenance of the vital phenomenon has to do with the emerging relationships of the organism–entorno unit and not only of any of the terms of that relationship, nor by transaction, coupling or interaction between them, but as an emergent of a unit that produces the conditions for its own existence. We call this emergent as organization of the unit ecopoiesis. For a living entity, its ability to sustain relationships depends on how its relational system links with its material energetic system. This process is defined as ecopoiesis. In cultural living units, this process is called ecosemiopoiesis [11,12].

Entorno and environment should be distinguished as distinct terms (entorno is a Spanish term that refers to that which surrounds and remains). There is no English translation, but it can be understood as that which configures or shapes the body with its surroundings. The environment is made up of all the parameters that an observer distinguishes without taking the organism into account. Also, the environment is everything specified by the organism and expressed through the behaviors that come from the organism–entorno relationship; it is the actual expression of this historical process. Although environment does not explicitly refer to a relationship, it is included in this scope. It has been stated that the environment contains historical processes. Therefore, it is not about the evolution of the individual, the population, or the species, but about the organism–entorno relationship [20]. From the point of view of organizations as cybernetic systems, it has been important to understand the limits and even the metrics of required variety [2] for an organization to remain viable. However, as previously stated in other publications, an organization is not a revolving door, and it is reasonable to think that it generates certain redundancies (noise, unnecessary expenses), to the point of producing some “non-required” variety, initially, until it is necessary for its vital maintenance. However, the increase in non-required variety may draw negative attention to the organization itself, as it feeds on the destruction of the required variety. At that point, the organization undergoes a negative transformation or reaches a threshold of exhaustion, leading to its dissolution. Consequently, we propose to reconsider the idea of entropy in the context of a relational conception in favor of “variety not required” [13]. It is important to clarify that, from this perspective, life is a selective process within a web of possibilities, this process is what “contains” the principle of variety. The latter can be defined as the expression of required variety and non-required variety. The selective process needs certain levels of non-required variety if they do not destroy the required variety. As an example, we can speak of non-required variety in relation to the presence of cancer cells which contribute to the selective process of the living unit if they do not transform into an alternative development of this unit as they would necessarily be destroying its required variety.

Life demonstrates that it is a continuous quality that has remained independent of probabilistic and physicochemical reductionism. Even the concept of autopoiesis as a living concept [21] maintains the idea of interactions as the primary explanation of life. When talking about metabolic processes within a cell, autopoiesis becomes an important descriptor; however, these metabolic processes must maintain a relationship, their Ecopoiesis, which is why we say that “all Autopoiesis is Ecopoiesis.” A network can be transformed into a living system only if it can configure its entorno, this implies making its relational system relationally feasible with the system of material energetic sustenance. Therefore, when we say that all autopoiesis is ecopoietic, it is because we do not conceive the condition of self-organization without reference to the entorno. It is for us impossible to conceive of organization in the sense of “IPSE” itself.

This is directly linked to a relational process because the unit of reference is no longer the individual organism, but the organism in its entorno, therefore, every process, whether internal or mediated by any structure of an organism, necessarily has to do with the relational process, which as such is eco-spontaneous, that is, it occurs freely as processes occur in all units that we clearly understand as open. They are open, not only to these processes, but they are open entropically and communicatively; therefore, we cannot speak of a closure, of a closure, of a totally closed autopoiesis, nor of some kind of coupling, since by being open also the communicative processes generate the messages that allow or facilitate some processes to manifest themselves more than others, as, for example, epigenesis, which is absolutely dependent on the eco-spontaneity, on the ecopoiesis.

To give meaning and purpose to the above, we have followed Morin et al.’s [27]  method is a discourse, a prolonged rehearsal of a path that is thought. It is a journey, a challenge, a crossing, a strategy that is rehearsed to reach an end that is thought, imagined and at the same time unusual, unforeseen and wandering. It is not the flow of a self-confident thought; it is a search that is continually invented and reconstructed (p. 15).

In this search, the research question has been posed, expressed as follows: What prevents me from rescuing the notion of the living, from its objectual and reductionist conception entrenched in the certainty of immutability?

In this context, it seems that we have reached the end of some uncertainties or, more precisely, that we have reached the end of the way of knowing that promised us an immutable narrative of reality and an all-encompassing observer directed at it. Despite all that is involved in questioning this claim, science continues to focus on the need for certainty by referring to the immutability of an object through the concept of permanence to continue to

organize certainty in all domains of knowledge. Consequently, truths have been created by attributing their consistency to a representation, a mediator or avatar, an explanatory principle in Gregory Bateson’s sense. For example, the creation of variety in relation to entropy is the case of the Anthropocene [30], entropic statistical disorder [25] and information overload. If we add to all this the lines of argumentation followed from the neurosciences, we find that the argumentative scaffolding is mostly built based on objective certainty and its physics [9, 16]. In this sense, explanation is based on molecular action schemes (interactivity), seeking operational closure and the boundary of unity [6]. However, an interaction is not a relationship. The interaction is the observed and argued schema of action, the argumentative plane in which interactivity, causalities and, where appropriate, determinisms are revealed. The relation underlies the argumentative plane, and only aspects of it are distinguished by the observer in his environment; it is the entangled distinction that emerges from the process of triferences (differences of the observer in his environment with his object of knowledge), a process in which we say that an observer is always involved. Those aspects of the relation that enter into the argumentation are certainly not "the relation" [15]. By way of explanation, it is not that the Christmas tree is highly associated with lights, but that interactions with these associations explain the happiness that gathers the family around it. For example, when Allen and Friston [1] propose a theory of minimal slime mould cognition from Lyon's biogenic cognition, di Primio-Lengeler's modifiable pathways, Bateson's "patterns that connect" framework, Maturana's autopoietic network or Morgan's proto-consciousness and canon, they confuse logical types between interactions with patterns of kinship.

A good example of the epistemological confusion between interaction and relation is Lyon's [17] biogenic cognition. According to the characteristics of the interactivity principle defined by the author, cognition operationally facilitates reciprocal causality relations. This can be interpreted to mean that an observer who observes reciprocal action schemes (bacteria-entorno interactivity) establishes causal relationships for both parties without making explicit the criteria that lead him to establish a relationship that is part of his entorno as an observer. The conclusion is not long in coming: "The equilibrium between the physico-chemical-electrical processes that maintain its organization is therefore the standard objective state of a living system, to which all interactions are calibrated". In other words, it has been argued from a reductionist conception of interactions, coupled with a naive realism or first-order view in which the observer is omnipresent and its narrative invariant. In this sense, cognition has been transformed into an explanatory principle in the Batesonian sense.

This type of mediators, which will be the subject of discussion in this article, builds certainty by condensing the complexity of life into physical formats, as in the case of interactions, which are strategically used isomorphically with relations to adapt them to the statistical states of molecular dynamics.

The thermodynamic law of entropy has cosmic ramifications in the sense that energetic systems, including living, cognitive, technological, and social systems, will inevitably come to an end (“heat death”) or, as a principle of biological adaptation, it may allow us to argue that the struggle for existence was a struggle against entropy. All this has happened because the mixture has led to confusion and similarity between the meanings of communication, entropy, and information, to the point of presenting them as homonyms. Although some correspondence can be established, the domain of application and knowledge of these formulas has nothing to do with information or with the semiotic process. Consequently, although a certain mathematical isomorphism can be demonstrated, it is not possible to homologate the concepts. On the other hand, contrary to the predictions of classical thermodynamics, the vitality of the planet (life) has progressed toward its culmination and continues to do so because the condition of life is to remain out of equilibrium.

The central idea of this article is to reason and explain relational knowledge from its theoretical foundations to establish the concept of Ecopoiesis as the basis of the unity of the living. For this purpose, we have organized it as follows; a brief visit to the idea of complexity, the explanation of relationship and its meaning, autopoiesis, the niche and the ecological unity niche-organism, the medium, the environment, the entorno and ecopoiesis.

The meaning of relational

As a concept and as a category, relation is not new in Western conception; it was present from the beginning, but it is symptomatic that it was considered an accident in classical philosophy. Relation was understood as “relation between” substances, which emphasizes that the category of substance had primacy. Something similar can be said of the Eastern “totalist” view, in which relation certainly has greater relevance but is based on the substantiality of the unique with the dissolution of the individual [20].

In fact, up to now, we speak of relation between, when the relation implies a link that does not require the “between” or even the “inter” as, for example, when speaking of interrelation. In this regard, our desire for certainty often leads us to commit errors, such as attempting to grant an existence to a relation through metaphysics - which is simply the cultural point of reference for an ontology that remains rooted in the object. When establishing the existence of said relation, authors sometimes fail to recognize that their presuppositions are centered around the object or entity, thereby committing the error of attributing existence to the relation. As an illustration, Cassirer [5] highlights that the relation is only relevant if it affects the specific properties under consideration and, therefore, cannot be viewed independently from the concept of real being. It is important to note that once the relation is qualified, it is no longer a relation, even though an action can predicate of it. The trap of certainty operates in all instances.

The same is true of Bains [4], who, given his Anglo-Saxon origin, does not have access to the concept of entorno [20] and uses von Uexküll's concept of Umwelt in a dissociated way. The Umwelt is not precisely the environment in which the Jacobean oyster develops, but rather, based on perception, it is the internalization of that world in which it develops, that is to say, it is a "subjective universe" [32]. This "subjective universe" means that for Bains, relationships are above all "external to their terms". This gives rise to a semiotics of reality because the relations expressed in language are the relations of reality. This would imply that facts and language are the same, so his pure representational language is doomed to failure because, as we said earlier, the relation is not the relation, and the schema of action without an observer is meaningless. This affirmation is corroborated by using, for his relational ontology, Maturana's qutopoiesis, which he always based on the field of interactions (the need for a physical-chemical justification). So much so that Maturana and Dávila, using the definitions of molecular autopoiesis, define the niche as the operational-interactional field: "a living being only exists in its functioning as a totality and only functions as a totality and conserves its life while in its interactions with the environment that contains it the operational-relational field that makes it possible arises and is realized with it instant by instant". We call niche the operational-relational field that makes possible the existence of a living being [7]. If we follow the narrative to understand the autopoietic niche, we find that the conservation of the organism occurs to the extent that the operational-relational field that makes it possible arises from interactions with the environment that contains it and is realized with it. It is precisely in this definition that an inexplicable leap occurs. As we have previously pointed out [11], interaction and relation are distinct domains, and however many configurations of interaction one can imagine, none of them is a relation. That is, a schema of actions (causes, effects, and impacts) may predicate interactions and the concept of medium (mesos = that which is in the middle) in a processual or operational-relational domain, but it is far from being a relational conceptualization. Therefore, the appellation "ecological" is an embellishment rather than an explanation of a concept since, by definition, "Oikos" is a relational concept and the interactional domain of autopoiesis is not, no matter how many adjectives are used. Therefore, the unity ecology-organism-niche, proposed by Davila and Maturana [7], would translate into the relational unity of the relational organism-operator that emerges and is preserved from the history of interactions with the environment, integrating itself into the environment, which is a confusion of categories that leads to meaninglessness.

We live our language in an objectual, conjunctive and identitarian way, and in the continuous process of substantivation, we have transformed verbs into nouns. The relation, the relational, must be understood as a functor and not as an object. Indeed, it is taught that verbs predict actions and rarely that they are links between subject and predicate, that they are relational.

The relationship issues bring up, once again, the old question of objectivity (the objective) and subjectivity (the subjective), because we do not speak in terms of relationships; we speak in terms of objects, not even of subjects, because that sounds awful, as subjectivity.

Objectivity is well known and appreciated in all areas of our daily life, but at the same time, we ask others and ourselves to be authentic subjects. To be and to know oneself to be a    subject implies the knowledge of a world for oneself, since a subject is nothing if a world is not produced for him, and a certain complexion in oneself (withdrawing into oneself), in the sense of ipseity identity.

How can we ask for objectivity when there are so many subjects that generate the multiplicity with which we coexist daily? This multiplicity unfolds as assemblages and identities based on differences and otherness, emergence, and poetic novelty. All this while remaining, finally, in the co-authorship of human communication. The latter implies that what we argue about, which we call world or reality can never be “objectively” separated from our own knowledge in and for-itself. But this “for-itself” has certain qualities that are neither precisely those of solipsistic thinking nor those of objectivist ingenuous.

Humans have been formed as part of a culture, a society, or a human community, and in this process, we have been molded by the historical course that constituted us in that community, so that we have become sensitive to the pattern that is connected within the communicational system in which we find ourselves. We are sensitive to the context, organizing, valuing and deciding what is expected and demanded in that community. Here we no longer speak of parts subordinate to the whole (holism) but of processes, a network of relationships in which the parts and the whole are in loops or cycles and loops of loops or loops of loops and cycles of loops.

In this network, the parts become the condition of the whole, whose totalization serves itself and the parts that demand it to totalize it because the whole demands it from this totalization to offer itself to the parts. Thus, we function in communication (as a total process), where cultural agencies take place, and the statements give account of what is expected and irreplaceable in the community identity.

We enter the perspective of complex units with history. This implication has been systematically neglected by the thought inherited from classical science and philosophy. Therefore, we have always tried to elucidate the oscillation, the constant vacillation between “objective being and subjective being,” and it has been so because this inheritance marked and worked drastically separating the subject that knows from the object of his knowledge. Several times this hesitation has ended up totally absorbing the position of the other, something like what happens with idealism and materialism. With this radical separation, instituted in techno-scientific thought and in all the means of scientific propaganda, the historical and social process has been ignored as the sphere of all thought, subjectivity has been understood as “psychic elements of understanding” (in a pejorative sense) and the world, objects, have been thought independently of their construction by communities, societies or western human cultures, except for the investigations of some ethnographers that served to enrich the objective knowledge of other cultures.

To leave aside the relation and the emergent character of experience in every subject is to delude oneself that scientific (and non-scientific) arguments are “a-contextual” in their meaning and that the “a-processual and a-historical” is what can characterize the subject that is “objective.” Thus, we can clearly distinguish a relational style of thinking from a non- relational one, i.e. distinguish it from objectual thinking [20]. On the other hand, anything perceived by an observer, whether material or not, ends up representing something else in terms of the underlying “rules” that are patented in the decision and in the inevitable evaluation of human acts, that is, in terms of the rules or “systems of signification” [2]. This inevitably brings us back to considerations of culture, community, and context.

When we speak of relations, we do not start a priori from the consideration of objects with inherent properties; as observers, we establish differences and these differences are established by the subject in his entorno, in relation to his object of knowledge. In stating these established differences, we call them distinctions, traces or cuts made by the observer. In this process, the information generated is the “first news” of the differences established by the observer. Here objectivity disappears as a condition, or, in such a case, it is a non- neutral activity of the subject, who should pay attention to the explicitness of the “rules” or conventions he took to establish those distinctions.

From an epistemological point of view, the observer must first speak of himself and then of his way of making and experiencing knowledge. Part of the information thus generated can then enter the domain of human communication with its enunciation, which for the interlocutor takes the form of a message. Bateson [3] wrote that information was the product of a difference that made a difference later. In this process, the referent, the entorno and the observer are united in a single function. This evocates the triune entity of Pierce’s semiotics. However, during triference, the centralizer is unable to locate the difference it creates. Therefore, the sign becomes a trifferentiated relational space, which distinguishes it from Pierce's sign concept.

Relational theory is a way of explaining, from a set of ideas, what we do not see, but we know is there. Thus, the sense of the relational involves the process of trifferentiation that allows us to generate distinctions, form and meaning. Therefore, we can give names to the relation, but even so, the name, or the name of names, is not the name, and the name of the relation is not the relation. Even if we say that the relation between something and another something is of such a kind, we denote it by saying that the first something is the name of the second something. Therefore, in a space of signification, the distinction that arises, as a product of the triference, makes us think of three relations that generate it, among which there is always the observer or a centralizing unit of information.

From the framework of relational theory, relational cybernetics is the science that studies relational viability as ecopoiesis in living systems. Every living system is complex because, as a unit, a system is a complex unit with organization. To the extent that an organization is the emergence of a network of relationships, any way of maintaining its viability has to do with relationships.

Thus, cybernetics allows us to understand their forms of production and reproduction. It is therefore a matter of laying the foundations of relational cybernetics and ecopoietic strategies in complex systems. Based on this understanding, we have called the relational approach to know the epistemological position that privileges the relational observer–entorno (culturator) unit as a process of construction of territoriality, understood as the effective–affective equivalence in the exchange of meanings and their configurations (maps or landscapes of meanings), grounded on the activity generated in the entornos of the communicating observers. On this basis, effectiveness emerges in the affective domain [10].

From this point of view, knowing is understood as an emerging process of relational configurations, which is based on the generation of differences by an observer who configures (making entorno) and has meaning for him [11, 18]. It is this meaning that makes it possible to establish patterns of territoriality, or, in other words, to generate identity through agency and belonging.

In this process, territoriality becomes a collective idea, co-constructed among the observers that constitute the network. Consequently, descriptions and interpretations follow one another through internal mechanisms of communication (communicational closure), which we will define as generators of territoriality configurations. Therefore, territoriality is not a physical object, but the emergence of the selection of alternatives of descriptive elements, a constitutive property of the observation relationship [3, 33].

From this perspective, the descriptive–interpretative process does not apply to a territory but is a process of co-circumstantiality in the distinction of units since it implies both the definition of the observer and the definition of the observed unit in its entorno. It follows that the observer is constituted in the act of distinction as a unit, being the centralizer of the relationship with the observed and therefore participant of this [22]. From the relational school, we define the cognitive process as the generation of configurations of distinctions in relation to the meaning of their exchange, a product of the territoriality of the observer, this is evidenced from its discriminative-affective operation (distinction) in relation to the unit of observation, which by some criterion cuts a sequence and exposes it acting in function of some meaning (to be explained). In this context, the possibility of describing arises from our history of descriptions, from our culture and from recognizing ourselves as part of the observation system involved in the communicational plot.

Through this perspective, the configuration of territoriality is co-constructed from our distinctions as a relational culture–nature process, where the observer can no longer be     considered autonomous, that is, responding to internal mechanisms of self-organization, specifically, eco-semio-coautonomic, i.e. reproducing itself in relation to the semiotic process [33].

In this context, observation as a form of distinction is not only constructed based on certain criteria that need to be made explicit but also responds to a strategy and necessarily to a cognitive style [24]. In all this, communication between observers is of vital importance, for whom the messages have a meaning that is determined by the history of previous relationships and communications. Classifications, hierarchies and, finally, organization emerge as part of the process of preserving the culture–nature relationship and, therefore, do not apply to something; they emerge in the relationship.

The relation is the basis on which we say that, as observers, we extract differences and these differences extracted from the relation are argued as distinctions. Strictly speaking, it is a triference because the process involves both the one who generates it and at least two additional distinctions that define the objects of knowledge in the cognitive relation, even if one of these “objects” is the observer himself.

From the cognitive perspective, the primary consists in distinctions, in recognizing what surrounds as distinct. In this sense, distinction is predicated on the capacity to cut out, circumscribe and separate a unit from the rest. The extraction of a unit, the figure/ background distinction, has to do with individualization and not necessarily with their being different in fact, neither generically nor specifically.

The successive triferences form the culturally determined objects to be distinguished as distinct from the observer, thus entering the process of successive differentiations that form the spiral of the distinct-similar.

In synthesis, the process of knowledge can be explained as the transit from the production of triferences to their more complex levels, which are sequences that allow us to narrate and configure a world in which it is irrelevant whether it is pre-given or given. Thus, from this perspective, if what we want to preserve, is the distinction of permanence, then culture will preserve those configurations that satisfy the idea of permanence within the process of communication.

In short, the permanent or constant could not be a property imputed to the object but to the configurations of distinctions or predicates about it. The question then comes up: what is it that implies permanence and, at the same time, change in representation, if representation is a predicate of the object from the observer’s distinctions?

It is the relationality of the predicate that configures the distinctions necessary for an observer to generate representations from distinctions of invariance and change. Therefore, the production of living units would imply at least two ways of explanation: the generation of the self from autopoiesis [23], and a second process of production of entorno or relationality, which in cultural networks implies relational semiotic systems. This second process is what we will call ecopoiesis, and we will define it as "The strategy of linking reproduction, as a process, between the relational system (relationalability) and the material system of energetic resources (sustainability). This relational, recursive and epigenetic (spiral) process gives rise to the morphogenetic reproduction of patterns of identity and agency in the context of signification". In the case of living units (cells), ecopoiesis) to decrease the production of waste or unrequired variety [11]. In the following sections, we will develop both explanatory routes to elucidate the coherence of the relational ambit and thus ensure that no objectual distinctions have crept in that would set back the explanations of the living.

A subtly erroneous thought can lead to a fruitful investigation that reveals discoveries of great value. Immersed in the consideration of the relationship as a unit, but not as a vital or survival unit, certain problems arise as to the meaning of the word or words designating the members of the relationship. The distinction made to describe a vital unit has basically used three words interchangeably to describe what, in principle, we can call “entorno of a viable unit.” They are “entorno, environment, and milieu.” In recent years, it has become clear that these usages and symbols need to be reconsidered. Here, we will briefly study their etymology, the possibility of their use as descriptors and their epistemological scope in relation to the living.

The middle

It is a word of Latin root whose meaning is “to begin at the midpoint” or “to divide into two parts.” In our language, middle means “in the middle,” “that which is the way,” corresponding to the Latin adjective medius and, in turn, to the Greek mesos, which adds to the previous one the meaning of “ambiguous.”

Following the etymology, the word “medium,” referring to what surrounds an organization, is very unfortunate, since its meaning brings into play a third element, alluding to what is “in the middle”. If we take as a starting point the viable unit and what surrounds it, nothing can come between the terms. For this reason, Davila and Maturana [7] point out that the medium is an inadequate way of naming the external entity. The medium can be qualified according to the type of physical place where an activity takes place. Thus, for example, one can speak of an “aquatic medium,” an “aerial medium” or even a kind of “internal medium.” It is important to note here that if external conditions, whatever they may be, influence the activities of an organism, the medium is decisive or instructive, considered not as a unit, but as a process of the medium that shapes the activities, actions, and behavior of the organism. Language is constitutive to our biology, what we mean is that the concept of medium breaks the organism–entorno relationship. You can refer to the medium without the organism, which generalizes a context without the participation of the actor. So, it is necessary to make the distinction.

The environment

The environment is that which surrounds, but does not remain with the organism. The term “environment” refers to various factors that define a place, e.g., employment, supply, demand, etc. or types of services. If we consider the environment as a member of what should be a unit (viable system- environment), the environment is not larger than the organism. It is one thing to consider the system and the environment, and quite another to speak of the system in its environment; here what we are trying to express is the totality, which has little to do with the separate parts: the system is immersed in its environment and at the same time interacts with it, the space that a system inhabits is its space. This being so, and everyone understands this, how is it possible that the environmental can be maintained as “autonomous,” as a domain of knowledge?


A system, or viable unit in a relational sense, cannot be separated from its circumstances; what surrounds it must remain with it. What is called “external” is not an entity apart from the unit, and that is why the definitions of “environment” and “milieu” being used do not correspond to these criteria.

The description of the unit to which we refer requires an introduction and a participation in the sense of a notion of behavior, which, by the way, lacks the ideas of medium and environment. These words, either by their usage or as derivatives, are notions referring to external objects with inherent properties independent of viable systems.

The word entorno comes from the Greek en, between and tornos, circular movement, which gives the idea of “around.” The meaning is that of “permanence” in that situation [28] “that which surrounds” permeates if the link is established, so that “it is entorno” as long as it “is” for “something or for someone.” Thus, this term has from its origin a more complete sense insofar as it is binding. As Maturana and Varela [22] point out, “entorno” is “everything that surrounds an organism and is specified as external to it for its own activities.” This definition is very appropriate since it recovers the sense of von Uexküll [32], who, noting the tension in the use and meaning of the German umwelt, wrote: it is a totally vain desire to want to oppose to the use of language, the expression “surrounding world” (umwelt) does not correspond closely to the concept to which it is attributed. Therefore, I would like to replace it with the word “perceptible world (merkwelt), which means that for each living unit there is a special world, constituted by the distinctive notes it takes from the outside world.

The world is not given in advance; there is no adaptation directed or pressured towards it. The mutual play of tension and flexibility allows the system–entorno unit to evolve. For more details on the epistemological differences between environment, entorno, middle and environment, see Malpartida [19].

However, the use of the concept of entorno is not gratuitous, it has no English translation, and its meaning implies that which surrounds and remains, that which shapes [32]. Dependency relations in and with the entorno are necessarily eco-spontaneous. That is, it arises spontaneously whenever it is not possible to think of a living unit without entorno and/or entorno for anyone. Behind the idea that an organism that destroys its entorno destroys itself, there is the condition of the inseparable link. However, complex the unity may be, it entails a hidden paradox in the fact that the organism is in its entorno and at the same time interacts with it.

The dimension of the Oikos implies, on one hand, the relation of the organism to its entorno and, on the other, the relation of the organism to its entorno as part of itself. It is necessary to change the notion of the reference system; it is no longer a question of the single individual organism, but of the organism–entorno in a spontaneous organization, as we have already indicated.

For this reason, the ecopoietic organization is the unit of production of the organism– entorno organization and is considered, from this point of view, the reference system. Ecopoiesis is the process by which the unit of reference becomes habitable, territorialized, or fit for human habitation. It has been and is common in the fields of ecology and economics to study these relations of dependence and exchange, affecting them as transfers of energy. This constitutes a way of separating parts and wholes, generating hierarchies and discretizing. But in the organism-in-its-entorno unit not only matter and energy circulate but also messages from which information is generated.

We highlight the spiral shape for ecopoiesis because of the possibilities of presenting the change-preservation relationship. The spiral is a geometric figure that helps us to understand the viability of organization, of the living as cybernetic or morphogenetic positive feedback loops.

We have chosen as a paraphrase a spiral helix shape with x, y and z axes since none of the spirals closes on itself, it is not autocentric, on the contrary, at each turn, it opens and generates a new spiral that is related to the previous one. This continuous change called Morphogenesis is the basic principle to account for processes that escape control, that is, processes that continuously generate new situations. The explanation of the living is a process in which, as in all evolutionary processes, information is always generated from a pre- existing situation. The spiral is a curve that revolves indefinitely around a point and, at each turn, moves further away from the center. Each turn of the spiral is called a “spiral,” and this serves to establish the form between abduction and schismogenesis or differentiation (the dance of the spiral) [14].

If abduction contains differentiation while maintaining form, it means that its ecopoetic strategy preserves relations from a minimum variety not required to use only the necessary resources. Spirals generate different dimensions, each time larger and larger, as they move away from their center. Consequently, we must traverse a continuum in which novelty is created by resorting to what has survived in the past.

This process of development of configurability implies a play of tensions that gives rise to a network of relationships that must be ecologically produced to the extent that their relationality and sustainability are balanced. The spiral form allows the experience of change to occur repeatedly as countless landscapes are constructed, all resulting from networked processes. Each abductive spiral involves an epigenetic development in relation to the preceding spiral. The entire spiral represents the growth of progressive differentiation (cismogenesis).

Consequently, the whole process called “ecopoiesis” refers to the creation of an organizational network with a heterarchical web that dances morphogenetically in a spiral.


This article concludes with a counter-intuitive proposal to the dominant lines of thought, distinguishing: complexity as vital interweaving, Aristotelian oikos as communitarian distinction, organism–entorno from relational theory (beyond the interactional), in a cybernetic referential framework that allows tending to sustain and sustain life from ecopoiesis. Thus, the novelty arises as a vital phenomenon supported by the growing relations of the organism–entorno unit, recreating the circumstances for its own survival.

It is also determined that the research has practical implications for society due to the unpredictability of viability, such as culture, community, and human context. The dismantling of conceptual hierarchies was part of an epistemological turn that took place in the last decades of the twentieth century. The understanding of the plot that accompanies the current individual in his aestheticized relationships has provoked what we have called a “heterarchical turn” in our way of thinking, something that the narrative of evolutionary processes does not always consider such as studying questions such as the understanding of the oikos and its ecopoiesis, the positioning and meaning of aesthetic practices, as well as the methods of creation. Werner Heisenberg believed that, If the harmony of society, after the multiplicity of phenomena, depends on the common integration in unity, then the language of poets could be more important than that of scientists. Werner Heisenberg’s imaginary horizons and paradigms derived from so-called cognitive landscapes are crucial because these issues impact how individuals are formed within organizations in general and in knowledge- creating organizations, how they participate in politics and how they live their daily lives.

The traditional links that dissociate culture–nature must be replaced, and the relationship must be included as a coordinate from which we must explain how we build the organization from the organism–entorno unit. Consequently, the viability of ecopoiesis is ensured by shifting the points of enunciation to the relational conception that belongs to us as a process of creation.

To organize the thinking of the 21st century, from uncertainty and from an observer present in its narrative, the value of the contextual as opposed to false universalisms and their critical interpretation becomes essential. Understanding ecopoiesis from its aesthetic coordinates, rejecting reductionist approaches and objective representation, is crucial in the current context. The latter has profound implications for the functioning of living systems because they are epigenetic in their shaping processes, suggesting that relational entanglement underpins the history of viability. Such insights are necessary because ecopoiesis, as a narrative about the origin of the organizational structure of the living, demands that priority be given to the patterns hidden behind quantitative dimensions.

According to a relational theory of cognition, the sources of knowledge go beyond genetic and environmental factors. In the realm of explanation, we move from “how much,” “why” and “how” to “why not.” Thus, the processes involved in understanding the living are forced to move from the logic of parts to the logic of patterns, which involves developing an explanation that considers the unique characteristics of development, encompassing the diverse origins of the organization of the living.

Knowing involves configuring or accepting that the mobilization of relations involves the semiotic organization of triferences into distinctions, as mentioned in previous paragraphs. Although alluded to in an account anchored in the concept of the discrete (digital), the configurative world created by this process has analogical characteristics. According to this point of view, explaining how life is organized entails the difficult task of replacing rigid hierarchies of thought with flexible, stochastic forms and, at times, living uncertainty. According to this view, living in a belief system in which only the processes of determination, disjunction, unidimensionality and quantification are conceptually valid for understanding the complexity of any form of organization is opposed to relationally based knowledge strategies. In this context, “relational art” refers to a form of art, in which there are no differentiated categories of restrictions or limiting boundaries, which orients to an affective-effective coherence of living, a kind of ethical and aesthetic encounter for a fundamental concept in the culture-nature relationship that is “living well.” Finally, what prevents us from rescuing the idea of the living from its objectual and reductionist conception, rooted in the security of immutability? It is the strategic practice of neuroscience and relational cybernetics that comes to the aid of the living, moving us from the objectual to the relational, from the reductionist to the complex and from certainty to the unpredictability of life itself.



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Reference for citations

Lavanderos L., and Malpartida A. Ecopoiesis. Life as a relational unit. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 5(1). [open access internet journal]. – URL: (d/m/y)

About the journal

In accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) on September 22, 2020, the web-based publication - The peer-reviewed scientific online journal "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" was registered (registration number El No. FS77-79134).

“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.

The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.

One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.

The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.