The Paradox of Observing, Autopoiesis, and the Future of Social Sciences

Systems Research and Behavioral Science 24 (3):323-32 (2007)
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The current debates in social sciences show that the paradox of observing—the embeddedness of observer in the process of observing—is at the heart of the controversy about their cognitive status and future. Although the problem of observing has been addressed in numerous theoretical perspectives—some of which (Habermas, Leydesdorff, Maturana, and Luhmann) are examined in this article—the prospects for resolving this paradox remain problematic. Locating a point that allows reflection on the process of autopoiesis in general, not just the operation of a particular autopoietic system, may be one condition for resolving this paradox. Such point will offer reflection on all autopoietic systems, including the observer. The dynamic balance between equilibrium and disequilibrium is the mechanism which regulates the process of autopoiesis. Since the function of regulation is essentially a reflective function, this equilibrium between equilibrium and disequilibrium, which can be identified with the concept of homeorhesis introduced by Conrad Waddington, may offer a possibility to reflect on the process of observing.

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