Humberto Maturana’s view on the theory of evolution. From autopoiesis to natural drift metaphor

Jacek S. Podgórski



Today in the scientific circle Humberto Romensin Maturana is considered the creator of the so-called Santiago School of Biology (also known as Biology of Cognition). Biology of Cognition is a research programme seeking an explanation of the phenomenon of cognitive functions of living organisms through the concepts of self-organization (from dynamical systems theory) and structural coupling (from cybernetics).

Maturana’s novel view is based upon research conducted with such prominent scientists like Warren McCulloch, Francisco J. Varela or Heinz von Foerseter. After many years of study of complex organic systems the research resulted in formulation of the following theories: autopoiesis of living systems (with F. J. Varela) and the evolutionary metaphor of natural drift (with J. Mpodozis). Theory of autopoiesis (self-production) shows how organic cells organize themselves in producing inner organic self components needed for maintaining homeostatis, natural barriers and remaining cognitive at the molecular level. By contrast, the metaphor of natural drift can be understood as the history of diversification and adaptation of species in relation to many structural levels of the environment.

The following article constitutes a brief introduction to a critical way of thinking of the said Chilean theoretical biologist and philosopher, established during his long-lasting research. The paper will outline the basic concepts and theoretical implications relevant to modern biological sciences, with particular emphasis on the classical theory of evolution.


Santiago School of Biology; self-organization; principles of biological autonomy; structural coupling; enactive approach

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