Self-organization and autonomy: Emergence of degrees of freedom in dynamical systems

Teodor Negru


Approached from the point of view of the basic processes that constitute the self-organization of living systems, autonomy means the generation of identity and the minimal unity of a system, as a consequence of the self-production of internal components and processes of an organism, self-regulation of its internal variables, and self-sustaining of its internal resources. However, a living system is also a dynamical system, which means that the emergence of identity and the unity of the system is inseparable from the generation of its degrees of freedom. These degrees of freedom have different levels of complexity, given by the multidimensional patterns instantiating them, offering various alternatives to respond to environmental perturbation. From the point of view of the multidimensionality of degrees of freedom of a living system, which depends on the degree of self-organization and complexity of the organism, one can distinguish three types of autonomy: minimal or basic autonomy, sensorimotor autonomy, and strong autonomy. Put in these terms, autonomy depends on the abilities of the organism to access some degrees of freedom of higher complexity, to enhance its degrees of freedom by its coupling with the environment, as a result of its bodily skills, and to consciously control and monitorize its degrees of freedom, as a result of its higher-order cognitive abilities.

Keywords: self-organization, autonomy, degrees of freedom, dynamical system, autopoietic system.

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