In this paper, we develop an organizational account that defines biological functions as causal relations subject to closure in living systems, interpreted as the most typical example of organizationally closed and differentiated self-maintaining systems. We argue that this account adequately grounds the teleological and normative dimensions of functions in the current organization of a system, insofar as it provides an explanation for the existence of the function bearer and, at the same time, identifies in a non-arbitrary way the norms that functions are supposed to obey. Accordingly, we suggest that the organizational account combines the etiological and dispositional perspectives in an integrated theoretical framework.
We propose a conceptual and formal characterisation of biological organisation as a closure of constraints. We first establish a distinction between two causal regimes at work in biological systems: processes, which refer to the whole set of changes occurring in non-equilibrium open thermodynamic conditions; and constraints, those entities which, while acting upon the processes, exhibit some form of conservation (symmetry) at the relevant time scales. We then argue that, in biological systems, constraints realise closure, i.e. mutual dependence such that they both depend on and contribute to maintaining each other. With this characterisation in hand, we discuss how organisational closure can provide an operational tool for marking the boundaries between interacting biological systems. We conclude by focusing on the original conception of the relationship between stability and variation which emerges from this framework.
Organisms, be they uni- or multi-cellular, are agents capable of creating their own norms; they are continuously harmonizing their ability to create novelty and stability, that is, they combine plasticity with robustness. Here we articulate the three principles for a theory of organisms proposed in this issue, namely: the default state of proliferation with variation and motility, the principle of variation and the principle of organization. These principles profoundly change both biological observables and their determination with respect to the theoretical framework of physical theories. This radical change opens up the possibility of anchoring mathematical modeling in biologically proper principles.
The central aim of this paper consists in arguing that biological organisms realize a specific kind of causal regime that we call “organisational closure”, i.e. a distinct level of causation, operating in addition to physical laws, generated by the action of material structures acting as constraints. We argue that organisational closure constitutes a fundamental property of biological systems since even its minimal instances are likely to possess at least some of the typical features of biological organisation, as exhibited by more complex organisms. Yet, while being a necessary condition for biological organization, organisational closure underdetermines, as such, the whole set of requirements that a system has to satisfy in order to be taken as s paradigmatic example of organism. As we suggest, additional properties, as modular templates and control mechanisms via dynamical decoupling between constraints, are required to get the complexity typical of full-fledged biological organisms.