Life as We Know It and/or Life as It Could Be: Epistemology and the Ontology/Ontogeny of Artificial Life*

Artificial life researchers assert that their work can offer insight into “life as it could be.” The author suggests that it can also shed light on “life as we know it.” A complex series of decisions and presumptions precedes the selection of a given artificial entity as lifelike. For the artist, the processes of selection and representation bring into question what has been characterized by sculptor Michael Grey as “the relationship between ontology and ontogeny,” or the interconnectedness of being and its formal embodiment. The work of biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela suggest that these two aspects of life are inseparable components of autopoiesis and are, moreover, environmentally determined and determining. If this is the case, then artificial life is not just a product of research but is structurally coupled with other natural and artificial life forms as part of a dynamic autopoietic system.

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