Autopoietic theory is more than a mere characterization of the living, as it can be applied to a wider class of systems and involves both organizational and epistemological aspects. In this paper we assert the necessity of considering the relation between autopoiesis and emergence, focusing on the crucial importance of the observer’s activity and demonstrating that autopoietic systems can be considered intrinsically emergent processes. From the attempts to conceptualize emergence, especially Rosen’s, autopoiesis stands out for its attention to the unitary character of systems and to emergent levels, both inseparable from the observer’s operations. These aspects are the basis of Varela’s approach to multiple level relationships, considered as descriptive complementarities.
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