The Cognitive Domain of a Reaction Network

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Cognitive domain refers to the actions that an autopoietic system can execute without losing its identity.

Despite its conceptual depth and relevance to the debates around origins of life and cognition, this notion has remained almost unexplored at a formal level. In this article, we review and formalize this concept in the context of complex adaptive systems, and develop a general framework based on Chemical Organization Theory.

In our formalization, autopoietic systems are equivalent to chemical organiations, i.e. closed and self-maintaining reaction networks. Hence, actions of an autopoietic system correspond to reaction pathways that can be executed by an organization. Therefore, the cognitive domain is defined as the subset of actions that ensure self-maintainance of an organization.

Our formalization allows us to advance a framework where cognitive domain and resilience of an autopoietic system are directly linked through the dynamical constrains imposed by initial conditions, kinetic parameters and the environmental novelties that can establish new kind of interaction with our system.

We first illustrate our formalization by presenting examples that allow the reader to familiarize with the concept. Next, we focus on how the cognitive domain explains how autopoietic systems can counteract the challenges posed by environmental fluctuations and internal structural changes. We finally discuss how this framework can be extended to formalize related troubling notions such as autonomy, agency, and goal-directedness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArtificial Life
Publication statusIn preparation - 2023


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