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Varela and the Uroborus: The psychological significance of re-entry

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The Uroboros, or snake that swallows its own tail, symbolizes regeneration and renewal the world over. It was adopted by Francisco Varela as an icon for his re-entry term in ‘A Calculus for Self-Reference.’ The present paper examines how the notion of re-entry can be applied psychologically, to issues of autonomy and identity. According to Varela, all autonomous systems are structurally open and functionally closed, which leads to paradoxical qualities particularly evident in higher order cybernetics. First Varela's early work is placed within a philosophical and historical context. Next, notions about biological autonomy are examined from the perspective of nonlinear dynamics. Then, the recursive dynamics of consciousness are explored through social mirror theories of identity formation. Finally, Varela's ideas are applied self-referentially to descriptions of his own experience as he neared death.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Private Practice, Santa Monica, California, USA. Email: [email protected]

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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