Autonomous Agents and Adjacent Possible Theory (AAAPT) of Stuart Kauffman

Basic Ideas:

Kauffman defines living creatures as autonomous agents. His categorizing technique is, perhaps, more "open" than traditional biological definitions and may be more tolerant of borderline entities such as cyborgs or of alien creatures, should they be discovered. Though he may gasp in horror upon reading this, Kauffman's open definition may also allow for spiritual entities as long as they are forms of energy adhering to the known laws. (This may prove useful to those attempting to build a dualistic theory.) In general, Kauffman adheres to the concept that living creatures (autonomous agents) are energy systems and that all biological and psychological concepts should be definable in terms of energy.

Kauffman continues by describing an untapped potential of what could be - the Adjacent Possible. For the most part (or perhaps entirely) this potential is a higher level of complexity. To survive, autonomous agents have had to evolve toward this higher complexity. However, there is an "edge" of complexity where life is sustainable. Below and above this point, life becomes untenable. To understand this better requires reading Kauffman's works, which I strongly encourage everyone to do.

Theory Roots:

Only Kauffman can describe his personal influences, but the attempt to tie emotions and life processes to energy go back at least to the 1930s and 1940s with the work of Elizabeth Duffy. Perhaps the most dramatic hypothesis, of which Kauffman's ideas grow, was Erwin Schrodinger's (Schrödinger) statement in the early 1940s that all living creatures must grow away from entropy (disorder) and toward negative entropy (order). Jeremy Rifkin (Rifkin, 1981, p. 55-56, 76) expanded this idea by encompassing "complexity" in the concept of negative entropy:

Evolution means the creation of larger and larger islands of order at the expense of even greater seas of disorder in the world. ... In the process of evolution, each succeeding species is more complex and thus better equipped as a transformer of available energy ... Throughout history, qualitative changes in technology have always been toward more complexity ... "
Kauffman adheres to this claiming that we "ratchet" away from chaos (entropy) and toward complexity and order (negative entropy). The strength of Kauffman's work over his predecessors is the depth, thoroughness, and rigor with which he has pieced his theory together.


If psychology is ever to become a "hard" science, it will need to connect to the existing hard sciences - probably the stongest of them being physics. A direct tie to physics will ground psychology in scientific "bedrock". If psychology is a ship drifting upon a watery sea of science, Kauffman's theory of the Adjacent Possible is an anchor to hold psychology to the seabed. Adjacent Possible Theory (APT) can provide a strong, testable reference from which all other theories of the mind and emotion can take their strength. To ignore Kauffman and his predecessors (Duffy and Schrodinger) is to be set adrift again, to become flotsam, searching for some stabilizing foundation.

Further Reading:

Kauffman's lectures on Investigations: The Nature of Autonomous Agents and the Worlds They Mutually Create - Investigations, Lecture-1, Lecture-2, Lecture-3, Lecture-4, Lecture-5, Lecture-6, Lecture-7

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