Aristotle invented science with his work in marine biology but at the same time set it back a couple of thousand years with his belief in the spontaneous generation of life. People had to kill off the giant and reject his understanding of reality so that science could get started again but in doing so they lost the tool he used to get science started in the first place. In striving to understand living things, Aristotle found a metaphor, an image taken from the reality he knew that helped him explore the unknown. He observed the potter making pottery and saw mud being worked up into the form of a pot and concluded that every thing that exists is made up of two co-existing principles, matter and form.
This theory of hylomorphism works. In judging human actions, we can talk about a descriptive element and an evaluative element. The matter is everything that can be said about a situation and what it amounts to is the form. In a given situation, the description of events may remain the same, a man runs his wife through with a knife, but when it comes to the evaluative side, on the one hand a court may decide it was a tragic accident or on the other hand may judge that it was murder. - Kovesi
This concept was lost to science until the 1960s when the Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana, reapplied the concept, calling the self organisation of cells autopoeisis. This is a Greek word, which when translated means self producing but it is never translated because people want to keep the exact meaning given to it by Maturana,.
Direct application of autopoiesis may work in other areas but that's
more a hope than a real prospect. It works with cells because the
ontology matches the metaphor. The cells of a living organism actually
do comprise a self-contained, self-generating system that is
structurally coupled to other systems. General systems theory says
pretty much the same thing. In information systems, computers are organised along certain
lines and connect to other computer systems but that is only a
general description, a check list that helps us know we are going in the
right direction. This is more extreme. People want the metaphor of autopoeisis to determine
the ontology of human systems. Attempts have been made to
understand such things as social sciences and medicine by saying they
are autopoietic systems, but they aren't. The actual structure of human
systems has to determine the metaphor, not the other way around.
Scientists say that you can't know anything if you don't have a metaphor. Niels Bohr, a deeply religious man, gave us the structure of the atom by seeing the spectrum of the atom as a stained glass window.
- The Ascent of Man
The ontology determines the metaphor, the metaphor does not determine the ontology.