The temporal and affective structure of living systems: A thermodynamic perspective

Publication Name

Adaptive Behavior


Enactive approaches to cognitive science as well as contemporary accounts from neuroscience have argued that we need to reconceptualize the role of temporality and affectivity in minds. Far from being limited to special faculties, such as emotional mental states and timekeeping, these accounts argue that time and affect both constitute fundamental aspects of minds and cognition. If this is true, how should one conceptualize the relation between these two fundamental aspects? This paper offers a way to conceptualize and clarify the relation between temporality and affectivity when understood in this fundamental sense. In particular, the paper contributes to ongoing discussions of structural temporality and affectivity by combining enactive notions of self-maintenance with a thermodynamically informed view of the organization of living systems. In situating temporality and affectivity by way of their role for the maintenance of thermodynamic non-equilibrium, I will argue that temporality and affectivity should be regarded as two sides of the same coin—that is, two distinct ways of highlighting one and the same process. This process corresponds to the continued differentiation of organism and environment as functional poles of a living system. The temporal and affective structure of living systems may thus be seen as the warp and weft by which living systems maintain themselves in terms of thermodynamic non-equilibrium.

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