A few clues about autopoiesis terminology
(Confusion arises because some of these terms are also words in common usage, but writers on autopoiesis tend to use them in a very precise way.)
It doesn't sound very exciting, I know, but we have to start with Organisation and Structure.
Organisation (or pattern of organisation) is the configuration of relationships among a system's components that makes the system what it is - that gives the system its essential characteristics - that must be present for it to be recognised as - say - a chair, or a horse.
Structure is the physical embodiment of that abstract pattern - the molecular processes that make that organisation manifest.
Living beings are characterised by their autopoietic organisation. They differ in their structure, but have a common element in their organisation. This makes them autonomous unities.
The Principia Cybernetica website has a more formal dictionary of terms used in cybernetics and systems generally.
A useful set of more detailed definition statements can be found in Maturana's Disciplinary Matrix which is maintained by Rob Sable.
Conversation and Culture
What we say and do in conversation does not instruct or convey, nor determine a response - it simply triggers changes in the emotioning and languaging of another, which, in turn, shape the next bit of the conversation. Meaning arises in the flow of conversation. It does not reside in words themselves, nor can it be transferred from person to person.
The conversations form a network and these networks of conversation constitute our culture. Our culture changes by this process of conversation, mostly amongst small groups of people at a time. Therein lies great hope and also great responsibility for the way we relate to others.
Emotioning is fundamental. We are always emotioning. Conversation refers to the flow of emotioning and languaging as they are delicately intertwined. Conversation does not just refer to the spoken interaction, but entails our body movement and expression, touching and so on.
Autopoiesis and Cognition
Autopoiesis - "In cybernetics, a term coined by Humberto Maturana for a special case of homeostasis in which the critical variable of the system that is held constant is that system's own organisation." Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought.
The story goes that Maturana coined the term after talking with a friend (J.Bulnes) who had written an essay about Don Quixote de la Mancha's dilemma of whether to follow the path of arms (praxis, action) or the path of letters (poiesis, creation). He recognised that the autonomous quality of the living cell or organism was captured by the term: self-creation, self-making or self-producing.
Cognition is what autopoietic networks do. The system is not only self-organising it is self-referring through its connection with its world. In Maturana's words: "living systems are cognitive systems and living as a process is a process of cognition." The structural changes in the system which result from recurrent structural connections with the environment constitute acts of cognition. This doesn't require a nervous system or a brain, but they provide much greater plasticity in the cognitive system.
So knowing is doing and vice versa. Francisco Varela describes cognition as "embodied action" or "enaction." It is not a representation of an independently existing world, it is a continual bringing forth of a world which is defined by oneself and defines oneself at the same time.
The concept of autopoietic organisation combined the biochemical details of cellular function in a new way. It puts a conceptual boundary around the system. Then it can be shown that this system is open to matter and energy while at the same time being operationally closed - that is, closed to information or instruction or control. It runs itself, according to its own rules, but at the same time is absolutely dependent on its connection with the medium in which it lives which provides its source material.
Languaging and Emotioning
Knowing that we know is a higher order operation. Communication is regarded as a coordination of behaviour rather than the transmission of information. Languaging is the coordination of coordinations of behaviour. Humans are immersed so deeply in language that we hardly realise its profound role in constructing our world together.