The candle flame is an example of a different kind of system property. The flame makes contributions to its own maintenance through time. It maintains above combustion threshold temperatures; in a standard gravitational field and atmosphere, it induces
convection, which both brings in oxygen and eliminates combustion products; and it vaporizes wax into fuel. A candle flame, like the Benard cells, is a far-from-equilibrium
s y s t e m , a n d i s d e p e n d e n t f o r i t s c o n t i n u e d e x i s t e n c e o n t h e m a i n t e n a n c e o f p a r t i c u l a r
properties and processes that support its far-from-equilibrium conditions. Unlike the Benard cells, however, the flame is self-maintenant — it contributes to its own far-from- equilibrium maintaining conditions (Bickhard, 1993).
The candle flame, however, can do nothing if it is running out of candle. The flame cannot adopt relevantly differing self-maintaining interactions with its environment when that environment itself changes. Some far-from-equilibrium systems, however can. A science fiction candle flame could do that if it could, perhaps, undertake to seek new fuel when it detected that the candle was almost gone. A paramecium, for a non-science fiction example, is capable of swimming, and continuing to swim, so long as it is swimming up a
sugar gradient, but will tumble for a moment if it “finds itself” swimming down the sugar
gradient (Campbell, D. T., 1974, 1990). Such systems can alter their methods of self- maintenance in ways appropriate to their current environments. They tend to maintain their own property of being self-maintenant: they are recursively self-maintenant.
Self-maintenant and recursively self-maintenant systems are, I argue, the key
emergent forms of far-from-equilibrium systems in which normative function and representation emerge, respectively (Bickhard, 1993). I will outline that model and some
of the arguments in its favor, and then turn to examining the implications for biological
Normative Function. Simply put, the candle flame’s heat serves a function for the flame insofar as it contributes to the flame’s maintenance. Function, in this view, is contribution, or tendency to contribute, to the maintenance of a far-from-equilibrium
system, and is thereby always relative to some such system (Bickhard, 1993; Christensen & Bickhard, 2002). The heart of a parasite, for example, would likely serve a function for
the parasite, but would be dysfunctional for the parasitized host.
This model of function is in strong contrast to the dominant approach in terms of evolutionary selection history (Millikan, 1984; Godfrey-Smith, 1994). The idea in these approaches is that a heart has the function of pumping blood, and not, say, that of making
heart beat sounds, because it is in virtue of evolutionary predecessors having pumped