Francisco Varela, eminent biologist and co-founder of the Mind & Life Institute, died in Paris in May after a long struggle with liver cancer. He found death in peace, meditating into his final hours, and surrounded by his wife, Amy Cohen Varela, his four children, and his father and brother.
Born in the Chilean Andes, Varela came of age during the 1960s, a fertile period in the Chilean academic community. After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1970, Varela, together with Humberto Maturana, helped to develop the radical theory of autopoiesis, or “self-production,” which explains how a living system maintains a consistent identity when its components are in constant flux. Their seminal work, The Tree of Knowledge, extends autopoietic theory to all forms of life, from the single cell to entire communities.