Bill Hall pointed out his paper on Biological Nature of Knowledge in the Learning Organization (pdf), and I figured I would give it a read. It's deep (for me), and still somewhat approachable.
The first half of the article focuses on connecting ideas about self-preservation / self-replication / evolution within living systems. Hall spends much of this time on the knowledge theories of Popper and Polyani as connected to these ideas. The second half posits that if organizations are "living" or "learning" maybe then these ideas about knowledge could also apply to organizations. He starts this part of the discussion with clear excitement:
To an evolutionist, the thought that organizations may be living entities offers an exciting prospect to study at first hand how life emerges from non-living media. Human economic organizations are a new phenomenon in biological evolution, and probably even relatively new in human evolution. If organizations are alive, not only are they at a very early stage of evolution compared to living cells or multicellular organisms, but human observers have a unique viewpoint as active components within the process of organizational life itself that enables insights that cannot be gained from studying organisms with microscopes or dissecting tools. Not only should looking at organizations biologically give us a better understanding of organizational processes and activities, but reflecting what can be learned from organizations about how living things are formed back into biology should give us a better understanding of life in general.
And the conclusion is that organizations can be considered living in the sense that they learn and that the knowledge required for the organization's continued existence is embedded within the people and processes of the organization (the organization is autopoetic). The organization is evolutionary in the sense that it continues learning and adapting to its environment. And the argument for why organizations don't make it would be that they could not adapt quickly enough to changes in their environment - they die off.
I am not immersed in the language and thought process that Hall uses, so I know I have missed some major points. But I am thrilled that this is the first time I've been able to absorb a discussion of the theory of knowledge. Hall describes Popper's "All Life is Problem Solving" in terms that I can handle. Or maybe I have heard versions of this enough times that it finally makes sense. Every person deals with problems and attempts to solve them in ways that reflect her previous experience with this type of problem. And her level of success at solving a given problem will build on what she does next time. In other words, she learns from her experiences and knowledge as she encounters new problems. This iterative building logic applies to anything that is cognitively aware. In reading this description, I couldn't help but think of genetic algorithms.