Early life and education
Born to a Jewish family in French Algeria, Atlan gained degrees in medicine and biophysics at the University of Paris (now University Paris Diderot) . He then moved to the University of California, Berkeley working on ageing and mutation.
Influenced by Heinz von Foerster, Atlan became interested in applying cybernetics and information theory to living organisms, and went to the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot to work under the biophysicist Aharon Katchalsky. In 1972, he returned to Paris; and, in that year, his 1972 work on information theory and self-organising systems, entitled "L'organisation biologique et la théorie de l'information", received a wide readership. In Paris, he then taught biophysics at the Hôtel-Dieu and, later, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center.
His participation with Francisco Varela at a conference in Cerisy-la-Salle encouraged interest in cognitive science in France. Atlan was instrumental in the establishment of the Centre de Recherche en Epistémelogie Appliquée (CREA) at the École Polytechnique, and was appointed in 1983 to the Comité Consultatif National d'Éthique pour la Sciences de a Vie et de la Santé (National Advisory Committee on Ethics in the Life Sciences and Medicine). He has been appointed to a chair in the philosophy of biology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.
He is also a member of Collegium International, an organization of leaders with political, scientific, and ethical expertise whose goal is to provide new approaches in overcoming the obstacles in the way of a peaceful, socially just, and an economically sustainable world.
- Selected Writings: On Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism, 2011, ISBN 9780823231812
- L'organisation biologique et la théorie de l'information, 1972
- Entre le cristal et la fumée: Essai sur l'organisation de vivant, 1979
- À tort et à raison: Inter-critique de la science et du mythe, 1986
- Tout, non, peut-être: Education et vérité, 1991
- Les étincelles de hasard, 1999
- Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2006), "Henri Atlan", The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-10790-7