Maturana Seminar #3 - Humanness LO12903

Richard Karash (
Sat, 15 Mar 1997 15:18:21 -0500 (EST)

Maturana Seminar #3 - The Origin of Humanness

This is the third and last day of a three day seminar by Prof. Humberto

Prof. Maturana introduced the program with a plan for the three days:
Day 1: Epistemology
Day 2: Biology
Day 3: The Origin of Humanness

(However, the material has flowed from day to day and the boundaries are

The material is very dense and very demanding. I hope that these notes
will provide a starting point for discussion. I've tried in the material
to stay close to Prof. Maturana's words, but it's likely that I'm
unconsciously substituting some of my own words for his. For this, my

At the end of Day 2, we were talking about emotions and feelings... What
follows are my notes from today.

(Feel free to forward these notes to others, but please keep this message

Someone may complain, "You don't notice my hair!" but their real problem
is "You don't notice me!"

When we see... We see love. When we admit the other.

Human existence is not in our bodies. But in the dynamics of interactions
through the body.

There is the domain of internal dynamics. There is the domain of
relational dynamics. These are different domains and are incommensurable.
Many internal structures would produce the same flow of relational
behaviors. We therefore cannot deduce the internal from the relational.

We say, "The big bang occurred 3.5 thousand million years ago." What does
that mean? It is our creation to explain the coherences of physics we
observe now. We invent the history.

(Refers to yesterdays figure of the wavefront produced by a rock dropped
in a pond.) We say, "Ah... the present is the present of this wavefront
that began xx years ago." We are at the wavefront of many different waves
superimposed. (Draws another overlapping circle.) This is now. These are
the coherences we observe now.

All that we have is US. US now. We have experience that cannot be denied.
It is a matter of living with other people. It's us living a world... and
giving rise to a world which is closed. It is closed because it is limited
to language. We cannot get out of language to talk about our living.

The notion that we distinguish as reality... and so on and so forth...
are notions that belong to our living as languaging beings. So, if we
think there should be a background... (i.e., reality)... As soon as we try
to talk about it, it is no longer a background because it is part of our
living as languaging beings.

Is this a problem? It's a problem ONLY if we don't want it to be that way!

MY NOTES: Yes, it is a problem for many in the seminar!

Problems deal with our emotions. Not our circumstances. If there is a
problem, you are feeling an emotion. Engineers don't solve problems. They
design things.

We exist in the flow of the coordinations of coordinations of consensual

Mistakes? A statement "Such and such was a mistake!" is the observation of
an observer.

When we consider something as belonging in one domain A and later decide
that it is in another domain B...

Mistake is a reflection of what the observer does.

Question: Why should that have been in domain B vs. some other domain A?

Maturana: I don't know that. It should... only if you think that it
should. You have to decide. If you don't think it should be in the other
domain, then you won't claim that there was a mistake.

When you say, "I made a mistake, I apologize," this does not undo what was
done, it simply begs respect for one's honesty.

MY NOTES: There is some confusion in the room at this point.

MY NOTES: In the above exchange, I think the question was coming form the
viewpoint that there is some reality of which domain something is in.
Maturana is saying that there is no reality, that any statement "XX should
be in domain B" is that statement of an observer. It's easy to fall back
on our notion that there is some real reality against which to compare our

Question (same person): Well, under what circumstances should I say, "I've
made a mistake, it should be in domain B"? This feels arbitrary to me.

Maturana: Everything we do is arbitrary. Since we exist in language, we
can look at what we have done, notice our emotions are changing, that our
thoughts are changing, decide we have made a mistake. Because it arises
from us according to how we are in the moment. As a general rule, to
decide such things, go through reflection including your emotions and

There is a difference in the two explanatory paths (points again to the
diagram from day 1, Certainty/objectivity on the Left and
Observer-dependent on the right)... On the left hand side, there exist
values which are transcendental; therefore, I'm never responsible for what
I do because the values justify my actions. On the right hand side... If I
acknowledge the situation that I can explain that, then I am responsible.
Because there is a choice that I perform. I am aware of what I am doing.

MY NOTES: ...and maybe we have a responsibility to be as aware as

Responsibility takes place in a moment which I anticipate the consequences
of my actions... and choose. I choose based on whether I want the
consequences, or don't want them.

If not aware, then I am not responsible.

If you are responsible about your responsibility, that's freedom.

There is a recursion... Do I like my liking of the consequences? And
another decision. When you do this recursion, then you experience freedom.

Your vision expands because you accept your circumstances. And you can act
in terms of where you are.

Usually, people treat freedom in transcendental terms. They say, "Freedom
is diversity of possibility."

It's important to understand what kind of beings we are. And what kind of
world we bring about when we care. And, how come we care?

On the left hand side (same diagram) we have a view of manipulating life
by control and punishment.

How come we have ethical concerns?

We may think that virtual reality is something new; but we've been living
in virtual realities since our origin. Virtual reality is living in a
relational spaces that are different from ordinary life. When we go to a
movie, we go to be immersed in a virtual reality.

The Nervous System
I'll show that there is no difference in the nervous system between
virtual and normal reality except for which one we consider to be the
valid one.

The structure of a structurally determined system determines what it
admits as an encounter. Therefore, we can't say anything about things
external to us.

How is the nervous system involved?

The living organism is not just any shape. It does not exist just
anywhere. We have a particular body shape and structure that's related to
the relations we have with our environment.

A living system exists in a relational domain. It is open to matter. It
has a history.

(Draws network inside a circle representing a living system) The nervous
system... part of the living being... is a closed network. It is
interconnected in such a way that by moving through the connections, we
can reach every part of the network without going outside the body.

In the input-output view, you look for entrances and exits. We were so
used to such a view that it took a long time to see that all sensory
elements of the nervous system are connected in both ways, they are not
just inputs.

QUESTION: Is Maturana saying that the structure of the sensory cells is
affected by activity in the nervous system? That what we are thinking and
feeling can affect the activity of our sensory cells? That, for example,
when we don't notice, it may not just be that something was lost along the
way to our conscious processing... That not noticing may occur at the
sensory cells themselves?

The nervous system intersects the organism in surface and sensory areas.
But, it's entirely *of* the organism. Consider the photo-receptor. One
part encounters photons, another part participates in the nervous system
with connections. The PR cell has 2 different operational dimensions: 1)
as a component of the organism, 2) as a component of the nervous system it
participates in the dynamic of activity of the network.

Consider a portable radio. It is a closed system in the flow of
electricity. The antenna does not bring in electric current. The antenna
encounters electromagnetic waves (one domain), these affect the flow of
electricity (a different domain) to produce sound (a third domain).

The photo-receptor cell admits photons and participates in the nervous
system. When the PR cell encounters a photon, depending on its structure,
it may change the structure of relationships in the nervous system. This
is the coupling of the two systems. It is a coupling through structure,
not through the dynamics of operation (??).

The radio does not draw current from the antenna. Current is not an input.
Nothing from the outside gets IN.

The energetic processes in the PR cell and in the nervous system are 1000x
larger than the energy of the photon.

The structure of the nervous system is not fixed. It is changing
continuously. The changes are determined by structure, not determined by
the encounters.

Changes are contingent to the flow or interactions in the medium. The
changes are in a manner consistent with the coherence of the medium.

The nervous system produces sensory-effector correlation. In walking,
there is sensing... and muscle movement. If thrown in somewhere else
without any history... we would be unable.

When the salamander's tongue gets the worm, it is not aiming. It occurs
because of the structural coherences of the salamander.

The watch tells me the time... But, not to tell me the time. It just
does... goes round and round. So does the salamander. So do we.

Recursions give rise to new dimensions.

The nervous system changes structure contingent on interactions with the
medium. It maintains coherence with the medium. And, maintains
sensory-effector correlations that are effective (??wording) in the

Our culture says, "Find yourself!" That is, find yourself in reality. Know
yourself. But, this is an impossible eternal quest.

You don't *need* to explain anything. But, if you accept an explanation,
then your life changes. You have to be careful about accepting an

Reflection change the structure and therefore your manner of interacting.
It is NOT that you have in the brain these synapses that encode this and

Recursion bring out a new dimension. Language is... A recursion of
coordination of language is reflection. If in language, reflection
appears... The structure of the nervous system determines what changes are

Racecar story: Suppose you have a car and you want to participate in a
race. You go to your mechanic and ask him to make your car faster. There
are change he can make to the engine (structure) that will make the car
faster (behavior). But, there are limits to the changes he can make that
are a result of its structure. Not all changes are possible.

We live in language. The nervous system changes structure so the
sensory-effector correlations it produces are proper for living in

A child learns to be in language with us by living with us.

Where is the MIND? The mind is in the relations.

There is unconscious... We are not aware in the moment... But, afterwards
we are aware.

Many dimensions of interaction are unconscious. These also participate in
structural changes.

It is a conscious and unconscious relational and interactional space. It
is a gigantic space. We live mostly unconsciously.

As we reflect, we can escape any trap.

Consider nerve cells. (Diagram) This is a standard diagram of nerve cell.
They have a number of connections to other nerve cells and may create a
nerve impulse. There is a nerve impulse only if there is a particular
configuration of impulses in excitory and inhibitory connected nerve
cells. That is, every nerve cell is responsive to a configuration of (??
word) on it's collecting surface.

Time differences do not operate as time differences. Time disappears.

MY NOTES: So... memory and history appear in the nervous system in terms
of structural changes. Not, in the processing of any one cell. Each cell
is a real-time switch with changing configuration (changing connections).

MY NOTES (from small group discussion): Maturana is adding a new word in
the definition of language. He is saying, "Language is the flow of
coordinations of coordinations of consensual behaviors." The word "flow"
is new.

MY NOTES: The word "language" is a little confusing. If we think of this
as "conversation," a continuing exchange between people, that's what
Maturana is talking about. The continuing flow of a conversation, that's
the recursion because it's always changing, the conversation at any point
reflects its history.

MY NOTES: Then, thinking is self-conversation. Reflection is

MY NOTES: The way Maturana talks about language. Autopoiesis. What are
these statements of his? Are they theories? No. Are they definitions? I
think they are distinctions he is making. Not theories or models. In his
model, new objects appear when someone makes a distinction. These are new
objects arising for us, just as he says.

Whenever in the flow of interactions an observer would say, "There
is...(usual definition)" then you have language. An object arises in
making a distinction.

Question: We are assuming that there is an observer...

Maturana: WE are observing...

Question (continues): ...who is observing...

Maturana: Yes, WE are saying that.

When you do not pretend to have privileged access to how things ARE, you
can live without demands. As soon as you... then there will be demands.

You do not not fall through the floor because the floor is REAL. But
because "floor" is that through which one doesn't fall.

We construct a world floating on a background of which we cannot speak.

Question: OK, I agree that if there is a reality, we cannot have full
knowledge of it. I agree that there is structural determinism and we
cannot know reality. But, there is interaction. Wouldn't it be consistent
that there *is* a reality, that we can know it approximately, and that by
sharing our assessments together we can know reality pretty closely?
Sitting here together, we could all look and agree that the thing on
Neil's lap is a pad of paper.

Maturana: But, we cannot speak about that reality.

Question: Then, we all agree there is a pad of paper here. In what domain
does that pad of paper exist?

Maturana: It exists in the domain of human interactions.

MY NOTES: So, there can be reality and objectivity within a domain. That's
actually comforting.

History of Humanness
How come we care for each other? How come we have ethical concerns?

I'll offer my historical construction.

Love is a characteristic of human beings.

The genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is only 1% of the
nucleic acids.

Somewhere back in time, there was a separation between humans and chimps.
This was 5-6 million years ago. Different lineage. In the human lineage,
love is conserved.

I see three changes in our lineage. First, Neoteny. I may be misspelling
this. This is the expansion of childhood for a longer portion of life.
Second, an expansion of female sexuality. In chimps, the females prefer
sex with a periodicity of about once a year. Human females prefer sex much
more often. This brought physical closeness. This created an opportunity
for the third change, the appearance of conservation of living in
language, probably 3 million years ago. Languaging is conserved in the
learning of children.

We are biped primates living in language. There are lots of bipeds. Lots
of primates. And some animals can use language at times. But we are unique
in living in language.

Why do we have ethical concerns? Because of love.

Ethics cannot be supported by rational argument. Our values are
abstractions of aspects of social life which is founded on love.

I think that war... that is, living in aggression... is a new feature that
appeared only in the last 20,000 years. We have a long history centered on
love and cooperation.

You may ask, is this reality? No, I'm talking about explaining the
coherence of experience now.

Language did not appear, as some say, in order to communicate tool making.

MY NOTES: I fear that my notes do not do justice to Maturana's comments in
the section above.

Summary Statements (** written on board)

** Nothing appears in history because it is "necessary."

The usual parlance, even in biology, has to do with necessity. "Language
had to be developed in order to..."

Languaging began to be conserved in the education of children, and this
opened up ... possibilities...

** The course that history follows is the course defined by our emotions
and particularly by our desires.

The crusades have to do with desires. Not resources.

** We humans can live any manner of living that does not kill us before
its reproduction.

We can have war, competition, love, whatever, as long as that manner of
living is reproduced in succeeding generations.

I think in our history the fundamental emotion is love.

      Richard Karash ("Rick")    |  <>
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