EARTH CHARTER AND CULTURAL BIOLOGY Co-Inspired by Love | Ximena Dávila and Humberto Maturana (2011)

Co-Inspired by Love

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Ximena Dávila and Humberto Maturana

Interview with Humberto Maturana and Ximena Davila, of Matriztica School in Santiago, Chile.

Humberto Maturana is a renowned biologist and philosopher from Chile. He invented a theory of autopoiesis, about the nature of reflexive feedback control in living systems. Ximena Davila is a Professor from Chile who collaborates with Maturana, together they developed the dynamic vision that entangled the Biology of Knowledge and the Biology of Love that conform the basis for the Biological Matrix of Human Existence. Together they co-founded “la Escuela Matriztica de Santiago”.

In this interview, done by Cristina Moreno together with the staff members of the Methodist University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Humberto Maturana and his colleague Ximena Davila offer their insights and reflections about the meaning of the Earth Charter and its relevance for today’s challenges.

For more information on their work visit

The meaning of the Earth Charter

Maturana: What I find in the Earth Charter is that it has a wider importance than just for the place in which one finds it, with its concern for the environment of human existence and the Earth’s biological existence in general. Her preservation deserves our care and attention because we are precisely the ones that are hurting her.

Dávila: The Earth Charter is read in a very special historical moment, because for me, the Earth Charter invites us to a space of consciousness in which we are aware that we belong to the Earth and we will go to the Earth. Therefore the Earth, as we say in the North, or as our indigenous peoples say, “Pachamama,” cradles us and contains us. Consequently reading the Earth Charter today, in this moment where there is so much destruction of the biosphere by the anthroposphere, or because of human creations, for me is a call to be aware of the fact that the Earth allows us to live and to eat, and thus the Earth is fundamental.

Weaving Cultural Biology and the Earth Charter

Maturana: Cultural Biology means precisely to be in charge of the natural cultural biology that is the anthroposphere, the human living and the human habitat that at this moment extends to all dimensions of the Earth, affecting the biosphere. So truly, as I suggested in the previous question, we do not have an isolated biosphere and anthroposphere but a biosphere-anthroposphere unit that must be harmonious. Its harmony is recognizing that this wholeness is biological-cultural because it also appears and exists when human beings recognize it, touch it and are aware that we are part of it.

Dávila: Cultural Biology invites us to a space of consciousness. All human beings are beings, and are born as beings, that are biological-cultural. For that reason, being conscious is the invitation of Cultural Biology, and as we have discussed during these days, what it does, or what it invites, is a psychic transformation, a look from another location, which is also the call, from what I have seen, made by the Earth Charter. So we put down the biological and cultural foundation of the kind of beings that we are, as living beings and as human beings, because consciousness is being aware that the Earth offers us many gifts, and sometimes we give very few gifts back to the Earth.

Living lovingly: the necessary changes

Dávila: Living lovingly as human beings in language. We are born as loving beings; we are born, as we have said, in the confidence of being loved, of being cared for, of being embraced. An implicit confidence is tailored for us. If you take a baby in your hands, in your arms, the baby has the confidence that he/she will be contained, tidied away and cared for by the Earth. It happens that love is our constitutive ontology. In the culture in which we live, it transforms into a love that has another connotation and that has nothing to do with seeing ourselves as human beings, and we talk about love as something I give to another person, but nevertheless, love is our biological nature. We all want to be seen, to be listened to, and to have a presence, and love means to open the space for the other person to have that presence.

Maturana: What Ximena just said, about presence and acknowledging that we see what we see, and we have talked about this during these days, we don’t see what there is, we see what we see, what that has to do with me. Therefore, seeing depends on how we are seeing, what can appear in the coherences of the existence in which we are at, and for some of the coherences to appear we must allow this to happen. We must be of a disposition that something is going to appear and that we are not going to impose a judgment, a prejudice, an assumption, a requirement and from seeing what appears, act according to what we feel from what we can see. But that act of seeing without prejudice, without demand, without expectancy is the amorous act. This is love. Conduct oneself in a way that the other person will emerge without denial, without being distorted by us as observers. So to love is, as Ximena said, the condition of the possibility of seeing the biosphere, of seeing Earth, seeing Pachamama in a multi-sensorial manner; not only from the usual point of view but capturing the configuration of its existence in our daily live with all our senses.

Dávila: And this can only be done from a different look, so if we are looking from the same place where we are in this culture in a linear epistemology, causal, with a reality that is independent from me, things happen there. I am not going to enter in that space of realizing that I generate, that we generate the world we live in. Therefore, the psychic transformation implies also an epistemological transformation. Epistemology changes, and changes our thinking, and so we talk about unitary epistemology. Unitary epistemology is the one that unites the components of the system where we are, the system that we are.

Maturana: On one hand it reunites us and on the other it is the foundation of everything. When we say unitary epistemology, we move from the space of realizing that we are in the environment where everything takes place, because everything that happens emerges honored by us humans. It is the space of the human living performance which constitutes this reference which is operational, fundamental and relational, which is the unitary epistemology. The word epistemology refers to the space where we are placed in the moment in which we do what we do, and the space where we are placed in the moment in which we do what we do, that is the space of human life. Therefore, human life is the realm of unitary epistemology.

Dávila: Epistemology invites us to think about thinking. If we do not change thought about what we think, love continues to be a discourse and becomes more of the same, and not a relational dynamic that has to do with looking at the other as a legitimate being in coexistence with you.

Maturana: And to think about thinking we must let it appear, and to let it appear we must be there from the mother, to speak without prejudices, without demands, without expectancies, to see which are the foundations of our thinking. If we do that we will find that the foundations of our thinking have to do with loving, which is the same we have to use to see them.

Dávila: When we say that the foundations have to do with loving, we are saying that we all like to feel good, being present, being seen, being loved. One of the worst pains, as we were talking today, has to do with when I want to please others, which means I don’t love myself. Thus love is the first medicine, as Humberto says, to cure our cultural and philosophical pains.

Presence in the Natural World

Maturana: All human living is masterly and human living is what makes everything appear, because those are the distinctions we make. But it also appears to some extent together with which is the execution range of our living, therefore it is fundamental. Certainly, all our life and everything we do in it is our teacher, but it depends on how we live, which is the theory to which we are moving with respect to our knowledge. From demand, from the desire to control, from fear, or from ambition – what emerges as our teacher depends on which is the position where we get near to living, that is, it depends on life itself.

Dávila: I am listening to the question if we could learn from nature and of course, nothing for the natural world is extraordinary, everything is ordinary. The natural world occurs, seasonal changes always occur, as well as the butterfly that comes out of the chrysalis. The extraordinary things happen in human living, in language, so if we can learn from the natural world we must learn about what the Earth offers us. And it is that natural world which questions us, which has no explanations and flows in the conservation of living of the biosphere.

Maturana: And the natural world has a presence only insofar as we can see it. If we do not see it, it does not exist, but to see it we must be open to see it, because this natural world has to do with the foundations of our existence.

The Earth Charter: Co-inspiration, ethics and love

Dávila: The Earth Charter is an invitation to get inspired together, or to co-inspire. When a pianist plays the piano we say he/she is inspired, he/she and the piano are one. The Earth Charter invites us to get inspired together, to be conscious of that space that sometimes has no presence for us. So, co-inspiration is this desire to get inspired, to generate a different world.

Maturana: In relation to the topic of ethics, maybe what we should highlight is that ethics has to do with loving. There is not a lot of ethics because it has to do with the other one having a presence, and we deal with doing what we do, being aware of not harming the other person and doing things from the perspective that we see in which we do not harm the other person. In this case we could be talking about the biosphere and this is our primary condition. The baby is born as a loving being, it is born open to see what happens, but in the process of his/her life we deny love, we restrict it, punish it, we demand it, abuse it, violate it. Therefore, with that spontaneity of being open to see and to embrace, a small child does not have difficulty in sharing unless culture tells her/him that we must not share. The child has no difficulty in seeing a small animal and caring for her/him, unless culture tells her/him that is dangerous. Thus in this cultural process of love denial, that while being cultural is unconscious, we do not see it but it is there, we, the human community, start to realize that we must recover that vision, that condition of seeing the other person. Then the ethical concerns start and we have to educate without noticing, in order to recuperate what we denied, and we think that it is a new thing. We talk about ethical principles but they are not principles in the sense that they are assumptions, they are the basis of our living as human beings that we must recover by opening the space for them to have a presence.

Dávila: When you say why ethical conduct is so difficult for us, the question would be, what do we want to keep so much that we do not allow this ethical conduct to appear? We understand ethics as being in charge and responsible for the consequences of my actions, and that they will not harm others. There is also a linear sight in hurting another person. Consequently, the Earth Charter invitation, as well as the invitation in this conversation, is a look which is systemic, systemic, systemic. It makes us aware that our acts, our conduct both ethical and non-ethical, have consequences in the community where we live. It is not the locality where we live but the community where we live. If we do not pay our workers well, if we cheat the government, it is not that relationship which is not ethical, but this relationship plus the consequences that this conduct will have in the community to which we belong.

Maturana: And because this is fundamental to us, if we are honest, the answer will be honest, if we are ethical, the answer of the other person will be ethical too. Why? Because it is in the fundamental possibility that has been hidden or denied by theory, because of distinct types of ambitions along the life of the children.

The future is now: Who knows time does not wait for it to happen

Dávila: I would be not very ethical if I say no because, what happens with the children and the youth that are living at this moment on the planet? We are doing what we are doing, as other people do what they do. It is not the children. It is us today. Thus, to say that we will not be able to say that we will be happy on this Earth, that is to deny them the possibility of making their dreams come true. It is to put stones in the wings of their dreams, a weight. Thus, I could not say that, despite climate change and everything that is happening in this world, this world is not livable for young people and children. It is possible, but it has to do with us, human beings.

Maturana: We must act, the world will be livable or as livable according to our actions, and that depends on our consciousness but mostly on our purpose, our decisions, and our will to act. We can destroy the Earth completely but we can also preserve it. It is possible to preserve it while not unleashing an irreversible climate change process, as is happening for example, or certainly happened in the history of Venus, where the production of volcanic gases, or other causes, generated a greenhouse effect where the planet’s heat emission is very low, the heat accumulates, and the temperature rises.

So if we break the normal dynamics of climatic temperature in a planet, it can lead to extreme hot and cold weather. Meanwhile, we do not arrive at that, and this can be avoided because we know what could happen and how to avoid it. As long as we take the actions that we understand will prevent something like this, the Earth will always be habitable, even though it might (not) give us the conditions to always live according to how we want to live that life on Earth.

Dávila: When you talk about Climate Change today, Climate Change did not appear in the year 2000; it has its history, and it is a process. Therefore I believe, and the invitation of the Earth Charter, is that the era of discourse should end, the era of saying we are in bad shape, we have sustainable energies and we prefer an unsustainable one. As we mentioned this afternoon, when we say that we must do something, it is not tomorrow nor the past; it is now, this day, in the present. Because if we continue in the discourse of saying that everything is in bad shape, and we do not do things to change, then we will continue being in bad shape.

Maturana: Also, if we continue with the discourse that everything is bad, we are generating the bad things which validate our discourse.

Changing to action and reflection: Collaboration, responsibility and awareness

Maturana: The thing is that each person, or each small group of people or any group of people, acts where they live and has to act from there. Now, this locality has different dimensions. It has the dimensions of how far our understanding goes. If my understanding allows me to realize the consequences of my actions ten kilometers from there, then it means that my location is in a ten kilometers range. But we act from our locality and this acting must be responsible with our desire. If this desire we have is continuously preserving the harmony between the biosphere and the anthroposphere through what we do, it is our responsibility to do things, and we know that we are not at the limit of our knowledge; what limits us is the will to act.

Dávila: And we go back to the fact that we learn from nature. We must learn from nature in order to exist in this space of collaboration and responsibility. The natural world offers us and shows us this possibility if we want to learn. Learning from her means to release some attachments and be willing to change the way we look at things and also to be willing to be blessed by what we have. I don’t know if the word is bless, to be content with what we have.

Maturana: Be grateful for what we have, to be blessed by it as you said, and above all take care of what we know we must do. We must let go of religious, politic, philosophical and economic theories that justify our actions from different perspectives to those that correspond to what is appropriate to do in the moment we are living. For example, I would say that the central theme is the population growth and to keep it from continuing infinitely, we must have education, the generation of awareness and action means that allows the population to stabilize. If that does not occur, what we are going to have is enormous damage and the generation of poverty. They will survive but there is going to be a lot of suffering in the process. But in order to avoid this, we must be prepared to act from knowledge and the understanding of what is appropriate to do, knowing that this is a central theme in the distortion of the anthroposphere/biosphere harmony.

Dávila: I am sure that the invitation of the Earth Charter is not to some people, but to all people. The

incredible thing about this is that we, human beings, as long as we exist in language and reflect, are the ones that can do something. The ant, the tree, the plant, the river, the sea do not reflect; they live, they flow. But we have this great responsibility as we are beings with language, people that talk and are reflective beings. From this space it is possible that we will turn and generate a different world.

Maturana: We are the only ones who can care.

Dávila: And we are the only ones that have to care, for the youth and the children that live today.

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