Ontology of Observing: The Biological Foundations of Self-Consciousness and of The Physical Domain of Existence | Humberto R. Maturana (1988)

My purpose in this essay is to explain cognition as a biological phenomenon, and to show, in the process, how language arises and gives origin to self consciousness, revealing the ontological foundations of the physical domain of existence as a limiting cognitive domain. In order to do this I shall start from two unavoidable experiential conditions that are at the same time my problems and my explanatory instruments, namely: a) that cognition, as is apparent in the fact that any alteration of the biology of our nervous system alters our cognitive capacities, is a biological phenomenon that must be explained as such; and b) that we, as is apparent in this very same essay, exist as human beings in language using language for our explanations. These two experiential conditions are my starting point because I must be in them in any explanatory attempt; they are my problems because I choose to explain them; and they are my unavoidable instruments because I must use cognition and language in order to explain cognition and language.

In other words, I propose not to take cognition and language as given unexplainable properties, but to take them as phenomena of our human domain of experiences that arise in the praxis of our living, and that as such deserve explanation as biological phenomena. At the same time, it is my purpose to use our condition of existing in language to show how the physical domain of existence arises in language as a cognitive domain. That is, I intend to show that the observer and observing, as biological phenomena, are ontologically primary with respect to the object and the physical domain of existence.

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Two recent articles (Dell, 1985; Held & Pols, 1985a) have explored the problems created for the field of family therapy by a failure to use the term “epistemology” correctly – a failure that has produced a confusion between epistemology and ontology. The major problem is the contradiction of insisting, on the one hand, on the epistemological doctrine that there is no independent reality available to the knower and making, on the other hand, (ontological) claims about how the world really is (e.g., that the world operates by way of circular causality). This article examines Dell’s (1985) attempt, by appealing to Maturana’s doctrine of structure determinism, to resolve a version of this contradiction.

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The attempts to clarify (purify) the conceptual foundations of family therapy by means of “epistemology” have bred excitement, boredom, irritation and confu­sion. In the belief that at least the confusion can be alleviated, the present paper is offered as a study guide and something of a Rosetta Stone for translating the work of Gregory Bateson and Humberto R. Maturana. The paper demonstrates that Maturana’s work is highly compatible with that of Bateson. In addition, several major points of contrast are argued: (1) Maturana’s concept of structure determinism is an explicit ontological claim which directly implies an episte­mology, whereas Bateson delineated an epistemology, but never clearly developed a corresponding ontology; (2) structure determinism is a more general concept than Bateson’s concept of “mind” (i.e., cybernetic epistemology); (3) structure determinism deletes the remnants of objectivity from Bateson’s theory (i.e., “the difference that makes a difference”); and (4) Maturana’s concept of instructive interaction is a more general, nonsystemic version of what Bateson meant when he used the term “epistemological error.” Finally, it is claimed that the emphasis on epistemology has distracted proponents and detractors alike from the essential message of Bateson and Maturana: social systems and all human endeavor must be understood in light of our existence as biological entities that are coupled to a medium. The biological ontology implicit in Bateson’s writings and explicitly delineated in Maturana’s may (at long last) provide a sound foundation for the social and behavioral sciences.

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The origin of species by means of natural drift | HUMBERTO MATURANA-ROMESIN & JORGE MPODOZIS | 2000


In this article we propose that the mechanism that gave rise to the diversity of living systems that we find today, as well as to the biosphere as coherent system of interrelated autonomous living systems, is natural drift. And we also propose that that which we biologists connote with the expression natural selection is a consequence of the history of the constitution of the biosphere through natural drift, and not the mechanism that generates that history. Moreover, we do this by proposing: a) that the history of living systems on earth is the history of the arising, conservation, and diversification of lineages through reproduction, and not of populations; b) that biological reproduction is a systemic process of conservation of a particular ontogenic- phenotype/ontogenic- niche relation, and not a genetic process of conservation of some genetic constitution; c) that a lineage arises in the systemic reproductive conservation of an ontogenic-phenotype/ontogenic-niche relation, and not in the conservation of a particular genotype; d) that although nothing can happen in the life history of a living system that is not permitted by its total genotype, whatever happens in it arises in an epigenetic manner, and it is not possible to properly claim that any features that arises in the life history of an organism is genetically determined; e) that it is behavior what guides the course of the history of living systems, not genetics; and f) that that which a taxonomist distinguishes when he or she claims that an organism belongs to a particular species, is a particular ontogenic phenotype/ontogenic niche relation that occupies a nodal position in the historical diversification of lineages.

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Teaching and health: a biological view | Professor Nelson M. Vaz (1999)

Abstract Living systems are structure determined systems. Teaching is never feasible, but learning is inevitable, a comment by an observer about some aspect of the constant changes occurring while life goes on. Teachers are all those who open up spaces for conviviality and allow congruent changes to take place. There are no instructive interactions in nature. Health and the biology of living systems are phenomena studied in different domains. What is healthy or unhealthy for humans, is defined by human culture. As biological phenomena, health and disease are relational configurations of the organism and its medium. From this perspective, individual health is a social phenomenon.

Key words Health Education; Epistemology; Education; Health

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La noción del Tao constituye una invitación a un vivir en el bien-estar psíquico y corporal, a un vivir sin esfuerzo en la unidad de toda la existencia en el hacer que surge del ver el presente cuando no hay prejuicio o expectativa. Como tal, la noción del Tao ha llevado a muchas personas a la reflexión y a la acción que busca encontrar o revelar la naturaleza de ese vivir en los ámbitos de la filosofía, la mística, y la religión. ¿Con qué nos conecta ese vivir?, ¿con lo divino o lo biológico? Pensamos que el vivir al que la noción del Tao nos invita es el vivir fundamental del vivir del ser vivo en su naturaleza biológica que se da en el existir en un presente cambiante continuo. En nosotros, los seres humanos, ese vivir ocurre como un vivir en el lenguajear sin enajenarse en el explicar, vivir que surge cuando se vive en la ampliación del ver en el desapego que es la biología del amar. Por esto el camino del Tao es el camino del amar, y el camino del amar es la biología del Tao.

Palabras clave: Biología, tao, amar, ser y hacer.


The notion of Tao constitutes an invitation to live in the psychic and bodily well-being, a living without effort in the unity of all existence that arises as the manner of living in the present with the expansion of vision that occurs when one lives without attachment and expectations. As such the notion of Tao has lead many people to the reflections and actions that attempt to find or to reveal that manner of living in the domains of philosophy, mysticism and religion. Where that manner of living leads us?, to the divine or to the biological? We think that the manner of living to which we are invited by the notion of the Tao, is the basic living of livings systems in their biological nature as this takes place in a continuously changing present. In us human beings that manner of living occurs as we do not become alienated in explanations as we live in the detachment and absence of expectations of the biology of love. This is why the path of Tao is the path of the biology of love.

Keywords: Biology, tao, to love, to be, to do.

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Reflections in relation to the article “Are living beings extended autopoietic systems? An embodied reply.” | Humberto Maturana Romesín


This is a very interesting article, and I would like to make a few epistemological and operational reflective commentaries that it evokes in me.

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

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.

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“The Effectiveness of Mathematical Formalisms” by Humberto Maturana Romesin (2000)

Reproduced from: https://reflexus.org/wp-content/uploads/maturana.pdf Cybernetics & Human Knowing, Vol.7, no. 2-3, 2000, pp. 147–150 ASC American  Society forCybernetics a society for the art and science of human understanding The Effectiveness of Mathematical Formalisms  Humberto Maturana Romesin In this short article I would like to address the question: How is that mathematical formalisms permit us to compute relations in the… Read More