From Altruism and Selfishness, to Organisms and Societies

The following is an excerpt from: Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Boston, MA, US: New Science Library/Shambhala Publications. pp 997-999 Altruism and Selfishness  A study of the ontogenic couplings between organisms and an assessment of their great universality and variety point to a… Read More

“Goodness and badness belong to the domain of values, and responsibility belongs to the domain of awareness.” – Quote by Humberto R. Maturana

The Tree of Knowledge, by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, is a landmark attempt to integrate biology, cognition, and epistemology into a single science, reversing the dualism of fact and value, and of observer and observed, that has haunted the West since the seventeenth century. The authors see perception as a reciprocal and interacting phenomenon, a “dance of congruity” that takes place between a living entity and its environment. This, they argue, implies a relativity of worldviews (there are no certainties), as well as the existence of a biology of cooperation going back millions of years. Recognition of a lack of absolutes, and of the nature of perception itself, they assert, make it possible for us today to change things for the better, as a deliberate and conscious act. What is overlooked in this discussion, however, are the origins and nature of conflict. By being pointedly apolitical, the authors wind up implying that one worldview is as good as the next. Cognitively speaking, the substitution of Buddhism for politics is a serious error, leaving, as it does, too many crucial questions unanswered. It is thus doubtful whether the biological argument being advanced here can stand up to serious scrutiny, and whether the dualism of modern science has indeed been overcome. Yet The Tree of Knowledge remains an important milestone in our current efforts to recognize that science is not value-free, and that fact and value are inevitably tied together. We are finally going to have to create a science that does not split the two apart, and that puts the human being back into the world as an involved participant, not as an alienated observer.


This article is Maturana’s response to Morris Berman’s review of The Tree of Knowledge by Maturana and Varela. Maturana claims that Berman partially misunderstood the book and explains that, far from advocating passivity in the face of evil, the book asks that we act out of responsible, personally chosen love, instead of from the belief that we hold a better “truth.” In the case of Chile, this would mean opposing Pinochet for personal and cultural reasons rather than alleged biological principles of viability. Nothing is gained by attempting to defeat tyrants with the tyranny of our own imposed, alternative truth.

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BIOLOGY OF LOVE By Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller (1996)

We human beings are love dependent animals. This is apparent in that we become ill when we are deprived of love at whatever age. No doubt we live a culture in which we are frequently in war and kill each other on different rational grounds that justify our mutual total denial as human beings. But doing that does not bring to us happiness, or spiritual comfort and harmony. Love and aggression – are they polar features of our biology or, of our cultural human existence? Are we genetically aggressive animals that love occasionally, or are we loving animals that cultivate aggression culturally? Our purpose in this article is to maintain that we are loving animals that cultivate aggression in a cultural alienation that may eventually change our biology. To this end we shall speak about the following themes in short but basic statements:

A) the systemic constitution and conservation of human identity;

B) the origin and development of the self in the mother/child relations;

C) the evolutionary origin of humanness in the conservation of neoteny and the expansion of the female sexuality;

D) the biology of love.

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A selection of articles by Humberto Maturana on Systemic and Meta-Systemic Laws, Metadesign, and his contribution to Constructive Psychotherapy

Systemic and Meta-Systemic Laws Reproduced from: http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/may-june-2013/systemic-and-meta-systemic-laws Authors: Ximena Yáñez, Humberto Romesín This essay is the result of our reflections over the course of many recursive conversations in the space of our collaboration at the Matriztic Institute in Santiago, Chile on the interplay of biology and culture on human living. We propose these Systemic and Meta-Systemic… Read More

“Education as viewed from the biological matrix of human existence” (2006) by Humberto Maturana and Ximena Paz Dávila

Extracted from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001455/145502e.pdf prelac journal THE BIOLOGY OF KNOWING AND THE BIOLOGY OF LOVING Education as viewed from the biological matrix of human existence Humberto Maturana and Ximena Paz Dávila Biologist, Chile. Matrix Mentor, Chile. The responsibility for education: whose court is the ball in? It seems to me important to reflect on questions that arise… Read More

A SPECIAL ISSUE DEVOTED TO AUTOPOIESIS – CYBERNETICS FORURM (1981)

Reproduced from: http://www.univie.ac.at/aoc/asc/Periodica/X_2_3_1981.pdf IN THIS ISSUE: Foreword by the Special-Issues Editor, Klaus Krippendorff Autopoiesis Today, Milan Zeleny Autopoiesis: The Organization of Living Systems, Its Characterization and a Model, F.G. Varela, H.R. Maturana and A. Uribe The Organization of the Living: A Theory of the Living Organization, Humberto R. Maturana Self-Organization of Living Systems: A Formal Model… Read More