Maturana - Epistimology LO12913

Sherri Malouf (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 16:07:22 -0500 (EST)

Replying to LO12909 --

>> >Rick's Notes from Maturana
>>John Paul Fullerton

>> > Perception is not taking in data from the environment
>> Perception involves taking in data from the environment. What we "see" is
>> a combination of at least 1. data received from the environment, 2.
>> fundamental brain processing, 3. developed processes in the brain, as well
>> as 4. the established thoughts we have about what is taking place.
>Maturana is very clear in his statement... He really means it. I am
>enjoying turning this over in my mind to see what it might mean.

I completely agree with Maturana. We see everything through our own
beliefs and tend to take in information which supports what we believe.
So a way I would explain it is like when light goes through a prism it
gets bent and the same things happens in our minds with information. No
one is truly objective. You couldn't call a tree a tree if you were! It
kind of kills language actually...

>> > *THE* question... How do we do what we do? We live and observe. How
>> > do we do this?
>> >
>> > I invite you to accept this question and consider it. To not
>> > consider the question is to make the assumption that there is an
>> > objective reality independent of the actions of the observer and
>> > to assume that we can know that objective reality. To rely on
>> > "reality" as an explaining principle. This view is fundamentally
>> > flawed. I say this not as a philosopher, but as a biologist, based
>> > on findings about human perception.
>> How do we live and observe? Decent philosophical or scientific question, I
>> guess. To consider the question, one does not have to assume or accept
>> that there is no objective reality. To say that there is no objective
>> reality, is to make an apparently objective statement about what is real,
>> and that's not fair.
>This is a very subtle point... Is there a reality? Maturana says no.
>What's subtle is exactly what he means by this. The point is one that I
>have trouble with, and the people attending the seminar had trouble with
>it as well.
>I asked him about this at lunch. He said, "Whatever it might be, we can't
>talk about it." That is, I think, we cannot make statements about what it
>is like to observe reality.
>I probed further, pointing to a plate on the table, "In what domain does
>this plate exist?"
>He replied, "The plate exists in the domain of human interactions."

Again -- I agree with Maturana -- or what I understand him to be saying
through you. One of the ways I think about this is by going back to the
point that we are made up of atoms, (excuse me for my very basic training
in this area and if I am not using the right language) -- but I tend to
think of things in terms of the relationship of different types of energy
-- although through my discussions with At I must include entropy as well.
The way these atoms behave in my body compared to a ray of light are very
different-- why? It is all energy and entropy. Let me use an example
from a series of books published in the 30's by British scientists called
The Teachings of the Masters of the Far East. They observed these
"Masters" being able to perform all sorts of miracles from changing into
animals, to being in two places at once , and so forth. Now the current
popular version of reality states that this is all BS... But how do you
know? Our limits are our minds. What about the statement (it could be a
good one for the consultant debunking unit at Fast Company!) that states
we only use 30% (or whatever) of our brain potential? All I hear Maturana
as saying is that we do not know what is possible. We believe we know
what is possible and because of that we limit (out of fear perhaps) what
is potential. But we do not having the language to describe what could be
because it is out of our realm of experience.

>More about the observer: A critical point for Maturana is... If we think
>we can explain things, we should use the same approach to explaining what
>is an observer and what is observing. I believe his point is that based
>on scientific explanations in biology, if we include the notion of
>reality, then we'll have impossible contradications when we try to
>explain observing.

Again -- I agree...

>> > QUESTION: One of the hardest things for me to explain is the
>> > notion of boundary in an autopoietic entity, yet it seems very
>> > important in Maturana's view. When I try to explain it, my friends
>> > say, "I don't think there are boundaries, everything is connected
>> > to everything else, it's all one very expansive network of
>> > relationships, why think of a boundary?" What is the importance of
>> > the boundary? What is it's significance to the way we act in the
>> > world in everyday life?

I am having a hard time with this one because I am not grasping the whole
issue. I am not terribly famialiar with what an autopoietic entity is...
Could you expand a little Rick?

>From Rick LO12887

>QUESTION: And, about reality. I really do accept and embrace most of what
>Maturana is saying, but couldn't *reality* still fit in this picture? It
>seems to me that it could still be consistent to believe: 1) that there is
>an external reality, 2) that we can never see it "objectively", completely,
>or reliably, 3) that *is* created by all of our actions in the world and
>therefore dependent on our actions, and 4) that we can circle in more and
>more closely upon it by collective observation and interpretation. As we
>sit here around a circle discussing this difficult material, all of would
>agree that what's on Neil's lap is a pad of paper! That seems like a
>reality to me.

The reason I don't think this would work -- go back to Bohm (and others)
and the idea that our thoughts create what we experience -- we would just
be in another loop of this. I have a friend whose whole business is
helping people to discreate all of the thought forms they no longer wish
to have! It is definatley a "fringe" business but she has more work than
she can handle! Rick -- I don't know what reality is. To say that you
and I agree that a tree is a tree does not hold water. The American
Indians view trees in a much different light -- whose right? The
statement that "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" is a convenient excuse
to ignore the complexity of the universe.

>QUESTION: Action science is an important method in the social sciences and
>appears to be especially important in org learning work. Is action science
>in its essence very similar to Maturana's right hand column? The essence of
>both, it seems to me, is us individually to take resonsibility for and
>place extraordinary attention and reflection on our own role in the system
>we are considering.

I would agree with your assessment and comparison. But many have taken
the idea of responsibility too far. Again -- the complexity here is far
from understood.

>My notion of scientific explanation starts with the coherence of
>experience. It does not assume an external reality, even though this is
>commonly thought about science. Reality doesn't enter the picture.

This confuses me because "coherence of experience" to me means that
everyone experienced the same reality. Actually -- I have just gone back
and reread that whole section... To put it simply (?) it sounds as if
Maturana is trying to develop a process which takes into account the fact
that observers will influence results and how can you have real science if
we always prove what we believe to be true? Perhaps it is time to stop
trying to apply old principles of scientific truth to current unknowns? I
am left a little fuddled with the whole last bit! But that is my
reaction... Maybe we need to give up science as we know it because there
is no known coherence...

I like it Rick -- thanks for the notes -- I haven't even read the other
two posts yet!

Sherri Tel:603-672-0355
LMA, Inc Fax:603-673-7120


Sherri Malouf <>

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