Maturana - Epistimology LO12917

Richard Karash (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 22:28:56 -0500 (EST)

Replying to LO12887 --

On Mon, 17 Mar 1997, Sherri Malouf wrote:

> 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.

Well... OK, our thoughts can create our experience... But, can thoughts
create *any* arbitrary experience? How come everyone in the circle agreed
that the thing on Neil's lap was a pad of paper?

Maturana is very careful to say, "The act of observing is an arbitrary
act. One can choose not to. But if you do observe, then the results are
determined by your structure, and the results are not arbitrary. The
results of the observation have some coherence with your experience."
That is, the results of observing are constrained to be coherent with (my
words) what is observed. When different people observe the same thing,
their possibly different results will have some coherence. So, when we
all look at what's on Neil's lap, we all agree that it's a pad of paper.

Now, I'm feeling on very shaky ground here... I feel perilously close to
saying that our observations have come coherence with reality, which is
definitely not what Maturana is saying.

In response to my followup question, Maturana said, "The pad exists in the
domain of human interactions." I think there is some degree of objectivity
in the things we observe. There's a greater degree of objectivity in the
domain of physical, touchable objects. There's less objectivity when we're
observing human behaviors.

> >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...

When different elements of one person's experience relate to one another,
that's one form of coherence. For example, when we drive different brands
of cars, each of us finds a lot in common about how different cars drive.
This makes it practical to drive a friend's car or a rental car.

When different people discuss their experiences and find commonalities,
this is a different form of coherence.

I think Maturana is saying that when different observers experience both
kinds of coherence in their experiences, then there is an opportunity for
scientific explanations. You'll see in my notes (the earlier msg) that
Maturana sets out a very explicit description of what is a scientific
explanation. He sees science as a viable and valuable process even though
it has no reference to objective reality or truth. He is a scientist.

In my work, I find groups to be very confused and inconsistent about what
it means to "know" something, what "proof" is, the role of data, and what
science is. The popular press uses words like, "Biological science tells
us...(such and such)." It gets even worse when we're talking about knowing
something about the organization or the systems in which we operate.

OK, not where does this lead us in terms of org learning? I'm still
thinking about this.

-- Rick

      Richard Karash ("Rick")    |  <>
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