Maturana - Epistimology LO12928

Sherri Malouf (
Tue, 18 Mar 1997 15:39:50 -0500 (EST)

Replying to LO12917 --

Rick Karash wrote:

>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.

The key point in what Maturana replied to you --in my mind --is the word
structure. My interpretation of that would be your beliefs about what is
*real* or paradigms or mindsets. What if, since a child, you had been
taught that the pad of paper was a murdered tree? And what if your
culture worships trees as representations of God -- they are holy? That
would be a different structure within which you would discuss the pad of
paper. It could mean that Neil is about to be indicted for murder because
he had defiled God! It is no longer 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.

I would say that observations = structure = beliefs about what is real!
We assume -- out of security needs -- that what we believe about life and
the universe are true. But what if it is but one reality? What if there
is a completely different way of understanding reality?

>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.

The only reason that there is objectivity about things we can touch is
because we have a great deal of scientific proof which says these objects
follow certain physical laws which we have proved as reality through
repeated observations which equals coherence. But what if the set-up
really is that what you believe will always prove to be true? Maturana
says that coherence comes when many people observe the same thing. That
coherence is also a function of the structure those people are operating
under. So if we all believe the same thing -- we will observe the same
thing. Think about it -- the people you feel most comfortable with and
the most affiliation with are those who have the same basic belief
structure as yourself. You feel a lot 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.

That was the part I read several times. I keep going back to the comment
that in order for us to move forward we have to think differently (Bohm,
Einstein, and others). A part of me thinks that the process outlined by
Maturana is possibly a half step so that those who are wedded to the old
scientific structure/paradigm can take half steps forward. After all --
we have based our whole reality on science for many years now -- how can
we just walk away and say none of this is real?

>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.

I had to chuckle because I have courses about interpersonal skills and we
talk about persuasion and the use of facts. My definition of a fact is
something that you and I agree to be true.

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

Maybe one of the leadership trends is the willingness to say "I don't know
what is true"...

Maybe the application to organizations is to understand what different
people believe to be true...

Vision & mission statements often don't work for all people because they
operate under different structures. I was talking to a consultant who
described work with a major airline where they involved thousands of
people in the writing of the vision/mission statement.

Most people will not accept any of Maturana's theory -- especially if the
organization is science or engineering based...

It's hard because how do you take a statement like -- there is no way we
can talk about truth and reality -- and then apply it to the organization?
It makes me think things like -- people work for a particular organization
because it somehow is coherent with their own version of reality. It
explains why it is so hard to change an organization's culture -- because
culture is partly based on people's beliefs about the right and wrong ways
of doing things.

It also explains why six people in a meeting will walk away with six
different perceptions about what occurred in the meeting.

But most of all it says to me that we need to learn to listen to each
other because the potential for misundertsanding is high. We have such a
hard time letting go of our own version of reality to understand another
person's version...

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


Sherri Malouf <>

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