Maturana - Epistimology LO12981

John Paul Fullerton (
Sat, 22 Mar 1997 01:34:17 +0000

Replying to LO12909 --

Rick responded

> On Sun, 16 Mar 1997, John Paul Fullerton wrote:
> > Rick shared from the Maturana conference.
> >
> > Maturana says
> > > 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.
> On your points 3 & 4, I understand you are saying that what we see
> depends on what we have been thinking. On this, Maturana says there
> is very clear biological evidence in support of this, and a mechanism by
> which it happens is pretty well understood.

Rereading my own note today (for the first time since I sent it) and then
Yours, I thought that maybe I didn't stand so differently than the
comments I was responding to. That may possibly be true. However, it still
seems like I do not agree with Maturana's emphasis or my imagination of
the kinds of behavior that could result from accepting his theory. (One
related notion that is more defined for me - if people believe in
determinism - or more exactly - if someone hears about it and is newly
persuaded, they may say that it doesn't matter what they do or their
process or endeavor of choosing, because whatever is going to happen is
bound to happen. That doesn't seem like the advice recommended to loved
ones :) +I don't mean that in a mean way!+ We could think "can't help it,
it's the truth"; however, there may be politenesses and kindnesses of not
saying "every true thing" because those statements do not help another.
Data overload is an easy example.

> > > *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."

What about a metal marble being used in a chemistry lab to stir a beaker
magnetically. (An electromagnet causes the marble to circulate in the
beaker.) Or even more directly just rolling a bearing in a jar, the
bearing is saying, "this is the boundary; You'll never see me go through
the jar, unless it breaks". (No it's not saying that!) Yet it behaves
exactly that way, no matter who we send to watch it. It behaves that way
on film. Sound recordings provide the same evidence. A human only knows
about it when the human knows about it, yet what about the bearing and the

> 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.
> > > 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?
> >
> > Skipping the idea of an autopoietic entity, and just considering the kind
> > of entity that I know about, one that doesn't conceive itself, for
> > instance, every temporal thing has a boundary. How could boundaries not
> > matter? Without boundaries we can't identify things and things have no
> > identity. Without boundaries there may be no quick accounting for morality
> > or bad and good treatment.
> Well, I find it easy in conversations to have trouble finding the
> boundaries on an organization, for example. If we consider a business
> organization as a system and ask how far it extends, we might include
> suppliers, the surrounding community, the schools which educate people
> for the org, etc. Maturana is saying that living beings have very clearly
> defined boundaries and that this clarity of boundary sets living beings
> apart from things that aren't living.

Yes, that is one of the things that draws me to the idea learning
organization and even more so to the "learning" explained in learning
organization theory. Apparently obvious transactions may not be exactly
understood (and probably usually - most people and most transactions
within most people's observation - are not).

> I've snipped several of John's points, only because I don't have any
> responses to them.

Thank You for Your kind response.

Have a nice day
John Paul Fullerton


"John Paul Fullerton" <>

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