Reality/Creativity/Autopoiesis LO13025

Mnr AM de Lange (
Tue, 25 Mar 1997 09:33:50 GMT+2

Dan Chay wrote on 18 Mar 1997 in LO12929

> Rick's Maturana notes inspired me to return to the web link shared on this
> list earlier,
> which goes into autopoiesis in considerable detail. At the same time,
> I've enjoyed the recent History and Thought exchanges on
> rationality/irrationality and "reality."
> I'm wondering, At, how do autopoiesis and "reality" fit into what you're
> creating?

Dear organlearners,

Dan, thank you very much for your question.

This contribution is very long. Stop reading now if the length will bother


First, as you have requested, a short note on my viewpoint on reality. I
have recently contributed to this list how I view reality. Let me
summarise it. Reality consists of the Creator and Creation. Creation
includes being (every thing which has been created, every thing which is
creating and every thing which will be creating) and becoming (every way
of creating such as revolutionary emergence or immergence as well as
evolutionary growth or decay, linear or nonlinear). Creation is physical
(material) and spiritual (abstract).

Maturana says that we cannot talk about reality. I think we cannot talk
all about reality. But can we not talk about the Creator in terms of those
things which He revealed to humankind (the transcendental knowledge of
Kant)? Can we not talk more about Creation as it unfolds it to us by way
of our creativity? Last, but not the least, each of us know more about
reality than that which has already been worded. We can certainly talk
about this tacit knowledge, but we have done little so. Later on in this
contribution I will step on your tacit knowledge. Please forgive me if it
hurts. However, did George Orwell not say: "Freedom is the right to say
things people do not want to hear"?

Professor Maturana does NOT deny reality all together. He denies an
objective reality which I also do. He accepts at least a phenomenological
reality which I also do. He enriches this to a cognitive reality based on
observation which I also do. (Maturana's concept of observation is
contained in my concept of commutation). However, I go much further. I
lump his qualifications of reality (as well as the other qualifications of
reality set forth by all other thinkers and to which I agree) under
merely ONE qualification, namely a creative reality. I have no
qualification on reality other than its creativity.

How on earth is this possible? The answer is as simple as it is complex.
Creation is the summit of complexity. In other words, 'creative reality'
does not have a simple meaning, but has the most complex meaning ever


Most important of all, (assuming that you have read some of Maturana'a
works), when you will read my book and compare it to that of Maturana, it
will be like listening to one person speaking in Swahili and another one
speaking in Russian. By this I mean that we often speak of almost the same
thing, but we use different terms for it.

This difference, on the hand, gives me joy because it signifies variety as
an essentiality of creativity. But, on the other hand, it also makes me
sad because it signifies a lack in another essentiality, namely
categoricity. In my book I tried to use the earliest name given to a
concept. Let us call it the basic Taxonomic Rule (TR). The TR is followed
in the listing, description and organisation of living things (bacteria,
plants and animals) in all the biologcal sciences.

For example, I call the essentiality which many of you know as wholeness,
by the name "monadicity". Leibniz was, as far as I could ascertain, the
first to use the name monad for something which is an indivisable whole.
(I do not follow the philosophy called monadology!)

I have by far not the biological knowledge which Maturana has. Therefor,
I should have been astounded that Maturana does not extend this basic TR
of biology into the realm of human affairs. Yet I am not astounded.
Biological taxonomy (naming of living specimens) is very complex. Linnaus
was probably the first to have realised this. So he introduced
self-organisation (autopoiesis) in the naming of biological specimens.
However, if we do not think of all the entities of Creation as one complex
whole, then we will not think of naming these entities in a self-
organising manner, i.e. we will not think of 'creational taxonomy'.

I think that Linnaus' work is one of the great creative feats of
humankind. I suspect that were it not for this basic TR in biological
thinking, it would have been much more difficult for Darwin to create his
theory of evolution.


It is also very important to note that Professor Maturana's paradigm and
mine are different, but not opposingly or complementary different.
Maturana's paradigm is about LIFE while my paradigm is about CREATION.
Maturana thinks of life as a biological phenomenon while I think of life
as a creative phenomenon. I consider the inanimate world, including
physical technology, just as important as the biological world or the
abstract world of spirits and human thoughts. I think the best way to view
the relationship between our paradigms is an inclusive relationship. My
paradigm includes that of Maturana, but not vice versa.

Maturana, like Erich Jantsch and others, are high mountain peaks of a
landscape begun by Charles Darwin. And as I have noted before, the paint,
brushes and canvas were supplied by others such as Linnaus and JJ Rousseau
(see Emile). Darwin believed that we will understand humanity only by
viewing it in context of the biological world. I believe that we will
understand humanity, the biological world and the inanimate world better
by viewing them all in the context of creativity.

I do not want to think of me even as the foot of a mountain, nor the
beginner of a landscape in which I operate in, because this landscape was
begun by humans before they could even write! I merely consider me as a
succulent plant in some desert, far from any mountain, trying to live in a
world not very kind to life anymore. I find great truths in not only the
creative accomplishments of a Einstein or a Maturana of the academical
world, but also in the creative accomplishments of a San person (bushman)
in the Kalahari desert, a person who does not even have a written
language. Einstein and Maturana may have formulated great theories, but
none of them would have made it alone in the desert for more than three
days. Who then shall we not consult?

I live in South Africa while Maturana lived in Chile for a major part of
his life. Both our countries are rich in complexity. Both our countries
connect the first world with the third world. Both are situated in the
southern hemisphere where less than 5% of the world's economical and
academical activities take place. (And both have wonderful deserts!) We
have to make much more effort to get what we want and where we want to be.
Therefore, we have to use what we have with much more care and
effectiveness. When we do read books, we devour them with greater passion,
hoping to taste every flavour in it. When we wish to discover a paricular
complexity, we have to be much more careful. The more complex the
discoveries, the more time it takes. We cannot share the time needed among
people as easily as you can do because we have too few heads and too many
hands from which to hire.

My life in South Africa has made me very sensitive to the great books of
humankind. We do not have many of them here, so what I can get, I devour
with great hunger. For example, action research is considered as a modern
invention with great potential. But if you carefully read about Socrates
in the books of Plato, you will discover that he was such a master of
action research that he had to pay with his life for it. Newton is
considered to be the master who blended physics and mathematics into one.
But 250 years before him Roger Bacon stressed that scientific enquiries
will have to incorporate mathematics before there can be any significant
advancement in science. Students of today think that calculus is
difficult, but read about the difficulties which had to be overcome when
working the first time with fractions as we understand them today.

We think that we live in difficult times with great upheavels so that
immense emergences will take place, but read the book of Job in the Bible,
the oldest book in the Bible. (Job lived in the times of Abraham.) It
cannot be worse with us than it had been with Job. Did Job experienced an
emergence? Yes, that he is in need of a God-man Saviour! When I carefully
study the book of Job, I find that my concept of reality is not more
encompassing than his tacit concept - it is only more complex. Did I then
accomplish much more by stating my viewpoint on reality? No, I did not. I
merely followed the chain of monadicty with the aid of many humans before
me who also have followed it.

My referance to Job of the Bible might cause some to classify me as a
fundamentalist. This wrong. Think of the records of Gilgamesh and Sumer
recovered by archeologists. Read how creation had been described in them.
These records are just as part of reality as this contribution. Do my
insistence that we have to take notice of them then make me an ancient?
No. Because with the same vigour I take notice of what is called post-
modernist thinking. However, this does not make me a post- modernist. From
day to day I try to free myself from any xxxxxism. The only -ism from
which I cannot free myself, is realistic creativism.

Do I then want to impress you with the complexity of reality which I have
traced? Yes, if I wanted to intimidate you into passiveness. No, I do not
want to intimidate you. But I want to confront you with intimidation by
the complexity of reality. The more complex a thing is, the more it
intimidates lesser complex things into passiveness. (This will all be
explained in my book in terms of the Digestor as a model for evolutionary
creations.) What I want you to realise is that the more you OPEN
yourselves CREATIVELY to more of reality, the more you are likely to get
intimidated into passivity because of the increasing complexity. Even I
myself, despite knowing how it happens, have to overcome this passivity
(nonspontaneousness) from day to day.


After my book (hopefully) has been published, you will probably read it.
Upon reading it, you might come to the conclusion that whereas Professor
Maturana is biologically orientated towards reality, I am scientifically
orientated towards reality like a chemist or physicist. I do not hide the
fact that I had to lean heavily on mathematics, physics and chemistry, nor
will I hide those facts from the reader. But I am not only a scientist.
Some would say that I am a constructivist like Maturana implicitly is.
This is not true. I long for the destruction of those things by which
humanity destroys its future.

I am a human who becomes extremely upset when humankind tries to unsettle
the balance between his being and becoming, to fragment and demarcate his
life, to prevent him to make contacts, to jeopardise his quantifications
up to the actual limits, to deny qualities and varieties to him, to take
his freedom to create away. I am no more different than most children who
have not yet forgotten how to create. Sherri keeps on hammering me that we
adults have forgotten a lot of things. I have to agree with her on one
thing - we have forgotten how it is to live as a child.

So where does the essential difference come in? When I was still young, I
wanted to be a painter, a philosopher, a musician, a patriot, a writer, a
naturalist, a philantrope, an ecomomist, a priest, a teacher, a farmer, an
industrialst, a historian, a wanderer, a scientist, but strangely enough,
never a politician. But humankind had a terrible message and system ready
for me: you can become one or a few of them, but never, never all of them.
However, I saw an escape route, one which their system dare not close
completely, namely learning. By becoming a learner for life, it will be
possible to realise these various callings one by one, so long as God
permits us life.

Thus I began to question one activity more than all other activities,
namely learning, the route of escape! How can I know learning in the
context of reality? Epistemology is the study/reason (logos) of episteme
(knowledge). I have read my share of books on epistemology, but I still
consider the process by which we come to knowledge just as important as
the knowledge itself.

It was in this kind of spirit I became aware that TO LEARN IS TO CREATE.
This awareness put me on a strange course, one which I have told you about
in previous contributions.

In 1982-83 I made a discovery which overturned my whole outlook, an
outlook which at that time was already far to wierd for most of my
colleagues to handle. At that time I already believed that the physical
world and spiritual world should not be separated. I also believed in a
sort of materialistic emergencism, i.e. that the spiritual world emerges
from the material world. I was conversant with topics such as
self-organisation and autopoiesis. But then I discovered empirically that
the same law is responsible for what happens in both the physical and
spiritual world. It was the law which says that ENTROPY HAS TO BE CREATED
FOR ANYTHING TO HAPPEN. There is no qualifications for this 'anything'.

This discovery caused me to see everything in a different light. Although
the spiritual world in this Creation has to emerge from the material
world, it is the highest qualities in the spiritual world which has the
most profound influence in the material world! Life is not only
autopoietic, but can also become very selfish. The only thing which can
free life from this selfishnesss, is unconditional love. This explains
what happened when, according to Genesis, God blew the air of life in the
lungs of the animal Adam to become the first ever human. God gave Adam the
gift of unconditional love. This love made humans spiritually creative.
Adam, unfortunately, did not respect this gift as he should have. He
became selfish. From that day onwards humankind had to walk along an abyss
with the one leg on the one side and the other leg on the other side. This
schizofreny impoverished the make-up of humanity.

One thing led to another. Eventually I was able to make the mental
have experienced enough to summon the courage to tell others about it.

I have said so much about the essential difference that it now appears to
be rather complex. If I now have to summarise it, I cannot do it better
than with the title of my forthcoming book: Entropy -> Creativity ->
Learning. To say less, is to loose what is essential of the essential


I fear that you will get as infatuated with commutation as I once did.
Commutation is important, but creativity and reality are much more
important. Let us now see what is the relationship between commutation and
autopoiesis. In what follows, I will have to hunt in my distant memories.
I do not buy books to be able to make quick referances because I do not
have enough money to do so. I do not try to memorise things unless I make
a mental note not to forget it, simply because my mind cannot store it
all. So, please forgive my memory.

I recall Maturana's definition of autopoiesis as follows:
An autopetic system is a network of component producers which
1 generate and maintain the system's organisation
2 provide a house for the components in the system.

Remember my definition of commutation:
Commutation is the interactive sharing of any number of minor
organisations (trons, minorgs) between any number of major
organisations (kernels, majorgs) for any number of times, thereby
causing the emergence of a hyper-organisation (hyperorg). The
magnitude of commutation may be expressed by the Commutation
Number CN.

I can now 'redefine' autopoiesis as follows:
A hyperorg (commutative system) is autopoietic when
1 metaorgs emerge in it for the generation and maintenance of
the hyperorg
2 the metaorgs commute with the hyperorg.
In other words, the metaorgs (meta-organisations) is the
'components' which Maturana speaks of. They are meta to the hyper-
organisation. The 'house' (I cannot remember M's actual term or
phrase) is nothing else than commutation again.

This 'redefinition' shows that commutation is a much more basic concept
than autopoiesis. In other words, commutation is enriched autopoiesis by
conditions 1 and 2.

Maturana says, as I recall it, that any autopoietic system in physical
space is a living system. 'Translated', it means a material commutative
system which can maintain and regenerate (self-organise for short) itself.
But what about commutation between the material and the abstract world?
What about commutation with nonself-organising things or even destructive

Maturana says, as I recall it, that an observer is a living system who can
interact with other living systems in terms of a unit entity different to
itself, provided the observar can distinguish and specify that unit.
'Translated', it means that that the observer has to commute with other
material, commutative, self-organising systems. But to distinguish and
specify is merely one of the seven essentialities which I have discovered,
namely categoricity. What about the other six essentialities? Are they not
also important for superior observation?

Maturana says that we have to make a very important distinction between
organisation and structure. I also do, but let me do it in terms of my
paradigm. One of the most astounding distinctions we can make about any
creation, is that between content and form. Already in Egypt (3500 years
ago), Babylonia (3000 years ago) and later in Greece (2500 years ago),
humans were intrigued by this distinction because it makes commutation in
terms of a language possible. Almost every day I hear people saying that
mathematics has become a mystery to them. One way to view mathematics is
that mathematics is a study of the form of any content in a logical
manner. The form is often taken as a content itself to study a yet deeper
form. In other words, if a person is not sensitive to the distiction
between form and content, then mathematics will become a mystery for this

Think of Matutana's organisation as 'mathematics'. Maturana 'says' that
autopoietic systems want to conserve their mathematics! (Can you now
appreciate the importance of what Roger Bacon said seven centuries ago?)
Furthemore, Maturana says that organisation does not specify properties
and does not depend on them, but rather concerns relationships. Now how
does he distinguish these relationships?

The distinction between relations and functions is fundamental to
mathematics, functions being deterministic relations. Leibniz discovered
the concept function like other concepts such as monad and calculus.
Slowly this concept complexified in mathematics up to the thirties of this
century. Then Godel made his incredible discovery on the incompleteness of
logics. One of the outcomes was that many mathematicians went overboard,
reducing the concept of function to a special kind of ordered set.
Luckily, Lutsen Brouwer was on a different course. He did not believe
anymore that the foundation of mathematics was logic. He saw something
deeper: construction and intuition. Eventually, through his efforts, via
topology, Mathematical Category Theory (MCT) finally emerged. In MCT both
set and function play fundamental roles. Should you dug a little bit into
this theory, you might agree with me than Maturana's sensitivity to
'relationships in organisation' is very much in the sense of MCT!

Now, allow me to rock your boat just a little bit. The enquiries of
mathematical categorists into logic is known as toposlogic (not topology).
When I discovered the seven essentialities of creativity, I made use of
chemistry and toposlogic! (Chapter 3 of my book will tell you some of
these results.) Now, these seven essentialities refer to the form of
creativity as Maturana's organisation refers to the form of autopoietic
systems! In other words, I and Maturana thinks the same, yet differently.
We are two different drops in the same ocean.

I can go on and on in this manner, including Varela's extensions to
Maturana's theories such as autonomy, experential enaction, etc. However,
I want to conclude this contribution on a different isssue of utmost


I have already contributed on this topic to this list, so I will not
repeat what I have said then.

Culture, to me, is that which results from every change in which humans
were involved. The rest is nature, whether it is living or inanimate. The
subtitle of my book (how to manage chaos, order and complexity in nature
and culture) has to be interpreted in this context.

The subtitle of my book indicates that it is true that humankind have
given far too little attention to topics such as chaos and complexity. But
in my book you will find much more. I use chaos in a neutral sense. But I
stress that we have to live from day to day in a world flooded with
anarchy and destruction. In other words, when it comes to culture, we also
have to live with ANautopoietic systems! What are anautopoetic systems?

Let us think of humanity as an autopoietic system. The components (using
Maturana's term) of humanity as an autopoietic system, are our children.
But what do we do to them - unspeakble things. Whereas they have been
given to us (condition 1) to generate and maintain humanity and (condition
2) to have a safe place in humanity, some humans use them in the opposite
sense. They give them guns and tell them they have to go out and destroy
in the name of humanity - the so-called armed struggle of the youth. And
when these children come back to us, maimed in body and spirit, no shelter
is provided for them because they have become inhuman. It has happened in
my country South Africa. It happens all over Africa. Those who have
misused them, is sitting in high places, eating gravy while honours pour
in from the rest of the world!

Think of abortion. Children are the components which make humanity an
autopoietic system. But with abortion we deny the very two qualifications
of auttopoiesis, namely 1 to generate and maintain humanity and 2 to give
as safe haven for them in humanity. Jesus said that it is better to put a
milling stone around one's neck and to drown oneself than to act
wrongfully to children.

There is no sense in studying topics like chaos, complexity and
self-organisation while the bifurcations in culture and nature leads to
immerges (destructions, anhillations) in many parts of the world as never
before. Many think that the twentieth century is the golden century of
humankind. It will rather be known as the abominable century of

Why? One of the reasons is that we have never made sure what actually
makes culture different from nature! It is because we humans can make
nonspontaneous things happen, things which would never have happened on
their own accord. Nature cannot let a bridge happen, nor a motorcar, nor a
electronic computer, nor a piano sonata, nor a book. This is why God
created us - to show how nonspontaneous things are part of reality - to
show the 'tacit' side of His Creation. That is why my definition of
reality says '...creations which still have to happen...'.

However, the law which says that entropy has to be created for anything to
happen, has a price tag on it: If we want to create a nonspontaneous
creation (one which will not happen on its own accord), then we will just
have to create more entropy than usual. It is this price tag which causes
the BIG ONE looming ahead. Our excessive entropy production has lead to
our modern diseases, pollutions and destructions. We are building our
culture at the expence of our children and grandchildren.

Please, do not understand me wrong. I do not say that it is wrong to let
nonspontaneous creations happen. In other words, I am not a
contra-artificialist. What I do say, is that if we want to force and
control a nonspontaneous creation to happen by external means, then we
must take all the consequences into consideration. In other words, we
cannot shy away from full reality and full complexity when we wish to
force nonspontanoeus creations to happen. Should we do so, then our
culture has become an idol.

In nonspontaneous creations immergences are much more frequently than
emergences. Why? To use professor Maturana's terminology, it is much more
difficult to preserve the organisation in nonspontaneous creations. The
reason is, to use my terminology, that our commutation with such a
nonspontaneous creation is far too inferior. Take for example a father who
wants his child to do a specific thing while the child cannot do that
thing on his own accord, i.e. the child is nonspontaneous to that thing.
An inferior commutation between the father and the child would be for the
father to try and force by physical or mental violence the child to do it.
If one or more of the seven essentialities of creativity have been
immpaired, the child will not be able to create that which is required.
The father's forcing will rather led to an immergence.

Dan, I hope I have given you an indication of the correspondences and the
difference between professor Maturana's work and mine. I have great
respect for his work and admire his creativity. He has worked in much
greater detail than me. Because of the much greater complexity involved
in my own work, progress has been much slower.

Best wishes
-- -

At de Lange
Gold Fields Computer Centre for Education
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, South Africa


"Mnr AM de Lange" <>

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