Review of The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love by Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zöller
Blassnigg M. (2010) Review of The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love by Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zöller. Leonardo 43(2): 182–183. Available at http://cepa.info/4121
The origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love by Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zöller. Imprint Academic, Exeter, U.K., 2008. 227 pp., illus. Paper. ISBN: 978-184540088-0.
The Origin of Humanness, written in the early 1990s, brings together two strands of research: Maturana Romesin’s research into the origin of humanness and Verden-Zöller’s research into the rise of self-consciousness in the child during early mother-child play relations. The authors’ core claim is that the human species has evolved by conserving love as a fundamental domain of cooperation expressed through the basic emotions or moods of mutual respect, care, acceptance and trust (Homo sapiens-amans) rather than competition and aggression (Homo sapiens aggressans or arrogance). In this, they do not declare an ethical imperative, but rather situate ethics in biology, since, in their view, a responsible concern for the well-being of the other (human, species, biosphere, etc.) arises naturally from a manner of living in the biology of love. This is what they propose as a way for conserving the existence of social human beings (and what they call “social consciousness”) and for countering the dominant culture of domination, submission or indifference in Western society. Ethics, in this sense, is a choice of emotioning on an individual basis that in relation to a social community defines how a particular manner of living is to be conserved over the coming generations. In this way, the book opens up burning questions around the dimension of humanness in relation to contemporary developments in the sciences and the applications of technologies (genetic engineering, organ transplants, cloning, robotics, virtual reality, etc.), which the authors touch upon briefly as referential contexts, and Maturana Romesin has developed more fully elsewhere [Note 1] . The Origin of Humanness is a testimony of hope, which calls for the integration of
systemic and linear rational thinking through a change in attitude if we release our desire for control, and in doing so we could conserve loving humanness in awareness that the biology of love and intimacy is our fundament. That, indeed, would be a cultural change of no little magnitude (p. 129).
The fact that the editor, Pille Bunnell, decided to separate a scientific appendix from the main argument (thus dividing the book into two halves) is crucial to understanding the authors’ argument in its self-conscious presentation as an explanatory system. This reveals that if, for example, the argument were to be read from an intellectual position that separated the explanatory system and the position of the observer from life as an independent reality, it could be misunderstood as carrying a certain essentialist bias. Such a misdirection completely dissolves once it is understood (and the scientific appendix makes this method very clear) that from a systemic approach, scientific explanations are operational and conceptual instruments that permit us to “explain and understand what we do as human beings through our operation in the different domains of operational coherences in which we live” (p. 156). In the authors’ view, any explanation can ultimately only explain experience, which reveals the constructedness of the notion of “reality” or “existence” as explanatory. This perspective is not only useful for understanding the authors’ position when reading their reflections on the origin of humanness, but it also opens a framework to situate various other scientific explanatory models. As a foundational principle of any explanatory system, “structural determinism” is defined by the authors as the “abstraction of the regularities of our living and of our operation as living systems as the regularities of our living appear in our reflections as coherences of our experiences” (p. 159). What systems theory, used in this way, reveals is not a new explanatory theory of all and everything, but a modus operandi of how to situate and understand scientific explanatory systems that necessarily always include the position of the observer while their reflections abstract from life experiences. The insightful reflections in the appendix appear almost as a philosophy of science, and the “in the book” format presents a very complex system of thought and makes it accessible despite asking some forbearance from the reader or, alternatively, a disciplined interactive reading between the separate sections.
Maturana Romesin and Verden-Zöller’s intervention provides us with an innovative way to think forward by reflecting on the past, situated in very familiar contexts of the present. Given the book’s relevant topic, which occupies us all in some way or other, this leads us to ask more questions. It not only opens a way to address the topic of “love” in the sciences and related disciplines, but it also will have to be seen if the book might offer a new starting point from which to resolve the prevailing dualism that is used to describe the human condition. In a manner similar to the philosopher Henri Bergson’s in addressing the cooperation between the intellect and intuition in Creative Evolution [Note 2] , the authors propose that reason “may help to shift our psychic identity if it guides our emotioning, but does not do so by itself” (p. 106). Most significantly, The Origin of Humanness introduces an ethics to the way we engage in our current cultural environment, which is based in the fundamentals of human emotioning and, in combination with self-reflection, calls for responsibility for our desires as a choice for future directions in the human creative evolution.
Humberto Maturana Romesin has more fully developed a discussion with regard to technology in a 1997 article entitled “Metadesign,” where the artist and artistic, creative dimension in human being arises as a most significant interventionist potential for change through aesthetics linked to the emotional domain. The article can be found on-line at http://www.inteco.cl/articulos/metadesign.
Henri Bergson (1911/1998) Creative Evolution. (tr. Mitchell). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. (French original: 1907, L’Évolution Créatrice. Paris: Alcan.)
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