This is a penultimate version of
Kybernetes vol.34, nos. 1/2, 2005 pp. 54-88
Humberto Maturana Romesín
Matriztic Institute, Santiago, Chile
Purpose – To reflect on the matter of self-consciousness.
Design/approach – The purpose is achieved through the process of answering four questions presented to me by Heinz von Foerster in the course of our many conversations.
Findings – It is not possible to understand the nature of self-consciousness without understanding the operation of human beings as living systems that exist as emotional languaging living systems: self-consciousness is a manner of living.
Implications – We human beings can become more aware of our responsibility in the design of robots that imitate us.
Originality/Value – Reflects on what makes us humans special, on subjective experience, and on the world we bring forth.
Keywords Cybernetics, Robotics, Cognition, Philosophical concepts
Paper type Conceptual paper
When I met Heinz in Leiden 1962, I was 34 years old and he was 51. We became friends on our Žrst encounter, it was love at Žrst sight, and we remained like that until his death. It was not the coincidence in our thinking what draw us together, it was the pleasure of each other’s company. It was the joy of being together talking about whatever appeared in our minds. No doubt I learned from him and he learned from me. What did we learn from each other? I do not know, it is difŽcult to say, yet I frequently think of him remembering the person, the thinker, the scientist, the friend, ..., that he was as a sensitive, honest, and ethical person. What he thought he has written in many inspiring forms that one can read. Many authors in this volume that refer to his work show this. But, what one cannot read is the flavour of his delicate care for the others and their dignity that came both from his reflections as a philosopher and scientist, and from his seeing the richness of daily life. I wish to reveal this with a very little event that must have happened some time about 1974 or 1975. We had gone together to some meeting in Los Angeles. As we came to the front desk of the Hotel to pay our accounts, I realized, and said this to him, that after a long distance phone call, I had given by mistake the phone area code as if it were my room number. As Heinz heard me he said: “Let us correct this mistake immediately, so that the beautiful habit of trust is not lost”. He knew and he did not know what he had said. I was listening from my always-present concern about living systems and all that is related to them. His concern was about ethical behaviour, mine was about the mechanism that oriented the historical transformation of living systems in the process of evolution. I did not believe in competition and natural selection as the mechanism that guided evolution, but I did not have an alternative one to propose. Yet, as I heard Heinz I realized that it was habits and preferences what continuously oriented the path that living system followed moment after moment in the realization of their living, deŽning the course of the genetic drift in which they are necessarily immersed through mutations and recombinations. “Evolution follows in the course of generations the path of the survival of the Žt, not of the Žttest”, I said to myself. And I also thought that it was the same in the individual life of an organism, which becomes whatever it becomes in its ontogeny following an epigenetic path deŽned moment after moment by its preferences.
Interestingly, we are the result of a life that we have lived guided by our preferences.
Thanks Heinz for having been my friend.
In my long friendship with Heinz von Foerster I found that all his questions invited me to reflections that either I did alone, or if it was possible, in conversations with him. Thus, many years ago he asked me four questions that I think are still relevant, at least for me. These questions reveal our conversations, not necessarily his thinking, but since he asked them, here they are together with my answers as if I was talking with him:
(1) What is the central theme for you, reality or understanding?
(2) Is the question of self-consciousness to be answered in the domain of reality or in the domain of understanding?
(3) Can robots be or operate as self-conscious entities?
(4) You do not like the use of formalisms in biology, why?
My answer to the Žrst two questions was then, and continues to be, understanding. Moreover, I think that we shall be able to deal properly with the themes of reality and self-consciousness only after we understand how we do what we do as we operate as observers living our distinctions as if what we distinguish existed independently of what we do in making the distinction. The third question I answered saying “Yes, robots can operate as self conscious entities if they are made in the proper way and have the proper history of interactions”. The fourth question I answered saying that I do not like formalisms in biology because they obscure, for the person who does not already understand the biological phenomenon being formalised, that which one may want to reveal with the formalism.
In what follows I shall expand on my answers to these four questions by addressing my reflections to the theme of self-consciousness as I describe the operations in language that constitute it as a human experience.
We human beings can reflect on ourselves, on what we do as well as on what we do not do, on what we imagine and on what we do not imagine, that is, we are self-conscious beings. Yet, how do we do this has been, and still is a mystery for many philosophers, scientists, and mystics that reflect on the matter. So, the search for an explanation continues, with some people hoping to Žnd some unique entity, different from what we connote or intend to connote as we speak of our self, that by itself may provide us (that which we are without it?) with this ability. Others look for some property of the operation of our brain that realises in us the ability that we call our self-consciousness. The old dilemma entailed in these and other different attitudes can be stated as follows: Is our operation as self-conscious beings a property of our brain, the gift of some external agent, or does it consist in some particular manner of our operation as organisms in our interactions?
In what follows I shall address this dilemma expressing it in the form of the following Žve questions. What makes us human beings self-conscious beings? What is the nature of subjective experience? How is it that we have spiritual experiences? What should an observer see in order to claim that an organism, or some artiŽcial system like a robot, behaves as a self-conscious entity? What if anything would make us human beings different from robots if robots were to operate as self-conscious entities? Generally we human beings do not like the idea that we may be mere material entities, mere robots: we want to be special. Yet, we are at the same time conscious that as living beings we are not fully special because, we know that we exist and operate as molecular entities, and, therefore, we also know that we cannot deny that our living involves our molecular materiality. Are we special? And if so, in what way? In this essay I shall assume that the reader knows that we living systems are molecular systems, and that as such we are structure determined systems (Maturana, 2002). Accordingly, in what follows I shall speak assuming that the reader accepts that structural determinism is the operational fundament for all that we do as living systems and as human beings, and I shall assume as well that he or she accepts that structural determinism is our condition of existence, and not our limitation. I shall also assume that the reader is aware that in the moment in which we live whatever we live, we do not know whether what we live is a perception or an illusion, and that due to that we cannot claim to have the ability to make reference to any thing assuming that it exists independently of what we do in the operation with which we distinguish it. In fact, the main difŽculty that we encounter in the attempt to explain and understand how we do what we do, and how do we operate as we operate as self-conscious beings, is that since we do not know and cannot know in the moment in which we live what we live, whether we are living a perception or an illusion, we need a starting point and a reflective procedure that does not require from us the ability to make such a distinction. In the different articles that I have written about cognition I have speciŽed that starting point and that procedure by stating that my starting point is the observer it self, as he or she operates as a self-conscious human living being using his or her own operation to explain how he or she operates. I do the same in what I write in this essay.
I assume that the reader knows these notions, and this is why I do not develop them here, yet, for those who may want to look again to the fundaments of what I say, I have added at the end an appendix that includes a commentary on some of the basic notions that I use here even though I have published them else where.
We human beings Žnd our selves already doing what we do and thinking what we think, when we ask ourselves how do we do what we do and how do we think what we think. We human beings Žnd our selves existing in the present, in a continuously changing present, when we ask our selves how do we exist. We human beings Žnd ourselves already operating as observers making distinctions in the flow of our living, when we ask ourselves how do we do what we do as observers. Past and future are manner of living in the present: the past is an explanatory proposition of how what we live has come to be, and the future is an image that we live now of how our now will be transformed. The starting point of my reflections, as I have said it, and as I have written about it before in many occasions, is my experience of myself here and now doing what I do as I operate as an observer. Moreover, in this starting point I am conscious and aware that I use, and that I can only use, the operational coherences of my living as a human being in order to explain my living as a human being. Finally, in doing these reflections I operate as an ordinary modern human being that lives in languaging, reflecting on his or her doings and reflections.
As a human being I do what we human beings do, I operate as an observer observing. The observer is not a condition of being, it is not a transcendental entity that exists by itself, it is not a material entity, it is our experience of being aware of ourselves doing what we do as we human beings operating as observers observing. And what do we do as human beings operating as observers in observing? We make distinctions. We make distinctions of objects, of notions, of ideas, of concepts, ...,of entities that we bring forth with our operations of distinction together with the domains of existence in which they arise. In the patriarchal/matristic culture that we presently live, we live the entities and their circumstances that we bring forth in our distinctions as if their existence were independent from what we did as we distinguished them, and as if they existed prior to our distinguishing them. We human beings, we observers are not different in this from other entities, we do not pre-exist to our distinction of ourselves, and we arise as selves, as we distinguish ourselves as human beings observing. We arise as human beings in the experience of observing ourselves observing.
Experience is that which we distinguish as happening to us. We live what happens to us as experiences as we become conscious of what we do: experiences entail self-consciousness because they occur in the act of self-distinction. Afterwards they are only memories. We human beings arise as human beings in the moment that we distinguish ourselves operating as human beings making distinctions: in other words, we human beings arise in our experiences as we arise as an observer doing a self distinction, and we do not pre-exist to our distinction of ourselves as observers in the act of making a distinction. Since my staring point in my reflections is myself asking about how do I do what I do as I operate as an observer distinguishing myself observing the starting point for my reflections does not entail the assumption of a given transcendental entity, principle or a priori condition. My starting point in my reflections about how I do what I do as I operate as an observer observing my making distinctions, is myself, a human living being that does not pre-exist to his or her self distinction. What is fundamental and particular in this starting point, is that it does not entail any ontological assumption, and the observer must show how he or she operates as a self-conscious living human being with the operational coherences of his or her operation as a self-conscious living human being.
I have written elsewhere (Maturana, 1988): “Everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him or herself”. This is a constitutive condition in our operation as human beings. We human beings Žnd ourselves living systems operating in the domain of operational coherences in which our living takes place, as we distinguish ourselves in our reflections about our operation as observers. As an observer distinguishes him or herself as an observer, he or she brings forth the domain of operational coherences in which he or she exists as a living system operating as a human being, and henceforth can operate in that domain of operational coherences as if it existed independently of his or her doings. The same happens with any entity that the observer may distinguish. As an observer makes a distinction, the entity distinguished arises implying the domain or matrix of operational coherences in which it exists as it arises in the distinction, and the observer can operate from then on as if such domain of operational coherences existed independently of his or her operation. So, although the entity distinguished and the domain of operational coherences in which it exists as it arises in the distinction of the observer do not pre-exist to its distinction, the observer can speak as if both the entity distinguished and its domain of existence existed independently of what he or she does, as long as he or she does not lose his or her awareness of the fact that the entity that he or she has distinguished, as well as its domain of existence, exist in an operational domain that arises through his or her operations of distinction. Moreover, we observers should not forget in these reflections that whatever we distinguish arises in the domain or matrix of operational coherences in which we arise as living systems, and that all that we do as human beings we do as operations in that domain or matrix of operational coherences. This I express by remarking that we human beings explain our experiences with the operational coherences of our experiences.
Accordingly, if we accept the question “how do we do what we do as we operate as self-conscious human beings?”, we enter in an explanatory course in which we shall explain how we operate as self-conscious human beings with the operational coherences of our operation as self-conscious human beings. What I present in what follows, is the result of that endeavour.
In what follows I shall consider certain notions such as time, medium, systemic laws, lineages, languaging, inter-objectivity, and conversations, before we can understand what I say about the self and self-consciousness. The reader that thinks that he or she does not need these sections may go directly to the section called: The self.
1. A commentary about my use of English. We normally speak as if that of which we speak, existed in itself and as if we could refer to it as occurring out there in some domain of transcendental reality. This constitutes a difŽculty when one wants to speak or to refer to something that arises as it is distinguished because it does not pre-exist to that moment. In these circumstances, when I use a circular sentence what I am doing is to show the operation through which that I am talking about arises. So, I invite the reader to trust that I know what I am doing as I write, even if it is not easy to understand what I say. Thus, If I say, “a table is that entity that arises as I put a plate upon it”, I am not being peculiar, I am showing the operational condition that bring forth a table being aware that the table is not a table by itself. Once I have done that and I have brought forth the table, tableness, and the operational domain in which tables exist, I can speak of tables as if they existed independently of my distinguishing them. The example may sound trivial because we human beings have already generated the operational domain in which tables exist. But, how do we talk about entities that we can only connote as features of our experience? All that we can do is to describe the experiential conditions under which such experiences arise, and as we do that, what happens? We end talking in circular sentences. In these circumstances the best thing to do would be to say, “the observer Žnds him or herself already making distinctions when he or she Žnds him or herself asking: how do I distinguish what I distinguish?” And this applies, of course, to the observer in his or her operation as a “self-conscious being”: the observer Žnds him or herself distinguishing him or herself distinguishing him or herself only in the moment in which he or she lives the experience of being conscious of his or her being in self-consciousness. In other moments the observer is not conscious of his or her being capable of operating in self-consciousness. The observer as a being that can operate as a self-conscious being, operates most of the time unconscious of his or her ability of operating as a self-conscious being, and does his or her operation in self consciousness in an unconscious manner. He or she Žnds him or herself already in self-consciousness when he or she has the experience of self-consciousness. To be a self-conscious being does not mean that one is all the time operating in self-consciousness. It means that if we say that we are self-conscious beings, what we say is that whenever we reflect we Žnd ourselves operating in a way in which we Žnd ourselves existing and operating in self-consciousness. And we Žnd ourselves saying so implying also that we have the capacity to do so even if our claim refers to our operation in a domain of existence that does not pre-exist to our speaking it. That is, in all that we do we Žnd ourselves already doing what we are doing in the moment in which we ask ourselves, “How do we do what we do?”
2. When we accept a question, we face two possible situations: one situation in which the question that we accept pertains to a domain in which it is in principle possible for us to Žnd a criterion different from our preferences that will permit us to claim that the answer that we give is valid; and another situation in which the question that we accept pertains to a domain in which in principle it is not possible for us to Žnd a criterion for accepting the answer that we give as valid different from our preference. Heinz von Foerster used to call this latter kind of questions “undecidable questions”, or questions in which the person that answered it decided from his or preferences the validity of the answer that he or she gave. In what follows I do not deal with undecidable questions as I ask about the observer and observing, or self-consciousness, I deal with questions for which I can propose answers that do not depend on my preferences. Undecidable questions are always fundamental questions in the domain of human living. In the present essay all that depends on my preference is the choice of my staring point: how do we do what we do as human beings in the domain of human beings?
Living systems exist in the present, as a continuously changing here and now. As a propagating wave front exits as such in a flow of a continuously changing dynamic present that is the wave front itself, so we living systems exist in the continuous flow of a changing historical present. That is, we living systems exist in the happening of a changing “here and now”. Indeed, the cosmos as a whole exists as a continuously changing present. Past and future are manners of living in a changing present in the flow of time, notion that we human beings have invented as an explanatory proposition to explain our evanescent changing living: we invented the notion of past as a negative dimension in the imagined space that we call time to be to able explain how is it that we become as we are at any moment in the flow of our continuous change in our here and now. And we have invented the notion of future as a positive dimension in the imagined domain of time to compute our possible changes as extrapolations that we make of the dynamic coherences of the features of our continuously changing present.
As our ancestors began to live in language (recursive co-ordinations of co-ordinations of consensual doings) I think more than three million years ago, they found themselves as a matter of course making the distinction of succession in processes in the same way that they distinguished what went before and after as they moved in the operational space of their doings. From that distinction they invented the notion of time as an additional dimension for the description of their movements in the many dimensions of their dynamic domain of existence. And this must have spontaneously happened to them through their natural operation in analogical thinking. More over, they must have done this without being aware that they had invented an imaginary dimension. Nerve cells in their operation respond in the same way, without treating them as different for the generation of nerve impulses, to the many different spatio-temporal conŽgurations of afferent activities impinging upon their dendritic arborisation; conŽgurations of spatio-temporal activities that for the nerve cells were the same, but which for us as external observers correspond to different temporal and spatial relations in the operation of the organism as a totality in the medium.
Since the flow of living of a living system is guided by its operation as an organism in the relational space in which it interacts as a totality, the dimensions of space and time that are confused in the generation of the nerve impulses at the neuronal level, can be separated in the operation of the organisms in their relational space if the succession of movements (space) and the successions of processes (time) are treated differently by them in the flow of their interactions when they begin to live in languaging. It is because of this that time can be lived as “real” in the operation of the observer as an organism in the flow of its interactions, and can be treated by him or her as an imaginary in the flow of his or her explanatory reflections.
Time is not a physical dimension and it does not exist by itself, time is an explanatory notion that we languaging human beings have created from our distinction of processes in the flow of our continuously changing present. Yet, even though time is an imaginary spatial dimension, created to explain the course of the flow of change in a changing present, it permits us:
(1) to explain and understand the increasing complexity of the operational coherences of the changing architecture of the cosmos as well as the different systems in it, as it exists as a continuously changing present in the recursive cyclical processes of change that arise in it making it a historical system of systems; and
(2) to explain and understand the operational existence and recursive change of living systems as historical entities, in the realisation in “time” of their bounded character as discrete autopoietic entities.
Therefore, although time is an imaginary operational dimension, an observer can say that living systems exist as discrete entities in a changing present of an uninterrupted process of historical conservation of living in the realisation of molecular autopoiesis. It may appear as surprising that although time is an imaginary dimension it has become necessary for understanding living systems as discrete entities. Yet, it should not be so. Living systems are entities constituted as recursive processes of molecular productions that arise as autopoietic molecular systems historically bounded as discrete entities in the molecular space, and as such cannot be understood without understanding time. But there is more. The understanding of the imaginary nature of time turns out to be necessary also for understanding self-consciousness and self-awareness as operations that occur in the evanescent present of the living of human beings, as these continuously generate new operational dimensions in the dynamic architecture of the changing present that they live in the recursive dynamics of languaging.
Although I know that the notion of an external reality independent of what an observer does cannot be sustained because it has no operational value or sense, I speak as if it were there for the organisms under the form of “the medium” as an imagined container that makes the living of the organism possible, supporting its existence and its operation as a totality. The different worlds that an organism lives arise as different expansions of its bodyhood under the form of different matrices of sensory-effector correlations that constitute the realisation of its living in a medium which is, in the same way that time is, an explanatory construct that the observer makes. As we explain our human existence and the worlds that we live proposing some generative mechanism that would give rise to what we do as observers, in order that the generative mechanisms that we propose should make sense, we need for epistemological reasons a substratum of existence that would make possible the operational coherences of our living. As in the experience we do not distinguish between perception and illusion, the substratum that we need for epistemological reasons due to the nature of the act of explaining as the proposition of a generative mechanism (Maturana, 1991) has to be imaginary. Indeed, the imaginary medium mentioned above is such substratum. In these circumstances, the notion of the medium as an operational container that makes living possible, does not correspond to an inference that the observer makes about the existence and characteristics of a reality independent from his or her operational coherences as an organism. To attempt to do that is in fact nonsensical because whatever the observer distinguishes or mentions or infers he or she does it as a languaging being in co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings with other languaging being, and necessarily corresponds to his or her domain of operation as a living system. Yet, the awareness that the medium in which an organism operates is an imagined explanatory domain that the observer proposes as an extrapolation of the matrices of sensory-effector correlations that he or she distinguishes as the operational coherences of an organism while he or she explains the realisation and conservation of its living as a closed system, does not deny the feeling that the observer has that the medium contains and makes possible the observed organism, and that such organism could indeed be him or herself.
It is because space and time arise as imaginary explanatory domains from what we do as observers, and because as such time and space are also operational extrapolations of the matrices of sensory-effector correlations that constitute our operation in our living, that we can operate with the notions of space and time in the generation of the different worlds that we human beings live.
Before continuing, I would like to present three fundamental laws of conservation that I with Ximena Davila call systemic laws (Maturana and Davila, 2004). Heinz von Foerster and I spoke about systems and about systemic relations in many occasions. I felt that he had a deep operational understanding of systems, and that he could easily play with them as a magician, flowing in the path of their constitutive relations both to show what was occurring in them, and to cheat them by making them operate where they are not supposed to operate in the human domain. Indeed, he once said to me: “The more well deŽned a system is, the easier it is to cheat it. Heinz and I, however, never spoke about what I call here systemic laws, or laws of conservation in other domains than the domain of physics. These are abstractions that an observer can make of the operational coherences of his or her living, and which I present here as distinctions of conŽgurations of dynamic relations that reveal the basic networks of processes that make the biosphere or, better, the cosmos, the network of operational coherences that constitute them, and in which the observer Žnds him or herself existing as a historical being. Yet, I feel that my conversations with Heinz were reflective occasions in which I expanded my vision of living systems as conservative systems in a flow of change, even though we did not speak directly about this.
Systemic laws are abstractions from the operational coherences of the living of human beings made by a human being operating as an observer. As such they do not arise as deŽnitions, they arise in the same way that the laws of conservation in physics arise, that is, as poetic abstractions made by an observer of his or her operation as a living system living in languaging, and they reveal the spontaneous course followed by the spontaneous dynamics of systemic processes in any part of the cosmos in any chosen domain of operational coherences.
Systemic law: 1. Whenever an observer distinguishes a collection of elements that are interconnected in a way such that if he or she acts on one of them acts on all, the observer distinguishes a system.
According to this systemic law whatever encounters an organism may have as a molecular system triggers in it a flow of molecular changes that extends through it. The way in which this flow of molecular changes happens in any particular organisms depends at any instant, on the dynamic molecular architecture of the organism at that instant. At the same time this systemic law connotes the spontaneous constitution of systems through the operational coherence of their components.
Systemic law: 2. Whenever in a collection of elements a conŽguration of relations begins to be conserved, a space is opened for all to change around the conŽguration of relations being conserved.
According to this systemic law the conservation of a particular conŽguration of relations in a collection of elements results in that such collection of elements arises as a totality in a relational space deŽned by a dynamic border that arises through the conservation of the conŽguration of relations conserved
Systemic law: 3. Nothing occurs in the operation of the cosmos in general, or in the operation of living systems in particular, because the consequences of that operation are or may be in any way necessary for its occurrence.
According to this systemic law, teleological explanatory notions can only be accepted as metaphoric evocations of the understanding of the observer, not as characterisations of the operation of the processes being explained. As such teleological notions sooner than later generate domains of blindness for the newcomers if they are not protected by their understanding.
The cosmos is in continuous change; it is a Želd of continuous transformations in which entities of various kinds appear giving rise to new relational domains and new entities with characteristics that give rise to new relational dynamics and processes. What we human beings call “laws of nature” are abstractions that we make of the regularities of our experiences as human beings. As such the “laws of nature” may change in the flow of transformations of the cosmos. The systemic laws, however, are abstractions of relational processes that constitute the dynamic coherences through which the cosmic or spontaneous process of the transforming cosmos occur, and do not change because they do not depend on the nature of the elements invented.
What these systemic laws reveal of the relational dynamics of molecular systems, is that if a particular manner of living begins to be conserved in an organism through its realisation in the relational space in which it exists as a totality, all else becomes open to change in its internal dynamics and in the medium around the realisation of the manner of living being conserved. If a manner of living results conserved in the individual life of an organism and in its successive generations through systemic reproduction, a lineage arises deŽned by the manner of living thus conserved while all else has become opened to change around it (Maturana and Mpodozis, 2000). As the dynamic through which lineages arise occurs by itself spontaneously, when lineages of interrelated manners of living begin to be conserved together, a biosphere arises as a network of interrelated manners of living constituted by the systemic reproductive conservation of all the lineages involved. Lineages are constituted through the conservation of manners of living, that is, through the systemic reproductive conservation of some ontogenic phenotype.
The ontogenic phenotype or manner of living conserved in a lineage is not a particular isolated feature of the organisms, it is an organism-niche relation of structural coupling (see Organisms in the Appendix) that is conserved through the systemic reproduction in a phylogenetic process in which organism and niche change together congruently. The general result of this manner of constitution of lineages is that the more a lineage lasts, the more the manner of living conserved becomes genetically stabilised as a genetically determined epigenetic process through genetic drift; and the more the organism-niche relation becomes stabilised through the restriction of the variability of the niche. This, of course, applies to human cultural lineages as manners of living systemically conserved in the learning of the children, and manners of living that were mere relational habits may become genetically stabilised as epigenetic relational growth features.
In general terms, the path that the living of an organism follows is deŽned always by its preferences and habits in the conservation of well-being. Hence, the course that the history of living systems follows, and the course that the history of human beings follows arises deŽned by what is being lived in the present and not by what may be the possible consequences in the future.
We human beings are organisms whose manner of living as totalities is that of languaging observing beings, and we exist as such in the organic relational space. It is how an organism lives as a totality what guides the flow of its epigenetic transformation in the course of its living. As we observe an organism in the realisation of its living we can see the flow of its relational behaviour through its body dynamics. That is, we can see the changes of relational domains that it lives, the changes of emotion that happen to it, in the changes that take place both in its body disposition and in its manner of acting. What we cannot see is how an organism lives the flow of sensations that occur to it. Nor can we see this in a newborn baby. No doubt the mother may claim that she knows what is happening to the baby, and the course of her interactions with the baby may show that she was right, but all that she can do is to imagine what the baby may be living as an evocation arising from her own personal history and the history of her interactions with the baby itself. Heinz von Foerster used to say half jokingly that a dolphin that can “see” the interior of another with its sonar, would salute it saying: “I see that you are well. How am I?” It is only as we exist in language in the flow of living together in recursive co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings that entities, manipulable or only thinkable entities, arise. Indeed, entities arise as co-ordinations of consensual co-ordination of doings that evoke other co-ordinations of doings, in networks of recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings that we live as a world of objects that we treat as if they existed independently of what we do.
The objects, the entities, abstract or manipulable, that arise in our languaging in our flow of recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings do not exist by themselves. They are manners of flowing in co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings with others in a co-existence in languaging in the relational domain in which we conserve our living. No doubt the co-ordinations of doings that take place in languaging occur as part of the realisation of the living of the human beings that participate in the languaging taking place by doing what they do in the flow of the conservation of their human manner of living in recursive interactions with other human beings. If this were not the case the flow of languaging would result in our death as human beings or as living beings. That is, the entities that arise in the flow of languaging have the operational existence of the doings in which they participate in the realisation of the living of the languaging human beings. It is due to this that the feelings, sensations, fantasies, believes, purposes, or aims, that we human beings live along our lives, and regardless of whether we are aware of them or not, modulate the way we operate as organisms and deŽne moment after moment the course that our living follows. Furthermore, the different domains of recursive consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings that arise in living in languaging, arise as different worlds that are lived as different domains of entities and relations between entities that are sensed as abstract entities and relations with respect those entities and relations on which they arise through the recursion that gave origin to them. Yet, however, no matter how abstract some of the worlds that arise in languaging may be felt, they arise and are realised through the flow of consensual co-ordinations of doings in the domain of interactions of the organism that live interacting in languaging, and occur through the flow of the realisation of their living together.
I claim that humanness arose in the history of our lineage of bipedal primates when living in language begun to be conserved as a relational habit in the learning of the children from one generation to the next, and became a cultural manner of living that deŽned our lineage, becoming eventually genetically stabilised as a spontaneous epigenetic process. We human beings are languaging beings that live in languaging. We human beings exist as human beings in a languaging community of human beings that constitutes a lineage in which the human languaging community constitutes the niche in which the normal languaging epigenesis of the children takes place.
Objects arise in languaging, they do not exist by themselves, and they do not pre-exist to their arising as manners of flowing in recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings, and have the operational concreteness of our structural operation in the realisation of our living. In this operational concreteness, the world of objects that we live is a domain that exists in our recursive co-ordinations of doings that we experience in our feelings and sensations as a domain of independent entities. Since the entities that arise in our languaging in conversations arise in recursive co-ordinations of doings, they exist in the interplay of the members of a languaging community, and I call the domains of objects and entities that arise in our coexistence in languaging, domains of inter-objectivity. The different worlds that we live as languaging beings, are different domains of inter-objectivity that as different domains of entities that are operationally part of our domain of existence as conŽgurations of our doings, become part of the medium in which we exist in structural coupling. In this sense none of the objects or entities that arise in our domains of inter-objectivity, no matter how abstract they may seem to a na¨ve observer, are ever trivial because they are part of the niche in which we conserve our living. That is, all that we distinguish in our operation in language, our emotions, or our feelings, that become some kind of manipulable entity with our hands, with our thinking, or with our feelings, in the flow of our recursive co-ordinations of consensual doings, operate as part of the worlds in which we realise and conserve our living.
We human beings exist as emotional animals that live in languaging. That we exist as emotional animals means that as all living beings do, we flow in our living changing our relational behaviours according to the relational nature of the circumstance in which we Žnd ourselves at any moment. If we attend to what we distinguish when we speak of emotions, we shall realise that we connote classes of relational behaviours, and we shall also see that when as observers we says that somebody is in a particular emotion, for example, fear, we expect that such person should exhibit a kind of relational behaviour different from the one we would have expected if the emotion mentioned had been love. It is because of this that I claim that what we connote in daily living when speaking of some particular emotion, is a particular class of relational behaviours, not any particular doing. As languaging beings we interlace our languaging and our emotioning in the flow of our daily living in a dynamic relational network of recursive braiding of languaging and relational domains, in what in our daily living call conversations. Conversations take place in the relational space as forms of living together in the interlacing of our languaging and our emotioning: we live in networks of conversations.
The internal dynamics, that is, the physiology, of an organism occurs as an internal structural (architectural) transformation in it that continuously modulates its manner of operating as whole in the relational space in which it exists. The manner of living of an organism occurs in its operation as a totality in its relational space. At the same time what occurs in the relational space of the organism modulates the course of its internal structural dynamics. Accordingly, all that is happening in the physiological domain of an organism has a presence in its relational space, and all that occurs to an organism modulates its physiological dynamics. We human beings are organisms that exist in languaging, and all that happens to us or in us as human beings occurs or has a presence in our being in languaging. That which we may claim to live as a silent reflection, has a presence in our human living as it appears to us in the flow of our conversations. So, dreams, fantasies, ideas, notions ...that we live in the silence of our inner being have presence only as they appear guiding the flow of our relational dynamics. This is not different from what occurs in walking. The act of walking occurs in the relational space as a result of the inner dynamics of the nervous system, muscles, blood flow, ... etc., as aspects of the physiology of the organism. What happens is that as some aspects of our physiology (of our inner dynamic architecture) change, our walking may change, but we do not know if at all our waking has changed until we indeed feel our walking changed in the flow of our walking. Conversation is for our human living like walking is for a dog. In these circumstances, all that we do as we realise our human living in conversations, guides the flow of our living, and the different worlds that we thus generate and live, arise as different domains of conversations. Moreover, the different worlds that that we generate in the flow of our conversations may appear to an observer as occurring in the same relational domain because they all involve similar co-ordinations of doings in the realisation of our living, yet, most of the time they are not. And they do not occur in the same relational domain because the relational domains that arise in the flow of a conversation may be changing continuously in a recursive a process that makes each new relational domain to arise obscuring the previous one as an invisible background.
When a particular network of conversations begins to be conserved from one generation to the next in the learning of the children in a way that their children in turn learn and conserve that same manner of living, a culture arises. Now we human beings are the present of a lineage that arose through the cultural conservation of living in conversations, in an evolutionary genetic drift that has stabilised our condition of languaging beings guided by the cultural conservation of our living in conversations.
The answer: self-consciousness
What makes us, human beings that as living systems and organisms are not basically different from other living systems and organisms, self-conscious beings?
If we do not see that language occurs in the actual flow of living together in consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings, we are bound to think that language is a system of symbolic operations that we use both to make distinctions of entities that we deem exist independently from what we do, and to communicate with each other about those independent entities. Under this view of what occurs in language, the operation in self-consciousness as an act of self-distinction necessarily appears as requiring that the self distinguished in self-consciousness should be some kind of entity that exists independently from the observer that distinguishes it. In this approach if we want to understand self-consciousness we must understand both the nature of the self as an entity independent from our bodyhood, and its connection with our brain so that we may distinguish it. If we adopt this attitude we either become dualists by claiming some sort of double existence for us as mind and body, or we become reductionist by claiming that the self must be some neuronal operation localised in the brain.
When we become aware that the biological process that constitutes languaging is the flow in living with others in recursive consensual co-ordinations of consensual doings, we become aware that to understand the arising of entities, including the arising of the self, as features of our living in language, we have to look at the arising of the flow of living in co-ordinations of co-ordinations of behaviour of the growing baby and child with his or her mother, and others, as he or she becomes a languaging being.
If one observes the mother child relation in early childhood, one can see that the growing baby becomes a languaging being in the flow of its living in the intimate relation of care and play with his or her mother in the consensual co-ordinations of emotions and doings that such relation entails. One can see that the flow of doings that an observer may recognise as languaging begins to appear when there are consensual co-ordinations of doings that become recursive in the play of the mother and child much earlier than the appearance of vocal sounds. As an observer sees that the mother/child interactions of co-ordinations of doings become recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings, he or she sees language arising as a domain of living together in consensual distinction of objects that soon becomes an expanding domain of recursive co-ordination of consensual distinctions of objects and relations between objects. When this happens, the observer sees that the child begins to live with his or her mother and other people around him or her, in an ever growing domain of inter-objectivity in which parts of his or her body, and eventually him or herself as a relational totality and identity appear as distinguishable operational centres of the realisation of his or her living.
I have called the recursive domain of consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings that arises as we live in a languaging community as a domain of manipulable or thinkable entities, which we treat as if they existed independently of our doings, the domain of inter-objectivity. As an observer sees that a child begins to live in language, he or she sees that the child has begun to live in the same domain of inter-objectivity that his or her mother and other persons near him or her live, and which is in fact the human world or the domain of human living. As I indicated above, it is as this happens, that the observer sooner or later begins to see that one of the objects that arises as a child grows in the domain of inter-objectivity, is what she or he calls the “I”, that is, the self. Moreover, the observe will see that the I, the self, arises in the same way that all objects arise in the mother/child relations of play as a particular form of coexistence in the flow of living together in consensual recursive co-ordinations of doings.
As a mother plays with her child saying “take the ball” while she handles a “ball” to the child, a ball arises as a manipulable entity that is lived as an independent object in the mother/child relation of co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings. The different parts of the body of a child, its bodyhood as a totality, or its I or self as a centre of actions, all arise in the same manner as independent objects in the flow of the mother/child relation of play in consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings that she lives as a domain of inter-objectivity with her baby or child. That is, the parts of the body of a child, as well as the child itself, all arise as entities in the domain of inter-objectivity in which we have come to exist as human beings through the mother/child co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings, and they are what they are just the same as any other object or entity in the domain of inter-objectivity. Thus, for example, the nose, the feet, the eyes, ... of a child arise as objects in the mother/child play as she touches the nose, the feet, the eyes, of the child and says “the nose”, “the foot”, or “the eyes” in a play of recursive coordination of reciprocal touching.
Consequently, what an observer sees as he or she looks at a growing child in the family or community in which the child lives, is that the child progressively participates more and more in co-ordinations of co-ordinations of consensual behaviours that he or she as an observer sees as self-referential in a relational flow that eventually gives rise to what he or she would call a self-distinction. Furthermore, what an observer sees is that, contingent on the manner of living that takes place in the family or community to which the growing child belongs, the child may begin to participate in the recursive generation of distinctions that he or she would call self-conscious because he or she sees the child making reflexive distinctions of its own doings and distinctions (Maturana and Verden-Zoller, 1993) in the same way that distinguishes a ball. The consequences, of course, are different.
The self is not an independent entity that some how can be expected to exist by itself and must be localised some where in the body or in the medium. The self is a relational dynamic that arises as an entity in the domain of inter-objectivity proper to living in languaging: the self occurs in the domain of inter-objectivity generated by the family or the community to which the persons that make such distinction belongs. That is, as a child grows in self-distinction, its self arises as the reflexive distinction that he or she makes of his or her bodyhood as the operational intercrossing of all the possible relational behaviours in which he or she participates in the domain of inter-objectivity to which he or she belongs in the realisation of his or her living.
The worlds that we generate in our living are operational expansions of our bodyhoods, operational expansions of the flow of sensory-effector correlations of our living as organisms, and this is why the self arises as a distinction that we as observers make of the operational centre of the creation of the worlds that we live. If we speak of the organism as an entity that we as observers see operating in its niche in the medium in which we see it, we can say the following: The bodyhood of an organism is the present of its history of structural transformation in the conservation of the realisation of its living in the multidimensional matrix of structural coupling in which it continuously arises in the course of the conservation of its living as its domain of sensory-effector correlations. Since an organism does not move outside its domain of structural coupling into an operational domain that is incoherent with the conservation of its living while conserving its living, no organism operates in an “arbitrary” manner while its living is conserved. It is because of this that the distinctions that an observer makes as a living human being are never arbitrary. The observer as a human being is at the same time a self, and as such it only operates in the multidimensional relational domain that its bodyhood deŽnes at any moment as the domain of structural coupling in which it conserves its living.
What must an observer see to claim that an organism behaves as a self-conscious being?
An observer speaks of self-consciousness when he or she sees a person operating in a conversational process that gives rise to a relational dynamics in languaging in which the observer can claim that the person observed can distinguish him or herself doing the self-distinctions that he or she is claiming to be doing. It is not enough that an organism should appear to an observer doing self-distinction to claim that it is operating in self-consciousness. The operation of self-consciousness occurs when an organism is self-distinguishing its own operation in self-distinction. As an operation in languaging self-consciousness occurs in the relational domain of the organism in which languaging takes place as a flow in consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings in which the doing co-ordinated is a relational dynamics of self-distinction that happens as an inter-objective entity in the present of its coexistence with other organisms.
Self-consciousnessispossiblebecause the person that operates in self-consciousness learned as a growing child to live in a domain of inter-objectivity in which he or she, as well as his or her behaviour and relations of behaviour arose as distinguishable entities in the same way that all other inter-objective entities arise in the flow of his or her relations of play with his or her mother. In these circumstances I claim that that which we want to connote when we say that a person is self-conscious does not occur as an operation of the nervous system. As all experiences do, the experience of being self-conscious occurs when the silent body sensoriality of an operation in self-distinction becomes distinguished as an element of inter-objectivity in the flow of a conversation of self-distinction.
In these circumstances, the difŽculty in understanding self-consciousness arises from our committing four basic mistakes.
(1) The Žrst is our operation in the implicit or explicit belief in that we need an independent domain of transcendental reality as an argument to explain cognition in general, and self-consciousness in particular.
(2) The second occurs as we treat language as an operation with which we distinguish independent entities.
(3) The third is the result of not seeing that there are phenomena that occur in the relational space and not in the brain, even though the brain is necessary for their occurrence.
(4) The fourth happens as we think that we should be able to describe in objective terms the feelings and sensations proper to the events of self-consciousness, and we forget that sensations have a presence only as evocations in inter-objectivity.
Self-consciousness involves the inner and outer sensoriality of the organism because it occurs as a relational dynamics when a languaging organism (a human being in our case) appears reflexively distinguishing itself. Self-consciousness is not a physiological or neurophysiological phenomenon. If we accept that this is indeed so, we may realise that there is no sense in searching for the operational localisation of self-consciousness as a neuronal event or series of events in the nervous system. There is no doubt that if we were to look for such events, we would Žnd some correlation between self-conscious behaviour and some neurophysiological activity, but we will not Žnd self-consciousness as an operation of the nervous system.
An observer speaks of self-consciousness when he or she sees a person operating in a conversational process that gives rise to a relational dynamics in which an observer can claim that the person observed can distinguish him or herself doing the self-distinctions that he or she is claiming to be doing. Again, I repeat, if we observe our behaviour in our daily living we shall see that we accept that a person is self-conscious only when we see or think that he or she is conscious of his or her being self-consciousness. This is the same with respect to us in self-consciousness. We can claim that we are operating in self-consciousness when we as observers of ourselves are conscious of our being in self-consciousness. Self-consciousness occurs in the relational domain of the organism even in the solitude of our self-consciousness as we operate in the feeling of being two beings, we the observing being and we the observed being. Self-consciousness is a relational dynamics that happens as it is occurring in the present of the actual operation of the organism as a relational being realizing its living. Moreover, as such self-consciousness is a historical process that has sense only in the changing flow of the circumstances of living.
As I have said self-consciousness, the distinction of the self being conscious of doing that distinction, is not an operational property of the nervous system or of the organism, even though the organism and the nervous system in it must be able to participate in the relational dynamics that constitute the flow in living in self-consciousness. So, self-consciousness is a relational dynamics that occurs as it is occurring, yet it arises in the domain of our reflections as a conceptual entity of which we can talk as we are doing now, in the same way as all entities do: that is, it arises as a relational entity as an operation in languaging in the recursive co-ordinations of consensual behaviours in the flow of our living in recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings, in the same manner that all objects or entities, manipulable or abstract, do.
Objects arise in the mother child relation as the child begins to live with his or her mother in the recursive co-ordinations of consensual doings in their relations of play, nurturing and caresses. Thus arise the ball, the rattle, the tit, the bottle, ..., and also the nose, the mouth, the hand, the foot, ..., as co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings, that seem to an observer to be different kinds of independent manipulable entities with which the child is dealing but which in the living of the child are only different flows of co-ordinations of doings with his or her mother. The self, the distinction of the self, and the distinction of the distinction of the self, all arises exactly in this same manner: as a flow of recursive co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings. This can be observed to become evident during the Žrst 4-6 months of the child as a feature of the early mother/child relation much before any sign of speech. The child is not taught to speak, it grows as a languaging being as a feature of his or her living in co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings in the generation of his or her world as an expansion of his or her body, Žrst through movements, through touches, and then through sounds. Other entities that, when reflecting without understanding the biological nature of languaging, appear to us as fully abstract, such as sentiments feelings, internal states, mind ... arise in the same way as all other objects or entities, namely, as co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings. In any case, the different kinds of entities that arise in our living as if they were of a different ontological character appear to be so because they belong to different historical moments of the recursive flow of our coexistence in the continuous transformation of the worlds that we generate in our living in languaging.
As the claim of having a self occurs as an operation of co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings about the origin of his or her doings by the person that makes such a claim, what an observer sees is a reflexive distinction by that person of his or her bodyhood as the operational criss-crossing centre of the recursive co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings in which he or she participates. That the self should arise as an aspect of living in the recursive flow of co-ordinations of doings is nothing at all special in the living of a languaging being. A confusion may arise only when the observer who is reflecting on his or her distinctions asks about how it feels operating in self-consciousness, as if to be so should imply a feeling of a special kind. Self-consciousness is an operation in the flow of languaging, and as such it is a simple operation in the relational space of the organisms, and it is lived in the same way that all operations in the relational space are lived, namely, as co-ordinations of doings in that space that occurs as a matter of course in the flow of living. The question about how it feels being a self-conscious being is an invitation to make a comparison that cannot be made: my answer would be, as natural as waking. At the same time the consequences of becoming conscious of being self-conscious may be very different from becoming conscious of being conscius of walking.
So, self-consciousness occurs as a flow of recursive co-ordinations of consensual doings in which the persons participating in it distinguish their bodies, their doings, and their sensations as relational entities of the same kind as a ball, a rattle, a microscope, or an equation. I think that understanding and accepting that self-consciousness occurs as an operation in languaging, require three conceptual shifts:
(1) Accepting that the self is not an independent entity.
(2) Accepting that self-consciousness occurs as a manner of operating in a relational space and not in the brain.
(3) Accepting that whatever feelings or sensations that one thinks must be involved in operating in self-consciousness, belong to the intimacy of the flow of living, and not to the circumstance being lived. Any feeling of wonder or surprise about “being” a self-conscious being, belong to how one lives the relational circumstance in which one makes the reflection about operating in self-consciousness.
The sensations and feelings that a self-conscious human being may connote or attempt to describe as being lived while operating in self-consciousness are not features of the operation of the process of self-consciousness, even though reflecting about them may affect the course of his or her living as they become elements of the world of inter-objectivity that he or she brings forth in languaging as he or she reflects about them.
A central feature of the living in languaging for any community of human beings is the continuous shift of the worlds that the members of the community live as these shifts arise as an unending changing present lived in the recursive change of the relational dimensions and relational domains in which the languaging community lives. The possibility of self-consciousness as a domain of self-distinctions arises with languaging as objects arise in it as co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings. In self-distinction the operator of the distinction arises as an object in the flow of his or her co-ordinations of consensual co-ordination of doings in the domain of inter-objectivity of the human community in which he or she lives.
This recursive flow in co-ordination of consensual co-ordinations of doings has a fundamental consequence, namely: it makes the operational dynamics of recursive distinctions and self-consciousness recursive relational domains that are open to unending expansion. And this is so because our recursive operation in recursive co-ordinations of doings allows us to transform any aspect of our operation in language into an element of our recursive flow of co-ordinations of doings as a new inter-objective entity. Furthermore, the recursive consensual co-ordinations of doings allows us to transform any aspect of our flow in languaging into an operational ground in which new consensual recursive co-ordinations of doings can take place as new worlds which will appear to an observer as occurring as abstract domains of operation with respect to some basic domain that he or she uses as a grounding reference. Yet, for the operation of an organism in the flow of its living and in the closed operation of its nervous system, nothing occurs as abstract or imaginary as long as the nervous system continues generating sensory – effector correlations that conserve its living as it conserves its structural coupling in its changing niche.
The greatest consequence of the arising of self-consciousness and self-awareness in the constitution of humanness, is that to the extent that we human beings are self-conscious beings we are aware of what we do, and of the possible consequences of what we do to ourselves and to other human and not human beings. Self-awareness and self-consciousness are manners of relational living that as they are lived constitute a relational grounding for all else that is being lived. The self-conscious person lives his or her living in a manner in which a question such as, “are you aware of what you are doing?” always makes sense. The self-conscious person lives his or her being in self-consciousness as if he or she were distinguishing him or herself as an independent entity, and operates comfortably in that way. Yet, if we seriously want to explain how is it that self-consciousness happens under the circumstances that we cannot distinguish in the experience between what we call perception and illusion, and, therefore, that we cannot make any reference to an independent reality, we cannot but Žnd out that it is not possible to do so if we do not accept that languaging is not a system of symbolic communications about entities assumed to exist independently of our distinguishing them, but it is a manner of living together in a recursive flow of co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of doings.
Another basic consequence of self-consciousness and self-awareness as operations in language is that the course that our ideas, reflections, and fantasies follow in the flow of our living is modulated by our being conscious and aware of them. Indeed, the course of our ideas, reflections and fantasies is deŽned moment after moment by the desires, preferences, fears, or love that we may be living modulated by what we want with them, that is, by the flow of our emotioning and by what happens to us as we are conscious of our emotioning. Our emotioning deŽnes moment after moment the relational background on which we do whatever we do, be this in the domain of manipulation or in the domain of reflections, but our consciousness of our emotioning modulates our emotioning from the perspective of a meta-domain of emotioning. So, we human beings operate as self-conscious beings in a fluid emotional background that continuously constitutes a stable or changing relational reference that deŽnes the course of our doings and reflections as self-conscious human beings that can be in many moments aware of where they are in their emotioning and of what they do.
Human existence occurs in the relational and operational space of living, not in an abstract domain of consciousness, values, or intentions. All that we live occurs in us human beings through the recursive historical transformation of our bodyhoods and of the conŽgurations of sensory-effector correlations that we generate, and we live what we live as a world that arises moment after moment in a historical operational flow as an expansion of the transforming bodyhood that we continuously become through our coexistence in a changing languaging community. And this is so even if the new worlds that recursively arise in our living appear as abstract domains of doings with respect to the grounding world of the realisation of living on which they stand. For example, if as we observe our relational doings we distinguish behaviours in us that we may call just and unjust, a new domain of behaviour arises that constitutes a domain of reflections on justice. That is, this new domain of behaviour entails our doing commentaries about whether a given behaviour is just or unjust that make sense only in the flow of our doings in the grounding domain on which occur the behaviours that we are commenting, and which is possible only if our living is conserved
So, the most central aspect of our living as self-conscious human beings belongs to the domain of our self-conscious awareness of our living in a relational space in which we can both reflect on the consequences of what we do, and ask ourselves if we want to do what we want to do. Our desires and our consciousness of our desires modulate what we do. But how?
The usual question about how does consciousness act on the body? arises or makes sense only if one considers consciousness to be some kind of entity like the body is, so that they must interact as such to affect each other. But if self-consciousness is a manner of relating of a languaging organism with other organisms or with itself the flow of its living, the occurrence of that manner of relating will occur as any other manner of relating in and through the body dynamics of the organisms in the flow of the interactions. In the same manner that our body is involved in the realisation of the relational dynamics of our walking as a feature of its operation in the generation of our walking, our bodyhood is also involved in the realisation of the relational dynamics that is our operation in self-consciousness as a feature of the generation of the relational dynamics that constitutes our operation in self-consciousness. Accordingly, in the same way that although our walking occurs in our relational dynamics, and not in our bodies, but what happens in our walking has consequences in our body dynamics, what happens as we operate in self-consciousness in our relational dynamics, has consequences in our body dynamics. Similarly, as whatever happens in our body dynamics, however unconnected with our walking, may have consequences in the flow of our walking, whatever happens in our body dynamics however unconnected with our operation in self-consciousness may have consequences in the flow of our operation in self-consciousness. No doubt we feel different when we walk and when we operate in self-consciousness, but this is so because our internal and external sensoriality is involved differently in each case.
Accordingly, although we can rightly claim that we are self-conscious beings only when we Žnd ourselves operating in self-consciousness, the worlds that we human beings live in the present, have been generated by us as worlds of self-conscious beings, even though we do not live continuously in self-consciousness. That is, we human beings exist as self-conscious beings in worlds that have arisen as multidimensional relational matrices that make full operational sense only as domains of living of living beings in which self-consciousness is what constitutes their fundamental manner of living. And this is so because the worlds that we live have arisen in the congruent transformation of our bodyhood and our niche as the result of the ontogenic transformation of our nervous system and bodyhood in structural coupling within the relational domains that arise in our operation as self-conscious beings, while we lived as self-conscious beings. Or, in other words, we self-conscious human beings are in our body and soul the present of an evolutionary history of conservation of an organism/niche relation lived as a manner of living centred on the conservation of our being self-conscious beings.
What is the nature of what we call a subjective experience? This question entails the implicit notion that the word experience denotes the encounter with something independent from us. I think differently. As I have already said, I claim that that which we call experience in our daily living occurs when we distinguish what happens or is happening to us as we operate in self-consciousness: that which we call experience in our daily living occurs as our awareness of what is happening to us as a happening of our living in the moment in which live it. Without such awareness of what we are living as we live it, there is no experience. Furthermore, the idea that an experience can be subjective implies the notion that an experience could be objective. From what I have said already must be apparent that I think that that which we connote as we speak of an experience is neither objective nor subjective. Thus, if we attend to our use of the word experience in our daily living, it becomes apparent that we refer to a condition of being aware of what is lived. What happens is that the actions that arise as a consequence of the awareness of what is being lived or was lived, of course, depend on the emotional space in which one has entered following the arising of such awareness.
What is the nature of what we call a spiritual experience? If we attend to our daily life we will notice we say that we have a spiritual experience when, in the emotion of awe or wonder, we become aware that we feel that we belong to, or are part of, a wider realm of connectedness than that of our immediate locality. It is the emotions that guide the actions that arise as a consequence of the awareness of the expansion of the consciousness that one is part of a wider, or even overwhelmingly wide realm of connectedness, what gives its character to what begins in our living with the spiritual experience. What usually happens, is that the well-being that arises in the experience of connectedness that we call a spiritual experience, entails the awareness that we belong to a loving realm of existence that accepts us in the simplicity of our natural being.
What is special about us human beings is that we are animals that are the present of a lineage of bipedal primates that followed an evolutionary path of transformations and change centred around the conservation of a loving a manner of living in the intimacy of sharing food, tenderness, and collaboration. Biological evolution occurs in the process of conservation from one generation to the next of a manner of living through systemic reproduction. And what guides the course of evolution are the preferences, habits, and emotions in general that determine in animals and plants their displacement in the flow of the conservation of the congruent organism-niche relation that conserves living. This is why if one wants to visualise how a particular evolutionary course was established, one must look for the conŽguration of emotional living that deŽned the manner of living that was conserved in the particular historical circumstances in which the organism lived as a domain of relational preferences. As mentioned in the second systemic law that I presented above, what is conserved deŽnes the space of what may change. So the conservation of the manner of living that deŽnes a lineage in the conservation of the habits of living in a lineage through systemic reproduction, deŽnes what may change in the genetic constitution and in the realisation of the niche of the members of the lineage while the lineage is conserved (Maturana and Mpodozis, 2000). It is in this understanding that I claim that humanness arose as a lineage in the constitution of our ancestral family in the conservation of a manner of living deŽned by the pleasure of staying together in sensuality, sexuality, and tenderness around a female whose desire in intimate sexuality had stopped being a periodical happening, and had became continuous. I claim that this must have begun to happen some three or four million years ago. And I claim that as this began to happen, sexuality became disassociated from reproduction, and became a source of pleasure that opened a space of intimacy and permanence in living together founded on love. And I also claim that living in that space of pleasure in living in loving relations through sharing and co-participation, made possible the arising of languaging as a living together in co-ordination of co-ordinations of consensual doings that could be conserved as a manner of living from one generation to the next through systemic reproduction the learning of the youngsters.
I think that the human lineage begun in that historical process as a manner of living in the conservation of living in languaging, and that the basic emotion whose conservation made this possible is love. So I like to call our original ancestor, and the fundamental manner of living still conserved in the present of our lineage, Homo sapiens-amans amans. Yet, I also think, that in the long history of our human lineage many branches must have arisen, and are still arising, in which other emotions have become central as guiding emotions in our community living obscuring or replacing love, creating other branching lineages many of which became extinct. I think, for example, that there are two other human forms that are slowly arising in our present, namely Homo sapiens-amans arrogans, and Homo sapiens-amans agressans. (Bunnell and Sontag, 1998, have expressed their own views on this matter independently of me)
Whichever the case, what I think is unique to humanness is that we are languaging self-conscious bipedal primates that are the present of an evolutionary history of systemic reproductive conservation of a manner of living centred around the conservation of love, sensuality and tenderness as a basic emotional conŽguration that guides our living.
Does the fact that we are molecular structure determined systems make us mere robots guided in their existence by emotions? The misleading aspect of this question is in the formulation “are we mere robots guided in their existence by emotions?” This manner of formulating the question about our human nature carries with it the implicit idea that human beings can be something else than what arises in their being molecular systems, namely something else than their existing in the relational domain in which living systems exist. Living systems, like all systems, exist in two non-intersecting operational domains, the domain of the operation of their components (the domain of their composition), and the domain of their operation as totalities in the relational space in which they exist as such. No doubt the manner of operating of a system as a totality arises from its internal structural dynamics through the operation of their components, but the character of what it does as a totality arises in its encounter with the medium in which it exists as a totality. So what makes us what we are is our manner of relating as totalities in the realisation of our living as organisms in the relational space in which we exist as such. The same happens with robots. A robot is a robot of one kind or another according to how it arises in its operation as a totality in the relational space in which it exists as such. As molecular structure determined systems we are no doubt like robots, but as living systems that live humanly we are different from robots on two fundamental accounts: one, is that robots have been designed de novo, intentionally in congruence with a speciŽed medium that may also have been designed with them, and are not the arising present of an evolutionary history; two, is that we human beings are the arising present of an evolutionary history in which our ancestors and the medium in which they lived have changed together congruently around the conservation of a manner of living in language, self-consciousness and a family life centred in love.
We human beings are languaging self-conscious bipedal primates, and as such we are biological and social integral components of a biological and cultural ecology. It is this manner of existence what constitutes our peculiarity, it is this manner of existence what makes us loving reflecting beings that are autonomous beings that can be conscious of the world that they live at any moment and chose to stay in it or to change in an act of choice arising from an expanded vision that love makes possible. We human beings are emotional animals that use reason to justify or negate our emotions. Furthermore, both our emotional and our rational being have become so in the course of the evolution of our animal lineage. Living beings live at every instant in the interplay of their emotional beings and the operation of the structural coherences of their bodyhood, and we human beings are the same as languaging self-conscious beings. In these circumstances what is peculiar to us, is that we are as living systems the present of an evolutionary history that has taken place around the conservation of a manner of living centred in language and self-consciousness that has arisen in the conservation of love as the basic emotion that guided the evolutionary path that gave origin to us. As such we can reflect on what we do and can act chosing what path to follow, and we still Žnd ourselves choosing in the end the path of the conservation of Homo sapiens-amans.So, we human beings are still different from the robots we are designing, and in this sense we are special.
We human beings are closed systems that do not distinguish in the moment that we live whatever we live as an experience or as a doing, between what we call perception and illusion through comparison of experiences. That is, we live as valid all that we live in the moment of living it. Furthermore, as living beings that can operate as self-aware and self-conscious beings, whatever we live becomes part of the medium in which we realise our living. This is why all that we live becomes part of our domain of structural coupling. Our doings, our reflections, our beliefs, our certainties, our thoughts, and our desires, all that which we claim to know, or whatever we accept as valid or not valid at any moment, is part of the world in which we live, and may become the grounding for a new world that we begin to live as we conserve it as such in our living. Yogananda (1946) says in his autobiography: “If you think that God is far from you, God is far from you; if you think that God in near you, God is near you”. That human existence is like this is a fundamental condition of our existence as languaging self-conscious and self-aware human beings. The worlds that we live arise in the flow of our recursive co-ordinations of doings as living beings as domains of consensual co-ordinations of co-ordinations of doings. If we think ourselves as owners of the truth, we will generate a fundamentalist manner of living. If we think that we are loving beings because we are souls connected with the divine, we live being whatever we imagine as a manner of living with our claim. If we think that we are loving beings because we are biologically so, we live in the way we imagine to be being loving biological beings.
We human beings speak of love or of a loving behaviour when we see a living being acting in a way such that another being arises spontaneously as a legitimated being in coexistence with itself. In the human domain we speak of love when we see a person that behaves in relation to an other, which may be him or herself or the circumstance in which he or she is at the moment, without demands, expectations, or prejudices, so that the other arises as a legitimate entity that is not required to justify its existence in that relation. As such love takes place as a spontaneous biological phenomenon that does not depend on any rational, philosophical, or religious argument. Moreover, love occurs as an expansion of vision that in the human domain happens in the moment in which one releases all certainties and becomes open to see whatever may be arising in the present of his or her living.
We human beings are biologically loving self-conscious human beings that can reflect on what they do because they are loving beings that can release their certainties to look and see their own circumstance of living without prejudices, expectations, or demands. It is because we are self-conscious human beings, that we can know what we are doing in the moment of doing it, and it is because we are loving beings that we can reflect on what we have done or wish to do by releasing our certainties, and see if we like or do not like the possible consequences on other living beings of what we do, or wish to do. Indeed, it is because we are self-conscious loving beings that we can be asked by other human beings to be ethical and responsible for our doings.
The world that we live at any moment arises moment after moment as our changing present unconsciously deŽned by our beliefs and our desires. It is because of this that it is fundamental for our understanding of the life we live at any moment to be conscious of the beliefs and desires that give rise to the path of living we are living as a result of our conserving them through what we do and think in our living. Yet to be conscious of our living we must reflect: the act of reflection that makes us conscious of our living and of what we conserve in our living, is not a rational act, it is an operation in our emotional domain through a spontaneous or intentional act of releasing our certainties in the flow of our evanescent operation of self-consciousness in our changing present: the world that we live is always our doing, regardless of whether we are conscious of this or not.
What is peculiar to us is our living as human beings, is our operation in self-consciousness, yet we are not always in self-consciousness as we do what we do. In fact, our human living courses mostly in an unconscious flow in which what we live happens to us, and we Žnd ourselves doing what we do when we become aware of what we do. That is, our being self-conscious floats, so to say, on a background of unconscious living in a way that we live feeling that we act most of the time aware of what we do, and yet we are not. What happens is that languaging and self-consciousness are our manner of operation as human organisms and, therefore, our living occurs in a way such that our bodyhoods become transformed around the conservation of our living as languaging self-conscious beings in whatever world we generate as we live as languaging self-conscious beings. The general result is that our unconscious operation or living make sense only in the domains of living that we have generated living as languaging self-conscious beings.
1. I have shown that that which makes us human beings self-conscious beings that reflect on their doings, is our operation in language. We human beings are languaging bipedal primates that can operate as self-conscious reflecting beings, I have said. And I have also said that language does not take place as a feature of the operation of the brain: language occurs as a flow in recursive co-ordinations of consensual behaviours as we live together in co-ordinations of doings. So language takes place in the domain of relations, not as a feature of the operation of the brain, and self-consciousness as well as self-awareness too. To understand this we have to be aware that understanding does not replace what we feel or how we feel as we operate in self-consciousness or reflect on our doings in whatever domain we do this.
2. The explanation does not replace the experience explained. An experience as that which we distinguish as happening to us or in us, happens in the present of the actual happening. Similarly, self-consciousness and self-awareness occur in the moment in which the distinction of the self, or of the doings of the self, is happening. So, that which we feel as we operate in a way such that we ourselves or somebody else may say that we are conscious of what we do or feel, is not describable in the terms in which the operation in self-consciousness occurs. In these circumstances, when one observer claims that an organism or an artiŽcial system operates in self-consciousness what he or she is seeing is that the observed organism or system is behaving in a manner that realises self-distinction in the flow of its interactions.
3. I have answered the question “can robots be self-conscious?” with “yes”. Robots can become self-conscious artiŽcial beings if we make them in a way in which they have plastic structure so that they can interact with each other in consensual domains of doing and eventually operate in language generating a domain of inter-objectivity in which they enter in the distinction of their self in the same way that they must have entered in the distinction of other entities through co-ordinations of co-ordinations of consensual doings. The fundamental question is not if we can make robots capable of self-consciousness, but, do we want to create them, and with what purpose? We do not have to do all that we can do, or know how to do. The basic question is, what world do we want to create through wanting to do what we want to do? We live a historical moment in which we can do whatever we imagine if we use the operational coherences of the domain in which we imagine what we imagine.
4. We human beings have great pleasure when can design artiŽcial processes that imitate biological phenomena, but, what do we imitate? We like to do formalisations, but what do we indeed formalise? Heinz von Foerster was in his soul a mathematician. He always said to me that I had to formalise my notions about autopoiesis and about the operation of the nervous system, for them to have explanatory value and conceptual power. I did not agree with him as I did not agree with Francisco Varela who frequently said the same. I think that Heinz found in Francisco Varela a similar soul, and I believe that he felt close to him in this respect. Indeed it was in the matter of formalisms that Heinz and I always disagreed. Formalisms do not formalise something that could be claimed to be occurring independently of the observer, they formalise what the observer thinks that occurs or imagines that could be occurring in an attempt to do an abstraction of the coherences of his or her experiences. No doubt that formalisations may have heuristic value as they permit computations that can be confronted with the coherences of the experiences of the observer, but in every case it is the understanding of the observer in a conceptual domain that is not formalisable that decides the value of the formalisation. It is in relation to the use of formalisms under the belief that they are operations that can act by themselves transferring the understanding of the person that does the formalisation to an other person that is ignorant of the matter being formalised, what constituted my discrepancy with what I thought Heinz meant when he insisted in that I had to formalise what I said for it to be understood. Although a formalisation is an operation in language, it is not an operation of description. Descriptions as operations in languaging act as invitations to follow an open path of evocations of co-ordinations of doings, while a formalism demands entering in a closed domain of Žxed co-ordinations of doings. I do not doubt that an observer can expand his or her understanding of what arises in his or her experience as a biological phenomenon in the attempt to formalise it, or while he or she is in the attempt of understanding a formalism, but the expansion of understanding that he or she lives is the result of his or her reflections, not the product of the formalisation itself.
The experience of understanding arises as an unconscious shift in the attention of the observer that expands his or her awareness of the matrix of relations in which the local event under his or her consideration makes sense for him or her. Understanding is not a logical operation; it does not arise through deduction. Indeed, the expansion of vision and awareness entailed in understanding occurs to the observer unconsciusly as his or her nervous system spontaneously makes relations between different processes and domains that until then appeared unrelated in the domain of his or her conscious reflections. Understanding is a poetic act that is lived as arising as an insight or as an inspiration, and not as a deduction.
I consider that the use of formalisms in the biological domain most of the time obscures what they are meant to illuminate. And I think that they do so by confusing phenomena that through the formalisation look similar or related, but which in their operation arise as completely different because they occur in non-intersecting phenomenal domains. One example of what I say occurs in the failure of the attempt to formalise the living of a living system as an autopoietic system. Such formalisms do not work because a living system exists in its living in several domains at the same time as it exists both as a molecular autopoietic entity and as an organism as it operates as a discrete totality in the changing relational domain that is its niche. Thus, for example, in the case of the formalism of self-reference, that Francisco Varela wanted to propose, or in the case of the formalism of recursive operations developed by Heinz von Foerster to show self-consciousness, the observer has to know before hand how the living system operates as autopoietic systems or as self-conscious being in the relational space, for him or her to see the autopoiesis of the living system or its operation in self-consciousness, in the formalism.
Let me expand what I say. Formalisations and computations are operations that do not realise in themselves what the observer may believe and wants to show or to illustrate with them. Formalisms require an observer who knows how to read them to evoke in his or her mind what they were intended to reveal. It is because of this that formalisms and computations in the biological domain can only be used after an understanding has been reached of the phenomena being explained as a feature of the living of the living systems in which they take place.
5. Humanness arose when living in conversations of doings things together begun to be conserved from one generation to the next in the learning of the youngsters of a family of bipedal primates in which languaging had begun as a manner of daily living in the pleasure of coexistence. As this happened a lineage arose deŽned by a manner of living together in a network of conversations of collaboration in which eventually self-consciousness arose as an expansion of that manner of living. What is central here is that humanness arose not in the operation of self-consciousness, but in the conservation of a manner of living centred in living together in the pleasure and joy of sensuality, sexuality and tenderness in a background of love that opened the possibility for the recursive unprejudiced vision of all that emerges in the flow of living together as an expanssion of consensual doings in a changing world generated by that manner of living.
It is such manner of living, as a manner of living founded on loving as a background that opens vision and actions in co-operation, not in competition, in which self-consciousness arises as an actual operational domain of recursive generation of worlds lived in a continuous present of coherent transformations of organism and niche in structural coupling, what constitutes the origin and conservation of humanness. It is in the vision of this living dynamics that Heinz von Foerster’s notion of second-order cybernetics can become a vision in anthropology.
6. Although an organism exists as a structure determined molecular system in structural coupling in its niche, its identity is neither deŽned by its molecular components, nor by its structural coupling with its niche. The identity of an organism is deŽned and constituted in the conservation of its manner of living in a relational space in the flow of its living as an organism in a continuously changing present in a medium that arises in its living as its realizes its niche. The niche, structural coupling, structural determinism, evolution, natural drift, ..., are explanatory propositions, but they are not explanatory principles or concepts that are proposed a priori, they are abstractions of the coherences of our operation as living systems in the reflective present that we human beings that Žnd ourselves living as a continuously changing present. We human beings cannot make any claim about what we may imagine as an independent reality as an explanatory proposition of our living. This is our condition of existence, not a limitation, not a transitory situation, yet, to be aware of this, makes us aware that we human beings do not exist in the physical space, and that the physical space and the whole cosmos are explanatory propositions of our living that we generate as self-conscious beings in our operation with the operational coherences of our living.
1. For a general introduction read Maturana and Varela (1980). This book contains two articles: “Biology of Cognition”, by Humberto Maturana R. and “Autopiesis: the realization of the living”, by Humberto Maturana R. and Francisco J. Varela.
2. I think that living in language and conversations must have begun more than three million years ago due to the numerous generations that must have passed for the genetic consolidation of the anatomical and physiological changes required for modern children to be beings that can learn to speak in only 1 or 2 years.
Maturana, H.R. (1988), “Reality: the search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument”, The Irish Journal of Psychology, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 25-82.
Maturana, H.R. (1991), “Science and daily life: the ontology of scientiŽc explanations”, in Steier, F. (Ed.), Research and Reflexivity, Sage, London, pp. 30-52.
Maturana, H.R. (2002), “Autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition: a history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition”, Cybernetics & Human Knowing, Vol. 9 Nos 3/4, pp. 5-34.
Maturana, H.R. and Davila, X. (2005), Systemic Laws, A publication of the Instituto Matriztico, Santiago, Chile, available at: www.matriztica.org.
Maturana, H.R. and Mpodozis, J. (2000), “The origin of the species by means of natural drift”, Revista Chilena de Historia Natural, Vol. 73, pp. 261-310.
Maturana, H.R. and Varela, F.J. (1980), “Autopoiesis and cognition: the realization of the living”, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Sciences, Vol. 42, D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht.
Maturana, H.R. and Verden-Zoller, G. (1993), Liebe und Spiel, die vergessenen Grundlagen des Menschseins, Carl-Auer-Systeme-Verlag, Heidelberg.
Yogananda, P. (1946), Autobiography of a Yogi, Philosophical Library, New York, NY.
The observer is a human being, a structure determined system, and as such he or she cannot distinguish in the experience whether what he or she is living is a perception, a grasping of an independent reality, or an illusion, something lived as if it were a valid “perception” which is afterwards invalidated as such in reference to another experience. In this circumstances a perception is an experience lived as valid that we afterwards validate through another experience that we consider valid, and an illusion or a mistake is an experience lived as valid as it is lived, that is invalidated in reference to another experience of whose validity one does not doubt. So both perception and illusions are experiences that are lived as valid, but that not valid or invalid in themselves, but are one or the other in relation to another experience. Perception and illusion are relational operations in the domain of inter-objectivity of reflective self-conscious beings. Due to this we observers (we human beings) cannot claim to have access to a transcendental reality independent of what we do to validate our explanations of our experiences (an objective reality). We human beings (we observers) explain our experiences with the coherences of our experiences. I synthesise what I have just said in the sentence: “Every thing said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him or herself”.
Systems A system is a composite entity that exists simultaneously both as (a) a collection of components interconnected in a way such that if one acts on one of them one acts on all, and (b) as a singular entity that operates as a whole in a medium or domain of interactions that contains it and makes possible its operation or existence as a totality. These two manners of existence or of operation of a system cannot be reduced one to the other; they occur in two non-intersecting phenomenal or operational domains. This double existence is a condition of constitution of systems in general, regardless of the nature of their components or the nature of the domain in which they exist as totalities.
Living beings are molecular systems, and they exist as totalities (organisms) in the two non-intersecting phenomenal or operational domains mentioned above. An observer has to attend simultaneously to the operation of a living system in its two domains of existence to understand it in terms of the kind of living system that it is as it operates as a totality. One of the two domains of existence of a living system is the domain of the realisation of its living as closed self producing molecular systems. This domain is the physiological domain, or domain in which the living system is continuously realised as molecular autopoietic systems. The other domain of existence of a living system is the domain in which it arises as a totality in a relational space. This is the domain in which an observer sees the living system as an organism in interactions in a medium, and in which he or she calls its relational dynamics behaviour, and its relational domain its behavioural domain. The operation of the molecular components of a living system in the dynamics of the realisation of its autopoiesis as a discrete unity, occurs as a closed network of molecular productions and transformations that is centred on itself specifying its extension by specifying its operational boundary. The operation of the organism as a relational totality occurs through its interactions as a totality with a medium that arises in its operation in a way that contains it and participates in its realisation. Accordingly, what an observer sees as the physiology of an organism occurs in the closed dynamics of its autopoiesis, and what an observer sees as the interactions of the organism with a medium that contains it, appear to him or her as behaviour. Therefore, what the observer see as the physiology of an organism occurs within it alone, and what the observer sees as the behaviour of an organism takes place in the encounter of the organism with the medium, and involves both. As an organism interacts as a totality, an observer sees that it does so through the operation of its molecular components at its sensory and effector surfaces as they encounter with the molecules of the medium. However, the observer also sees that as the organism interacts as a totally it does so with features and properties proper to its operation as a totality in a medium that arises with features and properties congruent with it.
The organism does its physiology, but it does not do its behaviour. The behaviour of an organism arises and takes place as a process that involves both the organism and the medium, and what an observer names as the behaviour of an organism in fact occurs as the flow of interactions of two independent entities with different operational dynamics. Or, in other words, an animal does not walk, that which we as observers usually call the walking of an animal is the flow of congruent structural changes that takes place in the animal and the medium as they interact while the animal realises its living. As the two domains of existence of a living system do not intersect, the processes that take place in one of them cannot be expressed in terms of the processes that occur in the other: that is, the behaviour of an organism cannot be expressed in terms of its physiology, and the physiology of an organism cannot be expressed in terms of what an observer sees as its behaviour. Yet, although these two phenomenal domains do not intersect, as they are realised through the same boyhood, the structural changes that arise in it through what happens in one modulates what occurs in the other. The result of this is that the manner the organism lives its physiology, changes with what happens to it in the flow of its behaviour, and the manner the organism lives its behaviour, changes what happens in the flow of its physiology. The structure of a living system, in all its somatic and genetic dimensions, is not Žxed, and it changes following the contingencies of what happens to it in the flow of its interactions as totality while it conserves its living as an organism: it is the conservation of the conservation of living of an organism through its operation in its behavioural domain, what deŽnes moment after moment the course of the structural and genetic drift in its life history.
That which we distinguish in daily life as emotions are domains of classes of relational behaviours that constitute at any instant the relational grounding on which an organism operates in the flow of its relations and interactions. As such emotions determine at any instant what an organism can do and cannot do in the realisation of its living, and guide the course that it follows in the conservation of its autopoiesis. At the same time, as an organism operates at any instant according to the operational coherences of its changing structure at that instant, an organism operates always in the interplay of its emotional flow and the flow of the changing operational coherences of its bodyhood. I call the operational coherences of the structure of an organism the “rationality” of its bodyhood. And I do this at the same time that I claim that that which we usually call rational in our behaviour as languaging self-conscious beings, is a feature of the operational coherences of our changing structure as it arises moment after moment in our operation as languaging self-conscious beings in the conservation of our living in languaging.
In addition to the physiological and behavioural domains that appear as features of the living of an organism that arise with its distinction, there is a third relational domain of existence of organisms that does not intersect with these, and which is the domain of the operational coherences of the organism with the medium in which it conserves its living. This is the relational domain in which the observer sees the organism conserving its living in dynamic congruence with the changing medium that makes its living possible. What the observer sees is a dynamic unity of the organism and the part of the medium that it encounters in the realisation of its living, namely the niche. As the structure of the organism changes, its encounter with the medium changes in a flow of interactions with a changing niche that continuously arises in the realisation of its living. As the structure of the medium changes the encounter of the medium with the organism changes too, and the possibility for the organism to realise its niche and conserve its living also changes. A general result of this process is that the structure of the organism and the structure of the medium in which it conserves its living, spontaneously change together congruently following a course that continuously arises anew in the interactions of the organism with the medium. Furthermore, the evolutionary result of this process is that the course followed by the phylogenic natural drift of a lineage is deŽned from one generation to the next by the manner of living that is being conserved through systemic reproduction along the flow of the relational living of the members of the lineage (Maturana and Mpodozis, 2000). The course followed by the living of an organism, or by the phylogenetic drift of a lineage, is not predetermined and cannot be predetermined because it arises as an epigenetic ontogenic or phylogenetic process.
Finally, a fundamental consequence of the interplay of the structural dynamics of the organism and medium is that an organism and its niche constitute an organism-niche relation of operational congruence that is conserved through the flow of the structural changes of the organism and the niche while the living of the organism is conserved. In these circumstances although an observer sees each organism as a totality having a particular manner of living that deŽnes its identity as such as it interacts in its niche, he or she also sees that the organisms and its niche change together congruently. And the observer also sees that as an organism conserves its living, it lives sliding in a medium following the path in which the congruent organism-niche relation is conserved. The result of this is twofold, the Žrst is that an organism always Žnds itself in operational congruence with the medium in a niche that makes it possible, and the second is that the operational congruence with the medium in which a living system Žnds itself at any moment is the result of a history of conservation of living in which organism and medium have changed together congruently. I have called this congruent transformation of the organism and the medium as well as the mechanism that gives rise to this reciprocal recursive modulation of the phenomena that occur in the two domains of existence of an organism, structural coupling.
The nervous system is a closed network of neuronal elements that intersects with the organism at its sensory and effector surfaces. As such the nervous system operates as a closed network of changing relations of activities between the neuronal elements that compose it, and it does this in such a way that a change of relations of activity in any part of it gives rise to further changes of relations of activities in other parts of it. At the intersection of the nervous system with the organism at the latter’s sensory and effector surfaces, the sensory and effector elements are simultaneously both elements of the organism and elements of the nervous system. As elements of the nervous system, the sensory and effector elements operate as neuronal elements that participate in the dynamic of the nervous system as a closed neuronal network. As elements of the organism, they participate in the encounters of the organism with the medium. The intersection of the nervous system with the organism is structural, not operational, that is, the nervous system does not encounter the medium through the sensors and the effectors of the organism, and the sensors and effectors of the organism that encounter the medium do not participate in the operational dynamics of the nervous system. Due to this manner of intersection, the structural changes generated by the activity of the nervous system at the sensory and effector elements modulate the manner in which the organism encounters the medium, and the structural changes the arise in the sensory and effector elements as the organism interacts with the medium modulate the manner in which these participate as neuronal elements in closed dynamics of the operation of the nervous system.
There are two basic results of the structural intersection of the nervous system and the organism at the latter’s sensory and effector surfaces. First, that the nervous system operates as a closed network of changing relations of activities results in that the closed activity of the nervous system continuously generates in the organism sensory-effector correlations that modulate the course of the encounter of the organism with the medium in a manner that is contingent to the history of structural changes of its nervous system. Second, the conŽgurations of activity that arise in the sensory surfaces of the organism as it interacts with the medium trigger changes in the structure of the neuronal elements that intersect with them, so that the sensory effector correlations that the activity of the nervous system generates in the organism become recursively modulated by the course of the flow of the interactions of the organism with the medium. As a result, the flow of the sensory-effector correlations that the nervous system generates in the organism takes place following a pattern determined at every moment by the dynamic structure (dynamic architecture) of the nervous system at that moment, as this arises instant after instant as a result of its own dynamics, and through the interactions of the organism with the medium.
The organism encounters the medium at its sensory surfaces and acts on the medium at its effector surfaces. A sensory surface of an organism is any part of its structure (including the structure of the nervous system) that undergoes a structural change that is triggered as a result of its encounter with an operational dimension that does not arise as a feature of its internal dynamics, and that results in a perturbation that triggers in its turn a change of the flow of that internal dynamics of the organism, and hence, in its interactions. These operational dimensions can be of any kind, and those sensory dimensions that we usually associate with what we call our Žve or six sense organs, are only some of them. I claim that all the mysterious situations in which we seem to have “extrasensory perceptions”, or which lead some observers to think that consciousness is the result of the operation of a non material agent, correspond to the encounter of the organism, or its nervous system, with operational dimensions that pertain to the domain in which the organism exists as a molecular autopoietic system. A fundamental result of all this is that the participation of the nervous system in the generation of the behaviour of the organism, changes in a manner that is continuously arising contingent to the flow of the encounter of the organism with a changing medium. This is a consequence of the mutual structural modulation between organism and medium that occurs at the level of the structural intersection of the sensory and effector surfaces of the organism while the living of the organism is conserved.
An animal lives its living in a continuous structural and operational transformation of its dynamic architecture that makes sense at every moment lived by it as a result of the conservation of the structural coherence of the dynamic architectures of the organism and the independently changing relational architecture of its niche. We human beings do not differ in this respect from other animals. What is peculiar to us is that the course of the continuous flow of our structural coupling is guided by the flow of our languaging. As languaging beings we ask ourselves about what constitutes our operation as a unity, and we also ask ourselves how the different systems or subsystems that constitute us become integrated in what we feel constitutes our unity as we reflect about ourselves.
I maintain that what integrates us in our living as a unity is not any particular aspect of our neurophysiological, hormonal, or molecular process, but our operation as organisms that interact as totalities in a relational space. The operation of an organism as a totality does not take place in a synchronicity of processes, it takes place in the historical flow of conservation of its manner of living in the systemic conservation of the relation of structural coupling in the flow of the interactions of the organism in its niche. The unity of a system, or the unity of an organism, occurs in the relational space in which it operates as a totality, and in which its manner of structural coupling as a totality with its corresponding niche is lived operationally as an integrated totality. Our feeling of unity as we operate as human beings arises as a conŽguration of sensoriality in that operation distinguished in our reflections. This is why when we adopt two or more manners of living in our relational space that we do not integrate as part of a single conŽguration of sensoriality in our interactions in that space, we may Žnd ourselves as living several disjoint identities. So I claim that the unity of the operation of an organism is not the result of some particular internal connectivity in the nervous system that gives to it its unitary character, but the result of the architectural coherences that have arisen from a history of conservation of its operation as a totality as an organism in which all has changed around the architectural dynamic that realises such totality in a domain of interactions (see Systemic Law number 2).
Yet, there is another reflection that I wish make. As the living system and the nervous system in it exist and operate as closed systems, all that happens to the living system occurs as an aspect of its closed internal dynamics blind to what occurs in its relational operation as an organism. Indeed, all that happens to an organism as it operates as a totality in a relational space, through its sensory-effector correlations, happens in its nervous system as changes of relations of neuronal activities in the closed dynamics of a closed neuronal network. So, what for an observer may occur in different operational domains, for the nervous system all occurs in the same operational domain; namely, in its operation as a closed network of changing relations of neuronal activities. That is, for the nervous system there is no external or internal world, and the distinction that we as observers make of an external and an internal world is a manner of explaining what an organism lives as it operate as a closed system while we observe it as if it were an independent entity in a relational space, being at the same time aware that what we say also applies to us.
So, although I have spoken of the medium in which an organism exists as if it were a domain of entities independent of my operation as an observer, I have done so while proposing what I say as an explanatory construct using the operational coherences of my living to propose generative mechanisms of the operational coherences of my living to show how other operational coherences of my living would arise if those operational coherences were to operate. In what follows, of course, I continue doing so.
An organism lives only as long as its interactions with the medium result in the continuous realisation and conservation of its living. No doubt the previous statement is tautological, as are the following ones:
(a) a living system is a living system as long as its living is conserved through its continuous structural change in its interactions in a changing medium; and
(b) a living system remains alive only as long as in its interactions with the medium a niche arises in which its autopoiesis is conserved; and
(c) while living a living systems always Žnds itself operating in the domain of interactions in which its living is conserved.
These statements are tautological because they use the consequences of the generative process that they describe as a sufŽcient proof of the operational validity of the generative process that they describe. It is the tautological nature of these statements what permits the observer who does not distinguish in his/her experience between perception and illusion to explain scientiŽcally his/her experiences with the coherences of his/her experiences, and generate through this process new domains of operational coherences in his/her living. Moreover the operational validity of the tautological explanation of the experiences of the observer with the operational coherences of his/her experiences is what makes the idea of an independent reality vacuous.
Let us see what occurs in the interactions of an organism in the medium that contains it:
1. While an organism lives, its structural dynamics implies at every instant a changing matrix of architectural and operational coherences such that if it is present in the aspect of the medium in which it operates, it may go on in the realisation and conservation of its living.
1. Living systems live their living as a continuously changing present in which they either encounter in the medium in which they exist a conŽguration of dynamic relations which is adequate for the conservation of their living as the realisation of its niche, and they go on living, or they do not encounter such conŽguration of relations, and they die. The conŽguration of congenial dynamic relations in the niche does not exist as such prior to the moment of its arising with the operation of the organism.
2. As in the history of living systems the organisms and the medium in which they realise their living change together congruently, the dynamic structure of a living organism necessarily continuously implies the matrix of dynamic architectural and operational coherences in which its living is realised and conserved mentioned above.
3. Since the matrix of dynamic architectural coherences implied by the dynamic structure of the organism is not Žxed because it changes with the changing structure of the organism, any particular organism lives and conserves its peculiar manner of living only while its multidimensional structural coupling with the medium is conserved in the tangent encounter of the organism through the flow of its behaviour with the matrix of structural and operational coherences in which its living is realised and conserved.
4. An organism exists as a continuously changing present of an evolutionary history in which organisms and medium have changed together congruently. As a result of this all living organisms Žnd themselves at every moment endowed with a bodyhood that as a dynamic architecture continuously generates a flow of sensory effector correlations that either conserve their living as they interact in a changing medium or they die.
5. The structure of an organism is not Žxed, it is indeed a dynamic architecture that is at any instant the present of an evolutionary and an individual ontogenetic history of structural change that has taken place as a continuous flow of changes around the conservation of the dynamic structural conŽguration that realises its living.
In these circumstances, an organism with a nervous system operates continuously generating in its structural dynamics sensory effector correlations that lead to the realisation and conservation of its living only if its interactions occur as encounters in the medium with the changing architectural matrix implied by its dynamic structure. As the structure of the organism changes, its sensory effector correlations change too, and the organism remains alive only as long as the changing sensory effector correlations that it generates continuously result in the conservation of its autopoiesis in the on going flow of its encounter with the medium. All the sensory effector correlations that take place in the organism giving rise to the different behaviours through which it lives, arise in the encounter of the organism with the medium in its niche. This process takes place as a choreography of interactions that result in the conservation of the living of the organism as a consequence of a history of structural coupling in which organism and medium have changed together congruently. If as a result of the independent structural dynamics of the organism and the medium the niche in which the organism conserves its living is not realised, the structural coupling of the organism and the medium is not conserved, and the organism dies. An example of this can be easily seen when one observes a person skiing downhill. The body dynamics of a skier occurs as a flow of sensory effector correlations that arise moment after moment as a responses to the sensations that he or she lives in his or her encounter with the medium, flow of sensory effector correlations that courses in a path generated at every instant according a reactive dynamic pattern acquired in his or her history of practice. As this happens, the skier remains sliding down in harmony with the terrain as long as the flow of sensory perturbations that he or she lives remain coherent with the learned pattern of response. If there is some instant in the encounter of the skier with the medium that stops being congruent with the flow of that pattern, the skier falls.
One of the fundamental consequence of the observation that organism and medium change together congruently in structural coupling for the understanding of how the organism operates, is that it becomes apparent that the usual belief that the two not intersecting phenomenal domains in which the organism exists are connected logically, cannot be sustained. In the flow of living the phenomena of those two phenomenal domains arise correlated through the intersection of their realisation in the structure of the organism, but they remain otherwise logically independent. No doubt an observer of an organism that attends to what happens in these two domains without being aware that they do not intersect, may believe that he or she makes a deduction when after many observations he or she can claim that a particular event that occurs in the physiological domain will be followed by another particular event in the behavioural domain. What the observer is doing in that case, however, is not a deduction; he or she is grasping a generative correlation.
An organism, as all molecular entities do, operates in the present as a dynamic architecture. It is not energy, information, or processing of information what constitutes living: living is the continuous realisation of the dynamic molecular architecture that autopoiesis is in the flow of a continuously changing present. Energy, information, processing of information, or computations, are explanatory notions that we observers invent to deal with the different regularities of the continuous flow of architectural changes that constitute the worlds that we bring forth in the realisation of our living as the kind of organism that we are as human beings. As we living systems exist in a continuously changing present, our architectural (structural) changes do not occur in relation to an outcome. As our present arises instant after instant in a flow of structural changes that follows a course that arises moment after moment in the conservation of living in dynamic congruence with the medium, our architectural dynamics and the architectural dynamic of the medium necessarily remain dynamically congruent as long as living is conserved. Consequently, the operation of the living system in dynamic congruence with a changing medium is the simple outcome of a history of structural coupling in the conservation of living that course as a process which has no purpose or design.
At any instant of our living, our living is the present of a history in which the operational coherences of all processes occurring in the living of a living system, in the biosphere, or in the cosmos, have no purpose, aim, or meaning in themselves, they just are. It is we, observers that do not see the coherences of the dynamic architectural matrix of existence that the living of a living system entails, who attempt to connect any moment of the present of a living system with some imagined event in its future through the invention of explanatory causal notions such as purposes, aims, or intentionality. We ascribe these notions to the operation of living systems or of the cosmos in the belief that they connote features of the operation of the living system or of nature. Notions such as aim, purpose, or intention, are valid in the domain of human reflections about the course of human doings which, when used as explanatory notions, obscure the generative dynamic architecture of the biological matrix of existence of living system that gives rise to the events that appear for an observer as its future.
The living of an organism in its physiological domain, is the actual realisation of the particular form of molecular autopoiesis proper to it, and the living of an organism in what we see as its behavioural domain, is the relational living that it lives as an organism of a particular kind as a present of a particular history of structural coupling in a network of multidimensional relations of structural coupling, in a more or less local or expanded biosphere. We see some particular organisms such as an elephant, a mouse, a tree, a human being, ..., and yet in their distinction we see, mostly unconsciously, some aspects of the matrix of relations of structural coupling in which they exist integrated as singular individuals. We human beings are not different or special in this respect in relation to other kinds of organisms. What is peculiar to us is that we are self-conscious and self-aware beings that live as individuals in structural coupling in the network of the fluid multidimensional worlds that we continuously bring forth through languaging, both as stable and changing domain of existence.
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