Humberto Maturana

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Humberto Maturana, 2013.

Humberto Maturana (born September 14, 1928) is a Chilean biologist and philosopher. Many consider him a member of a group of second-wave cyberneticians such as Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Herbert Brün and Ernst von Glasersfeld.


  • Love is the grounding of our existence as humans, and is the basic emotioning in our systemic identity as human beings.

Biology of Cognition (1970)[edit]

Maturana (1970) Biology of Cognition. Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report BCL 9.0. Urbana IL: University of Illinois, 1970. Reprinted in: Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, 1980, p. 5-58.
  • Man knows and his capacity to know depends on his biological integrity; furthermore, he knows that he knows. As a basic psychological and, hence, biological function cognition guides his handling of the universe and knowledge gives certainty to his acts; objective knowledge seems possible and through objective knowledge the universe appears systematic and predictable.
    • p. 5 Introduction.
  • Living systems are units of interactions; they exist in an ambience. From a purely biological point of view they cannot be understood independently of that part of the ambience with which they interact: the niche; nor can the niche be defined independently of the living system that specifies it.
    • p. 9.
  • A living system, due to its circular organization, is an inductive system and functions always in a predictive manner: what happened once will occur again. Its organization, (genetic and otherwise) is conservative and repeats only that which works. For this same reason living systems are historical systems; the relevance of a given conduct or mode of behavior is always determined in the past.
    • p. 26-27.
  • I maintain that learned orienting interactions, coupled with some mode of behavior that allowed for an independent recursive expansion of the domain of interactions of the organism, such as social life... and/or tool making and use, must have offered a selective basis for the evolution of the orienting behavior that in hominids led to our present-day languages.
    • p. 31.
  • The linguistic domain as a domain of orienting behavior requires at least two interacting organisms with comparable domains of interactions, so that a cooperative system of consensual interactions may be developed in which the emerging conduct of the two organisms is relevant for both. The specifiability through learning of the orienting interactions allows for a purely consensual (cultural) evolution in this domain, without it necessarily involving any further evolution of the nervous system; for this reason the linguistic domain in general, and the domain of self-consciousness in particular, are, in principle, independent of the biological substratum that generates them.
    • p. 43.

Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living (1980)[edit]

H.R. Maturana, F.J. Varela (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living.
  • An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which:
    (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and
    (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.
    • p. 87.
  • [T]he space defined by an autopoietic system is self-contained and cannot be described by using dimensions that define another space. When we refer to our interactions with a concrete autopoietic system, however, we project this system on the space of our manipulations and make a description of this projection.
    • p. 89.
  • By autopoietic organization, Maturana and Varela meant the] processes interlaced in the specific form of a network of productions of components which realizing the network that produced them constitutes it as a unity.
    • p. 80 as cited in: Lee O. Thayer, George A. Barnett (1997) * Organization-Communication: Emerging Perspectives, Volume 5:. p. 193.
  • The relations that define a system as a unity, and determine the dynamics of interaction and transformations which it may undergo as such a unity constitute the organization of the machine.
    • p. 137.

The tree of Knowledge (1987)[edit]

H.R. Maturana, F.J. Varela (1987) The tree of Knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Boston: New Science Library.
  • Coherence and harmony in relations and interactions between the members of a human social system are due to the coherence and harmony of their growth in it, in an ongoing social learning which their own social ( linguistic) operation defines and which is possible thanks to the genetic and ontogenetic processes that permit structural plasticity of the members.

Reality; The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument (1988)[edit]

Maturana (1988). "Reality; The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument". In: Irish Journal of Psychology, Special Issue on "Radical Constructivism, Autopoiesis and Psychotherapy", Vincent Kenny (ed.), Volume 9, no. 1. p. 25-82.
  • We say that the words were smooth, caressing, hard, sharp, and so on: all words that refer to body touching. Indeed we can kill or elate with words as body experiences. We kill or elate with words because, as co-ordinations of actions, they take place through body interactions that trigger in us body changes in the domain of physiology.
    • p. 48 as cited in: Vincent Kenny (1989).

Quotes about Humberto Maturana[edit]

  • By organization Maturana refers to the relations between components that give a system its identity, that make it a member of a particular type. Thus, if the organization of a system changes, so does its identity. By structure Maturana means the actual components and relations between components that constitute a particular example of a type of system. The organization is realized through the structure, but it is the structure that can interact and change. So long as the structural changes maintain the organization, the system’s identity remains.

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