Archives for posts with tag: Maturana

As much as we’d like it to be unique, reality is a spectrum.

Varying from factual to ‘seat of the pants’. And everything in between.

But what is this thing we call ‘reality’?

The key word here being “we”, of course!

First of all, reality is a concept. Which covers everything we know it exists ‘out there’.
Mind you, not everything ’which exists out there’, only ‘what we know about’.

We know about how?
Here’s where things become really interesting.

Maturana says that we, humans, are the first animals able to ‘observe themselves observing’ – his definition of ‘self-awareness’.
We not only observe things, we’ve developed the ability to set them apart from us. To understand that ‘things’ are both separated from us and still connected to us.
Even this understanding of ours comes in various degrees.
Some of us behave as if there is no tomorrow while others have developed intricate thought systems which connect our past actions (a.k.a. ‘sins’) with our future (a.k.a. ‘redemption’).

‘But most of the religious people base their faith on myths rather than facts!’

Well… myths are facts too.
Not in the sense that all the content of all myths had necessarily happened!
My point being that a story becomes a myth/fact as soon as enough people believe in it. Regardless of that story being a factual description of a real incident, an interpretation thereof or even the figment of somebody’s imagination.

Too much confusion… facts are no longer factual, reality is no longer real… everything is in a sort of limbo…

Yep. You’ve got the gist of it.
Our own consciousness has thrown us in limbo. Which, obviously, is yet another of our own inventions…
The funniest thing being that our consciousness hates being in limbo. And tries to explain everything it comes in contact with. Which explains why we have so many myths.

Now, if we want to explain the difference between the factual and the seat of the pants realities, we need to retrace the whole argument.

We have the ‘real’ reality – everything that exists out there, and the conceptual one. Everything that actually exists versus what we know it exists. Or it may exist.
What we know it exists can be further divided into things we think we have completely understood, things we ‘know’ but we still cannot fully explain and things which continue to baffle us.
For instance, we think we know everything there is to be known about internal combustion engines, we know when we are in love but we cannot explain ‘love’ and we are completely baffled by the callousness of some of our brethren.


Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?


I’ve ended my previous post by saying that we, humans, are tempted to see almost everything as a potential tool.

And the present one by asking myself ‘to what avail?’.

What are we trying to accomplish?

I kept telling you that we, humans, haven’t invented much. That everything we do has already been experimented by our predecessors. Plants and animals…

Well, one of the things that we did invent was ‘intent’. As in ‘premeditation’.

We don’t know whether plants are driven by anything else except their ‘vital spirit’.
Same thing is valid for ‘inferior animals’ (those which don’t have brains) while the superior (a.k.a. brained) ones seem to be driven by what we call emotion.

Including us!

No matter how much we pride ourselves about our ability to reason, we’re still driven by emotion.
Actually, we’re not even close to being rational!
At best, we rationalize our emotional impulses. Before or even after we put them into practice.
Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman, among others, have already settled this point.

Then why am I talking about ‘premeditation’?!?

And who said ‘premeditation’ is necessarily rational?

It is planned, OK, but …

You see, the real difference between us and the rest of most other animals is our ability to ‘watch ourselves watching the world‘. As if something inside each of ourselves is able to send a probe somewhere ‘outside’ and then examine its own individuality as an outside observer. I didn’t say an impartial observer, just an outsider. However biased.

I won’t elaborate on how we got here, Maturana had already done that. Brilliantly. I’m far more interested in the consequences of each of us being able to observe their own selves ‘from outside’, keeping in mind that our rationality is heavily bounded – Simon Herbert and others, and that we’re mainly driven by emotions.

The very first thing that each of us observes about their-selves is the overwhelming fragility which defines us.

And this is why we search solace in religion. In no matter which one of them, atheism included. There is ‘safety in numbers’, you know…

Our goal, professed or not, is to find inner peace.
No matter whether you call it salvation, redemption, nirvana, self acceptance or whatever else, what you crave is peace.

The sentiment (illusion?) that you are safe.

At least for a moment.

How long is that moment going to last?

Well, that depends on how you got there!
And who accompanies you…



This ‘lack’ of philosophers can be explained in two ways.

Nobody = among those with enough ‘brain power’ – cares enough any longer about finding the raison d’etre for which we toil on this Earth.

Not enough of the regular people find this subject interesting enough to keep alight the flame of the discussion.

The consequence being that freak ‘intellectual monsters’ have occupied the front stage and drive the ‘unsettled’ among us to utter insanity.


My take on the matter being that we live in a different world that we used to.
One where both the explanations mentioned above hold almost equal sway.

Thinkers do not touch the subject with the same vigor as a couple of centuries ago because knowledge has become vast enough so that very few people dare to look from one (putative) end to the other.
Commoners do not care much about the subject because they have become rather complacent. Day to day life no longer poses the same challenges as it used to, to the tune that most people, including the not so well of, do not feel such an ‘urgency’ about tomorrow as the one felt by our forefathers.

What we have is a total lack of workable ‘world visions’.

Usually in time of crises new ideas were presented to the public, some of them took roots, and the (local) world enjoyed a fresh start.

For instance when the Athenian democracy reached its crises point Plato came up with a whole concept that influenced the thinking of Europe for the next two and a half millennia.
I’m not going to discuss here the ups and downs of his teachings but the very fact that enough people followed them, and that his ideas survived for so long, means that there was something there. In the ‘cooperation’ between the philosopher and his followers.

The last inflection point happened sometimes in the XIX-ht and XX-ht centuries. Darwin, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx (the philosopher and the sociologist, not the political activist), Adam Smith, Durkheim, Max Weber, Einstein, Popper, Kuhn, Maturana…


Not that people do not think anymore.

Take Nicholas Nassim Taleb for instance. Or Jared Diamonds, Robert Prechter and Neagu Djuvara – to name but the first three who crossed my mind!
Yes, each of them had their relative moment of glory but not any near of what each of them really deserved!
Maybe because none of them had actually engaged in an all out effort to redefine human understanding on matters? Knowing that we are not yet ready to embark on a new project?

Have we become so lazy?

No, I cannot accept such a thing.
We’ll surely grow out of this. Fast!


What on Earth is ‘itall’ and why would anyone bother about it?

Let me re-frame that.
Why on Earth are we so obsessed with winning in the first place?
It’s indeed nice to win from time to time but aren’t we overdoing it? Regardless of costs?

“Suppose that you are charged with selling a single food item to at least a hundred million people in a highly diverse society.  You can pick whatever item you wish, but you can pick only one.  If you fall short of getting at least 100,000,000 people to voluntarily choose your item over a rival item that will be offered by a competitor, you lose.  (Your competitor is playing by the same rules that you are playing by.)

Being highly competitive, you hate losing.  So you carefully go about selecting which item to choose.”

Already been there? You must surely understand where I’m driving at. Even if you are not ‘that competitive’ yourself you must’ve been wondering why hamburgers taste the same almost all over the world, and not only those mass produced by McDonald’s.

You see, there are two sides of the winning game. No, not those two obvious ones – the two players.
There are the players and the spectators. None could exist without the others but only the players, and the trainers, are aware of this.
Yet the very existence of the game and the manner in which it is played heavily influences the life of the people belonging to both categories.

As Don Boudreaux explains us in “Insipidness Guaranteed” our very fondness of winning big leads to the market being inundated by the very blandest – but generally acceptable – of products. Originality becomes stifled, contrary to the very fact that, from time to time, it’s exactly the original thing that gets the jackpot.

Three things concur to this.

I already mentioned the first.
Most players, or at least those at the top, know what’s going on while most of the (paying) spectators don’t. This leads to the spectators watching mesmerized what’s happening in the pitch while the players ratchet up the tension till it becomes unbearable least the spectators become bored and leave. So the spectators spend their time, and resources, watching instead of creatively using their brains to build something new – and potentially useful.

Our culturally enhanced obsession for winning.
Those players insist because they are plainly ‘hooked’. ‘Adrenaline is one of the most powerful drugs‘. This is true, if you don’t believe me check it on The problem with this particular addiction is that adrenaline is produced naturally in our body when we compete and that the winning moment is ‘scored’ in the brain by a powerful shot of dopamine, another hugely addictive natural drug.
On top of winning being highly pleasurable, and addictive, it is also positively sanctioned by the society. Drunkenness and being high on drugs are shunned by a considerable number of people while winning is applauded by all.

It also helps.
Yes, winning helps a lot. Otherwise ‘the quest for winning’ would have withered away a long ago by the very same mechanism that encouraged the advent of the moderate altruistic behavior – natural evolution.
No, this is not about ‘the survival of the fittest’ – that’s a mirepresentation of Darwin’s words, set straight by Ernst Mayr in ‘What Evolution Is: ‘It’s not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of those who cannot cope’.
So, competition is good in the sense that it’s telling the loosers ‘stop trying this and look for another venture if you want to thrive/survive’. The real winners are exactly those who understand something when they loose.

Just as we need to balance altruism with the need to preserve our own personae, both physically and psychologically, by constantly adjusting that balance according to the prevailing circumstances, we also need to understand where our obsession for winning has brought us.

When all we want is to win, we tend to forget that survival is, most of the times for individuals and at all times for the communities, more important than winning.
Darwin had titled his most important work ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection‘ and had amply demonstrated there that ‘natural selection’ (= competition) is just a means toward the ultimate survival. Evolution, that is.
That’s why we are hard wired to compete among ourselves – so those more adapted to a certain environment might continue doing what they are good at while the others are ‘encouraged’ to look for something else to do. But natural selection never works on the premises that ‘the winner takes it all’: very seldom competitors that belong to the same species kill each other.

Ernst Mayr demonstrates in the book I already mentioned that overspecialization is bad for you. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is stupid precisely because of that. ‘Being the fittest’ – and doing it for any considerable amount of time – means gradually becoming unable to cope with the slightest change that might occur in your environment.
That’s why natural selection includes a mechanism through which small alterations appear haphazardly in our DNA – those who are benign enough survive and provide the individuals that carry them with additional capabilities, so that they might take advantage of slightly different conditions than those where their ancestors have evolved.

We, the humans, have raised this to a new level. By becoming self-conscious – ‘aware of our own awareness’ in Humberto Maturana’s terms – we have developed a certain individual originality – and the need not only to manifest it but also to convince those around us that our ideas are better than theirs. Sometimes by any means at our disposal.
If you don’t believe me read again Plato’s Republic: “Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.”

Maybe it is high time for us to understand that a 2500 years old fallacy is still a fallacy. Plato marked the pinnacle of the Greek civilization, not it’s start. After he published his works, and Pericles had finished building his architectural wonders, Athens went slowly downwards and gradually lost it’s significance. Telling people what to think is the sure fire recipe for disaster. Ask the Soviets if you think what happened to the disciples of Plato isn’t convincing enough.

Coming back to where we started, winning, I have to remind you that a fundamentally aggressive attitude leads to the complete disappearance of respect. The aggressor becomes so engrossed in what he does that not only ceases to respect those around him – “He who is not for us is against us” was how Lenin used to see the world – but also looses sight of what he does to himself and to where he is leading his followers.

At the end of the article that spurred me into writing this, Dan Boudreaux, the author, bitterly ejaculates: “No one should be surprised that candidates for the U.S. presidency transact mostly in platitudes and are forever performing deeds on the campaign trail that any self-respecting person with independent judgment and a genuine sense and appreciation of his or her uniqueness would never in a million years dream of doing.  And the closer a candidate gets to the political promised land, the more intense becomes the pressure for him or her to be the political equivalent of a Bud Lite.”

Why, I ask all of you, would they – or any other of the putatively democratic candidates – do any different if we, the voters, continue to behave as hapless spectators and choose to watch as they fight for power instead of reminding them that they are being interviewed for a job, not wrestling for the privilege to take home the prom-queen?

And if they don’t get it – cause they’re too busy flaunting their feathers, we don’t get it – cause we’ve been hypnotized by those very same feathers as they are, how come the trainers – those close advisers who handle the players at every occasion – don’t get it that the whole bandwagon has started to go astray?!?

Real democracy means that the would be leaders put on the table the important issues, discuss them honestly till the voters develop a real understanding of what is going on and then some of them get elected by a knowledgeable community to implement a set of policies.

Where do you see this happening in our days?
Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language:

Vorbeam intr-o postare anterioara despre cum, interpretandu-l ‘entuziast’ pe Descartes, am ajuns la concluzia ca ‘ratiunea il face pe om’.
Iata aici o noua dovada altceva il face pe om si nu ratiunea pura. Aceasta din urma este doar un mecanism, o modalitate de a asambla si folosi in scop propriu informatiile pe care le avem la indemana.
Catre ce scop? Ne putem folosi de ratiune pentru a incerca sa raspundem si la aceasta intrebare. Din pacate vom obtine doar atat, un raspuns. Atunci cind vom alege cu adevarat catre ce scop sa ne indreptam vor intra in joc caracterul nostru, bunul simt, educatia… Adica exact ceea ce am acumulat pina in acel moment din interactiunea cu oamenii de care ne-am ‘lovit’ de-a lungul vietii. Unii ar zice ca din acest moment intervine ‘morala’.
Se poate spune si asa. Eu prefer explicatia lui Humberto Maturana:
‘Oamenii nu sunt singurele fiinte constiente. Si cainele e constient, simte atunci cind este lovit. Spre deosebire de caine insa omul este constient de faptul ca este constient.
Iar aceasta constiinta nu a aparut din intimplare la unul dintre indivizi si apoi s-a raspandit pentru ca a fost folositoare ci a aparut prin interactiunea intensa si repetata intre indivizii societatii, mai ales prin intermediul limbajului. Acesta din urma a aparut tot asa, ‘intre’ indivizi, si impreuna, constiinta de a fi constienti impreuna cu abilitatea de a comunica idei in intreaga lor complexitate, au transformat o grupurile de ‘maimute’ pre-umane in societatile (aproape) umane de astazi.
Sa nu uitam totusi contributia esentiala a lui Descartes. El a inceput rationamentul sau cu ‘Dubito ergo…’
Asa gandesc cu adevarat oamenii: “Ce ar fi daca…” Unii ajung la concluzia “Ce tie nu-ti place altuia nu-i face”, altii la “cum sa fac sa mai castig odata alegerile”.
Poate ca ar fi timpul sa inceapa si alegatorii sa gandeasca: “Ce ar fi daca…?”

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