Ontology of Observing

Humberto R. Maturana

1. Purpose

My purpose in this essay is to explain cognition as a biological phenomenon, and to show, in the process, how language arises and gives origin to self consciousness, revealing the ontological foundations of the physical domain of existence as a limiting cognitive domain. In order to do this I shall start from two unavoidable experiential conditions that are at the same time my problems and my explanatory instruments, namely: a), that cognition, as is apparent in the fact that any alteration of the biology of our nervous system alters our cognitive capacities, is a biological phenomenon that must be explained as such; and b), that we, as is apparent in this very same essay, exist as human beings in laguage using language for our explanations. These two experiential conditions are my starting point because I must be in them in any explanatory attempt; they are my problems because I choose to explain them, and they are my unavoidable instruments because I must use cognition and language in order to explain cognition and language.

In other words, I propose not to take cognition and language as given unexplainable properties, but to take them as phenomena of our human domain of experiences that arise in the praxis of our living, and that as such deserve explanation as biological phenomena. At the same time, it is my purpose to use our condition of existing in language to show how the physical domain of existence arises in language as a cognitive domain. That is, I intend to show that the observer and observing, as biological phenomena, are ontologically primary respect to the object and the physical domain of existence.

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Instituto de Terapia Cognitiva de Santiago de Chile