Ontology of Observing
Humberto R. Maturana

11. Reality

The word "reality" comes from the Latin noun res that means "object" (thing), and as it is commonly used signifies objectivity without parentheses. The real, and somentimes the really real, is meant to be that which exists independently of the observer. Now we know that the concepts entailed in this way of speaking cannot be sustained. Objects, things, arise in language when a consensual coordination of actions, by being consensually distinguished in a recursion of consensual coordinations of actions, obscures the actions that it coordinates in the praxis of living in a consensual domain. Since according to this circumstance an object, a unity, is brought forth in language in an operation of distinction that is a configuration of consensual coordinations of actions, when an object is distinguished in language its domain of existence as a coherent domain of consensual coordinations of actions becomes a domain of objects, a domain of reality, a versum of the multiversa such that all that is in it is all that is entailed in the consensual coordinations of actions that constitute it. Every domain of existence is a domain of reality, and all domains of reality are equally valid domains of existence brought forth by an observer as domains of coherent consensual actions that specify all that is in there. Once a domain of reality is brought forth, the observer can treat the objects or entities that constitute it both as if they were all that there is and as if they existed independently of the operations of distinction that brign them forth. And this is so because a domain of reality is brought forth in the praxis of living of the observer as a domain of operational coherences that requires no internal justification.

It follows from all this, that an observer operating in a domain of reality necessarily operates in a domain of effective actions, and that another observer claims that the first one commits a mistake or has an illusion only when the first observer begins to operate in a domain of reality different from the one that the second observer expected. Thus, if we specify the operation of distinction "ghost", then ghost exist, are real in the domain of existence brought forth in their distinction, and we can do effective actions with them in that domain, but they are not real in any other domain. Indeed, everything is an illusion outside its domain of existence. In other words, every domain of reality as a domain of operational coherences brought forth in the happening of living of the observer in language, is a closed domain of effective consensual actions, that is, a cognitive domain; and conversely, every cognitive domains as a domain of operational coherences is a domain of reality. What is uncanny, perhaps, is that although different domains of reality are seen by an observer as different domains of coordinations of actions in an environment, they are lived by the observer as different domains of languaging which differ only through their ongoing transformation in the different circumstances of recursion in which they arise. We as observers can explain this now by saying that, as we operate in language through our consensual interactions in the happening of living of a community of observers, our structural drift in the happening of our living becomes contingent upon the course of those consensual interactions, and that this takes place in a manner that keeps the transformation of the happening of our living congruent with the domain of reality that we bring forth in that community of observers, or we disintegrate as members of it. It is this that makes us observing systems systems capable, through language, of an endless recursive generation of a new cognitive domains (new domains of reality) as new domains of praxis of observing in our continuous structural drifts as living systems.

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Instituto de Terapia Cognitiva de Santiago de Chile