Humberto R. Maturana
The explanation that I have given for the phenomenon of cognition has several fundamental consequences which I shall now consider:
i) Existence entails cognition in living systems. To the extent that cognition is the operation of a living system in its domain of structural coupling, that is, in its domain of existence, existence of living systems entails cognition in their realization as such, not as a characterizaton or as a representation or as a disclosure of something independent of them. Cognition as a biological phenomenon takes place in a living system as it operates in its domain of perturbations, and as such it has no content and is not "about" anything. Therefore, when we say that we know something we are not connoting what happens in the mechanism of the phenomenon of cognition as a biological phenomenon, we are reflecting in language upon what we do.
ii) There are as many cognitive domains as there are domains of existence. I speak of cognition only in relation to living systems. This is arbitrary since what I have said in relation to existence applies to every entity brought forth through an operation of distinction. Therefore, I make this distinction only because I am speaking of living systems and the word cognition is historically bound to them through us. Within this restriction we as observers can say that there are as many domains of cognition as there are domains of existence specified by the different identities that living systems conserve through the realization of their autopoiesis. These different cognitive domains intersect in the structural realization of a living system as living systems realizes the different identities that define them as different dimensions of simultaneous or successive structural couplings, orthogonal to the fundamental structural coupling in which the living system realizes its autopoiesis. As a result, these different cognitive domains may appear or disappear simultaneously or independently according to wheter the different structurally intersecting unities that specify them integrate or disintegrate independently or simultaneously (see section 7 vi). Thus, when a student graduates, the cognitive domain specified by the operation in the domain of structural coupling that defines the identity "student" disappears together with the disintegration of the bachelor. Conversely, when a student graduates and a bachelor marries, the identities "graduate" and "husband" appear with the corresponding cognitive domains specified by the operational coherences that these entities entails.
It follows, therefore that a living system may operate in as many different cognitive domains as there are different identities that the different dimensions of its structural coupling allow it to realize. It also follows that the different identities that a living system may realize are necessarily fluid, and change as the dimensions of its structural coupling change with its structural drift in the happening of its living. To have an identity, to operate in a particular domain of cognition, is to operate in a particular domain of structural coupling.
iii) Language is the human cognitive domain. Human beings as living systems operating in language operate in a domain of recursive reciprocal consensual perturbations that constitutes their domain of existence as such. Therefore, language as a domain of recursive consensual coordinations of actions is a domain of existence, and, as such, a cognitive domain defined by the recursion of consensual distinctions in a domain of consensual distinctions. Furthermore, human beings as living systems operating in language constitute observing, and become observers, by bringing forth objects as primary consensual coordinations of actions distinguished through secondary consensual coordinations of actions in a process that obscures the actions that they coordinate. Human beings, therefore, exist in the domain of objects that they bring forth through languaging. At the same time, human beings by existing as observers in the domain of objects brought forth through languaging, exist in a domain that allows them to explain the happening of their living in language through reference to their operation in a domain of dynamic reciprocal structural coupling.
iv) Objectivity. Objects arise in language as consensual coordinations of actions that in a domain of consensual distinctions are tokens for more basic coordinations of actions, which they obscure. Without language and outside language there are no objects, because objects only arise as consensual coordinations of actions in the recursion of consensual coordinations of actions that languaging is. For living systems that do not operate in language there are no objects; or in other words, objects are not part of their cognitive domains. Since we human beings are objects in a domain of objects that we bring forth and operate upon language, language is our peculiar domain of existence and our peculiar cognitive domain. Within these circumstances, objectivity arises in language as a manner of operating with objects without distinguishing the actions that they obscure. In this manner of operating, descriptions arise as concatenations of consensual coordinations of actions that result in further consensual coordinations of actions which, if performed without distinguishing how objects arise, can be distinguished as manners of languaging that take place as if objects existed outside of language. Objects are operational relations in languaging.
v) Languaging. operation in a domain of structural coupling. To the extent that language arises as a consensual domain in the coontogenic structural drift of living systems involved in recurrent interactions, the organisms that operate in language operate in a domain of reciprocal coontogenic structural coupling through reciprocal structural perturbations. Therefore, to operate in language is not an abstract activity as we usually think. To language is to interact structurally. Language takes place in the domain of relations between organisms in the recursion of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of actions, but at the same time language takes place through structural interactions in the domain of the bodyhoods of the languaging organisms. In other words, although languaging takes place in the social domain as a dance or recursive relations of coordinations of actions, interactions in language as structural interactions are orthogonal to that domain, and as such trigger in the bodyhoods of the participants structural changes that change as much the physiological background (emotional standing) on which they continue their languaging as the course that this physiological change follows. The result is that the social recursive coordinations of actions that constitute languaging, as elements of a domain of recursive operation in structural coupling, become part or the medium in which the participant living systems conserve organization and adaptation through the structural changes that they undergo contingent to their participation in that domain. Thus, although the domain of coordinations of actions and the domain of structural change of the participants in language do no intersect, their changes are coupled orthogonally through the structural interactions that take place in language. As the body changes, languaging changes; and as languaging changes the body changes. Here resides the power of words. Words are nodes in coordinations of actions in languaging and as such they arise through structural interactions between bodyhoods. It is through this interplay of coordinations of actions and changes of bodyhoods that we bring forth in languaging becomes part of the domain in which our ontogenic and phylogenic structural drifts take place.
vi) Language is a domain of descriptions. Language is a system of recursive consensual coordinations of actions in which every consensual coordination of actions becomes an object through a recursion in the consensual coordinations of actions, in a process that becomes the operation of distinction that distinguishes it and constitutes the observer. In these circumstances, all participants in a language domain can be observers with respect to the sequences of coordinations of actions in which they participate, constituting a system of recursive distinctions in which systems of distinctions become objects of distinction. Such recursive distinctions of distinctions in the happening of living in language that bring forth systems of objects, constitute the phenomenon of description. As a result, all that there is in the human domain are descriptions in the happening of living in language which, as happenings of living in language, become objects of descriptions in language. Descriptions, however, do not replace the happening of living that they constitute as descriptions; they only expand it in recursions that follow its operational coherences. Accordingly, scientific explanations, as systems of descriptions, do not replace the phenomena that they explain in the domain of happening of living of the observer, but bring forth operational coherences in that domain that allow for further descriptions in it.
vii) Self-consciuosness arises with language. For a living system in its operation as a closed system, there is no inside or outside; it has no way of making the distinction. Yet, in language such a distinction arises as a particular consensual coordination of actions in which the participants are recursively brought forth as distinctions of systems of distinctions. When this happens, self-consciousness arises as a domain of distinctions in which the observers participate in the consensual distinctions of their participations in language through languaging. It follows from this that the individual exists only in language, that the self exists only in language, and that self-consciousness as a phenomenon of self distinction takes place only in language. Furthermore, it also follows that since language as a domain of consensual coordinations of actions is a social phenomenon, self-consciousness is a social phenomenon, and as such it does not take place within the anatomical confines of the bodyhood of the living systems that generate it; on the contrary, its is external to them and pertains to their domain of interactions as a manner of coexistence.
viii) History. The significance or meaning of any given behaviour resides in the circumstances of its enaction, not in the characteristics of the dynanics of states of the behaving living system or in any particular feature of the behaviour itself. In other words, it is not the complexity of the inner states of a living system or of its nervous system, nor any aspect of the behaviour itself, that determines the nature, meaning, relevance or content of any given behaviour, but rather its placement in the ongoing historical process in which it arises. The higher human functions do not take place in the brain; language, abstract thinking, love, devotion, reflection, rationality, altruism, etc., are not features of the dynamics of states of the human being as a living system or of its nervous system as a neuronal network; they are social historical phenomena. At the same time, history is not part of the dynamics of states of a living system because this latter takes place only in the present, instant after instant, in the operation of its structure in changes that occur out of time. History, time, future and past -as well as- exists in language as forms of explanation of the happening of living of the observer, and partake of the involvement of language in this happening of living. Therefore, it is in the explanation of the happening of living through the coherences of language that an observer can claim that the structure of a living system that determines its changes of state in the present always embodies its history of interactions because it continuously arises in the present in a structural drift contingent to such history.
ix) The nervous system expands the domain of states of the living system. For living systems to operate in language, the diversity and plasticity of their internal states must match the diversity of the changing circumstances generated in their recursive consensual coordinations of actions. In other words, although language does not take place within the bodyhood of the living system, the structure of the living system must provide the diversity and plasticity of states required for language to take place. The nervous system contributes to the fulfilment of these requirements by expanding the domain of states of the organism through the richness of its dynamics as a closed network of changing relations of neurornal activities (see Maturana 1983), and by expanding in the organism the domain of its changes of states that follow in it a course contingent upon both its own changes of states and its interactions in the medium. And, this the nervous system does; a) by admitting the interactions of the organism as orthogonal perturbations from the medium, a condition that makes its structural drift as a celular network, as well as the structural drift of the organism and its participation in the generation of behaviour, contingent upon the history of those interactions; and b) by admitting orthogonal interactions from the components of the organism, a condition that makes its structural drifts as a cellular network, as well as the structural drift of the organism and its participation in the generation of behaviour, recursively contingent upon the dynamics of structural changes of the organism. The result of all this for the organism (including its nervous system) is the possibility of the recursive involvement of its dynamics of states with the ongoing flow of its own dynamics of states through its behaviour, if it has sufficient plasticity in the nervous system and participates in a sufficiently large domain of recurrent interactions with other organisms. Indeed, this recursive involvement is what permits the production of language as this arises when the internal recursiveness of the dynamics of states of the nervous system couples with the recurrence of social consequence coordinations as an ongoing process in the generation of social behaviour.
The ongoing recursive coupling of behavioural and structural changes that give origin to language, is possible because a structure determined system exists in two non-intersecting phenomenal domains realized through orthogonally dependent structures, namely, its domain of states and its domain of interactions. It is our basic double existence as structure determined system in two non-intersecting but orthogonally coupled phenomenal domains that permits us in our operation in language to generate endless orthogenally interdependent and yet non-intersecting phenomenal domains in the happening of our living.
x) Observing takes place in languaging. The nervous system is a closed network of interacting active neuronal elements (neurons, effectors and receptors) that are structurally realized as cellular components of the organism. As such, it operates as a closed network of changing relations of activity between its components; that is, it is constitutive to the organization of the nervous system that any change of relations of activity between its components leads to further changes of relations of activity between them, and that in that sense it operates without inputs or outputs. Therefore, any action upon an environment that an observer sees as a result of the operation of the nervous system, is a feature of the structural changes that take place in the nervous system as a cellular network, and not a feature of its operation as such. Indeed, the operation of the nervous system and the actions of the organism take place in non-intersecting phenomenal domains realized by orthogonally related structures. Similarly, any perturbation of the medium impinging upon the organism is a perturbation in the structure of the nervous system, not an input into the nervous system's dynamics of states, and if this dynamic of states changes it does so because the structure of the nervous system changes in a manner contingent to the perturbation, not because it admits an input to its operation. As a result, all that takes place in the nervous system is a dance of changing relations of neuronal activities that in the domain of structural coupling where the observer beholds the organism appears as a dance of changing configurations of effector-sensor correlations. An observer that sees an effector-sensor correlation as an adequate behaviour does so because he or she beholds the organism in the domain of structal coupling in which the distinguished behaviour takes place in the flow of its conservation of adaptation. The organism in its operation does not act upon an environment, nor does the nervous system operate with a representation of an environment in the generation of the adequate behaviour of the organism; the environment exists only for an observer (see section 6, paragraph xiii), and as such it is a phenomenon of languaging.
That the nervous system should operate as a closed network of changing relations of activity between its components, and not with representations of an environment, has two fundamental consequences: a) for the operation of the nervous system, everything is the same; or in other words, all that takes place in the operation of the nervous system are changes of relations of activity between its components, and it does not distinguish in its operation wheter its changes of state arise through what an observer sees as external structural perturbations; b) for the observer, the organism operates in many different domains of structural coupling which intersect operationally in the domain of states of the nervous system through the the structural perturbations triggered in it by the interactions of the organism in these different domains. As a result of this circumstance several things happen that are relevant for the things happening that are relevant for the understanding of the domains of reality that the observer brings forth (see following sections). Firstly, an observer can always treat a state of activity of the nervous system (a configuration of changes of relations of activity) that arises as a result of a particular interaction of the organism as a representation of that integration, and can do so by constituting the domain of descriptions as a meta phenomenal domain in which both the organism and the circumstance of its interactions are distinguished together. Secondly, different states of activity of the nervous system that for an observer represent interactions of the organism in nonintersecting phenomenal domains (different domains of structural coupling), can affect each other and give rise to behaviours of the organism that constitute meta domains of relations between the phenomena that take place in these nonintersecting phenomenal domains. Thirdly, the meta domains of relations established through the operational intersection in the domain of states of the nervous system of otherwise nonintersecting phenomena that arise in the operation of the organism in its different domains of structural coupling, constitute, through the behaviours that these intersections generate, new domains of structural coupling of the organism that do not intersect with the others. And, fourthly, the operational intersection of the different domains of interactions (different domains of structural coupling) of an organism in the operation of its nervous system, allows it to operate in recurrent interactions with other organism in the continuous recursive generation of metadomains of relations which become phenomenal domains in their own right in the ongoing flow of those recurrent interactions. The result of all this intersection of domains or relations in the closed operation of the nervous system through its coupling to the interactions of the organism, is the possibility of the arising of self observing as the closed operation of the nervous system becomes recursive when it couples to the dynamics of observing as two or more organisms generate a recursive domains of coordinations of actions. That is, the operation of the nervous system as a closed network of interactions (relations of activity) permit observing and the observer to arise as operations in language brought forth through the operational coherences of languaging. Or, in other words, since the operation of the nervous system appears in the domain of operation of the organism as sensory-effector correlations, observing is coordination of bodyhoods of observers through their generation of a coreography of interlaced sensory-effector correlations, because all that there is for the operation of the nervous system of the observer in observing is its closed dynamics of changing relations between its neuronal components. It is only for an observer who sees two or more interacting organisms in his or her praxis of living, that the sensory-effector correlations of these organisms appear recursively involved with each other in a network of recursive sensory-effector correlations constituted through the orthogonal interactions of their nervous systems. And, finally, it is only for an observer that such a network of recursive sensory-effector correlations becomes language and constitutes a meta domain (with respect to the operation of the nervous system) where explanations and observing take place; when the organism's recurrent interactions become a recursive system of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of actions.
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