According to Guidano, Post-Rationalist refers to the fact that in our occidental culture we are living in a period of epistemologic changes. Empirist epistemology, which has been identified with the concept of science itself, has deeply changed throughout this century. The basic aspect of empirist epistemology is that we live in an objective reality, which already contains in itself the sense of all things and exists independently of our perceiving it. This reality is also unique and the same for everyone. Knowledge is only a representation of reality and the only way to prove if this knowledge is true is by means of the correspondence of external order with knowledge, conceived as a representation of this order.
According to Guidano, the most important problem which has been posed to this epistemologic approach has been the radical change which has taken place in the conception of the relation between observer and observed. In the empirist approach the observer faces a reality, objective in itself, which exists independently. The observer in this case is considered impartial and objective. The observation of the observer corresponds to reality. Now, with the changes produced in the notion of the relations between observer and observed, the observer no longer stands as neutral. On the contrary, with his observation he introduces an order in what he observes and what he observes is much more dependent on his perceptual apparatus than on the structure itself of something objective external to him. What is now happening is that we are beginning to attain greater conscience that the reality in which we live is codependent of our way of ordering and goes together with our perception. The world of regularities we live in is a world which is co-constructed by the observer.
This change has brought the figure of the observer to a foreground. If the observer is no longer neutral, but is the same who orders what he perceives, then the problem which arises is to explain which is the nature of the observer. In a Post-Rationalist approach, according to Guidano, this problem must be formulated as the explanation of Who is the observer? How does he order his experience? How does he know? What is knowledge? And finally, What is human experience?
The theoretical aspect - according to Guidano - is the following: Which are the characteristics of human experience? At what levels does it occur? At what levels does it take shape? Guidano affirms that in order to answer these questions we have to assume an ontologic point of view. This means to try to understand human experience from the point of view of the individual who is experiencing. Ontologic means, according to Humberto Maturana, to consider human experience according to the experiential coherences of who is having this experience, i.e., according to the experiential coherences, to the constitutive experiential conditions of the observer. All rationalist investigation has always considered the individual from a point of view from the outside, as if it were an impartial point of view.
Therefore, if we intend to understand experience, we must assume this ontologic point of view. But we also require another presupposition, other than the ontologic point of view, and this is that we stand on a basis of evolutionist epistemology.
At this point it is necessary to point out that the contribution of ethologists and of the studies of Neo- darwinists on one hand, and the biological theory of knowing of Humberto Maturana on the other, were very important. For the first time knowledge was defined as biologic and not as something philosophic or metaphysic or as a gift of unknown procedure. If knowledge is biologic, it is life. Life is knowledge. Therefore it would not be exclusive only of man, but of any organism, even a unicellular organism. Evolutionist epistemology comes forth after World War II and is defined as "the study of processes which define the type of relation between knowledge and external environment, the external reality in which the organism lives". In this way, if knowledge is biologic, it is in the sphere of study of the natural sciences.
According to Guidano, if knowledge belongs to any form of life, it does not proceed from the outside, but is the way by means of which the organism organizes its relations with the environment. This is fundamental. It changes everything. What appears in this line of understanding of evolutionist epistemology is that knowledge is something which helps the organism to adapt, to survive. Therefore, no organism is interested in knowing if his knowledge corresponds or not to the truth. In synthesis, it is not something important for his survival.
In this way a new conceptualization arises: knowledge is considered a self organization process of the organism, which considers the environment in which it develops, but that finally knowledge is organized in function of the requirements of the organism and not of those of external order.
Guidano considers this process as something he calls the Paradigm of Self Organization. Self Organization is not something which belongs only to human organisms - which are complex systems - but is something which belongs to life, to the phenomenon of life itself.
If we compare these aspects with the empirist movement it appears evident that in the logic of self organization the organism appears much more active in front of the external environment than an organism which only responds as in the empirist point of view. The organism not only responds, but also transforms the stimuli according to his own needs. Thus, knowledge begins to be conceptualized in a very different way. Now, if we adopt the point of view of an active organism where knowledge is considered a form or self-organization, knowledge assumes a different characteristic: it is not something which comes from the outside, but it something which is generated in the inside and goes to the outside, transforming it, and, above all, knowledge is not of a sensory nature.
Guidano shows us that knowledge goes from the inside to the outside, thus belonging in the first place to the organism and arises from his own needs, many of which are genetically determined.
Starting from the needs of any organism, let us now see what happens with man.
If, according to Guidano, knowledge is the way in which the organism transforms and modifies the environment to find its adaptation, adaption means to transform the environment into himself. To transform the environment would be one of the requirements of the organism. This vision changes the notion of reality, since, if the organism is always self-organizing, his knowledge is the way in which he transforms the environment in order for it to become similar to himself. If we accept that the knowledge of every organism is self organized, we deny the existence of a reality external to us, the same for everyone.
According to Guidano, what is actually believed is that external reality is a net of processes which occur simultaneously and which are distributed across many levels of articulation and interaction. The reality of which we are speaking now is a flowing, a continuous coming and going, a continuous turning of all things. This is something that occurs simultaneously in many directions and different levels of articulation, with the characteristic that no level can be reduced to another.
All levels of observation of this multiple process are autonomous; in other words, in this multiprocess reality it is never possible to have a vision of oneself which is exhaustive; each vision is always from a single point of view and can not be reduced to another. Reality is a Multiverse, in the words of Maturana.
As already mentioned, Guidano proposes to examine the relation between organism and reality, i.e., the relation between observer and observed. In the empirist or the rationalist point of view the relation between observer and observed was never a problem, because reality was considered an entity in itself, organized in itself, which the observer had only to perceive without prejudices or distorsions in order to perceive it such as it was. In consequence, the observer had no importance. It is as if he were a priviliged witness, who sees things in themselves. His observation is neutral.
But if we face a multiprocess reality which is a network of processes and is multidirectional, the observation of the subject is not neutral. His observation corresponds to an order he introduces by recognizing similarities, regularities, as a function of his perceptual apparatus, which makes him perceive one thing more consistent than others, and others less important, less regular, less similar. All this means that the observation of the observer is a constitutive part of what is observed. It is impossible to perceive the world outside our own perception; our perception accompanies each knowledge, each observation. It is impossible to find a point of view outside our own perception and each time we perceive something we perceive that it is us who is perceiving. When we are in a position of observers of ourselves, we determine what is observed, what we want to observe. As Humberto Maturana says "everything that is said is said by an observer to another observer, who can be himself and the observer is a human being". This is the post-rationalist point of view.
The epistemologic revisions have lead to a conception of the organism as self-organization and from this perspective adaptation is understood as a process, in which the organism transforms environmental pressures into an internal order. That is, the concept of experience itself means that what would be environmental pressures or casual environmental disturbances, can become significant for the organisms. They begin to form a part of his world of meanings, of his world of internal consistence, of a world which did not exist beforehand and which, over all, does not exist independently from the organism. As we said before, human experience can not be considered as something already done once and for all, so it is necessary to establish as soon as possible what does human experience consist of. As we have already mentioned, it is not possible to know reality in itself since every organism, including humans can only perceive, configurate a reality from inside of their own experience.
Guidano says that starting with the primates, a new world begins to generate, which is not observed in the other animals. It is a world in which we can recognize an intersubjective reality, in which physical reality is substituted by an interpersonal reality. From the point of view of evolutionary epistemology it is defined as a condition in which one can only know oneself in relation to others, in which not only the apects of reciprocal affective protection are present, but which is at the same time a matter of individualization. Each member of the group can get to know himself in relation to the reality around him, in relation to others, perceiving himself in others. Intersubjective reality is an affective and cognitive reality. In primates, then, we see that knowledge is always interactive with others. This is the first relevant aspect in primates, according to Guidano. The configuration of a principle of identity starts to appear very clearly.
The other relevant aspect assessed by Guidano is the attachment, which is intimately related with intersubjective experience. He says that with primates, a complexity starts to configurate quite similar to that found in humans. In them we can observe an inmaturity of the infants quite longer than in other mammals and the making of affective attachments which is not only at the service of physical protection, but is functional to the organization of that being, of that life, finally to his identity. (The organization of the organism is structural to its development). It is also important to point out that not only the parental affective attachment is significant, but also the affective attachment between peers. With this we want to demostrate that all knowledge is intersubjective and that every primate reaches a sense of himself in relation to the perception he has of others. In this way affectivity starts to delineate quite well as a structural part of the functioning of a primate. What is more important for the survival of a young primate is to find an affective attachment with the mother; if he does not manage it he is excluded, he can not attain a social rank. In primates we begin to see a principle of self-organization and that they live in an intersubjective reality such as human primates do, characterized by the fact that all spaces becomes perceptible and evaluable in terms of closeness or separation from the affective attachment. Thus, the attachment processes can no longer be considered as a simple means to maintain proximity and contact during development with an affective reference figure, but come to be the self referential system par excellence for the development of personal identity.
Having briefly developed these fundamental aspects relative to primates, we are now in conditions to differentiate and delineate the essential characteristics of human experience. The first fundamental difference is the appearence of language in the human species. Not in the way rationalist approaches consider it, as a transmission of information -Chomsky, among others- but considering the consequence language had on the experience of life. That is, the appearence of language made possible a simultaneous establishment of a dimension of different realities from that in which other aninals daily live, which Maturana calls the experience or the praxis of living and which Guidano calls immediate experience. Together with language ,another much more abstract dimension of reality appears in the human primate, in which there is an explanation. That is, we can construct an explanation in terms of verbal propositions. That is, we can construct an explanation of the immediate experience which is perceived, in terms of verbal propositions. With the appearence of language, the human being is the first animal which owns this peculiarity, this characteristic of living in a constant and uninterrupted flow, a simultaneous double dimension of experience.
The first dimension is immediate experience. Like what occurs in other animals, the experience of living, of feeling alive, is something with simply occurs to us, something we can not decide.
The other dimension is explanation.Each human being has the possibility of explaining to himself, of refering to himself his life experience, his immediate experience by means of language. Only language permits the existence of categories such as true or false, fair or unfair, good or bad. As Maturana says, at the level of immediate experience we can not differentiate illusion from perception. We can only do so in language. It also allows us to establish distinctions about the informative content of immediate experience or emotional tones. Language allows us to ellaborate abstract propositions and thus, immediate experience is reordered and explained in a concept which makes sense in itself. Now this proposition may be considered valid even though it does no longer have the emotional tonality which specified it, so that it may be used to make predictions in similar situations to be faced. What Guidano understands as immediate experience is a continuous modulation of emotional tonalities which are those which in an immediate way give each of us the tacit direct information, without having to interpret who you are and how you feel in front of external reality. Then there is the more cognitive knowledge, knowledge as a process of thought, of logical propositions, of analytic reasoning. At present psychologists speak of tacit and explicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge requires no words, no language, no thoughts; the knowledge one has immediately because one feels something, the knowledge given by emotions, sensations, bodily dispositions. It is what we would call the experience; the experience of life which occurs without any decision. The individual faces it in every moment of his existence. Then comes the explicit knowledge, always referred to the tacit, so that any explanation, any theory, any belief, is always an explanation of the immediate experience which the individual had. There is therefore no possibility to verify or prove a belief or a theory with external aspects to see if it is appropriate or not. The only way of verification is to refer it to the type of immediate experience which that theory intended to explain and not to something external. From this we can conclude that all theories developed by the individual, scientific or philosophic, are based on emotionality and not on rationality. At the same time, without emotionality there is no rationality.
The logical conceptual system (explicit knowledge) while on one side is the most specialized way for defining, conceptualizing, etc., on the other is inevitably partial, it needs the constant support given by a more global and immediate knowledge such as tacit knowledge.
The construction of a sense of identity is the distinctive characteristic of the way in which an individual system constructs its self referential order, so much that the progressive and gradual differentiation of a sense of self appears from the beginning intertwined with the cognitive and emotional development. Therefore, the mechanisms which sustain personal identity are tightly connected with those which sustain knowledge. We can say then that during the human individual life cycle more integrated levels of identity and self knowledge will arise.
Let us examine how this occurs.
We have already said that primates live an intersubjective reality and that the survival of the young and adult primates will depend on the quality of the attachment with the mother and not only of a relation of physical proximity of care and protection. If we move from primates to humans, we will find that the attachment system turns extremely complex. Because the system of human attachment is the means par excellence by which each human being manages to construct a sense of himself, specific and unique by which he recognizes himself, so that attachment with someone is to recognize oneself and to have a specific sense of self.
A attachment figure in the child is a coordination of sensations, actions, perceptions which give a sense of self. This theme of attachment and identity is the basic theme of all emotional development from 0 to 18 or 20 years of age. We can say very briefly and graphically that the quality of the attachment is the way to divide and to order the space with certain emotional tonalities in the same way we saw in primates. We then start to see that in the child, from the very moment of birth and according to the emotional modulations which acompany his activating experiences related to the withdrawal of the referential figure (the mother or another person) or of the emotional tonalities which are associated to this activation by the return of the attachmenting figure, some emotional tonalities start to delineate more than others. What we today know about emotional development is that we humans are born with a repertoire of emotions. We can say that a child at the moment of birth has a repertoire of basic emotions potentially ready, complete. Now these emotions will take form by means of immediate experience which will be related to the processes of attachment with the referential figures. On the basis of the emotional characteristic of the person which holds the attachment, certain emotional tonalities will be selected over others. For example, in a child whose mother is very worried and afraid, the emotional tonality of fear will be much more developed and experienced than others. In another child whose mother is never available or who does not present herself to her son's calls, the emotional tonality of loss, abandonment amd helplessness will be selected. But these emotions will develop in a different way than thought, whose form is sequential and linear. The development of emotions is by analogic similarity. For Guidano the best metaphore of the way this occurs is the musical metaphore. If we bear in mind how a symphony is constructed, we know that there is a basic musical tonality and that this is the ordering key of all other musical tonalities.
Let us now return to this child whose particular familiar attachment has selected and amplified for him an emotional tonality of loss. All of his emotional development will be in this line, that is, the child will differentiate the rest of emotional tonalities confronting them with loss. In this way, the emotional tonality of joy is the absence of loss. Fear is the anticipation of loss. Sadness is the experience of loss, etc. All emotions are differentiated from this basic tonality. The emotional quality of attachment is reflected in the organized unity of the emotional domain which is a process. It is unitary because there is a background emotional tonality, which gives the child a specific sense of self, of identity, of uniqueness in different situations, and with these modalities the child differentiates all emotions. It is unitary because all emotions are always considered as derived from only one. This unity gives a specific sense of self as a precise way of feeling in the world.
The whole duration of this process is prolongued until past adolescence. Attachment turns more complex across development in order to favor the installation of more structured self referential processes, such as identification and imitation of models.
From a rationalist perspective , no growth is supposed to occur during adulthood. Adulthood is considered as the end of development by the end of youth (18 - 20 years). A balance is reached which must be maintained during all life. Psychopathology arises when this balance is lost and well being depends on its recovery.
From a post-rationalist perspective, adulthood is considered quite differently. Development is considered to continue in this phase where critical periods are observed which follow others of stability. Adults have critical phases with radical changes in the sense of self, which are not biologically determined as in the youngster, but which are given by the experiences of life and the capacity of the subject-we might say- to attain conscience of himself and to reorder his emotional experiences. In general terms, we might say that the dynamics of complex systems, such as humans, occurs according to what Prigogine calls "Orthogenetic Progression". This means that it is a system which constantly increases the quantity and quality of internal critical information; it becomes more complex as the life experiences increase. Therefore, there are moments in the life of any adult in which the increase of experiences becomes critical. From this point of view, the emotional disturbances which always accompany the increases are not seen as symptoms of a "psychical illness", but rather as pressures of the system which push towards an integration of these emotions and therefore to a reorganization of the sense of self. This argument completely changes the way of perceiving and making psychotherapy.