Maturana -Epistemology LO13263

R. Ramakrishnan (
Thu, 17 Apr 1997 12:15:07 +0530

Replying to LO12913 --

Dear Sherri, Rick and others,

I have recently joined the learnin-org community and have been a passive
observer. I feel compelled to join in now since some deep questions are
being raised.

>Rick wrote,

>This is a very subtle point... Is there a reality? Maturana says no.
>What's subtle is exactly what he means by this. The point is one that I
>have trouble with, and the people attending the seminar had trouble with
>it as well.
>I asked him about this at lunch. He said, "Whatever it might be, we can't
>talk about it." That is, I think, we cannot make statements about what it
>is like to observe reality.
>I probed further, pointing to a plate on the table, "In what domain does
>this plate exist?"
>He replied, "The plate exists in the domain of human interactions."

>QUESTION: And, about reality. I really do accept and embrace most of what
>Maturana is saying, but couldn't *reality* still fit in this picture? It
>seems to me that it could still be consistent to believe: 1) that there is
>an external reality, 2) that we can never see it "objectively", completely,
>or reliably, 3) that *is* created by all of our actions in the world and
>therefore dependent on our actions, and 4) that we can circle in more and
>more closely upon it by collective observation and interpretation. As we
>sit here around a circle discussing this difficult material, all of would
>agree that what's on Neil's lap is a pad of paper! That seems like a
>reality to me.

Shheri replied on March 17,

Again -- I agree with Maturana -- or what I understand him to be saying
through you. One of the ways I think about this is by going back to the
point that we are made up of atoms, (excuse me for my very basic training
in this area and if I am not using the right language) -- but I tend to
think of things in terms of the relationship of different types of energy
-- although through my discussions with At I must include entropy as well.
The way these atoms behave in my body compared to a ray of light are very
different-- why? It is all energy and entropy. Let me use an example from
a series of books published in the 30's by British scientists called The
Teachings of the Masters of the Far East. They observed these "Masters"
being able to perform all sorts of miracles from changing into animals, to
being in two places at once , and so forth. Now the current popular
version of reality states that this is all BS... But how do you know? Our
limits are our minds. What about the statement (it could be a good one for
the consultant debunking unit at Fast Company!) that states we only use
30% (or whatever) of our brain potential? All I hear Maturana as saying is
that we do not know what is possible. We believe we know what is possible
and because of that we limit (out of fear perhaps) what is potential. But
we do not having the language to describe what could be because it is out
of our realm of experience.

I agree with Sherri and with Maturana - atleast with what I understand he
is saying. Maturana aand Varela in the Tree of Knowledge write "A book is
rewritten everytime it is read' - then what is the 'real' book or who is
the 'real' author? I think that we tend to confuse or mix up 'an absolute
reality' with what emerges from a consensual coordination of actions.
Through our own history of inetractions we reinforce some domains -
'domains of coordination of actions and coordinations of coordinations of
action' - these domains are then perceived by the community of observers -
who infact created it - as an external independent reality. In this
sense, probably ther is no 'is' - there is only constant being. So I
think we cant circle in closer till we grasp that absolute reality

For me what Maturana and Varela's work has given is a powerful language -
I am not so much concerned with the question of is there or is there not
an independent reality but rather what can we do about the reality we are
part of - to change and proactively influence the world we cohabit. I
think that this language can be effectively used to redfine common
management terms like empowerment, work, quality, leadership and so on
thereby opening up vastly greater possibilities - that is the key. to
break fro m current paradigms we dont need new panaceas, what i think we
need is a new language to create possibilities.

Any thoughts on this language?

Thanks Rick for the notes


R. Ramakrishnan, Tata Consultancy Services, Pune, India


"R. Ramakrishnan" <>

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