The Insights Series is an eclectic and learned collection of monthly events on the 4th Tuesday of each month. There will be lectures, seminars, conversations, debates, participation, all advancing our knowledge of cybernetics and its applications to real world needs.
It is the science of achievement, the great meta-discipline of our time.
Events are normally curated and hosted by the Secretary, Angus Jenkinson, FCybS. Get in touch of you have an idea. Attendance is free. Non-members are invited to make a donation or Join. Speakers present their own views, without formal endorsement.
The Cybernetics Society has been hosting conversations and lectures since the late 1960s. We also have an Annual Conference. Videos are shared on our YouTube Channel.
In 1974, he and Varela published their first major paper on autopoiesis with R Uribe: "Autopoiesis: The Organization of Living Systems, Its Characterization and a Model." In 1978, he published Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living with Varela. In recent decades, Humberto Maturana has collaborated extensively with others.
I remember reading with huge excitement Maturana and Varela's 1987 landmark text, The Tree Of Knowledge: the Biological Roots of Human Understanding. The original edition was developed and published in a closed edition in 1985 by Maturana, Varela, and Rolf Behnke, a member of the Chilean government, who had conceived and funded a project to provide an alternative view of life to the Organisation of American States (OAS). As Varela explains, they wanted to put an alternative epistemology into the world of biological science and did so by what could be called the 'cheeky method' of pretending that it was a basic textbook. The naive reader could read it as such while the professional would see a stark contrast to the standard textbooks. Why was it so exciting? It proposed another view of life, of intelligence, and an inversion of the standard model of competition. For many like myself who are profoundly uncomfortable with the Darwinian struggle for existence model and the neo-Darwinian selfish gene, it was a wonderful, provocative, and profoundly thoughtful presentation of another way of understanding life itself and life’s understanding of itself.
The fundamental concept — a complete self-referential architecture of thought — that he initiated was “autopoiesis” of course, a fully interactional analysis of the co-dynamic of cognition and life of any kind. Organisms maintain their own identity (by what I have called active causation) through circular organization, which
constitutes a homeostatic system whose function is to produce and maintain this very same circular organization by determining that the components that specify it be those whose synthesis or maintenance it secures.
While to an observer, this is “structurally coupled” to their environment, each living organism lives life within its own cognitive world — the "Leibnizian Gap" of disconnect between mentality, nervous system, and world. It is a position that benefited from his reading of von Euxküll. Along with and embedded in this are other key ideas: the co-evoluton of species and their ecosystems; the biology of love, constructivism; fundamental relativity (a notion that upsets many scientific apple carts); and the biological basis of cognition, and the work he is engaging on now that he will speak of. Cognition and learning are then a fundamental input into evolution.
He is then a precisely creative mind and a giant of cybernetics whose ideas controversial or mainstream must be engaged with. In particular they have great responsance for understanding not merely living organisms but social forms.
In Maturana's early fundamental paper of 1975, The Organization of the Living: A Theory of the Living Organization (International journal of man-machine studies 7, no. 3 (1975): 313-33), he proposed: The fundamental feature that characterizes living systems is autonomy, and any account of their organization as systems that can exist as individual unities must show what autonomy is as a phenomenon proper to them, and how it arises in their operation as such unities. Accordingly the following is proposed.
(1) That autonomy in living systems is a feature of self-production (autopoiesis), and that a living system is properly characterized only as a network of processes of production of components that is continuously, and recursively, generated and realized as a concrete entity (unity) in the physical space, by the interactions of the same components that it produces as such a network. This organization I call the autopoietic organization, and any system that exhibits it is an autopoietic system in the space in which its components exist; in this sense living systems are autopoietic systems in the physical space.
(2) That the basic consequence of the autopoietic organization is that everything that takes place in an autopoietic system is subordinated to the realization of its autopoiesis, otherwise it disintegrates.
(3) That the fundamental feature that characterizes the nervous system is that it is a closed network of interacting neurons in which every state of neuronal activity generates other states of neuronal activity. Since the nervous system is a component subsystem in an autopoietic unity, it operates by generating states of relative neuronal activity that participate in the realization of the autopoiesis of the organism which it integrates.
(4) That the autopoietic states that an organism adopts are determined by its structure (the structure of the nervous system included), and that the structure of the organism (including its nervous system) is at any instant the result of its evolutionary and ontogenic structural coupling with the medium in which it is autopoietic, obtained while the autopoiesis is realized.
(5) That language arises as phenomenon proper to living systems from the reciprocal structural coupling of at least two organisms with nervous systems, and that self-consciousness arises as an individual phenomenon from the recursive structural coupling of an organism with language with its own structure through recursive self-description.
Born September 14, 1928, Dr Maturana is a Chilean biologist and philosopher, co-developer of autopoiesis as the biology of cognition and life, with affiliations to second-order cybernetics. He has collaborated with many, including particularly Francisco Varela, Ricardo B. Uribe, Ximena Dávilahis, Rolf Behnke, Gregory Bateson, Gerda Verden-Zöller (on the Biology of Love), Walter Pitts, and Oliver Lettvin. In 1954, after his first qualifications at the University of Chile, he was awarded a scholarship by the Rockefeller Foundation to study anatomy and neurophysiology at University College, London. He obtained a PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1958. In 1994 he received Chile's National Prize for Natural Sciences. His work influenced Niklas Luhmann, Fernando Flores and Julio Olalla, and many others, not all of whom Maturana has agreed with. Gregory Bateson, asked who would continue his work, replied, “A man by the name of Humberto Maturana out of Santiago, Chile. He has been doing some very interesting research that compliments my work.” (Ruiz, 1997)
Biologist Jakob von Uexküll's Umwelt was one of Maturana's own inspirations. During a period of illness, he reflected and realized:
"...that what was peculiar to living systems was that they were discrete autonomous entities such that all the processes that they lived, they lived in reference to themselves ... whether a dog bites me or doesn't bite me, it is doing something that has to do with itself."
We are very grateful to Sebastián Gaggero for joining this meeting as a co-presenter also supporting any translation requirements. He is the present operational leader of Matritizica, which was co-founded by Humberto Maturana and Ximena Dávilahis to humanize organization in Chilean corporations. Matríztica is also interested in developing the phenomenon of learning. This involves experiencing what moves us emotionally, what triggers curiosity, in processes of self-transformation while engaging with others. It aims to provide programmes of inspiration and learning with a reflexive attitude, with awareness of our observing and acting in our co-existence… within organizations, family, schools, etc.
Cybernetics offers a distinct "go" — techniques — to address local and global challenges of the 21st century.
The Cybernetics Society promotes and offers education and research opportunities in the rich field of cybernetics. It is a specially authorised learned society regulated by the FSA and established by a 1974 Act of Parliament. To join visit our membership system or pick the Join ticket. We give MCybS and FCybS postnomal awards.
Cybernetics and the Society seek understanding of the vast domain of active causation, internally controlled behaviour towards outcomes of value in living and non-living organizations. We cultivate the principles and praxis required to design policies, interventions, and innovations for social and ecological weal.
Cybernetics plays into and strongly influences many scientific and practice fields including design, epistemology, ecology, biology, psychology and living behaviour, technology and engineering, social policy, and business practice, amongst others. Many feature in this wonderful set of aware and successful designers and thinkers.
We are interested in people who are learners, advisers, researchers, academics, designers, leaders. Those involved in policy and practice — think tanks, central and local government, enterprises, foundations, academic and civil society institutions. These may range from Rowntree to RSA, Royal Society to the Royal Institute of British Architects, the local housing association to the UN. We place great importance on the value of cybernetics for better business. From startups to global giants, cybernetics offers powerful insight and tools for enterprise.