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On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing

DARREN STANLEY

On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing: A Phenomenological-Complexity Circulation

DARREN STANLEY University of Windsor, Canada

What we do intend is to be aware of what is implied in this unbroken coincidence of our being, our doing, and our knowing. All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing. - Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela

Introduction
In The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Maturana and Varela (1992) take as a starting point for their view of cognition that every act of knowing brings forth a world (p. 26). This statement implies that there is a fundamental connection between human action and human experience. Their assertion also announces a seemingly indisputable fact: that a persons identity is inseparable from the way in which the world appears to that person. That is, cognition and human understanding are summed up, as Maturana and Varela have done, in the principle: All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing(p. 26). What I propose to consider and examine in this paper is the nature of this unbroken coincidence. As a fundamental principle of their theory of cognition, a theory which Maturana and Varela refer to as embodied action or simply enactivism, their concern is for a fundamental principle for all living things or cognizing bodies, that is, living organizationsorganizations across a wide range of scales. Put differently, Maturana and Varelas aphorism for the inseparability of knowing and doing is intended to be a guiding principle for all living entities and not just human beings: these are entities like the biological body, but also biological subsystems, social collectivities, cultural phenomena, linguistic domains, governance structures, the world of evolved

Proceedings of the 2008 Complexity Science and Educational Research Conference Feb 35 Athens, Georgia pp. 1xxx www.complexityandeducation.ca

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species, and the larger ecological body or ecosphere. If such a varied collection of diverse life-forms could arise from a set of vital or essential principles, then, as physicist Abdus Salam suggests, one might conclude that nature is not economical of structureonly of principles (Quoted in Kelso, 1995, p. 15). This economy of principles behind all living phenomena could include, as an important principle, Maturana and Varelas aphorism on knowing, being and doingan aphorism which is essentially about connectivity. To be sure, a number of other principles, e.g., diversity, redundancy, distributed action, self-organization, may also be at work as an economic set of invariant principles. Such principles are, generally speaking, frequently aligned with the paradigmatic framework for living systems called complexity science. Thus, it is tting, as such, to draw upon the eld of complexity science in this paper as one possible to understand the nature of connectivity in living organizations. Contemporary ndings and thoughts about complex systems do not appear to adequately and fully address cognition. That is, there are some researchers in the contemporary sciences of cognition who have argued that many theories of cognition fall short of what is needed for a richer understanding of cognition and, hence, argue for the additional need to account for phenomenality (Roy, Petitot, Pachoud, & Varela, 1999). As Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) write:
The new sciences of mind need to enlarge their horizon to encompass both lived human experience and the possibilities for transformation inherent in human experience. Ordinary, everyday experience, on the other hand, must enlarge its horizon to benet from the insights and analyses that are distinctly wrought by the sciences of mind. (p. xv)

In other words, there is a need for a necessary circulation through rst-person accounts and third-person descriptions (Varela & Shear, 1999). With the need for certain theoretical underpinnings for this necessary circulation now made known, the aim of this piece can be elucidated further. Although Maturana and Varelas claim is to the inseparability of the cognizing being and that beings experience and actions, the relational nature of these three aspects of the cognizing subject does require a deeper inquiry, especially since the phenomenal eld of consciousness suggests a range of different modalities aligned, in particular ways, with the principle of connectivity. In particular, various descriptions and understandings of health and healthy organizations, especially in terms of illness and disease, are particular manifestations of certain modalities. As such, I will be drawing upon some contemporary understandings of health as part of my own understanding of the relational dynamism of Maturana and Varelas aphorism on knowing, doing and being. Before delving into an exploration of the relational dynamism of Maturana and Varelas aphorism, an elaboration of certain theoretical underpinnings and the need to bridge the explanatory gap of rst- and third-person accounts will rst be considered.

The Need for a Phenomenological-Complexity Circulation


As Thompson (2007) points out, there is a deep continuity of life and mind where a philosophy of mind needs to be rooted in a phenomenological philosophy of the

On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing


DARREN STANLEY

living body (p. 222). Certainly, not all philosophers of mind share this particular view. Described as the so-called hard problem of consciousness (Roy et al., 1999), the concern with the mind rests with the intractable nature of consciousness (Nagel, 1974)that is, the relationship between the lived-experience of a conscious being and the external observable world of that individual. That is, where phenomenal consciousness is often described as subjective, internal and of a certain quality, life is characterized as being external to ones self and objective with particular structural and functional physical properties (Thompson, 2007, p. 222). On the other hand, the deep continuity of life and mind must speak to the relationship between individual consciousness and the life-world which, in the context of this paper, involves a circulation through lived-experience and complexity science. That is, there is a need to include the experiencing subject as part of the epistemological basis, described as phenomenal complexity theory (Letiche, 2000), for framing a study of complex living phenomenaa framework that is, additionally, attentive to the lived-structures of meaning as manifest through the fundamental thematic existentials of spatiality, corporality, temporality, and relationality (van Manen, 1990).

Accounting for Phenomenality


Consciousness and human subjectivity ought to play an important part in any attempt to articulate a framework that offers a comprehensive understanding of the mind. It is, after all, the basis of lived-experience. Even more, scholars like Varela, Shear, Roy and Petitot (Cf., Roy et al., 1999; Varela, 1999b; Varela & Shear, 2000) strongly suggest that there is a need to move beyond the gap and to build the appropriate links in a necessary circulation between rst- and third-person accounts of natural phenomena. This apparent duality, however, has produced a misleading divide (Varela & Shear, 2000). Rather, as Varela and Shear put forward, phenomenal data can provide the common rst-person/third-person ground for particular kinds of questions raised in the natural and social sciences (p. xx???). Sheets-Johnstone (2002) echoes a similar sentiment, suggesting that there is no divide to speak of because there already exists a bridge across this apparent chasm. As such, scholars (like Sheets-Johnstone, Shear, and Varela) are conducting research to identify particular concepts and principles that appear as shared transdisciplinary elements in diverse discourses, i.e., not translations of particular concepts from one discourse or conceptual framework to another. It has not escaped the attention of some that lived-experience is irreducible (Varela & Shear, 2000). Likewise, in certain theories of dynamical systems, a range of phenomena arise through the local interactions of improvising bodies that follow certain rules and, in time and space, give rise to other coherent, on-going, self-organizing dynamic patterns. That is, emergent phenomena are, similarly, considered to be irreducible phenomena. Emergent phenomena defy analysisat least in the sense of undoing something: like the shoelaces on ones footwear, perhaps. To be sure, any attempt to undo or pry apart living phenomena removes or otherwise ignores the relational qualities that hold the phenomena together, transcending

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the identities of those elements that give rise, through interaction, to a property that cannot be found at the level of the interacting parts.

Accounting for Complexity


As with all living organismssome might say, if only metaphorically, living organizationsone nds a non-linear network of relations. These relationships again, metaphoricallyare like a closely woven fabric (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. x). For human beings, this set of relations, in this closely woven fabric which is the world, must also address how the organizational coupling of psychic factors and physiological conditions are enmeshed into one another. That is, the connectivity between these two coherent phenomena requires some deeper consideration where, in fact, the principle of connectivity is, as suggested by this paper, a crucial and critical organizational principle to understand the nature of this relationship. Indeed, in the eld of complexity science, connectivity is, in general, an important organizational principle crucial to the coherent being of complex patterns and processes that give rise to such patterns of all living organizations. To talk about patterns, generally speaking, is to talk about relationships. And, to talk about relationships is to speak of connectivity. As a principle, connectedness is connectedness across and between various scales of organization, that is, within and between all human beings and their environs: We are nature, and as such it is not surprising that we are discovering common principles that describe not only how molecules behave, but how we behave (Dossey, 1982, p. 86). To be sure, the principle of connectivity needs to address how patterns persist and vary under ever-changing conditions over time because as neuroscientist Scot Kelso (1995) suggests, all living phenomena as emergently organized forms are not static, but rather shaped and re-shaped through underlying dynamical processes that give meaning to geometrical forms while also being constrained by them (p. 15). At heart, then, living phenomena that live within and arise from particular conditions are expressions of particular principles: expressions of exibility and adaptability that also reect non-linear laws and dynamics capable of creating enormous ranges of diverse complexly-ordered patterns. Kauffman (1995) describes this kind of phenomena as having order for freeself-organization that arises naturally (p. 71). Moreover, where human beings may feel compelled to project a centralized center or agent upon some organized form, localized coherent patterns and behaviours, which give rise to larger coherent patterns, appear only for the observer when those matters that matter count as a relevant worldinseparable from the structure of the perceiver (Varela, 1999a, p. 13). Certainly, the notion that a complex phenomenon might arise for free remains a rather profound one, especially for our contemporary understanding of cognitive properties (Varela, 1999a). The concept of emergence does not suggest a uni-directional process arising from the bottom upalthough metaphorically it may. Emergence is best thought of in terms of processes wherein parts and whole co-specify one another. Moreover, where the parts of the emergent whole and the parts themselves may be dependent upon one another, they are not determined as such. A machine, for example, may be entirely determined by its parts; living phenomena, however, are not. And,

On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing


DARREN STANLEY

similarly, lived experience, like other emergent living phenomena, is manifest in much the same way; as such, any complexity-related perspective should account for, and show some sensitivity to, lived-experience. To be sure, other principles pertinent to the study and understanding of diverse complex systems are important: one nds scholars and researchers who speak of, for instance, diversity, redundancy, and non-linearity as important principles for a variety of living phenomena to arise. It would appear, however, that these principles are expressed across a spectrum of possibility. That is, as an expression of degree, i.e., too little or too much of some principle, any given phenomenon shows itself in a particular manner or mode having been pushed into a particular region or basin of attraction that is far from the edge of chaos. To draw upon a particular discourse, one might say that such phenomena are unhealthy. In other words, with just the right amount of diversity, redundancy and distributed activity, the phenomenon under considerationsay, the human heart, the whole biological body, ones neighborhood, workplace, or various other local ecosystemsare found to be and described as healthy living organizations (Stanley, 2004, 2005b). Indeed, with the principle of connectivity, one can nd a similar correlation with the health of an organization (Stanley, 2005a). Certainly, some consideration has been given to particular complexityrelated ideas, e.g., emergence and self-organization (Cf., Thompson, 2007; Varela, 1999a), which resonate with the study of lived-experience. In fact, complexity science seems to have rendered the apparent discontinuities between and across lifes seemingly disconnected living phenomena problematic (Davis, 2005). That is, a transdisciplinary approach is emerging and is appearing to be quite useful to understand human experiences of all kinds, but especially matters of health and healthy learning organizations as a shared transdisciplinary framework. Moreover, while connectivity may be an important principle for complex living patterns and processes, some further consideration is needed to understand its role in living formsespecially in terms of the health of living organizations. To this end, this paper is an on-going extension of previous work focusing upon lived-experience of illness as a phenomenon which might shed some further light upon the dynamic quality of connectivity (Stanley, 2007).

Varieties of Validation and Shared Common Structures


Like others (Cf., Kelso & Engstrm, 2006; Sheets-Johnstone, 2002; Stanley, 2007; Varela & Shear, 1999) have asserted, this paper is intended to be an argument for complexity science researchers to be more attentive to the common ground of complexity science and lived-experience. This is a ground of mutually co-specifying sources of analogies for scholars of mind and of complexity science. Just as scientists ought to pay some attention to life and experience when doing science, human beings ought to pay some attention to science when living (Ratson, 2003). Certainly, much has been said about the apparent chasm between objective and subjective reports of reality that suggests rst-person accounts and third-person descriptions of natural phenomena are incommensurable (Varela & Shear, 1999). These two spheres of inquiry have, most likely, been wrongly pried aparta problematic separation. Still,

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certain scholars speak about a fundamental complementarity between these two different research orientations (Cf., Varela & Shear, 1999; Varela et al., 1991). Thus, as neuroscientist Scott Kelso writes, the reconciliation of rst-third-person accounts of natural phenomena promises much in helping us to understand ourselves, other creatures, and the world we live in (Kelso & Engstrm, 2006, p. 236). For one to say that the world exists independently from human beings would suggest that it is possible to achieve authoritative, universally valid statements (Maturana & Poerksen, 2004, p. 39). Such a stance on the nature of reality would imply a kind of objectivity, however, in a culture of power, domination and control, it provides the justication for forcing other people to subject themselves to ones own view of things (Ibid.). It would appear that the universal validity of particular statements about the world must disintegrate into a myriad of different worldviews because, as Maturana and Varela (1992) state: Everything said is said by someone (p. 26). Thus, some worldviews will be shared and complementary, while others will be seemingly contradictory in nature. Thus, while there may be 6-billion (or so) people on this planet, there are not 6-billion distinct and absolutely different views. Therefore, as Maturana in his conversation with Poerksen reminds us, the number of possible realities may seem potentially innite, but that diversity is constrained by communal living, by cultures and histories created together, by shared interests and predilections (Maturana & Poerksen, 2004, p. 44). Like Goethes way of seeing unity and wholeness, avoiding the reduction of multiplicity to uniformity, one might seek a kind of organic unity through shared understandings of common structures which embrace and include difference (Bortoft, 1996). Therein, we might nd multiplicity within unity without breaking the unity (Ibid., p. 254). For instance, in looking at the whole world, one might see its unity through its fractal structure of diverse, embedded, self-similar forms of life where the divisions of the world may be seen for the uniqueness that each living form may bring to the world as a whole all while the world remains whole. Goethe, like other more contemporary scholarly writers, describe this kind of structure as a holograph. It is in this holograph of the world that we see manifestations of diverse fractal-like forms that emerge from particular principles of organization. But, even more, they remain delicately connected in a dynamic tension that pushes and pulls upon each living thing, playing itself out in a range of modalities. That is, the nature of the connectivity within and between all life forms lends itself to a particular interpretation which one might call health.

References
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On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing


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& N. Walker, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Kauffman, S. A. (1995). At home in the universe: The search for laws of self-organization and complexity. New York: Oxford University Press. Kelso, J. A. S. (1995). Dynamic patterns: the self-organization of brain and behavior. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kelso, J. A. S., & Engstrm, D. A. (2006). The complementary nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Letiche, H. (2000). Phenomenal complexity theory as informed by Bergson. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13(6), 545-557. Maturana, H. R., & Poerksen, B. (2004). From being to doing: The origins of the biology of cognition (W. K. Koeck & A. R. Koeck, Trans.). Heidelberg: Carl Auer Verlag. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1992). The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. Boston, MA: Shambhala. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge. Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be bat? Philosophical Review, 83(4), 435-450. Ratson, G. A. (2003). The Meaning of Health: The Experience of a Lifetime. Victoria, Canada: Trafford. Roy, J.-M., Petitot, J., Pachoud, B., & Varela, F. J. (1999). Beyond the gap: An Introduction to Naturalizing Phenomenology. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud & J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (pp. 1-80). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2002). Preserving integrity against colonization. Paper presented at the Perils and Promises of Interdisciplinary Research. Stanley, D. (2004). The Body of a Healthy Education System. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 20(4), 63-74. Stanley, D. (2005a, November 20-22). On the Importance of Connectivity in Healthy Learning Organizations: A Comparative Dynamics Perspective. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2005 Complexity Science and Educational Research Conference, Loranger, LA. Stanley, D. (2005b). Toward a View of Healthy Learning Organizations Through Complexity. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. Stanley, D. (2007). On the Lived-Experience and Dynamics of Health and Illness: Phenomenological Complexity and Learning Organizations. Paideusis: International Journal in Philosophy of Education, 16(3), 57-68. Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Varela, F. J. (1999a). Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Varela, F. J. (1999b). The Specious Present: A Neurophenomenology of Time Consciousness. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud & J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (pp. 266-314). Standford, CA: Standford University Press. Varela, F. J., & Shear, J. (1999). The View from Within: First-person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. Exeter, England: Imprint Academic. Varela, F. J., & Shear, J. (2000). First-person Methodologies: What, Why, How? In F. J. Varela & J. Shear (Eds.), The View from Within: First-person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness (pp. 1-14). Bowling Green, OH: Imprint Academic. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Wade, N. (2005, August 2, 2005). Your Body is Younger Than You Think. The New York Times,

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from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/02/science/02cell.html

On Maturana and Varelas Aphorism of Knowing, Being and Doing


DARREN STANLEY

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