Maturana and Languaging

Are there alternatives to the piping model of communication?

Maturana and Varela’s Autopoiesis and Cognition has been suggested to me as an original work that crosses biology, cognitive science, and information theory (not to mention applications to philosophy and literary theory.) In a paper by Maturana called Biology of Language:The Epistemology of Reality he looks at “languaging” or the relationship of saying and observing.

They to understanding dialogue as more than just the piping of messages from one system to another is that we observe our own sayings (and writings) as we create them. There is a folding back of the message to the sender that recursively changes the sender and what is being sent as it is sent. In other words we listen to ourselves speak as we speak while simultaneously watching the reception in the other in order to manipulate the saying in real time.

In Autopoiesis and Cognition he starts section III “Cognitive Function in General” with “Anything said is said by an observer.” (p. 8). This is the first statement of their formal definitions and it captures the circularity of saying and observing which then becomes central to autopoietic entities – things that self create themselves.

From the “Biology of Language”, “It is only when we want to consider the observer as the object of our scientific inquiry, and we want to understand both what he does when he makes scientific statements and how these statements are operationally effective, that we encounter a problem if we do not recognize the subject dependent nature of science. Therefore, since I want to give a scientific description of the observer as a system capable of descriptions (language), I must take the subject dependent nature of science as my starting point.” (p. 29)

The crux of science and the humanities is the role of the observer. As long as we are not considered you can run simple science, but when you weave the observer (yourself) into the model you get a circularity that looks a lot more like the discourses of the humanities.

Could we call this circularity dialogue?

Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1980.

Humberto R. Maturana Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Eric Lenneberg. New York: Academic Press, 27-63. 1978.