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An Imaginary Interview with Dr Humberto Maturana

Today, in our "market-oriented" cultures, we continually hear that competition is the


natural way for humans, just as, it is claimed, it is in nature. This, we are told, is
"survival of the fittest, the strongest", and it will ultimately yield "progress".

Yet, strangely ... when we observe our reaction to people in misfortune or disaster
(where a "competitive" advantage immediately presents itself), we generally find
ourselves feeling sympathy, caring and nurturance ... when we are in work, we find we
are most satisfied and productive when we cooperate with our fellow workers ... when
our closest pets experience us in sadness or bereavement, there is something about their
presence that we humans might call empathy for our condition.

So, in these observations in daily life, I claim that we do not see "competition"
operating, we see love, mutual respect, caring. If a coherent explanation of humanness
could show that human beings are biologically loving (cooperative) beings, and that
"competition" and "hierarchy" and "control" are cultural impositions which negate our
humanness, how would our awareness be changed, and how might our behaviours come
to differ?

I am a biologist who is interested in explaining humanness, so I am interested in


explaining what takes place in daily life, and in explaining how, over evolutionary time,
humanness arose.

What is a human being? What do we see when we claim someone to be human? I say
that a human being is a living system living in conversations, where a conversation is an
entwining of language and emotion ... as the emotion changes, the language changes, as
the language changes the emotion changes. I claim that rationality emerges in language,
that all rationalities are founded in emotions, and so there are an infinite number of
rationalities, or realities. We experience this in daily life when in love we can do certain
things, things which make sense or are coherent, which we cannot do when we are in
anger.

I also claim that language is our human manner of living together, and is not a
communication "tool". It is a coordination, or dance, of behaviours that has become
more complex. For instance, pointing is an operation in language, where we humans
look in the direction of the pointing and not at the finger, while my cat, outside of
language, only looks at my finger. I claim that language takes place as one coordinated
dance or behaviour coordinates a second, that we live in it, that it can only arise in a
mutual dance (and so always requires two beings), and that love is central to the
development of this increased complexity and therefore to what makes us human.

How is this so? Well, language involves dramatically increased complexity in


relationship and for language to be conserved, and to become a manner of living, this
increased complexity of relationship must be maintained. The only way this can take
place is where the beings live in mutual respect, caring, and love. If the relationship is
one of competition, control or aggression, there will be fracture or parting or withdrawal
or death, and language will not be conserved. So I claim that for language to have arisen
and to have begun to be conserved some 3 million years ago, the beings in which this
took place must have been living in love, and, for a lineage to have formed, this must
have existed in their biology.

In other words, I am saying that, understanding language in the way I do, it follows
logically that human beings have evolved as biologically loving beings, otherwise
language would never have become our manner of living.

How is it then that the history of humanity in the last 3,000 years speaks so much of
war, misery, and injustice. I claim that to be human is to be capable of anything which
humans can do. Humans can love and can hate, can nurture and can kill, can heal and
can torture, and they can do all these things once language is established and conserved.
All possibilities are open to us once language has become our manner of living, and
what results will in general be formed within the prevailing culture.

Our European culture is one of patriarchy, and patriarchy has appropriation (or
ownership) as central ... appropriation of land, of fertility, of objects of all sort, of life
itself (we only need look to recent decisions in patent law to see this). So, in patriarchy,
control and hierarchy and negation become conserved, and humanness becomes
incidental.

Yet within our culture, I think we continue to live a love-based childhood, and that
patriarchy becomes impressed on us only as we grow into adulthood. This results in a
fundamental schism for us, memories of humanness coexisting with the negation of
humanness.

That this is so can be a compelling awareness, for in recognising this, we have the
possibility of a different world, a world based in love, mutual respect and care, where
the experience of the other is one of acceptance simply because he or she is a human
being. That is a world based in humanness, and that is a world I, personally, prefer.

(Footnote: I want to emphasise that I am not saying this as an opinion, nor am I trying to
sway anyone to agree with me, nor do I have privileged access to the "truth" ... I claim
that all our "truths" arise, and only arise, as preferences in our coexistence. As a
scientist, I simply want to rigorously explain, clearly stating my starting point and
central proposition. In the space here provided, I have not been able to do all this, not
been able to argue from first principles. I can only claim that, given more time and
space, I can adequately support what I say.)

Written by David Mendes, February 1997, in consultation with Humberto Maturana.