Maturana & Humanness

I’ve recently returned from a week of truly inspirational and profound learning with Humberto Maturana, Ximena Davila and their colleagues at the Matriztica Institute learning about the cultural-biological foundations of human existence and our co-evolution as loving beings through the relational spaces and networks of conversation in which we participate.


Let me share a few seed ideas that relate to our work with the World Café to give you a flavor of this workshop on cultural biological matrix of human existence, and then provide a brief description of how I see the World Cafe embodying some these powerful scientific  insights about the origins and conservation of our very humanness.

Apologies to Humberto and his colleagues in advance for any
misinterpretations that I might have had, as they are quite precise and
I may not have interpreted it fully as they intended.

"As humans we are born in the trust of loving and in being loved–within
an ecology of the natural world and within the larger living cosmos."
Love is the legitimate co-arising of the other in the relational space
between us.  What we understand as humanness are relations conserved on
and in love over many generations of our co-existence. 

Humanness is not a genetic mutation. It is a manner of living where
there is pleasure in each others company, sharing food, nearness,
caressing and tenderness – nor is the capacity for language a genetic
mutation – it is an evolutionary drift emerging from the intimacy of
human community and the coordination of actions in language together. 
It is in the intimate community where humanness arises as a network of
conversations that is conserved over generations as a lineage through
the raising of children over hundreds of generations in manners of living that are conserved in that lineage.  Humanness did not arise
in competition, struggle etc.  It arose in intimate family/community co-existence.

We live in the braiding of emotions and languaging in our manner of
living together.  In this coordination through language, certain
consensus or agreements appear as"reality" and the objects we understand as "real" appear.

"Words are not trivial – words are the nodes or elements of networks of
conversation. Language is the coordination of doings, not a symbolic act  as we commonly understand it. With one word I can follow one path
and with another a different path.  Our languaging distinguishes a way of inhabiting a human community and culture.

As human beings we find ourselves living in communities in recursive coordination of doings, generating different worlds and realities as different manners of living together in networks of conversation.   

A person who reflects creates new worlds. All distinctions are made by
an observer. Our capacity for reflection in language is one essence of
our humanness.  We are human beings that emerged with the capacity to
reflect in language and conversations and in that we generate worlds.

"A key question is – how, in a human system, living what it is living, does pain and suffering arise from that manner of living? Culture is a network of conversations that both generates and conserves
states and manners of living and co-existence, even painful ones.

We have a choice and can be intentional about what we want to conserve in our manner of living and what we don’t. 

Everything changes and evolves around what we want to conserve.  Do we
want to conserve our essential nature as loving beings?

Homo sapiens amans amans?

The Matriztic Institute invites reflection on our
fundamental nature as biological-cultural loving beings who arise in language and who live in conversation as our manner of living (our doings) in conversation. Organizations, for example, are not the organizational chart, but arise in the living network of conversations that conserves certain manners of living together.

What is intelligence?  It is the behavioral adaptability/plasticity that we show as the world around us changes – in our manner of living in co-existence with a changing environment.

As a co-inspirator, I can be intentional about the nature of the
conversations I introduce into the conversational network that is the organization or the culture I am part of.  This is serious,
responsible, daring and playful work!  How I open spaces of
conversation is of the utmost importance to our capacity to co-inspire worlds we choose to live in.
All cultural change, for example, is a change in the network of
conversations and the manner of living that arises in it.  Language and
conversations are "doings" that lie at the heart of our capacity to
intentionally bring forth worlds that are life-affirming and ethical.

Everything changes around what we want to conserve.

And, here is a brief reflection on how I might now interpret the network of conversations that is a World Cafe!

In a World Cafe dialogue, intimate (4-5 people) circles engage in deep
listening and reflective conversation, where each member is seen, heard and honored for their unique contribution.  This creates a relational
space and dynamic in which what is conserved from round to round is what has life from each conversation that is taken into the next
round.  As the conversation unfolds through these multiple
cross-pollinating rounds of respectful dialogue in an intimate relational space (the
small circles), a living network of conversation emerges in which what
is conserved and spread through consecutive rounds becomes part of the embodied experience of that living network.

Collective intelligence (the "magic in the middle") begins to arise as
more and more people, in the intimacy and caring of the small table
groups, are truly seen and heard in the evolving "doings" of that Cafe’s
network of conversations.  A World Cafe dialogue is, in a sense, a
small lived experiment in the cultural biology of love and our fundamental
humanness with each other (love is defined as a relational space where
the other arises as a  legitimate other simply for who they are in their
"being" and their contribution) at increasing levels of scale.

The whole group reflection and harvesting at the end makes visible to the whole what is being conserved (patterns, insights, deeper questions, possible coordinated actions) that holds the life
(and the living) that has emerged through the network of conversations
embodied in that particular Cafe.

I think Maturana and Davila’s work provides wonderful insights and I look forward to learning more over these next years.

What kinds of insights come to you in response to these words?


  1. I think our life’s work is about co-creating with each other an ever improving and more knowledgable universe. We are just now awakening to our destructive habits (war, economic and ecological destruction) and realizing that the answer of collaboration and mutuality lies in nature herself. Our Workforce Cafe’s have been generative and created the space for sharing ideas and learnings. Now if we can only train more people to listen deeply and pay attention to their intentions, the world will continue to change in new and better ways.

  2. Hi Ria,
    I’m not sure that there is anything recent in English other than his original work, The Tree of Knowledge.
    They’ve just published a new book, but it’s in Spanish.

  3. Juanita,
    I was scheduled to attend the conference with my Lakota friend Jhon Goes In Center and due to circumstances rescinded commitment and look forward to attending next gathering in 2009.

    I have been a student of Flores, Maturana and Verela since 1984. I fell in love with the new awareness arising in the notion of autopoiese! An article is being released shortly in Integral Leadership Review by Andrew Campbell and i regarding this conversation of humanness and oral traditional languaging of Lakota and First Nations people. What you articulate and point to in learning is what i am directly experiencing in the conservation of the Lakota language and culture.

    I am currently involved in bringing forth a new organizational configuration called The Order of Earth exploring elder wisdom in this Homo sapiens amans amans notion. The Order of Earth is exploring Lakota/First Nations languaging as a participatory learning notion of legitimacy-in-coexistence with all life.

    Thank you for sharing your insights and notes. I am new to the world cafe and am interested in generating and participating in future conversations.


  4. Juanita and Ria, there is a new book in English:

    “The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love” by H. Maturana and G. Verden-ZOller, edited by my professor Pille Bunnell.
    TITLE: Saturday Links for the Week: August 23, 2008
    BLOG NAME: How to Save the World
    DATE: 08/23/2008 07:43:04 PM

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