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American Society for Cybernetics
ASC 2001 Conference
May 27-29, Vancouver 



Our Genome Does Not Determine Us

Humberto Maturana Romesin

Presentation made at the Remaining Human Forum

Vancouver, B.C., May 22, 2001

Transcribed by Nicole Langley, Natsuko Montegi, and Jennifer Thom.
Edited for readability by Pille Bunnell


Thank you very much, thank you for your applause. If you think about why you have just applauded, you may notice that you have applauded your expectations. Expectations are never satisfied. So now I can be tranquil -- I know that I will not satisfy your expectations . And that gives me some freedom to say whatever I wish to say. I will not speak about genetics. I will however say a few things which, in a way, will tell us something about genetics.

Some time ago, I think it was last year , I read an article written by a colleague of mine in the Biology Department at the University of Chile. In this article, in which he claimed to be a reductionist, and in which he developed an argument claiming that everything is determined by the genes. It is a beautiful article in which he shows how genes determine heredity. But near the end he says that the genes can be cheated. I wonder, how can this be? If everything is determined by the genes, then you cannot cheat them. Cheating can only happen when something is not what it appears to be, when you can make a pretence and generate confusion. So if the genes can be cheated, it means that they do not determine everything.

But the statement of being a reductionist, to claim that everything is determined by the genes, is indeed an attitude, and I wish to invite you to a different view, away from reductionism. Let us suppose that I take seriously the title of my talk "Our genome does not determine us" that is, we are not determined by our genes.

What is the "us" that the genes would determine? What are we human beings, such that we can say, at least tentatively, that genes will determine us? I will speak a little bit about what we are, and about our conditions of existence, and how come that we are as we are - both in our individual lives and through history. Before I do that I have to set the ground for what I wish to say.

First of all I wish to invite you to acknowledge something which is very benign: we commit mistakes. Consider the two words: "mistake" and "lie." These two words refer to different moments in which that which they claim occurs. A lie occurs in the moment of lying, but a mistake does not occur in the moment in which we claim the mistake occurred - it occurs afterwards. I can say that yesterday I committed a mistake, or a while ago I committed a mistake. Yet when I was doing whatever I now claim was a mistake, I did it and lived it as valid, in full trust and confidence that it was valid. So a mistake takes place afterwards, when I compare whatever I did before with some other situation. If I accept this other situation as valid, then the previous one was a mistake. If we live in a world that is there for us to see, how is it that we commit mistakes .

The other word that is similar to this is "illusion." An illusion does not take place in the moment in which it takes place, it takes place afterwards. An illusion is an experience that one lives as valid in the moment in which one lives it, and afterwards, in relation to some other experience, one devalues it and says, "no, this was not the case." Yet, when we lived the experience of the illusion in the first place, we lived it as valid. Hence in the experience, we do not know whether we are living an illusion or a perception. In the experience we do not know whether we are being mistaken or not.

This sets the ground for a question about the validity of what we say, about how we explain whatever we explain. So, starting from here we can begin by at least putting a question mark on our abilities to say something about the world in which we live, because we never know if tomorrow we will say that what we lived today was a mistake or illusion. I mean you do not know, nor do I know, whether tomorrow I will not come to you and say "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, whatever I said to you yesterday was a mistake."

The important thing is that you trust that I do not think, or even suspect, that what I’m saying now is a mistake. So there is a matter of honesty involved here, not of certainty. I cannot make any claim to certainty. We are used to living in a world in which mistakes occur, but not frequently. How is that?

The other thing I would like to bring to your attention is that we live in the present. Now there are many recommendations to " live the present" and "we must take the present as our being" but whether or not we follow these recommendations, we live in the present anyhow . I mean yesterday is not now. Tomorrow is not now. We live in a changing present. But if we live in a changing present, what is it to speak about yesterday? What is it to say something about the future? And we do say things about the past, and we do say things about the future, and these things do have significance if our living now. But past and future take place now. They are ways of being now.

The present is like a wavefront -- sometimes I use the image of a wave front. Imagine that you drop a stone on the surface of a tranquil pool of water, and a wave or a series of waves appears. Where does the wave front occur? On the wave front. Not before, not afterwards. If you look at it, the wavefront is not in the same place, but the wave front is occurring on the continuously moving wave front. This is like the continuous changing present.

Even though the wavefront is moving we can make certain operations. We can take two or three points and from them compute the origin of the wave. This is what seismologists do. They consider some coherences between several points and compute the origin of an earthquake. They can do this because the coherences between the points on a wavefront have to do with history, with origin — while the wave front continues changing in the present . Thus past or future are things that we claim through the coherences of our living in a continuously changing present, in the understanding that those coherences, if properly taken, can allow us to claim an origin.

The third thing I would like to call your attention is that we are molecular systems. Well, of course, this is a claim that we make, that we are molecular systems, because we pick up this living system, we smash it and analyse it, and we claim "Ah, molecules!" But the interesting thing about molecules is that when we specify molecules, we are implying certain coherences that must be satisfied in order for molecules to be distinguished. Thus, if we are molecular systems, we have some very interesting characteristics. We are systems determined in their character by their structure, by the way they are made, that is we are structurally determined systems. We know this from daily life. We continuously operate in domains of structural coherences. Structural determinism is indeed an abstraction of living in domains which are structurally coherent. If I were to suddenly disappear ... well, of course you would be worried "What is going to happen with the lecture? " But after that initial surprise, you would look for the hole on the stage and say, "Pille, how can you invite Dr. Maturana on a stage with a hole in it?" Or if you don’t find a hole, you will look up for some sort of mechanism that could have picked me up and slipped me away.

But look at what you are doing as you look for an explanation for my disappearance. If a person disappears, you want to bring forth a domain of structural coherences in which his or her disappearance is not surprising. Isn’t that interesting? You say "There must be a hole! Somebody must have taken him! There must be a trick!" And when one searches for a trick, one is engaged in conserving structural determinism. This is how we explain things. We explain by finding domains of structural coherences, that is, finding domains in which the coherences of that domain allow us to explain whatever happens in that domain.

One of the interesting characteristics of structurally determined systems is that nothing external to them can specify what happens to them. Now this is very interesting - think about what it means. Nothing external to a structurally determined system can specify what happens in it. It can only trigger a change. "Trigger" is a very interesting word. To trigger means that you unleash a process which is determined in the structure of the thing being triggered, like when you pull the trigger in a gun. In a gun, whatever happens after the triggering doesn’t depend on the finger, it depends on the structure of the gun. If you press the trigger and nothing happens, you do not go to the doctor and say "Doctor, please examine my finger because my gun does not work." You examine the gun and look for the explanation in the structure of the gun.

So we live in structural determinism, and in our living we understand that we are operating in structural determinism -- in whatever domain. And our research attempts to bring forth domains of structural coherences in which we can see the operational coherence that explain the situations we see. I mean all this when I say that we use the coherences of our experience to explain our experience. We use the coherences of our operation as living systems to explain our operation as living systems.

If this is so, then what happens if we consider a living system? I make a drawing of living system that exists in a medium, and which of course is being observed by someone (I do this drawing like Picasso,) I make a circular arrow to indicate that a living system is a system which is closed in its molecular dynamics. I add a curve below to show that it exists in a medium and I make two arrows between the medium and the living system. These arrows indicate encounters, or triggers. The incidence of the medium on the system triggers structural changes in the system, determined by the system, and reciprocally, the incidence of the living system on the medium triggers structural changes in the medium that are determined by the structure of the medium.

Living system are structurally determined systems. Clearly the medium cannot tell the living system its characteristics because whatever happens in the living system depends on the structure of the living system in the contingency of encountering the medium. Similarly, the living system cannot tell the medium its characteristics because whatever happens in the medium depends on the structure of the medium in the contingency of its encounter with the living system.

I cannot specify what you hear. I am only a nice contingency for things to happen to you according to you. You hear what you hear, not what I say. Now if you check with your daily life you will see this is so! People sometimes complain "You only hear yourself, you never hear me!" This is because you cannot hear the other - honestly you cannot. If you think about it, you will also know what must happen in order to generate a situation in which it appears as if you were hearing the other. And that situation is: interacting, recursively. After a little while, a little conversation you say "Oh, now we understand each other." And you separate happily because you understand each other - and then you do things that show up that you do not understand each other.

Okay, this is how our living takes place. But the interesting thing is precisely that whatever happens to us in our encounter depends on our structure. Whatever happens to the other in the encounter depends on his or her structure. So we do not understand each other, but after a while, we do things together and we act as if we did understand each other, and for a while we can go on understanding each other until we separate and life lives in different directions. When that happens we may go on understanding each other at a distance or we don’t understand each other anymore. If we want to understand each other we come together again. What is happening here? Well what’s happening is very elegant and simple.

Now, I have new shoes today. The interesting thing with shoes is that as you use them, they change. Have you ever had new shoes ? Of course, but have you ever found a new pair of shoes so comfortable that you decide to buy two pairs. So you use one pair for a year or two, until they wear out, and they are very comfortable. You know the saying that there is nothing more comfortable than an old pair of shoes? But now they are worn out, so you get out the new ones which you have kept -- and they don’t fit! If you have not tried, this you will see that this is what happens. The old shoes and your feet are in perfect congress. What happened is that your feet changed as well. The shoes and the feet changed together, congruently .

Whenever you have two systems interacting recurrently, they change together congruently, until they separate or until one or the other disintegrates. This happens continuously. What is it that changes when they change together congruently? There are several things that one could distinguish as changing; one system, or the other system, or their medium — or the history of structural changes contingent on the flow of the interactions. So if an observer were regarding one of the systems, for example noticing that one fellow changed in a particular way, the observer would comment that it "learned" to operate in its medium.

A question that we frequently ask is "How did you learn to do that?" And you might answer that you have been practising for a whole year. Outside of this lecture hall there are some young men playing with a round ball and it is very beautiful how they do it, how they fall, and they jump again, again and again, and after some days they will be very elegantly jumping on that place where they want to jump upon , and then they will just slide on to the next thing they want to do. , If you look today you would notice that they become munched, and then if you came back fifteen days later you would see that they do it perfectly, and you would ask "How did you learn to do this?" That question obscures history. If I look at these young people today and come back fifteen days later and ask the question "How did they learn to do this?" I obscure history. They did not "learn" -- they did not learn to do this. They changed in a process together with the instruments, together with the circumstances, such that now they can do something which they could not do before. And now they are in a different domain - because the domain has changed together with them. This is what we usually don’t see when we assume that a living system learns to fit itself better into a pre-existing medium.

Now, there are several words that perhaps we should consider. I will talk about pre-determination , epigenesis, ontogeny, and systems.

The idea that "genes determine us" refers to pre-determination . When my friend says that he is a reductionist, that everything is determined in the genes, he is saying that the structure of the genes predetermines the characteristics that the organism is going to have. There are lots of experiments which seem to show that. But pre-determinism means that the initial condition specifies what will be, or how it will be, in a later condition. But that cannot explain what takes place because the initial condition is the initial structure -- which will change through interaction with the medium, which is independent. And this is the beauty of the medium. This is the beauty of the surroundings in which we are — our surroundings are independent from us.

You are independent from me and I am independent from you. I do not know what you think, or how you will react to the encounter with me, and you do not know what I will think, or how I will react to my encounter with you. Yet, as we encounter each other, and we remain here together, playing with each other, we shall all of us be going away from here with a somewhat different structure than what we came in here with. For example we shall say different things than what we were saying at the beginning. And I shall not specify what you will think or say, but we shall change together congruently, even though I cannot specify what happens to you - even though the system cannot specify what happens in the medium and what happens in the medium cannot specify what happens in the system. Yet system and medium change congruently. But you see, the characteristics of the system in this moment cannot specify what will happen to it later. What happens will arise in a process of changing together congruently with whatever the system interacts with, just as a matter of course. You do not have to make any effort, you do not have to plan it, it just happens, it just happens continuously. Systems change together congruently through the continuous dynamics of interacting with each other recurrently. .

So the initial structure cannot predetermine the characteristics that arise in an organism. Our initial structure, our genetic constitution cannot, there is no way in which it could, predetermine our characteristics as we grow. Our characteristics arise in a historical process of recurrence of recursive interactions. There is a word that we biologists use for that which is "epigenesis." Epigenesis, is a word invented by the embryologist Kaspar Wolff in the 1700’s. This is a very beautiful word, it comes from the Latin "epi" meaning on top of and "genesis" meaning creation - thus "on top of creation" and it is used in the context of creation on top of creation, on top of creation, and so forth. It describes what happens starting from the initial conditions as a continuous modification of those conditions. The word was introduced in the background of a discussion on what was more important, the genetic constitution or the medium? And with this notion of epigenesis we say that neither of them is more important; they go together. Indeed you cannot consider an organism outside the circumstances which made it possible.

I am sure that most of you have read the New Testament of the Bible. Jesus was a great biologist. Yes! When he speaks about the kingdom of God he is talking about ecology. Jesus tells the parable of the man who is sowing the seeds, and some of the seeds fall among stones and they do not develop; some fall between stones with a little earth and they begin to develop and then they dry; and some fall in good earth and develop fully. And what is this good earth? What the good earth refers to is those circumstance under which a living system, which in the particular case of the parable were the seeds, can develop according to its characteristics.

So we living systems can only live in good earth. If the earth is not good, we die. It is interesting to listen to that. Jesus was speaking as a peasant to peasants. Everybody knew what he was saying about "good earth" that is the circumstances under which the seeds will grow and produce. The plant will become what it’s supposed to become. This means that the plant and the medium will have lived a history of many, many, many encounters between each other, and it means that all through its history, the living system has been in good earth. If the circumstance had not been that of a good earth, had not been adequate for the plant to realise its living anywhere along its history, it would have died. So this parable of the seeds and the good earth is the story of transformations in conservation of the congruence of the living system with its circumstances.

The story of the feet and the shoes is the story of the transformation in the conservation of the congruence of the feet and the shoes. There is a word in biology that refers to the individual history of a living system as it lives in its medium, changing along a course of development . This word is "ontogeny" - the genesis of the being of the living system, its individual history in the conservation of living and the conservation of congruence.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine was giving a talk about the creation of the Club of Innovators. I listened to him and I said nothing, so at the end he asked me, "Don’t you have anything to say?" and I answered "The only club that impresses me is one of Conservers - what interests me is conservation." Every living system exists in a history of conservation. I can assure you that you have been conserving living since you were conceived in the womb of your mothers until now, and you will go on conserving living until you die. Well now, look about you — this is so! This it applies to me, too. And the other thing that I claim is that you will conserve your living as long as you remain in good earth. And I shall call this coherence or this relation with the good earth "adaptation," that is, the relation of congruence. So ontogeny is a very interesting word. It refers to an individual history in the conservation of both living and adaptation. Living systems are conservative beings. And this just happens, it isn’t anything they have to "do". If living is not conserved, that means the system dies, either out of its internal dynamics, or because adaptation is not conserved, that is the good earth disappears through some circumstance or other.

I’m going to tell you two systemic laws. But first I want to speak about the nature of laws. Consider the nature of the "laws of nature" what is it that we are referring to when we speak about the laws of nature? The laws of nature correspond to abstractions that we make from the coherences of our living. Nature is that which we distinguish in our living as something around us that has particular characteristics which we also distinguish through our living. When we speak about the laws of nature we are connoting the dynamic structural coherences that pertain to some particular domain of our interactions in our living — a domain which we which we may name physics, or biology - some piece of nature. So natural laws refer to the abstraction of a set of coherences which we consistently distinguish in some domain of our living.

I am proposing a set of systemic laws — and I say systemic because they refer to systems. And what do I mean by a system? I claim that whenever you distinguish a collection of entities interconnected in such a way that as you "touch" one of them you "touch" all of them, you distinguish a system. We living systems are systems exactly in that sense. Living systems and their circumstances constitute a system as well, and we may refer to this system as an ecosystem. As any part of a system changes, all of changes together.

(You noticed that I erase the blackboard with my left hand. Do you remember Ben Hur? Did you read the novel Ben Hur? It is a very interesting novel set in Palestine in the Roman times. Ben Hur is a young man who is accused of a crime, and as punishment he is made a galley slave. He asked the leader of the oarsmen to change him periodically from side to the other so that he would not grow asymmetrically. So I am glad you noticed -- I don’t want to grow asymmetric!)

So the first systemic law, the first abstraction of the coherences of processes in systems is as follows:


Whenever in a collection of elements some relations begin to be conserved, a space is opened for everything to change around the relations that are conserved.


This happens spontaneously - you don't have to try. You can look into your lives, and you will find that this is indeed the case. If you enter a particular college to study, and you begin to conserve being a student, everything else in your life is open to change : where you live, where you sleep, what you eat, what you talk about and who you talk with, what books you read — everything that does not have to do with being a student is open to change as long as you conserve being a student. If you stop conserving being a student, you begin to conserve something else and the domain of change changes. If what you are conserving is being a living system then you may drift into any shape as long as you conserve the two dynamic relations which I have mentioned, that is living (autopoiesis) and the other is coherence with the changing circumstance adaptation. The way these dynamic relations take place can change, and they change together, but in any case both adaptation and living are conserved. This is similar to the way you conserve equilibrium as you walk around, you can change position, you can change the way you walk, but you always conserve equilibrium. So this first systemic law holds in any part of the cosmos, for any system. Here I am sticking my neck out, talking about anywhere in the cosmos!

This systemic law is a condition for several things.

Consider history. History takes place as the process of change around something that is being conserved. You talk about the history of a nation when the identity of a nation if being conserved, or the history of a political movement when a configuration of ideas is being conserved -- whatever it is. When what is being conserved changes, then we have something else. France has had several periods: the first republic, the second republic, the third republic. Through these the entity "France" has been conserved, but its identity as defined by its constitution has changed, so we talk about a new republic, which lasts until the next constitutional change, when yet another new republic appears. Isn't that interesting?

Thus the history of living system is a history of the conservation of living. When somebody tells us that living systems began on earth four thousand million years ago they are making a particular operation on the coherences of the present that assumes the conservation of something that began four thousand million years ago. I can say now that living systems began four thousand millions years ago to the extent that I can claim that living has been conserved through many changes around the conservation of living -- and these changes are the many different kinds of living systems.

At the same time as living has been conserved along this history of four thousand million years, the good earth has also been conserved. The good earth, the medium for each living system has been conserved in a history during which different organisms became part of the medium of the others, and the conservation of this relation of coherences is what constituted the biosphere. We are now living systems in a network of living systems, each of which is part of the medium of the other. This network, the biosphere, is the present of the history of changes around the conservation of living and particular manners of living in mutual relation and interactions through all these years.

If there is no predetermination, how come that living systems resemble each other? How is it that organisms resemble each other through reproduction? So there is something to say about genetics. Something is conserved through reproduction - I mean if you want to raise chickens you would buy chicken eggs and put them into a particular place with a particular temperature, and you expect a chick to come out of the egg. I mean, you would be surprised if a mouse were to come out of one of the egg. Immediately you would say, "Who put the mouse in the egg?" You would like to recover structural determinism.

How come that chicks come out of the eggs laid by hens? And eagles from eggs laid by eagles, and human beings from little eggs produced by human beings? So, there is something that we cannot deny is part of our living experience, something that is conserved in reproduction, and this we call eggs. In every cell there are particular molecules which participate in certain cellular processes --the synthesis of proteins and so on and so forth. If these molecules repeat, then you repeat the organism. The egg does this repeating, but it doesn’t do it only through repeating the genes. Yes, you have to repeat the genes, but that is not enough. Somehow you also have to repeat the cytoplasm, that is the good earth in which the genes are placed. This is the case in cellular division which gives rise to two cells, each of which has the same genetic constitution and the same cytoplasm. So reproduction involves the conservation of the genetic system in terms of the nucleic acids plus the cytoplasm. The good earth for the genetic systems remains the same. And at the same time, if this new cell does not find the conditions suitable for it’s survival, its good earth, it doesn’t live. So indeed reproduction must entail not only the reproduction of the cell and its cytoplasm, but also the medium in which it will grow.

This is why I say the history of the living system is the history of the conservation of living and the conservation of adaptation. And this takes place in the history of conservation of the relation between the organism and its medium. Every kind of living system lives as long as these conditions are conserved and reproduces as long as these conditions are conserved. Thus reproduction is a phenomenon that entails both the living system and the medium. We never think about the medium as a part of reproductive phenomenon. However, it is obvious that if the medium that is adequate for a new organism to live does not appear, then the new organism doesn’t live, and reproduction has not taken place.

You have to forgive me -- I have to construct everything for what you call all the punch line at the end. Let us consider living systems and organisms. Are these two words equivalent? Now this is an interesting question. Suppose what I have here is a living system and the conditions in which it can live. If you look at the inside, of the living system what do you see? You see its internal dynamics , its physiology -- that is all the molecular processes that constitute the realisation of the living. But if you look at the whole thing from the outside, if you look at this entity as a totality, you are going to see is something different. You do not see the physiology, you see a totality. You see an organism. You are organisms. Inside there is physiology, but you don’t see your physiology. Nor do I. If the physiology is not there, we do not live as organisms. But we encounter each other as organisms, not as physiologies. So, we have a dual existence (at least.) On the one hand we are living systems. But on the other hand we are totalities, that is, we are organisms. So the two words are not the same, they apply to different domains of our existence.

Now the beauty, or rather one of the beauties of this dual existence, is that one obscures the other. Our behaving and living as organisms obscures our physiology. We are bilaterally symmetrical outside, but we do not need to be fully bilaterally symmetrical inside. The internal symmetry doesn’t matter as long as the bilateral symmetry takes place in our living as the kind of organisms we are. In our living the bilateral symmetry specifies what kinds of interactions we can undergo based on our shape as organisms.

Since what is conserved for the organism is a coherence with the circumstances , the inside can change as long as that adaptation is conserved. If I walk on a tight rope my internal dynamics may change and the shape of the rope may change , and I can walk along the rope as long as I conserve equilibrium. So, the organism exists in a different space than the living system, the internal dynamic, the physiology. If the internal dynamic is taking place properly, what results is an organism interacting with the medium. You cannot say that what happen in the domain of the organism is determined by what happens in the domain of its physiology because what happens in the domain of the organism arises in its interaction with the medium. So the physiology does not determine behaviour. Isn’t that interesting?

Here is another example. Although I say "I walk" from one side of this stage to the other, I don’t make the walking. The walking arises in my interaction with the floor. If you were to hang me from the armpits and I moved my legs in the air, I wouldn’t be walking. For walking to take place, an interaction with the floor must take place. So, walking is not what I do, it is what arises in interacting between the floor and my doing certain movements with my legs. Yes, we say that we behave, but in fact our behaviour arises in interaction.

OK. Here comes something very interesting. I have shown how the conservation of the living, of the organisms, takes place through two dynamics. One is the internal dynamics, and the other, is behaviour which arises in an interaction with the medium that it constitutively independent from the living system that interacts with it. As long as a relation of adaptation is conserved, the internal dynamics are open to change , and the dynamic of the medium are open to change as well. Thus the internal dynamics do change, as long as they change coherently with the conservation of the organism in its interaction with the medium, that is the conservation of adaptation. If that coherence is lost, the organism dies. That coherence tells us that what determines the domain of possible changes for the internal dynamics is the conservation of the organism in its interactions with the medium. So, what I am saying is that what sets the space, or the boundaries of the space for change in the internal dynamic of the physiology of the organism it is the conservation of the congruence between the organism and the medium. Thus, the physiology of the organism follows the path of conservation of the manner of realisation of the living of the organism in its interactions with the medium. I shall call this the manner of living.

Different organisms, different kinds of living systems, have different manners of living. Different manners of existence through their interaction with the medium in the conservation of adaptation, and the appropriate physiology that allows the conservation of adaptation in the realisation of that manner of living. Isn’t that interesting?

Let us imagine the following situation. Let us imagine a family; a mother, father, children, who all live in a house. As a family, these people exist in a particular relational domain in which the work or activities of one or several of them produces and maintains the conditions for the conservation of the internal dynamics of the family. Let us for a moment simplify the situation and consider the work done by the parents. Through this work the relation of the family with the medium for the family to live in is conserved. If the work relation is lost, they cannot buy food, and so on, and hence they cannot live as there is no energy flow for the conservation of the living of the family. Yet, inside the family, as long as the work relation is conserved, things can happen. Children can grow, they can play and enjoy each other, conversations can take place, and they can care for each other. The family can change inside -- a new child may appear, somebody may die, and so on, as long as the relation with the medium, in which something is done for a living is conserved. The same kind of thing is happening with all of us along our individual lives ; our internal physiology is changing according to our manner of living.

If you have a lineage, then there is a manner of living that is conserved from generation to generation. And as long as this manner of living is conserved, the internal dynamics can change, and they do change, as long as they do not interfere with the manner of living. And if the internal changes support the manner of living of the organism, then these changes may begin to be conserved. So, the changes of the physiology follow the changes in the manner of living of the organism. This is the trick! This is how evolution can take place! The changes of the physiology follow the changes of the manner of living of the organism.

So, not only will the organism that are in recurrently interactions change together congruently, but also over many generations the path of changes of the whole interacting group will be guided by the conservation of the manner of living of the organisms -- or by the changes in the manner of living that are conserved in the succession of generations. So it is the manner of living that determines the path of evolution.

And with this grounding, I can now present the final notions of this talk.

What guides this path? What guides the path of the realisation of the individual living with the realisation of the living of the many generations? Hence, what guides this change in history? Yes, you have seen how it is the conservation of a relation, which involves the organism and the medium and the relation between them, which in turn implies conservation of features of the physiology, and the changes in that physiology following the changes that define the living of the organism. But what guides this?

I would say that what guides this is pleasure. Yes, pleasure! Well-being. We human beings do this by moving according to our preferences. Look at yourselves, which path have you followed along you life? We do what we want, always. My goodness, is that true? Is that really the case? Sure, many times we say, "Well, I don’t want to do this, but I have to do it." What I am saying is that if you do it, even if you claim that you don’t want to do it, it’s because you want to do it. You do it because you want something else that will result from doing the thing that you claim you don’t want to do. So you do want to do it; in spite of your comment. You always do what you want to do. I always do what I want to do even when I claim that what I am doing I don’t want to do -- but I do it because I want the consequences of my doing what I do not want to do. You know this is the case isn’t it? You must have done this as I have done it, many, many times.

So the path that our lives follows is the satisfaction of our wanting. If this is so, then this is something that occurs in the relational space because it is something that we do in our behaviour. It is not something that is determined in our physiology. Even though of course the physiology participates, and one can claim "Well you want that because your physiology is such and such." But the wanting is being realised, is taking place in a relation with something that is independent of the physiology.

Now, this pleasure - I am not speaking about the "pleasure principle"- I am speaking about what happens whenever you take an organism and look at it in its normal circumstance. It lives in well being. Don't you feel the bird flying, or the little mouse moving in the woods, are both well? If you were to catch the mouse and put it in the cage, what you would observe is that the mouse would move in what you would interpret as an attempt to get out. If you were to be put into a cage, you would do the same. You would not feel comfortable, and to attempt to get out as a way of recovering well being. And if you don't attempt to get out, you become depressed and die. This is the case whether you are attempting to get out of a physical cage or a conceptual cage - whenever you realise that you are in a cage - or that you are where you do not want to be. The moment that you realise that you are where you do not want to be, you begin to do things which constitute the satisfaction of your wanting to get out from where you do not want to be. So when I say pleasure, I mean it in the sense of well being, or comfort, that is the case in the absence of discomfort.

If you take seriously what I am saying, then what I have presented to you are several circumstances that tell us that the course of our lives arise from what we do; the course of our lives is not predetermined. It cannot be predetermined by our initial conditions. It is not specified by the medium because organism and medium consist of two systems that have independent structural dynamics and they only trigger changes in each other. What is the case is that if you have two or more systems interacting recurrently they change together congruently, and this happens without intent or effort. But the question is, why would they interact recurrently? Why don’t they separate, why do they remain in interaction? They remain together either because they are forced (like in a cage) or because they want it.

So, the lives that we live individually and together are our doings. The are our doings according to our desires at every moment. I shall give you a second systemic law, and I invite you to examine in its validity in your life, and along the events of history:


The path of living systems in general, and the path of human history in particular, is guided by emotions, not resources .


Opportunities and resources don’t guide our history. A resource is not a resource of itself -- something is a resource only if you want it. Something is an opportunity only if you want it. So, what guides what we do are desires, fears, and other emotions - but most particularly our desires, what we want. We know this, I’m not saying anything new. All I am doing is pointing out that this is indeed the case.

We humans have the magnificent freedom that awareness brings forth. We can become aware, we can realise that human history follows a course that we are generating through our emotions, not through our reason. All rational systems are grounded on basic premises, accepted through preferences, a priori. So rational systems are grounded in emotion. When we claim that we are proposing a rational argument for something, the grounds that give validity to that rational arguments are arbitrary. That means we choose them out of our preferences. We develop our preferences and then we present a rational argument to claim that we should have a rational argument - all based on some basic premises that we have accepted a priori, because we want them.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we are not genetically determined. Of course the genetic constitution, that is the total genetic constitution of genes plus cytoplasm plus circumstance - the good earth in which adaptation is being conserved is the initial starting point. But what happens from there on, occurs in an epigenesis. And the path of that epigenesis will be determined continuously by what we as individuals, or what our surrounding human beings want.

I may say "I want my child to be blah blah blah" so I put the child in a particular circumstance, for example a school, such that he or she will undergo a particular epigenesis. And if the child says, "No, I don't want that" he or she runs away from the school and goes somewhere else, and puts him or herself in a different circumstance to undergo a different epigenesis.

We have no motives to complain only motives to be happy. We are creating the world that we live. Not the world that we deserve, the world that we live. So, ladies and gentlemen, I am very grateful that you have stayed here all this time, that you have not run away! Thank you very much.



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HTML transcription: Randy Whitaker, March 2005