Humberto Maturana 1928 – 2021

Message from ASC’s President:

I write on behalf of the American Society for Cybernetics to express our condolences to Humberto Maturana’s family and colleagues in Chile and around the world. 

Through our thoughts and conversations we pay tribute to our great mentor and colleague. 

So many members of the ASC first met Humberto or were first exposed to his work through the ASC, even to this day. This is true for me and so many colleagues when his presence at ASC conferences during the 1980s and 1990s brought consistent, grounded, loving clarity. His early articulation of love as an ethical principle, essential for human survival as social creatures, living in harmony with each other and with the environment, was inspiring and prescient. 

We cherish the era of the ASC that gave us Humberto’s presence and also the presence of Mary Catherine Bateson, Stafford Beer, Herbert Brün, Ranulph Glanville, Gordon Pask, Annetta Pedretti, Heinz von Foerster, Ernst von Glasersfeld, and Francisco Varela. The work of the society is the work of these great contributors to the field and to the fabric of our global understandings. We embrace our continued responsibility to probe their value and to continue the work collectively.

With love,

Paul Pangaro, PhD
American Society for Cybernetics

“Humberto has and will continue to live on in the lives of many. (…) I am fortunate to have had moments of togetherness with Humberto in which I have always experienced some personal transformation whether it was through a story, an anecdote or an explanation which I found satisfying.” 1 — Ray Ison, IFSR President, 2018

“He was an extraordinary inspiring agent of change, with the capacity to transmit engagingly, powerful ideas. He made extraordinary contributions.” 1 — Raul Espejo, WOSC President, 2017

” ‘The tree of Knowledge´ had been at the very heart of my understanding of systems and cybernetics ever since Raul [Espejo] recommended it to me back in 1990. Let us acknowledge this sad moment as a call to come together in the systems community and together taking care that Humberto’s work will stay alive and handed on to generations to come to grow their understanding of what it means to be fully alive – with head, hand, and heart – on this beautiful planet.” 1 — Louis Klein, IFSR Secretary General, 2020

“I have dedicated decades to Maturana’s work with the intention of his work becoming more widely spread and accepted in the mainstream and acknowledged for the sheer brilliance of his thinking. It is, I believe, up to us and Matriztica Institute to keep his work alive and keep it going otherwise this incredible work will be lost.” — Jane Cull, Consultant on Thinking Tools for Change

Maturana is the reason I became interested in the phenonena of poiesis. He changed my life.” — Alex Stickle

“As Pablo Neruda said: Everything is so alive, that I can be alive. Without moving I can see it all. In your life I see everything that lives.” — Laura Ehmann

1 in IFSR newsletter, May 2021


Your email won’t be displayed.

4 Responses to Humberto Maturana 1928 – 2021

  1. Lucas Pawlik says:

    Conserving change – The Magic of Love

    For almost a decade, I had the good fortune to teach Humberto Maturana’s biology of love, together with the part-of-the-world attitude of his friend Heinz von Foerster, to educators of all disciplines.

    From my perspective, the “biology of love” is the only perspective from which our human biology makes sense, through which one can still say “yes” to life.

    Without understanding love, tenderness, and trust from an emotional, relational system, without the interplay of love and play as the forgotten foundation of our humanity, we will choke on the bite of the apple of knowledge. For no other perspective than biology teaches how I can understand myself as an acting observer, as an organism in the here and now. For humanity, itself now depends for its survival on understanding itself as part of the world. Our civilization is built on this complementary interplay of micro-level and macro-level, then as now. One man alone cannot hunt a mammoth. One person alone cannot do science.

    The friendship between Heinz and Humberto was crucial to the development of their research. The synthesis of the biology of love and the part-of-the-world attitude is now essential for the survival of humanity. We must learn to form communities where trust is possible because we do not have to question each other’s actions. Otherwise, we will soon destroy ourselves and perhaps even destroy the biosphere itself. If we do not feel tenderness, that sense of well-being from the presence of the other, we will always invent a reason why it is better to exploit or kill the other one. We learn and develop through the way we live together, and the consequences of our togetherness will always correspond to the way we live together.

    I will never forget how our mutual friend Barbara Vogl showed me her interview with Humberto, in which he explained love with his Wittgensteinian clarity using a spider.

    “If the spider’s existence is legitimate, I will not think of stepping on it or killing it. I will respect it, and when I observe it, I will develop curiosity. That’s how we developed as human beings, that’s how science develops, that’s how culture develops that can abstract and imagine technologies based on observation of nature.”

    This clarity of love could save us from self-destruction. Only when one loves does it make sense and gives pleasure to play a game in which we as individuals are sure to die, and it is also unlikely for our species to survive in the long run.

    Only when we understand ourselves as part of the world does it even become clear that we are playing this game as a species and other species to preserve and shape the biosphere. Only when we learn to be friends with ourselves and each other can we stay in this game. For over a month, I stayed with Barbara. We talked, laughed, and cried for nights on end, often out of joy at sharing the pattern that connects with such great friends. We were inspired and excited by the idea that cybernetics as the promotion of self-direction could be the basis for a new pedagogy. “Learning learning through teaching teachers” summed up our philosophy for continuing pedagogical education. “Dear Lucas, now I am in my 80s. Gregory and Heinz, Humberto and Francisco – again and again, I have seen how science flourishes when the friendships of scientists flourish and how it dries up when the friendship breaks. Together, we are less alone. I don’t believe it. I know it. What nourishes us is our biology of love.” At the time, Barbara summed up for me what staying human and becoming human means.

    The provocative pedagogy of combining the biology of love and the part-of-the-world attitude also had another, older origin, which came from a conversation with Humberto Maturana, many years earlier in the hallway after one of his lectures. Heinz had just died, and in the congress held in his honor, Humberto Maturana had pointed out to us that around everything we try to conserve, there is a space of uncontrollable change. “Whatever we conserve will produce change that we cannot control,” I repeated the basic idea of his talk, and he agreed. “Couldn’t I use this to create a perpetual motion machine if I wanted to conserve change? ” – “Conserve change? How can I imagine that?” asked Humberto, frowning. “The idea came to me because Wittgenstein, Heinz, and you have changed my life in such a wonderful way that I don’t want to preserve anything in particular anymore, but I want to conserve this wonderful process of change that you’ve stimulated. Can I do this?”

    Humberto looked at me in wonder for a moment, then smiled and spoke, “That’s a question I can’t answer as a biologist. It is a question for which we would need Heinz right now. What you are talking about is magic.”

    For a moment, I was disappointed because Humberto Maturana didn’t know a solution. Then I had to laugh, and Humberto Maturana looked at me questioningly.

    “We are very fortunate. Just this morning, we reinvented Heinz von Foerster in my lecture. It’s a never-ending story. When we think of him, we are not alone, and he is not quite dead. He lives on through our stories. As long as we keep playing, a new Heinz keeps emerging!”

    Maturana laughed heartily. Then, as usual, he spoke in his quiet, gentle way. “This is a wonderful game. I’ll certainly keep playing this game! We won’t stop reinventing Heinz!”

    More than 20 years have passed, and I am still inventing Heinz von Foerster. His friend Humberto Maturana is also with him now. On the outside, they may be dead. Still, within me, they live together in friendship. As long as I am part of the world, the biology of love lives and their thinking lives on.

    I can only cordially invite you all to give space to the magic of love in you! Let us not stop reinventing Humberto Maturana and the biology of love!

    Let us create relations for these wonderful processes of change that he has initiated within us. They have already become part of the never-ending story of our human becoming. We conserve these changes. Through our biology of love, Humberto Maturana keeps emerging as part of this world.

  2. Sukanta Majumdar says:

    Transition from Gestalt Psychology to Autopoiesis, Huberto Maturana changed the perspective about human perception in Social System. Thanks to this Great Scholar.

  3. Jane Cull says:

    Lucas – This is incredible what you wrote and I completely agree with everything, particularly this: “Only when we understand ourselves as part of the world does it even become clear that we are playing this game as a species and other species to preserve and shape the biosphere.” Very much looking forward to connecting on the call to honour Humberto! Jane