Archive for October, 2018

Feels Theory y Maturana

| October 27th, 2018

    En mi libro Feels Theory, en su último capítulo, propongo interpretar una dinámica recursiva del raciocinio, donde la propia información que generamos se vuelven los datos que más tarde generarán nueva información. En ese contexto situé una teoría de la verdad en tanto que sentimiento, sensación, o bien “sentido“; y comparé a los sentidos humanos con aquellos componentes de la robótica que se utilizan para captar información del entorno. Allí también me animé a borrar un poco la línea entre lo que consideramos inteligencia o razón y aquello que hacen los animales, y hasta me animé a dejar tímidamente anotada a la voluntad como un límite para la infinita recursividad de nuestra sentimentalidad.

    Pero mi texto no es en absoluto exahustivo, sino más bien algo cercano al boceto. Yo no había leido nada similar a mis ideas por aquel entonces, y recién después de plasmarlas fue que comencé a buscar gente que caminara el mismo camino. Así me crucé con Humberto Maturana, que hoy cito nuevamente, explicando ideas y conceptos mucho más rigurosos que los míos, pero mediante los cuales por momentos parecieramos estar hablando de lo mismo:


    The cognitive process

    (1) A cognitive system is a system whose organization defined a domain of interactions in which it can act with the relevance of the maintenance of itself, and the process of cognition is the actual (inductive) acting or behaving in this domain. Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous system.

    (2) If a cognitive system enters into a cognitive interaction, its internal state is changed in a manner of relevant to its maintenance, and it enters into a new interaction without loss of its identity. In an organism without a nervous system (or its functional equivalent) interactions are of a chemical or physical nature (a molecule is absorbed, and an enzimatic process is initiated; a photon is captured and a step in photosyntesis is carried out). For such and organism the relations holding between the physical events remain outside its domain of interactions. The nervous system enlarges the domain of interactions of the organism by making its internal states also modifiable in a relevan manner by “pure relations”, not only by physical events; the observer sees that the sensors of an animal (say, a cat) are modified by light, and that the animal (the cat) is modified by a visible entity (say, a bird). The sensors change through physical interactions: the absorption of light quanta; the animal is modified through its interactions with the relations that hold between the activated sensors that absorbed the light quanta at the sensory surface. The nervous system expands the cognitive domain of the living system by making possible interactions with “pure relations”; it does not creates cognition.

    (3) Although the nervous system expands the domain of interactions of the organism by bringing into this domain interactions with “pure relations”, the function of the nervous system is subservient to the necessary circularity of the living organization.

    (4) The nervous system, by expanding the domain of interactions of the organism, has transformed the units of interactions and has subjected acting and interacting in the domain of “pure relations” to the process of evolution. As a consequence, there are organisms that include as a subset of thir possible interactions, interactions with their own internal states (as states resulting from its own internal and external interactions) as if this were independen entities, generating the apparent paradox of including their cognitive domain within their cognitive domain. In us this paradox is resolved by what we call “abstract thinking”, another expansion of the cognitive domain.

    (5) Furthermore, the expansion of the cognitive domain of “pure relations” by means of a nervous system allows for non-physical interactions between organisms such that the interacting organisms orient each other toward interactions within their respective cognitive domains. Herein lies the basis of communication: the orienting behaviour becomes a representation of the interactions toward which it orients, and a unit of interactions in its own terms. But this very process generates another apparent paradox: there are organisms that generate representations of their own interactions by specifying entities with which they interact as if this belonged to an independent domain, while as representations they only map their own interactions. In us this paradox is resolved simultaneously in two ways:

        (a) We become observers through recursively generating representations of our interactions, and by interacting with several representations simultaneously we generate relations with the representations of which we can then interact and repeat this process recursively, thus remaining in a domain of interactions always larger than that of the representations.

        (b) We become self-conscious through self-observation: by making descriptions of ourselves (representations), and by interacting with our descriptions we can describe ourselves describing ourselves, in an endless recursive process.


    De Autopoiesis and cognition, The realization of the living, de Humberto Maturana y Francisco Varela, páginas 13 y 14 (21 y 22 del PDF).

    Pero no conforme todo eso, Maturana también pone en un lugar de absoluta centralidad a la idea de verdad, llamando la atención sobre cómo la episteme moderna está condicionada por los propios mecanismos internos de la cognición, con las siguientes observaciones:


    The basic claim of science is objectivity. It attempts, through the application of a well defined methodology, to make statements about the universe. At the very root of this claim, however, lies its weakness: the a priori asumption that objective knowledge constitutes a description of that which is known. Such assumption begs the question, “What is it to know?” and “How do we know?“.


    (1) Cognition is a biological phenomenon and can only be understood as such; any epistemological insight into the domain of knowledge requires this understanding.
    (2) If such an insight is to be attained, two questions must be considered:
        What is cognition as a function?
        What is cognition as a process?


    Hay una cercanía muy fuerte entre mis hipótesis y las de Maturana. El futuro de mi trabajo estará segura y necesariamente sesgado por mis lecturas del suyo. Pero probablemente incluso deba dedicar un texto entero a comparaciones entre lo que yo digo y lo que dice él, porque hay tantas similitudes (al punto tal de no darme el tiempo para escribirlas todas en un post) que se vuelve costoso percibir las divergencias.

    Encuentre las 7 diferencias:

    We had to accept that we could recognize living systems when we encountered them, but that we could not yet say what they were.

    Yet I obviuosly had some inkling of what the correct answer were, because I rejected the unsatisfactory ones. After several years of this various attempts I realized that the difficulty was both epistemological and linguistic. (…) I had to stop looking at living systems as open systems defined in an environment, and I needed a language that would permit me to describe an autonomous system in a manner that retained autonomy as a feature of the system or entity specified by the description. In other words, any attempt to characterize living systems with notions of purpose or function was doomed to fail because this notions are instrinsically referential and cannot be operationally used to characterize any system as an autonomous entity. Therefore, notions of purpose, goal, use or function, had to be rejected, but initially I did not know how. (…)

    When Jerry Y. Lettvin and I wrote our several articles on frog vision (…), we did it with the implicit assumption that we were handling a clearly defined cognitive situation: there was an objective (absolute) reality, external to the animal, and independent of it (not determined by it), which it would perceive (cognize), and the animal could use the information obtained in its perception to compute a behaviour adequate to the perceived situation. This assumption of ours appeared clearly in our language. We described the various kinds of retinal ganglion cells as feature detectors, and we spoke as detection of prey and enemy. We knew that was not the whole neurophysiological story, as was apparent particularly in the discussion of the article called “Anatomy and Physiology of Vision in the Frog (Rana pipiens)“. But even there the epistemology that guided our thinking and writing was that of an objective reality independent of the observer. Thus, when Samy Frenk and I began to work with pidgeons in 1961, first studying from vision, we aproached that study in the same fundamental view. (…) Yet, when Gabriela Uribe joined us and we in fact began to study color vision in 1964, it soon became apparent to us that that approach leads to deep trouble. Neurophysiologically we did not see anything fundamentally different from what other scholars had already seen. We found the classic types of ganglion cells with sepparate, concentric or overlapping opponent spectral preferences. But we also found: (a) that although the geometry of the receptive fields of the ganglion cells with opponent spectral preferences had nothing to do with the geometry of the visual object, the geometry of the visual objects had to do with the response of those cells; and (b) that we could not account for the manifold chromatic experiences of the observer by mapping the visible colorful world upon the activity of the nervous system, because the nervous system seemed to use geometric relations to specify color distinctions. A different approach and a different epistemology was necessary.

    (…) After we realized that the mapping of the external world was an inadequate approach, we found that the very formulation of the question gave us the clue. What if, instead of attempting to correlate the activity in the retina with the physical stimuli external to the organism, we did otherwise, and tried to correlate the activity in the retina with the color experience of the subject?

    (…) We did this rigorously, and showed that such and approach did indeed permit us to generate the whole color space of the observer. (…) But what was still more fundamental was the discovery that one had to close off the nervous system to account for its operation, and that perception should not be viewed as a grasping of an external reality, but rather as a specification of one, because no distinction was possible between perception and hallucination in the operation of the nervous system as a closed network.


    De la introducción de Autopoiesis and cognition, The realization of the living, de Humberto Maturana y Francisco Varela.