Publication 609

Maturana H. R. (1990) The biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence. In: Luhmann N., Maturana H., Namiki M., Redder V. & Varela F. (eds.) Beobachter: Konvergenz der Erkenntnistheorien?. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich: 47–117. Fulltext at
My purpose in this essay is to explain cognition as a biological phenomenon, and to show, in the process, how self consciousness originates in language, revealing the ontological foundations of the physical domain of existence as a limiting cognitive domain. In order to do this, I shall start from two necessary experiential conditions that are at the same time my problem and my explanatory instruments, namely: a) that cognition, as is apparent from the fact that any alteration of the biology of our nervous system alters our cognitive capacities, is a biological phenomenon that must be explained as such; and b) that we, as this essay will demonstrate, exist as human beings in language, using language for our explanations. These two experiential conditions are my starting point because I must be in them in any explanatory attempt; they are my problem because I choose to explain them, and they are necessarily my instruments because I must use cognition and language in order to explain cognition and language. I propose not to take cognition and language as given unexplainable properties, but to take them as phenomena of our human domain of experience that arise in the praxis of our living, and as such deserve explanation as biological phenomena. It is also my purpose to use our condition of existing in language to show how the physical domain of existence arises in language as a cognitive domain. I intend to show that the observer and observing, as biological phenomena, are ontologically primary with respect to the object and the physical domain of existence.

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