A New World of Love. Maturana, Davila, Scharmer, Senge

To love is to let the other appear from their legitimacy. Starting from that affirmation we are going to state this systemic law that says “When you distinguish what you want to preserve, everything else changes around what you preserve.” Ximena Davila

from left to right: Humberto Maturana, Ximena Dávila and Otto Scharmer

The Event

On May 22, 2020, the stage was set for an unprecedented online event of GAIA en Español, GAIA Journey’s Spanish language channel. More than 800 attendees from different parts of the world joined to watch and listen via Zoom and Live Streaming to some special guests: Humberto Maturana and Ximena Dávila from Matríztica de Chile, Otto Scharmer from the Presencing Institute and Peter Senge of the Society for Organizational Learning. The interviewers and interpreters were Florencia Estrade and Mery Míguez. Florencia introduced the speakers and invited Otto Scharmer to open the event.

(Below is a condensed and edited transcription of the event)

Cultural Biology

Otto. Hello everyone, and thank you Florencia for the introduction. It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be part of the conversation with you, Humberto and Ximena. I want to start by acknowledging how your work has inspired generations of educators and change-makers in a variety of sectors, and I am interested in picking that up with a leading question to Humberto.

Otto Scharmer

Otto. When I went to university in Germany we learned about the Social Autopoietic Theory from Nicklas Luhman, which is very influential in Europe right now. I am not sure how you look at that, because a small peculiarity of Luhman´s approach of the Social Autopoietic Field is essentially ignoring the human being, while in your work, particularly in your latter work with Ximena, you have been pioneering that the human being and humanness are very much at the center of it. I am interested in understanding how you look at the evolution of your own work and specifically how it has evolved with the two of you working towards Cultural Biology.

I asked him why in his theory he left the human being out …

Humberto Maturana (HM). In 1990 Niklas Luhmann invited me to Germany to meet and discuss with him because he had a thesis that social systems were autopoietic systems of communication. I disagreed with him because autopoietic systems are systems of molecules. At that time I spoke only of autopoiesis, but Ximena showed me that the name really needed to be complemented. It was not enough to speak of autopoiesis only, but of molecular autopoiesis, since molecular autopoietic systems relate to living beings. At this meeting, I asked him why, if he wanted to talk about the social, in a communications context, did he leave the human being out? He told me that human beings were unpredictable, and he wanted to make a predictive theory.

The Cultural Origin of Human Pain

HM. That is part of the story, but all of this is central to what Ximena and I mean when we refer to Cultural Biology. When I met Ximena, I realized that culture was not a mere social phenomenon, it was a human phenomenon. I had been talking about conservation, and what she was showing was that pain was conserved because our culture validated the circumstances of denial or abuse in which one had lived. From there arose the concept of Cultural Biology, because we realized that the biological and the cultural were intimately intertwined. They were not separable. The social had to do with conversations and language, whereas the biological had to do with biological processes. When we speak about Cultural Biology, we are talking about human beings as whole entities, not separate units of biology and culture.

Molecular Autopoietic Systems

Social systems are not autopoietic systems …

Ximena Dávila (XD). Social systems are not autopoietic systems. Living beings are autopoietic beings because they produce themselves. A stone is not an autopoietic system. An organization is not an autopoietic system. An organization is made up of living beings, and as such they are autopoietic molecular systems, but the organization is not. The only molecular autopoietic systems are those made up of molecules, like us as living beings that we are. The word autopoiesis is used as self-organization, which is a seductive concept, but it is not valid. What the word autopoiesis says is that we are molecular autopoietic systems that produce themselves.This is the basis of the entire foundation of what today is Cultural Biology.

HM. When I speak of a molecular autopoietic system, I speak of the processes that have to occur for the result to be something that is going to be called a living being. It is a living being because we can observe characteristics about them which we can recognize, such as autonomy, and self-evolution. When I speak of the molecular autopoietic system, I speak of all the dynamics that constitute it as a system.

Cultural Transformation

Otto. On one hand, there is a lot of outpouring of compassion and love, which we see as a societal reaction to the pandemic. On the other hand, we see an amplification of brutality, trauma and structural violence. The sense that many of us have is that we live in a very fragile situation where things can develop one way or another. I wonder if Cultural Biology, from the deeper feelings and emotions, is the deeper source out of which social relationships emerge.

XD. When people speak about democracy in different countries, this distinguishes a way of living together in mutual respect and honesty, which gives way to collaboration. Honesty, mutual respect, and collaboration are not behaviors or relationships that have been cultivated in human history, in schools, and the family, because we have cultivated competing, winning over another, being successful, arriving first, having more than another. They are all values ​​of cultural origin.

XD. Cultural transformation is a process that has to do with the purpose of life. In order to advance in this direction, there is a fundamental fact that must be assumed: understanding what kind of beings we are as living beings and as human beings. Cultural diversity is an understanding, not a principle. When you have a principle, you have a theory. On the other hand, when you have an understanding, you have a process in which you are having experiences and you are appropriating it. Therefore, we invite you to understand cultural diversity, verifying it from from your own experience, if it makes sense to you in your daily living.

XD. When there is democratic sensitivity there is hope that all is not lost, that we can follow the path of finding ourselves in a world of mutual respect, honesty, and therefore collaboration.

A Systemic Law: What do We Want to Preserve?

Otto asked Ximena to lead the participants in a collective reflection before going into breakout rooms.

XD. We speak about change, however when we invite people to change we do not let them appear. To love is to let the other appear.

To love is to let the other appear from his/her legitimacy. Starting from that affirmation we are going to state this systemic law that says “When you distinguish what you want to preserve, everything else changes around what you preserve.” This occurs in all parts of the world.

You always preserve what you preserve because it is something that you want for your life. So the question to the people who are in the different small groups is the following:

What do you want to keep preserving in your daily lives? And, what do you not want to keep preserving in your daily life?

The 800 participants were divided into small groups of between 3 and 6 people who had the opportunity to discuss these questions.

Voices from the audience:

  • Preserve. The willingness to serve us and others. Democracy. The rhythm of life we ​​are in now. Focus on the essential. Meaningful relationships that connect with the Being. Listen to our interior. To appreciate our vulnerability. Close and authentic links with others and with nature. School as a place of balance. Look at ourselves as people, community, humanity. Respect for the cycles of nature. Interest and curiosity. Empathy. Opening. Listens.
  • Not preserve. The selfishness of economic leaders. Indifference towards ourselves and towards others. Rush. Excessive activities. Systemic violence. Injustices. Inconsistencies. Ego, individualism. Friction with others and with nature. Absence, living in the future. Fears of the unknown, when undertaking. Limiting attachments.

To Love is to Let the Other Appear

XD. No one has said, “ I want to preserve war, my self-destruction”. A living being is born and if it has the conditions of its niche, then it will adapt to the world in which it lives spontaneously. The difference with human beings is that we adapt to the adult world, where everyone else lives in a culture that has a certain way of relating, of looking at the world.

To love is to let the other appear …

What we do in cultural biology is what the fish does when it swims in the water — it is not aware of the water. We invite people to see culture as water is to fish. We realize from the answers that what we want to preserve is, first, to live our molecular autopoiesis and the preservation of our relational dynamics with others and with the environment in the “letting appear”, which is love, leaving the egos out. What this particular systemic law does is to make conscious what I have been preserving in my life history without realizing it. When I do it consciously I can transform it.

HM. I will make a reflection. If I make a synthesis of what I heard, what you want to preserve is a sense of community, everything is centered around it. To preserve is to be part with others of something that is desirable, that generates well-being, a sense of community. We desire to live in a culture based on the relationship with the community. Community means being together with others in a common wellbeing environment, that is life, life is nothing else, it is not more complex. What you don’t want to preserve, I felt, is fear. Fear of what? To the breakdown of the community. To be suddenly found abandoned, alone, denied. Ximena pointed out in her reflection that all of that is resolved in love, in letting appear. Because if I let it appear, it means that I am not demanding and that I am not imposing. So, I see things as they are, I see where I am, I see what I want, I see what I don’t want. If I let it appear, I can reflect on it, I can give it, I can choose it, I can not choose it, I can understand it, but from a place of awareness.

XD. Letting the other appear is an art of humility, of our self-respect, in which one has always a curious attitude towards life because always, one has something to learn that the other wants to show you. The act of letting go of certainty in order to let the other appear requires boldness and balls.

The act of letting go of certainty…

Ximena and Humberto continued speaking about love and letting appear in a beautiful dance of words. Then, they gave thanks to Mery.

To be Present is to Appear

Otto then invited Peter Senge into the conversation.

Peter Senge

Peter Senge. It is hard to know where to start. Maybe I will start with some of what we talked about in our small group. One common thing emerged, and I am sure this is not coincidental to Humberto and Ximena. The conservation of the ability to just be present emerged as a very simple theme. The idea that everything is contingent in a way of how we show up. So, if we show up with expectations, then the expectations may not be met. If we show up with demands, we are entering into a relationship based on imposing our ideas on another. But if we show up with just presence, we use the term neutral, just being there. Then, awareness can develop. If we don´t show up with presence, habit develops. That was a very interesting reflection that we had in our conversation.

XD. After saluting Peter, she says. Mindfulness, being present, being there, arises in letting appear. I do not let appear if I am not in total presence, I do not know how to do it.

“When the boy pulls his daddy’s face …”

XD. When the boy pulls his daddy’s face and says “daddy”, what he means is “daddy, I want you to be with me, look at me!” Being present is like being whole. You are always whole where you are, what happens is that the emotional, psychic space makes that presence appear. If I am whole, and in the center of myself, there is going to be an encounter of letting the other appear. When I have a conversation, there is a time when there is a co-niching with the other. We start out as individual niches and end up in a single niche in the conversation. We co-niched, there is a co-niching because we have let ourselves appear. For this, we must let go of our demands, expectations, our egos. We are in the wonderful emotion that children are always in, which is curiosity because we are grown children.

HM. We are children even when we grow old, to the third or fourth age.

Worst! haha! Vanity alone is not being present.

XD. Presence is when you have emptied yourself of yourself, and you are centered. Thus, the others will appear without effort, without demand, without expectations, and you will feel that there is a sensitivity, an energy, a feeling, and the person knows that he/she is being received by the other with all sincerity.

HM. In other words, the enemy of being present is vanity.

XD. The vanity of wanting to be present.

HM. Worst! haha! Vanity alone is not being present.

The Process of Letting the Other Appear

Mery thanked Ximena and Humberto and passed the spotlight to Margarita Reyes, who was present at the conversation, scribing it.

To love is letting the other appear. Margarita Reyes

Otto then acknowledged the contribution of Ximena and Humberto and closed the session.

Otto. I want to close with a reflection from Ximena and Humberto, in terms of what you were sharing at the end, which is the process of making conscious, or the process of letting the other appear.



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Helio Borges

Helio Borges


Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges