Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Maturana and Varela on Cognitive Systems

A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to 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. 
(Maturana & Varela, 1980, p. 13).
I don't think M&V are speaking my language here.  Plants are cognitive systems?

(This also looks to be at odds with Chemero's account, which is apparently limited to animals and which invokes perception and action.  But, I've not read Chemero's account of perception and action in RECS.)

Maturana, H., & Varela, F. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living: Springer.


  1. It looks like "cognition in plants", fred keijzer.

  2. Thanks for the link.

    And on the M&V account, it looks like fungi and slime molds are cognitive systems as well.

  3. It seems to me that M&V, M in particular*1, think to cognition as a process of maintaining the structural coupling with the environment. So, I think it's not a particular concern of him (M) to sketch out "cognitive systems could be 'slime molds'", but the very process by wich the organism maintain his organization (autopoietic) through his history of interactions*2.

    *1. Maturana. Cognition, in "Wahrnehmung und Kommunikation"(1978)

    *2. Maturana. Self-consciousness. How? When? Where?, in "Constructivist foundations" (2006) Vol 1 Number 3

  4. I think you are right that they probably are happy with this result. But, then, it doesn't seem to me that M&V and I are using "cognitive system" in much of anything like the same way.

    We seem to be speaking different language.

  5. But, here’s something that might help me. At some point, I assume, M&V have to have some account of the cognitive differences between humans and slime molds, right? So, what is that difference? I’ve read through parts of Autopoesis and Cognition, but nothing is really taking.

  6. I think you are right, with my limited understanding of M point of view, when you say that M&V and you are speaking different language, limited to my reading of this blog and amazon's preview (i've ordered your book but I think it has been blocked by italian customs). I think that in M account on cognition, which is a part of his "biologia del conocer"*1 (biology of knowing), the idea of "languaging" is the very difference between humans and slime molds. "languaging" calls into question recursive coordinations of coordinations of consensual actions.
    "Languaging" is not explicitly developed in M&V(1980); you can only find some clues about it in pg. 35 Chapter IV.

    *1 Maturana, Davila Yanes. Habitar Humano. En seies ensayos de biologias-cultural. 2008 (chapter 3,6)

    Sorry for my bad english.

  7. Thanks for the reference. I will follow up on them.

    No worries about your English. I am always amazed at how good others are at English and how bad I have always been at other languages.