Friday, April 02, 2010

(CR) Maturana on Time

An essay on the nature of time from Humberto Maturana, a neurobiologist, anti-realist constructivist, and close associate of Ernst von Glasersfeld (a central figure in Bridges to the World):

An excerpt:

Living takes place in the now, in the moment in which it is taking place. Living is a dynamics that disappears as it takes place. Living takes place in no time, without past or future. Past, present and future are notions that we human beings, we observers, invent as we explain our occurrence in the now. We invent past as a source of the now or present, and we invent future as a dimension that arises as an extrapolation of the features of our living now, in the present. As past, present and future, are invented to explain our living now, time is invented as a background in which past, present and future can take place. But life, living, takes place as now, as a flow of changing processes.


  1. I'm the first to admit that I do not understand the metaphysics of time, but I can't see how calling it a human invention makes it less, rather than more, mysterious. How, for example, can "now" be "a flow of changing process" unless we presuppose time as a framework external to our experience?

  2. Good question. I'm a bit perplexed by Maturana's juxtaposition of these two claims: "Living takes place in no time," and "life, living, takes place as now."

  3. in reading "god is not dead" by amit goswami this afternoon, i found a reference to maturana. it says, "you don't look for god outside of this world, god is right here. in using holistic language... the whole cannot be reduced to its parts. elementary particles make atoms; but atoms are a whole and cannot be completely reduced to their parts... and from atoms to molecules; something new emerges in the whole that cannot be reduced to the atomic level of being. when molecules make the living cell, the new holistic principle that emerges can be identified as life (maturana and varella 1992)"

    i also have a question about where you get your definition of "mysticism" from as you have used it in class in reference to my comments. i get the sensation that you didn't get it from a mystic. i get the sensation that you hold reason above other forms of experience, but i see it as being the "giant ear" zarathustra meets.
    here are a few quotes from the venerable, hazrat inayat khan...
    "mysticism is the essence of all knowledge, science, art, philosophy, religion and literature."

    "to every question that arises in the heart of the mystic, he finds the answer in the life before him"

    "i had composed songs, i sang and played the vina; and practicing this music, i arrived at a stage where i touched the music of the spheres. then every soul became for me a musical note and all life became music. inspired by it, i spoke to the people, and those who were attracted by my words listened to them instead of listening to my songs. now if i do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments; to harmonize people instead of notes. if there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony, that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others. i have found in every word a certain musical value, a melody in every thought, harmony in every feeling, and i have tried to interpret the same thing with clear and simple words to those who used to listen to my music.

  4. No offense intended -- I haven't thought too much about mysticism. As a contested, nonrational concept, I'm sure it means lots of different things to different people. I must admit that I've found little reason to place any source of understanding on a par with, let alone above, reason! At any rate, here's a definition from the SEP that strikes me as a good first stab at the concept:

    "A (purportedly) super sense-perceptual or sub sense-perceptual experience granting acquaintance of realities or states of affairs that are of a kind not accessible by way of sense perception, somatosensory modalities, or standard introspection."

  5. no offense taken, though i appreciate your sensitivity. in my terminology, mysticism is the undisclosed subject, and therefore, metaphysical. and reason is the object (material form) which is contained by the subject. to learn any form (even of knowledge) is useful, but when confronted with something new, the form may not translate because form is in constant flux. however, if one grasps the subject, by expanding ones consciousness, one can apply the subject to all objects and therefore pass fluidly through life.
    a "super sense" mysticism is because it is not restricted by sense perception, access is granted to higher realms of experience through my understanding of metaphysics (such as empathy/compassion as might be understood in rational terms, where the experience is not direct but the relationship provokes the sense of understanding needed to treat the situation appropriately).
    i do not discount the validity of reason, it serves its purpose as a reference, but reason is always confronted with contradiction when it reaches a certain depth. in order to be understood, we much breach the threshold of material imposition (increment/form) into the metaphysical spectrum/dimension. how can an experience be both grounding and liberating? logic or reason cannot answer this. reason alone cannot differentiate the kinds of pleasures that increase in their excess (love, joy, compassion) from the ones that heed disaster in the excess, or the kind of pains that are voluntary to increase pleasure (work, school) to the kinds that deteriorate the body long after the physical wound is healed (it is a quantity/ quality issue because the quantity of the qualities does affect the overall quality).