The Irish Journal of Psychology, 1988, 9, 1, 25-82 Humberto R. Maturana, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile.
I claim that the most central question that humanity faces today is the question of reality. And I claim that this is so, regardless of whether we are aware of it or not, because every thing that we do as modern human beings, either as individuals, as social entities, or as members of some non-social human community, entails an explicit or implicit answer to this question as a foundation for the rational arguments that we use to justify our actions. Even nature, as we bring it forth in the course of our lives as human beings, depends on our explicit or implicit answer to this question. Indeed, I claim that the explicit or implicit answer that each one of us gives to the question of reality determines how he or she lives his or her life, as well as his or her acceptance or rejection of other human beings in the network of social and non-social systems that he or she integrates. Finally, since we know from daily life that the observer is a living system because its cognitive abilities are altered if its biology is altered, I maintain that its not possible to have an adequate understanding of social and non-social phenomena in human life if this question is not properly answered, and that this question can be properly answered only if observing and cognition are explained as biological phenomena generated through the operation of the observer as a living human being.
Accordingly, my purpose in this essay is to consider the question of reality, and to do so dealing with the observer as a biological entity. To attain this end, I shall initially present some reflections upon the biology of observing, language and cognition, and then I shall pursue the consequences that I see that the contents of these reflections have for our understanding of social and ethical phenomena. In this endeavour, I shall proceed presenting these reflections under five themes: the ontology of explaining; reality, the ontology of cognition; social phenomena; and ethics. Finally, this essay is written in a way that allows for these different themes to be read to some extent independently.