We human beings happen in language, and we happen in language as the kind of living systems we are. We have no way of referring to ourselves or to anything else outside of language. Even to refer to ourselves as non-language entities we must be in language. Indeed, the operation of reference exists only in language and to be outside language is, for us as observers, nonsensical. For these reasons, it is essential for understanding the observer as a human being to explain language as a biological phenomenon, and in order to do this I want to show what happens with language in the two explanatory paths I have talked about above.
1) In being consistent with the basic tenet of objectivity of the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, the observers that take this explanatory path cannot avoid taking language as a system of behavior that they use to communicate with each other about entities that exist independently of what they do. Furthermore, in doing this they cannot avoid the implicit assumption that they have the constitutive ability to grasp the existence and features of such independent entities, and of symbolising both their existence and features with words. That is, in this explanatory path, the observers that want to talk about language cannot avoid talking about words as if they were symbols that stand for the independent entities about which they communicate with each other. This has two basic consequences for the observers who indeed want to talk about language in this explanatory path:
a) If language is taken by the observer as one of his or her constitutive properties, then language shows up in his or her discourse as an unanalysable given, and the most that he or she can do is to describe its regularities and conditions of use.
b) If the observer takes language as a result of its operation as a biological entity, and want to give a scientific explanation of it as a biological phenomenon while remaining in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis, then he or she must show the operation of a biological structural mechanism through which the living system grasps the features of the independent entities that the words that he or she uses symbolise. That mechanism, however, does not take place in the domain of scientific explanations, and cannot take place because the observer as a scientist must treat living systems as structure determined entities, that is, as entities in which everything that happens is determined by their structure, and not by any external agent that many impinge upon them. In other words, the conception of the observer as a biological entity whose properties result from its operation as such, and the conception of the observer as an entity that can make any kind of statement about an independent reality, either directly through perception, or indirectly through reason, are intrinsically contradictory. Due to this, language, perception, cognition and self-consciousness are abilities, properties or operations of the observer that cannot be explained as biological phenomena in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis.
2) In the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, the situation is completely different. As this explanatory path is constituted by recognising that the observer is a living system, and that all its properties result from its operation as such, all the properties of the observer as an observer require a biological explanation. Furthermore, the observer who wants to do this has to satisfy two conditions: a) that the observer must take its own operation as a living system in language (that is, its own praxis of living as an observer) as its starting point, as its instrument for explaining his or her operation as such, as well as the phenomenon to be explained; and b) that the observer must propose a biological generative mechanism that gives rise to language as a consequence of its operation in the context of the satisfaction of the criterion of validation of scientific explanations. The first condition is intrinsically satisfied in the explanatory path in the recognition that in it explaining consists of a reformulation of the praxis of living of the observer. The second condition requires a special attention to the manner of existing of living systems as structure determined systems in recurrent interactions that I have presented in other publications (see Maturana, 1978 and Maturana & Varela, 1987), and which I shall repeat here only in its conclusions, but not in its whole justification, in the form of six statements:
a) An observer claims that language, or better, languaging, is taking place when he or she observes a particular kind of flow (that I shall describe below) in the interactions and co-ordinations of actions between human beings. As such, language is a biological phenomenon because it results from the operations of human beings as living systems, but it takes place in the domain of the co-ordinations of actions of the participants, and not in their physiology or neurophysiology. Languaging and physiology take place in different and non intersecting phenomenal domains. Or, in other words, language as a special kind of operation in co-ordinations of actions requires the neurophysiology of the participants, but it is not a neurophysiological phenomenon.
b) The scientific explanation of language as a biological phenomenon consists in the proposition of a generative mechanism that gives rise to the dynamics of interactions and co-ordinations of actions that an observer distinguishes as languaging. Such an explanation must show how languaging arises in the interaction of living systems as structure determined systems, and how it constitutes, as a domain of co-ordinations of actions, a phenomenal domain in which all that we do in language in the praxis of living can take place, and does take place, when certain historical contingencies occur. Since, as I have shown above, a scientific explanation does not constitute a phenomenic reduction, but on the contrary it constitutes the validation of a generative relation between otherwise independent nonintersecting phenomenal domains, the scientific explanation of language does not constitute a phenomenic reduction of it.
c) As an observer distinguishes a structure determined system, he or she brings forth a composite entity and the domain in which it interacts with conservation of organisation. Furthermore, as a structure determined system conserves its organisation while it interacts in a particular medium, and flows in the sequences of structural changes that these interactions trigger in it, it also conserves its structural correspondence or adaptation in that medium, otherwise it disintegrates. Indeed, conservation of organisation (relations between components that define the class identity of a system) and conservation of adaptation (relation of interactions in a medium that do not trigger the disintegration of the system) are conditions of existence for any system distinguished by the observer. In these circumstances, an observer sees that when two or more structure determined systems interact recurrently with each other in a particular medium, they enter in a history of congruent structural changes that follows a course that arises moment after moment contingent on their recurrent interactions, to their own internal structural dynamics, and to their interactions with the medium, and which lasts until one or both of them disintegrate, or they separate.
In daily life, such a course of structural change in a system contingent on the sequence of its interactions in the medium in which it conserves organisation and adaptation is called 'drift'. If the interacting structure determined systems are living systems, what the observer sees along the flow of their recurrent interactions is that their congruent structural changes take place embedded in the realisation, and sometimes in the expansion, of a domain of co-ordinations of actions or behavior between them that was already allowed by their initial structures at the beginning of their recurrent interactions. If what takes place along a particular course of recurrent interactions between two or more living systems is the expansion of an initial domain of co-ordinations of actions, and the observer can claim that the new co-ordinations of actions would not have arisen in a different history of recurrent interactions between those living systems, then those living systems have established what I call a domain of consensual co-ordinations of actions. Domains of consensual co-ordinations of actions are, normally, the spontaneous outcomes of the operation of living systems under recurrent interactions. All that is needed for them to arise is that the participant living systems should already have at their first encounter the necessary structural disposition for their recurrent interactions to take place, structural plasticity in the domain of their interactions, and the initial structure that allows them to conserve organisation and adaptation while their structures change under their recurrent interactions. All living systems satisfy these three structural conditions to some extent, and they do so as a result of the evolutionary history to which they belong.
d) There are circumstances in which an observer can see that under the expansion of a consensual domain of co-ordinations of actions there is a recursion in the co-ordinations of actions of the organisms that participate in it. When this happens, what an observer sees is, on the one hand, organisms that interact with each other recurrently in consensual co-ordinations of actions, and on the other hand, a phenomenal domain in which all the phenomena that we distinguish as phenomena of praxis of living in daily life take place. Due to this, I claim that when this occurs, language happens, and that the phenomenon of language takes place in the flow of consensual co-ordinations of consensual co-ordinations of actions between organisms that live together in a co-ontogenic structural drift. Furthermore, I also claim that with languaging observing and the observer arise; the former as the second-order recursion in consensual co-ordinations of actions that constitute the phenomenon of distinction and the latter in a third-order recursion in which there is the distinction of the operational realisation of observing in a bodyhood. Indeed, when languaging and observing take place, objects take place as distinctions of distinctions that obscure the co-ordinations of actions that these co-ordinate. Finally, when languaging, observing and objects take place, the phenomenon of self-consciousness may take place in a community of observers as a fourth-order recursion of consensual co-ordinations of actions in which the observer distinguishes his or her bodyhood as a node in a network of recursive distinctions.
e) Language as a domain of recursive consensual co-ordinations of actions does not operate with symbols, yet symbols arise in language as distinctions of relations of distinctions. Also, according to this, words are not symbolic entities, nor do they connote or denote independent objects. They are distinctions of consensual co-ordinations of actions in the flow of consensual co-ordinations of actions. This is why sounds, marks or movements do not constitute words by themselves, and sequences or groups of sounds, marks or movements do not constitute languaging. Language occurs only in the flow of recursive consensual co-ordinations of actions between organisms in recurrent interactions, or, in the operation of a single organism, in the flow of actions that an observer may see in it as belonging to an implicit domain of consensual co-ordinations of actions with other organisms because they arise in that single organism in its structural dynamics under circumstances in which its structure in that moment is the result of its participation in a history of languaging with other organisms. In daily life we know that this is the case, and we usually say that a human being is eccentric, mad or alienated when we see him or her performing the actions proper to languaging outside a domain of recursive consensual co-ordinations of actions.
f) Although language takes place in a domain of co-ordinations of actions, it results as such through the co-ontogenic structural drift of organisms in recurrent interactions. That is, language takes place in the flow of consensual co-ordinations of actions of organisms whose actions co-ordinate because they have congruent dynamic structures that have arisen or are arising through their recurrent interactions in a co-ontogenic drift. Due to this, interactions in language are structural interactions that trigger in the interacting organisms structural changes contingent on the course of the consensual co-ordinations of actions in which they arise. As a result, even though the domain of languaging does not intersect with the structural domain of the bodyhoods of the interacting organisms, the structural changes of the organisms that interact in language are a function of what takes place in their languaging, and vice versa. Although we are usually unaware of this, we in daily life show that we know that this is the case with the adjectives that we usually use to characterise the languaging of a conversation in terms of what happens to us as body encounters. Thus we say that the words were smooth, caressing, hard, sharp, and so on; all words that refer to body touching. Indeed, we can kill or elate with words as body experiences. We kill or elate with words because, as co-ordinations of actions, they take place through body interactions that trigger in us body changes in the domain of the physiology.
From what I have said above, it follows that language is not our only way of operating in consensual co-ordinations of actions. Indeed, language is a recursion in consensual co-ordinations of actions. The basic consensual co-ordinations of actions that are operationally prior to language I call linguistic co-ordinations of actions, and the domain of these basic consensual co-ordinations of actions I call a first-order linguistic domain (see Maturana, 1978). So, we can also say that language is a domain of recursive linguistic co-ordinations of actions, or a domain of second-order linguistic co-ordinations of actions. We human beings also co-ordinate our actions with each other in first-order linguistic domains, and we do so frequently with non-human animals. A domain of first-order linguistic co-ordinations of actions can be very rich and involved, depending on the complexity of the history of recurrent interactions in which it takes place, but, one can say, its expansion is only additive. Language as a second-order linguistic domain can be much more rich and involved because of its recursive nature, and one can say that its expansion is multiplicative.