Process & Humanness

I.

A precarious process is such that, whatever the complex configuration of enabling conditions, if the dependencies on the operationally closed network are removed, the process necessarily stops. In other words, it is not possible for a precarious process in an operationally closed network to exist on its own in the circumstances created by the absence of the network.

A precarious, operationally closed system is literally self-enabling, and thus it sustains itself in time partially due to the activity of its own constituent processes. Moreover, because these processes are precarious, the system is always decaying. The “natural tendency” for each constituent process is to stop, a fate the activity of the other processes prevents. The network is constructed on a double negation. The impermanence of each individual process tends to affect the network negatively if sustained unchecked for a sufficient time. It is only the effect of other processes that curb these negative tendencies. This dynamic contrasts with the way we typically conceive of organic processes as contributing positively to sustaining life; if any of these processes were to run unchecked, it would kill the organism. Thus, a precarious, operationally closed system is inherently restless, and in order to sustain its intrinsic tendencies towards internal imbalance, it requires energy, matter, and relations with the outside world. Hence, the system is not only self-enabling, but also shows spontaneity in its interactions due to a constitutive need to constantly “buy time” against the negative tendencies of its own parts.

The simultaneous requirement of operational closure and precariousness are the defining properties of autonomy for enactivism. It is this concept of autonomy that answers the opening question in this section about the individuation of the body. A body is understood as such an autonomous system, an understanding that allows for the possibility that any given body need not be constituted exclusively by its biochemical or physiological processes (Thompson and Stapleton 2009; Kyselo and Di Paolo, under review).

The Enactive Approach (pdf) Ezequiel Di Paolo and Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

II.

Biology . . . shows us that we can expand our cognitive domain. This arises through a novel experience brought forth through reasoning, through the encounter with a stranger, or, more directly, through an expression of a biological interpersonal congruence that lets us see the other person and open up for him room for existence beside us. This act is called love, or, if we prefer a milder expression, the acceptance of the other person beside us in our daily living. This is the biological foundation of social phenomena: without love, without acceptance of others living beside us there is no social process and, therefore, no humanness. Anything that undermines the acceptance of others, from competency to the possession of truth and on to ideolog- ic certainty, undermines the social process because it undermines the biologic process that generates it. (Maturana & Varela, The Tree of Knowledge, 1992, p. 246)

bonus pdf:
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s Contribution to Media Ecology: Autopoiesis, The Santiago School of Cognition, and Enactive Cognitive Science


So it came about many many years after reading The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light by William Irwin Thompson that I noted his son Evan is an important shaper of the enactivist frame.

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