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Humberto Maturana: 15 Blindness
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Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: what has that to do with Business?
Humberto Maturana Romesin and Pille Bunnell

A puzzle of human existence is that we appear to create conditions that conserve blindness, or prevent us from reflecting, even as we maintain that we do not like blindness.

What is blindness? Blindness is a commentary by someone else about what you do. If you are blind you are blind, you don't see what you do not see: this is nature of being blind. So when I am blind, I am not blind in my own experience, but another person tells me that I am blind. I can either listen, and say "Oh! what am I not seeing?" or I can become irritated, feel inadequate, or deny what the other tells me. Blindness is not bad in itself, it is something we always live with, and we can always expand the domain of our vision according to what becomes relevant to us. We are blind because all we can ever see is our niche, we cannot see what surrounds that, we cannot see our environment.
Figure 5 A living system embedded in a medium encounters a part of that medium in one way or another in its living. This is the niche. The part of the medium the living system does not encounter, and hence is unaware of, is the environment. An observer can see some aspects of the environment, and imagine its extension. An observer can only see the niche to the extent that the living system reveals it through its behavior.
I shall explain by simple analogy. If I stand on the podium I stand on a particular part, my niche. My niche is that part of the medium that I in fact encounter in my living. An observer, you, in this case, sees a broad space where the living being is, and imagines it being still bigger. That is the medium. You imagine my medium to include things you have never seen - like my lab at the university. The niche is that part of the medium where we encounter whatever dimensions we are encountering.

The observer also sees something around the living system, which I shall call environment or circumstance. You as an observer may notice things around here that I am unaware of, that is my environment. But the observer cannot see the niche, each system obscures where it is. You don't see where I stand, in order for you to see, I have to show you by lifting my foot. Or you deduce it by observing where I stand. An observer can only deduce what comprises the niche of a living system through its behaviour. What you see is what is around me. But I cannot see what is around me, I can only see what I encounter. We cannot see beyond our niche. The person observing, of course, can only what he or she encounters, and this comprises part of my environment. When someone tells me I am blind, that I do not see some particular thing, what this person is telling me is that "I see here, in the environment, something that you do not see". In that interaction I may come to see something. When this happens, that thing stops being part of my environment and becomes part of my niche.

The niche is not fixed, it is fluid. But we cannot step out if, it just transforms as we move: it transforms as our understanding and our vision changes. We know this, it is part of our daily life understanding. We tell our children to go and study so they will be able to see different things. To study means to go to a place where your niche begins to change. Studying does not necessarily mean that your niche expands. If you study something that expands your reflections, your niche expands, but if you study something that reduces reflection, your niche diminishes.

So when somebody says you are blind, they are saying that there are features of the medium that he or she sees that are outside of your niche. It may be that in a conversation your niche expands and you begin to see something which then becomes part of your niche. What you now see is not necessarily the same thing that the observer who called you blind sees. We can never see what the other sees, niches are always bound to each individual. But what may happen as we participate in an interaction with somebody else is that our niches begin to change together congruently. We can say that a social niche appears while we remain in an interaction.

Figure 6 As two living systems (A and B) interact, those aspects of the other which are encountered are part of each one's niche, the rest of which consists of encounters with the medium (C). Thus the niches of each system are different(x and y).
As long as the two living systems are in interaction, a joint niche (z) of the interacting unit also comes into being.

So what may happen when you are conversing with someone who claims that you are blind, and you do not deny it, is that your niche changes, because it includes something triggered by what the other is telling you (not necessarily whatever he or she sees). But then the niche of the other changes as well, because a conversation is an interaction between two persons. As the other explains to you what he or she thinks your blindness is, he or she begins to see things that have to do with the things that you see. And then something new appears, namely the niche of these two persons together, a social niche. This may be fleeting, or it may be lasting -- it depends. The interesting thing about this niche is that it is a space of knowledge. I speak of knowledge as doing, because we assess knowledge based on the actions of another. So the social niche is a space of action.
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