|Humberto Maturana: 8 Emotions and intelligence|
Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: what has that to do with Business?
Humberto Maturana Romesin and Pille Bunnell
Emotions and intelligence
Different emotions take us along different paths, we live different histories according to our emotions. There is a book called "Emotional Intelligence" that speaks of emotions as a particular kind of intelligence, and in a way emotions are related to intelligence. I think intelligence is something very basic, a particular kind of phenomenon that has to do with the plasticity for participation in changing behaviour and changing relations. This is what we refer to when we speak about an intelligent being. For example when we say that an animal is intelligent we are saying that it has entered into a flow of consensuality, a flow of plastic behaviour, with us. When we say a person is intelligent, we refer to the plastic flow of whatever relationship the person is participating in, including relationships in various conceptual domains.
Intelligence is a basic phenomenon that has to do with the plasticity for participation in changing relations.
How emotions relate to intelligence is that emotions change the possible expanse of intelligent behavior. Fear restricts intelligence to a very narrow view, it concentrates attention in a particular way, and constrains the relationship to a particular orientation. Similarly, ambition and competition restrict attention, vision, and intelligence. Forgive me for saying so, but if you think about it bit, you will see that this is indeed so.
The only emotion that expands intelligent behavior is love.
I claim that from a biological point of view we humans are all equally intelligent, and this is the case because we live in language. The fundamental neuronal plasticity needed for living in language is so gigantic that we are fundamentally equally intelligent. This plasticity is not at all the same sort of thing that computers have - the computers we use are computing machines, not intelligent machines. They do not have the plasticity for participation in changing behaviour and changing relations that comprises intelligence. Our languaging brain is enormously plastic, able to generate endless recursions in language, creating endlessly new domains of living. Sure, there are individual variations in realizing this fundamental plasticity according to whether we have had some malnutrition in our development, or brain damage or disease, or whether we have lived a life that has put us in situations of constraint, despair, or rejection.
Our cultural belief that intelligence is something that some people have, and others lack, limits what we can do together. Philip Carroll, in his tenure as CEO of Shell Oil, realized this fallacy, he stated that "people are competent" as one of his primary premises as he initiated a change. If we want to do something different, we have to accept that we are all equally intelligent, or we will not trust that the others will act competently. If you want autonomous and coherent behaviour, you need only open a space of love, and intelligence appears there. You don't have to do anything but accepting that the other is equally intelligent as you, even as he or she has a different experience, lives in a different way, or has different preferences.
How is it that love expands intelligence? It has to do with vision - not eyesight, but that which we mean when we exclaim "I see!". Let me give you another example from daily life, you may have heard something like this enacted in a play, or you may have lived it yourself. A man comes home from work, and after a little while his wife complains "You don't love me anymore! You didn't notice that I've done my hair!" What is her complaint? Her complaint concerns not being seen, not arising in the legitimacy of her existence with the other. By the way this business of the legitimacy of the existence of the other does not mean you have to accept, or want to be near the person, being, or circumstance -- it means you have to let it be to see it.
There is an interesting television series called "McGyver", you may have seen it. McGyver is the hero in this series, he knows many things, like all of us do. He knows some physics, chemistry, anthropology, architecture... all sorts of things. And in several episodes he finds himself trapped somewhere with a companion. They may be in a cave, or in a barn that is about to be burned down, something like that, the point is they are trapped. His companion may have the same kind of knowledge about physics, chemistry, etc., but is frightened and despairs "My goodness, we are trapped, we're going to run out of air!" or "The bandits are going to come and kill us!". But McGyver, no, McGyver is not frightened, he fully accepts his situation as legitimate in coexistence with him. He loves his situation and thus he can see, and as he can see he can see this little wire here, and this little thing there, and all his knowledge is at hand to make something that opens an escape. If you are fearful, you cannot see, your knowledge is not available, and your intelligent behavior is diminished. I could have said "McGyver respects his situation", and you could think of it that way. But you might see that with respect McGyver might remain a little more aloof, and would not as easily engage with all the little details that become the tools for his escape.
And this what I say, you can check in your own daily life. We continuously live change in the availability of our knowledge, change in our possibilities of plasticity in our relations as modulated through our emotions. I do not think there are different kinds of intelligence, I think emotions modulate the domain of intelligent behavior in which we can operate, and hence our intelligence is expanded or diminished according to our emotions.
McGyver could see his situation as he let it be whatever it was. To see, one must let it be. But this is not always easy as we live in a homosphere. The homosphere is both a rich domain of human living in the present, and a historic domain of human living in which some things have been hidden as others have arisen. The problem with the homosphere is inherent in this peculiar human thing: language. As language began to be lived, we began to live in language by constituting objects, and categories of objects (a new object), and relationships (another kind of object) between objects. With all this we could begin to reflect (as we made of our circumstances an object) and we could invent purposes and intentions (yet another kind of object). This all takes place not as a mental exercise, but as a lived world; we live this world of objects and relationships among objects as our human world, our homosphere. As long as we live the purposes and intentions we have created as a plastic participation in various relationships in a way that does not distort what we do, it does not matter. If we make these rigid and demand that everything we do fit the rigid structure we have devised, or if we focus our attention on the purpose too closely, we distort our ability to live that which we desired when we distinguished what we wanted as a purpose.
This is again a biological discussion, not a philosophical one. This matter of attention resulting in distortion is based in the operation of the nervous system. The nervous system is a network of neuronal elements which operates on excitations and inhibitions. Every movement we make entails excitations and inhibitions. In the most simple way, if I contract a muscle other muscles (the antagonists) are inhibited. Further, there is inhibition within the process of contraction of any given muscle. In us this coordination of excitations and inhibitions occurs directly in the nervous system, in some animals it happens at the level of the muscle. The point is that this play between excitation and inhibition happens in every movement. Every movement is being inhibited as it occurs. This is why, if you are learning karate and you want to break a brick, you have to aim below the brick. If you aim at the brick the force of the blow will be diminished because inhibition takes place before the intended movement is completed.
The coordination of excitation and inhibition is involved in all neuronal activities, including what we call thinking. It is in our neurobiology that attention on what we do inhibits what we do. This is why learning a task involves relaxation - not in terms of becoming limp or falling asleep, but in terms of relaxing your attention, your intent of controlling what you are doing. As you relax your attention on the doing, but proceed in an understanding of what you do, you allow the actual doing to take place in a manner that uses the circumstances as a reference that guides what you are doing. As you become more relaxed, your doing becomes more fluid, and as it becomes more fluid it becomes more pristine, and as it becomes more pristine it becomes more beautiful, more comfortable and more perfect.
As notions such as purpose, intention, or aim arise, they become part of what we do, and as they become part of what we do and we attend to them, this dynamics of interfering with our doing through our attention to what we do takes place -- to a greater or smaller degree.
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