Society for Organizational Learning, North America

Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Your Cart   |   Sign In   |   Register
Humberto Maturana: 4 Living systems
Share |
Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: what has that to do with Business?
Humberto Maturana Romesin and Pille Bunnell
Living systems

A living system is "closed" and operates according to its own dynamics, that is, it is a structure determined system. This means it operates according to its own structure in any instant. This is the same as any system, what happens with planetary systems, weather, tape recorders -- any system -- depends on its structure. The peculiarity of living systems is that their operational dynamics conserve living. Living systems are discrete entities that are constituted as such through molecular dynamics; they are molecular systems that continually produce themselves.
A living systems is a network of molecules that interact with each other in such a way that through their interactions they produce the same kinds of molecules as the network that produced them -- and in doing so constitute the whole network as a singular unity.
The process of molecular productions that constitutes a living system cannot exist in isolation, it is only possible with a flow of matter and energy. Thus living systems can only exist by interacting with a medium that provides matter and energy. What living systems conserve is living, so the form, or structure, of the living system is open to change, and this is what we find: a history of changes in structure.

Figure 3 The circular arrow represents a living system as a structurally determined system that conserves living . The living system lives as long as its structure changes coherently with the circumstances (time 0 to time n), if coherence (adaptation) is lost, the living system dies (time n+1).

Changes in structure are happening all the time. We ourselves are living systems, and we have had different structures in different moments of our history. This is so obvious we take it for granted, but if you look at photos of yourself at various ages, you will be able to connect yourself with a history in which living has been conserved while everything else may have changed.

As its structure changes, what the system can do also changes. This too we know from daily living. For example if you have a car and you want to use it for a race, you would go to a mechanic and ask him to make the appropriate modifications. As the structure of the car is changed, what you can do with it changes. In the case of living systems these changes follow a particular path that has to do with the conservation of living and the conservation of congruence with the circumstances, that is, adaptation. The whole history of living systems is a history of the conservation of living and the conservation of adaptation. As the circumstances change the structure of the system changes coherently with those changes - if there is no coherence with the circumstances the living system disintegrates and dies.

In general terms living systems are autonomous entities that exist in the present. They are autonomous in their actual operation as living systems but this does not mean that they can exist by themselves separated from everything else. It means that whatever happens to them, has to do with them. Their wellbeing consists of being autonomous in that sense, wherever they are.

The wellbeing of a lion has to do with itself, yet the lion depends on other living beings for its food -- as all living beings except plants do. We eat each other. Have you ever thought how many living beings you eat when you eat lettuce? Have you ever thought how marvelous a thing it is that lettuce is food for you? Some time ago I was struck by this realization "Oh my goodness, lettuce is food for me!" How come? Because we resemble each other. The lettuce has proteins as we do, it has carbohydrates and nucleic acids as we do, and so forth - everything - its cells are made of the same sorts of things as ours. We eat living beings whether or not we are vegetarians.

So the lion is autonomous, as long as it is not in the zoo, because in the zoo somebody controls its eating. While the lion is in the Savannah, he may die of hunger, but nobody controls his eating. There he has the opportunity of living or not living. This is the condition of autonomy. I think that if the very crazy idea of being a revolutionary were to happen to you, you could only achieve that if you had your own potatoes, your own beans and corn, so you could live on your own produce. Then you could be revolutionary, because you would be autonomous. Nobody would control your eating. But in the sense that whatever happens with us in our living has to do with us, autonomy is a condition of being a living system. We are well when this is so. Like all living beings we humans are autonomous entities.
Let me propose three historical periods on earth:
  1. Biosphere
  2. Homosphere
  3. Robosphere
The biosphere has given rise to the homosphere, which is the period where we now are -- and we are leading in to what I shall call the "Robosphere". I have distinguished these three periods according to what is conserved.

The biosphere is a history of autonomous living systems. It is a history of transformations in the conservation of living. In the biosphere what is conserved is living, with changes in the forms of living, that is various living systems. In conserving living, many different forms of the realization of living have been conserved, and we are one of them. And with us, the homosphere has appeared. Not just like that, but as we became humans a couple of peculiar things arose with us that made a homosphere possible. Human beings exist in language, and human beings are loving animals.

Reflections Global Network Learning More

North America
Latin America
Asia Pacific

SoL Flash Blog
Online Store


Foundations for Leadership
Leading Sustainable Transformation
Executive Champions' Workshop

Strategic Partners


Society for Organizational Learning
101 Main Street, 14th floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
Membership Management Software Powered by®  ::  Legal