|Died||May 6, 2021 (aged 92)|
|Alma mater||University of Chile; University College London; Harvard University|
|Awards||National Prize for Natural Sciences|
|Institutions||University of Chile; Instituto de Formación Matríztica|
|Thesis||The fine structure of the optic nerve and tectum of anurans; an electron microscope study (1959)|
|Doctoral advisor||George B. Chapman|
|Doctoral students||Rafael E. Núñez|
Humberto Maturana Romesín (September 14, 1928 – May 6, 2021) was a Chilean biologist and philosopher, generally known as Humberto Maturana. Many consider him a member of a group of second-order cybernetics theoreticians such as Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Herbert Brün and Ernst von Glasersfeld.
Maturana, along with Francisco Varela and Ricardo B. Uribe, was particularly known for creating the term "autopoiesis" about the self-generating, self-maintaining structure in living systems, and concepts such as structural determinism and structural coupling. His work was influential in many fields, mainly the field of systems thinking and cybernetics. Overall, his work is concerned with the biology of cognition. Maturana (2002) insisted that autopoiesis exists only in the molecular domain, and he did not agree with the extension into sociology and other fields:
The molecular domain is the only domain of entities that through their interactions give rise to an open ended diversity of entities (with different dynamic architectures) of the same kind in a dynamic that can give rise to an open ended diversity of recursive processes that in their turn give rise to the composition of an open ended diversity of singular dynamic entities.
Maturana was born in Santiago, Chile. After completing secondary school at the Liceo Manuel de Salas in 1947, he enrolled at the University of Chile, studying first medicine in Santiago, then biology in London and Cambridge, Mass. In 1954, he obtained a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to study anatomy and neurophysiology with J. Z. Young (who later wrote the foreword to The Tree of Knowledge) at University College London. He obtained a PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1958.
He worked in neuroscience at the University of Chile, in the "Biología del Conocer" (Biology of Knowing) research center. Maturana's work has been developed and integrated into the work on ontological coaching developed by Fernando Flores and Julio Olalla.
In 1994 he received Chile's National Prize for Natural Sciences.
Maturana established his own reflection and research center, the Instituto de Formación Matriztica. In 2020 he was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Cybernetics Society.
Maturana died in Santiago on May 6, 2021, at age 92, due to pneumonia.
Maturana's research interest concerns concepts like cognition, autopoiesis, languaging, zero time cybernetics and structural determined systems. Maturana's work extends to philosophy and cognitive science and even to family therapy. He was inspired by the work of the biologist Jakob von Uexküll.
His inspiration for his work in cognition came while he was a medical student and became seriously ill with tuberculosis. Confined in a sanatorium with very little to read, he spent time reflecting on his condition and the nature of life. What he came to realize was "that what was peculiar to living systems was that they were discrete autonomous entities such that all the processes that they lived, they lived in reference to themselves ... whether a dog bites me or doesn't bite me, it is doing something that has to do with itself." This paradigm of autonomy formed the basis of his studies and work.
Maturana and his student Francisco Varela were the first to define and employ the concept of "autopoiesis", which was Maturana's original idea. Aside from making important contributions to the field of evolution, Maturana is associated with an epistemology built upon empirical findings of neurobiology. Maturana and Varela wrote in their Santiago Theory of Cognition: "Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with or without a nervous system."
In an article in Constructivist Foundations. Maturana described the origins of the concept of autopoiesis and his collaboration with Varela.
Maturana influenced — and appears in coded form as a character in the novel Replay by German author Benjamin Stein.
The initial ground-breaking paper which stands as a prelude to all that followed: