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Record Type: Review   ID: 342

The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (rev. ed.)

Maturana, Humberto R., & Varela, Francisco J.

 Maturana, a biologist, and Varela, a cognitive scientist specializing in epistemology, have done an excellent job in presenting a new biological view of human knowing/being expressed after the manner of a elementary textbook. They show how knowing is not simply perceiving what is "out there"; rather, we bring forth the world in each of our acts of living. This implies an ethical responsibility and indicates that at base we are all in the same boat though they may look different. In a sense, they describe what Varela suggests be called an enactive view of knowing expressed in the book he wrote with E. Thompson and E. Rosch, The Embodied Mind Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991). He chose "enactive" because it connotes that "what is known is brought forth" (p. 255), not simply found or made up. The key points they make in The Tree of Knowledge are that "we have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth" (p. 248—italicized in original). Thus, dissension, denial, ignorance, aggression will get us nowhere. As they point out, "to disregard the identity between cognition and action, not to see that knowing is doing, and not to see that every human act takes place in languaging and, as such (as a social act), has ethical implications because it entails humanness, is not to see human beings as living entities" (p. 248). Whatever we do occurs through our biological structural dynamics but it is social, it is situated, and our only chance to continue to evolve is to move forward by affirming both persons or groups in any oppositional situation. This work is valuable in that it provides a biological basis for the necessity of loving and caring.
Publisher Information:Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1992. 271p. Glossary: 257-259; 72 illus; Index: 265-269
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