Maturana’s Aesthetic Seduction:

In today’s post, I am looking at the great cybernetician Humberto Maturana’s idea of “aesthetic seduction”. Maturana was an important biologist who was one of the creators of autopoiesis. I have written about it previously. He challenged the prevalent notion at that time that our nervous system takes in information from the environment. He proposed that our nervous system is closed. This means that there is no input of information coming in from the environment. Instead, the nervous system is reading itself. When the nervous system is perturbed by the environment, it goes through a structural change based on its current state, and this transformation is what is read by the nervous system. The perception or experience of the red color is a result of our closed nervous framework, rather than the result of the rose’s petals. The information is generated within itself. We are not information processing machines, and there is no input-output business going on. As Raf Vanderstraeten notes:

the central premise of Autopoiesis and Cognition is that systems are informationally closed. Thus, no information crosses the boundary separating the system from its environment. We do not see a world “out there” that exists apart from us. Rather, we see only what our systemic organization allows us to see. The world merely irritates; it triggers changes determined by the system’s own organization. The world cannot instruct an observing system; the world rather is constructed by the observing system. Only a closed system is able to know (the world).

As one can imagine, such an idea may seem rather strange or being “out there”. Maturana spoke of aesthetic seduction with regards to convincing others of his ideas. His stand was that he should not try to convince anyone. He wanted his ideas to speak for themselves and he wanted the beauty of his ideas to invite the readers. This is the beauty of aesthetic seduction (no pun intended). He noted:

The idea of aesthetic seduction is based on the insight that people enjoy beauty. We call something beautiful when the circumstances we find ourselves in make us feel good. Judging something as ugly and unpleasant, on the other hand, indicates displeasure because we are aware of the difference to our views of what is agreeable and pleasant. The aesthetic is harmony and pleasure, the enjoyment of what is given to us. An attractive view transforms us. A beautiful picture makes us look at it again and again, enjoy its color scheme, photograph it, perhaps even buy it. The relationship with a picture may transform the life of people because the picture has become a source of aesthetic experience.

He pointed out that there is no manipulation involved here. He really wanted the readers to enjoy the presented ideas.

I certainly never intend to seduce or persuade people in a manipulative way. Beauty would vanish if I tried to seduce in this way. Any attempt to persuade applies pressure and destroys the possibility of listening. Pressure creates resentment. Wanting to manipulate people stimulates resistance. Manipulation means exploiting our relation with other people in such a way as to give them the impression that whatever happens is beneficial and advantageous for them. But the resulting actions of the manipulated person are, in fact, useful for the manipulator. Manipulation, therefore, really means cheating people.

Maturana advises us to be respectful and engage in open conversations. Our nervous systems may be closed, but that does not mean that our minds should be too.

The only thing left to me in the way of aesthetic seduction is just to be what I am, wholly and entirely, and to admit no discrepancy whatsoever between what I am saying and what I am doing. Of course, this does not at all exclude some jumping about and playacting during a lecture. But not in order to persuade or to seduce but in order to generate the experiences that produce and make manifest what I am talking about. The persons becoming acquainted with me in this way can then decide for themselves whether they want to accept what they see before them. Only when there is no discrepancy between what is said and what is done, when there is no pretense and no pressure, aesthetic seduction may unfold. In such a situation, the people listening and debating will feel accepted to such an extent as to be able to present themselves in an uninhibited and pleasurable manner. They are not attacked, they are not forced to do things, and they can show themselves as they are, because someone else is presenting himself naked and unprotected. Such behavior is always seductive in a respectful way because all questions and fears suddenly become legitimate and completely new possibilities of encountering one another emerge.

Maturana’s words are so beautiful that I am not going to add further to it. I will leave with his words on not wanting to convince others of his ideas:

I never attempt to convince anyone. Some people become annoyed when they are confronted with my considerations. That is perfectly okay. I would never try to correct their views and then force my own ideas upon them.

Stay safe and always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Constructivist’s View of POSIWID:

3 thoughts on “Maturana’s Aesthetic Seduction:

  1. Brains actually “add information” to reality. Brains are organs necessary for moving around: sensing and judging. One needs limbs to move, off course, and limbs required guidance. The fact that the left part of the brain is connected with the right part of the body (and the right part of the eye), is not an anomaly, but a simple solution to directed movement. Activating the left side, makes one move to the right, as any rower knows. So the right side, triggers the left side, right?

    Simple “nerve cells” – for instance “light/dark sensors” – connecting the right side (left) with the left side (right) will suffice. At the same time, such a “nerve cell” (Latin for ‘cord’ or ‘connection’) “expects” triggers. This is why nerve cells are always “firing” and that the “information” is in the higher/lower activation/inhibition frequency of firing. And this enables three states coding (- 0 +) of signals, which is more efficient than our digital two states coding (- +, it should have been -1 +1).

    Combining nerve cells into brains, animals can generate “future predicting patterns”. Patterns of patterns of interacting nerve cells, generating “attractor fields” – semi-stable patterns which one perceives as “thoughts”. Like: ‘I like to say: “is it lunch or am I lunch?”‘.

    So not only expects a brain to be given information, it also generates information to evaluate the “data” – givens. It informs itself, uses a kind “tresholds”, limits of expected data, used to trigger “attention”. These trigger levels, off course, have to be learned.

    A brain “adds” expectation values – information – to what’s being sensed by the body (motor cycles, we’ve got also sensory cells in our limbs) and senses (eye, ears, ….) . In this way, brains “model” their body, which I can call “self” or “mind”. So mind has to be “embodied” and body has to be “minded”.

    While a body “models” its environment (which I prefer to call domain). Our limbs are suited for walking and grasping, but not so much for swimming.

    As with the proverbial map: the structure of the model/map accounts for its usefulness. And in the case of organisms, organs organically organize themselves through using each other. The word organ has been derived from the Greek ‘erg’: or “work”. A body needs to work, to work up a mind, working up a body.

    And also: “use it or loose it”: when one doesn’t use one’s “modelling body/brain”, one looses the ability to model.

    So one’s brain is “operationally closed” – one cannot sense how it’s operating without destroying its working – and informational open, in the sense (!) that one expects to be informed.

    Thank you kindly.


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