Biology of love (Maturana & Verden-Zoeller)

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from:  Biology of Love (paper), By Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller, Opp, G.: Peterander, F. (Hrsg.): Focus Heilpadagogik, Ernst Reinhardt, Muenchen/Basel 1996. [pdf]

In their book with the same title Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller pose the following question:
Are we genetically aggressive animals that love occassionally, or are we loving animals that cultivate aggression culturally?

As the for Maturana the all-important concept of theliving systems both authors look closer at theevolutionary process and its deeper implications for us as species:

The authors state:

Language and Evolution

Indeed, our human indentity is a systemic phenomenon, and in our opinion it arose in the primate evolutionary history to which we belong some three million years ago when languaging as a manner of living began to be systemically conserved geneation after generation in the learning of the children of some small ancestral family.

As human beings we exist in a multidimensional interactional and relational space in which most dimensions remain outside our awareness. So we humans exist in a partially conscious and partially unconscious interactional and relational space in which most dimensions are unconscious. We (the authors) call this conscious and unconscious interactional and relational space our psychic domain of existence. Everything that we do takes place in us through our operation in our psychic domain of existence, or better, in our psychic existence, and as we change in the course of our living, our psychic domain of existence changes.

Language is a manner of living together in recursive consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviors, and must have arisen in the spontaneous coordinations of behavior that takes place when living together; sharing space and food in intimacy occurs.

Or, in other words, as living in language, and particularly in oral languaging, began to be conserved generation after generation in our ancestors, our human lineage began in a process of change that shaped our whole body (nervous system, face, larynx, manner of relation, the world lived) around living in oral language.

Finally, language is not a domain of abstractions or symbols, it is a concrete domain of coordinations of coordinations of concrete doings, and symbols and abstractions are secondary to language. In these circumstances, we humans are not only languaging animals, but we exist in languaging, and we disappear as humans if language disappears. That is, it happens that we are in language not that we use language, that our being in language is our manner of existence as the kind of animals that we are as humans, and that our psychic existence includes the relational dimensions of our languaging being.

Language and Emotions

As a result, different emotions can be fully characterized as different domains of relational behaviors or as dynamic body dispositions for relational behaviors.

For example, love is the domain of those behaviours or dynamic body dispositions through which another arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself, aggression is the domain of those behaviors or dynamic body dispositions through which another is denied as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself, and fear is the domain of those behaviors or dynamic body dispositions through which one moves away from the cicumstances in which one finds oneself.

In these circumstances, love is not a virtue, or something special, it simply is a biological phenomenon as the domain of those behaviors through which social life arises and is conserved; it is simply the biological dynamics that constitutes trust and mutual acceptance in body and spiritual relations of nearness and intimacy.

The way a child lives, the experiences to which he or she is exposed, determines what kind of an adult he or she becomes as he or she will have the structure as an adult that only permits him or her to reenact the emotioning that he or she has lived.

We humans are languaging animals, that is, we live in language as a manner of flowing in coexistence in consensual cordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviors. This manner of living must have arisen in the history that gave origin to us some three million years ago. This we said already.

At the same time, we are loving animals.


In fact, what must have begun then, must have been living in the braiding of languaging and emotioning that we call conversations, and with that what began then was human living as a living in networks of conversations, so that everything human takes place in conversations as a flow in consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviors and emotions.

As such our evolutionary history is a history of expansion of the capacities for consensuality, and, hence, of expansion of intelligence. Intelligence has to do with consensuality, intelligence is not primarily the capacity to solve problems, but it is the capacity to participate in the generation, expansion, and operation in consensual domains as domains of coordinations of behaviors through living together.

Languaging, indeed, living in conversations as we humans do requires such an enormous capacity for consensuality, that we humans are all essentially equally intelligent, and the differences in intelligence that seem to exist between humans are not due to differences in their capacity for consensuality, but in their emotioning.

To live in love, in the biology of love, in the conservation of collaboration, in the acceptance of the other and in the acceptance of the conditions of existence as a source and not as an opposition, restriction or limitation, has been the fundament for the evolutionary trend of conservation of the continuous expansion of intelligence in our lineage. We humans are the present result of these four basic processes. But there is more to our human condition than what is apparent in these
reflections, both in the richness and range of being animals that live in conversations.

The Culture of Negation of the other

But at the same time, as languaging animals that live in conversations, we humans can reflect on our circumstances, and we can invent, and have invented, rational systems in the form of religious, political, philosophical, and economic theories, that we have used to justify our doings and the negation of our emotions. As we have done that during the last ten thousand years, particularly in our occidental culture, we humans have become alienated from our basic condition of loving animals, and we have begun to live through those theories the rational justification of the systematic and systemic negation of the other (love) through the defense of transcendental values, and rational or revealed universal truths. In the blindness that the negation of love creates in our living, we stop seeing ourselves as part of the harmonious interconnectedness of all existence in the unending dynamics of life and death, and we begin to live guided by ambition, greediness and the desire for control and continuous relational difficulties that open ended population growth and misapplied technology, in the belief that it is the solution to all our problems have brought to us, and we are not happy. Indeed we suffer, because we become denied by the very same world and psychic existence that we are bringing about, as this is a world and psychic existence that denies the fundaments of our existence as loving animals. We humans are loving animals, or we still are. This means that love is the grounding of our human existence.

We want to arise in our relations with others as legitimate beings that do not need to justify their existence with respect to them;

The only emotion that expands intelligence is love, and this is so because intelligence has to do with the acceptance of the legitimacy of the other and the expansion of the possibility for consensuality that such acceptance entails. Love is visionary. We think that other lineages of the human kind may have become extinguished through the negation of love in mutual destruction or ecological blindness in their domain of existence.

We are not talking about love as a virtue or as something good from a moral, religious, or philosophical perspective. We are talking biology, we are talking about our animal constitution as the particular kind of primates that we are as members of an evolutionary trend centered around the conservation of the biology of love and the expansion of intelligence.

It is as loving languaging beings that we can still become aware of what it is to be a human being, and it is only as loving animals that we can still create the conditions for the upbringing of our children in the mother*/child relation and, later, in the schools and during their growth into adulthood, in a way that they grow and conserve themselves as self respecting socially conscious loving and caring adults by living with them in the biology of love.

* mother can mean both male and female as it is understood as a caring function.

Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerden Verden-Zoeller, The Origin of the Humanness in the Biology of Love, Imprint Academic, Exceter, 2008

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