Re: The scientific status of PCP

Gary Blanchard (
Thu, 20 Jun 1996 09:59:39 -0700

Dear Tim-

Thanks for your last post.

I feel you are reaching out to include a fuller understanding of this new
paradigm of Constructivism that I have been somewhat clumsily talking about,
'The Language/Action Model of Communication,' and I welcome it. Maybe in
this way we can create a more useful conversation about this paradigm and
others represented by other people on this list.

ABOUT Humberto Maturana, PhD.....

What you wrote about me and my position basically accords with my general
understanding of Maturana and Varela's (THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE, et al)view of
the nature of us humans, and indeed of all living creatures, although I
certainly am no authority, merely a continuing student. People like Jay
Efrans, and perhaps others here, undoubtedly are far more expert and
articulate than I. I invite their participation and response.

Basically, in my recollected interpretation, Maturana (Harvard PhD) conducted
extensive biology experiments and performed acute, imaginative observations
of the results. He concluded that we living creatures are structurally-closed
(nervous) systems, contrary to prior views that we are 'open.' [We are 'open'
in many ways, he finds, but not structurally.]

He suggests the analogy that we are all portable tape recorders. While
others can push our buttons and activate (trigger) our systems, the response
which occurs is controlled by the mechanism (motor, etc.) and media (tape
contents, if any)of our person / tape recorder.

Therefore, no one can MAKE us angry,sad,happy, etc. They can only trigger us.
If our equipment does not respond (we don't hear/see them), or our tape lacks
the potential (trace memories of positive/negative associations) to be
triggered, then we may not respond. (Isn't this a great example of why we
therapists/teachers/parents/people must resolve our issues, so we are much
less vulnerable to inappropriate triggering?)


[In my next email, I will post an Attachment to a web link that does a far,
far better job than I can in laying out this view. Please send any such links
you know of to me as well.

[In addition, in re-reading Winograd and Flores (Maturana's student)',
UNDERSTANDING COMPUTERS & COGNITION, I came across a section which speaks to
your inquiry quite pointedly. I will search that out that bring it to you
here in a few days.

[Finally, as you probably know, Maturana has become quite a figure in the
field of psychology, especially Family Systems Therapy. Perhaps he is
represented in some way at your School?

[I have had a chance to be with him 3 times now, and have always found him to
be an impressively scholarly, innovative, and humble, scientist-philosopher.
My last chance to be with him, via the Clinical Psychology Graduate Faculty
at Widener University outside Philadelphia, was two weeks ago. He spoke of
"The Biology of Cognition," and then of "The Biology of Love." I found him,
as always, masterful. But my physically restless nature also resulted in my
getting dopey at several points; hopefully Widener will have audiotapes
available and I can re-listen him, to grasp more fully the rigorous
sophistication of his speaking.}


What I want to add to your fine summary, Tim, is an awareness of the
experiential aspect of this new paradigm, which was the biggest and most
valuable part for me. Indeed, I now realize it as a new way of life:

-The constant awareness that I DO indeed live in language, or
mutually-orienting behavior;

- that I perturb others and they me, in language,

- that I am never not in conversation, if only with myself
privately;hence I can be said to be 'languaging' [M's term]

- that this 'language' is a kaleidoscopic blend of
Heideggerian 'thrownness,' ever-present moods, and Speech

-all of which I can be coached and train myself to
comprehend, better direct, and learn to selectively
desensitize myself about, so I am freer that I ever
was before to design my present and future life.

The heart of the design and rationale for all this is in Winograd & Flores'
(see above) book: In order to help the reader understand the role
of the computer in human affairs, they have to analyze those
affairs, he principal one being language/action. In so doing they
contrast the 'rationalistic' (objectivist) view with their new
paradigm (language/action). This takes them on brief but valuable
visits to Heidegger and John Searle's Speech Acts (as condensed by Flores).

ASIDE: Fernando Flores, PhD.....

[As you may know, Flores -- educated as an Industrial Engineer -- had been
first Education, the Economics, Minister in the Allende government in Chile
in the 70s. Came the military coup and he was imprisoned, with periodic mock
executions, by the Pinochet regime, for three years. Rescued by Amnesty
International, he came to Stanford U. where, evidently, he met Winograd, an
Artificial Intelligence expert.

[He enrolled for his doctorate at Berkeley, and studied under Prof. Searle,
of Speech Acts fame, and Prof. Dreyfus, of Heidegger fame, as I understand
it. His dissertation was on 'The Office of the Future,' and still sells

[He went on to create:

- one of the first group software programs, 'The Coordinator,' (since
merged with Lotus Notes, I understand), through a company called
Action Technologies, Inc., of Alameda, CA. He and his colleagues
have since expanded this approach into a new discipline known as
Workflow Management, which is expanding around the world (see web
search engines);

- and a company called Hermenet, later Logonet, of Emeryville, CA.,
for training and development of people like me, who were lucky and
trusting enough to enroll in one of their first courses back in 1985;
and which no longer, to my knowledge, offers any public courses.]


So we come as far as this, for now, Tim.

The challenge we face, those of us who wish to come to know this new
paradigm of Language/action, is --- as someone once said --- that
'understanding is the booby prize.' This new paradigm is a new 'cut' on the
phenomenon of understanding human language and operations. If it is merely
'understood,' as for example in 'understanding' Maturana better, then the
understander is implicity remaining within the paradigm they were in when
they came to the matter, although they may not realize it.

What is needed to get value here, I offer, is not 'to understand,'
hard as that may be to realize [all of our Euro-centrist, 'higher'
education schooling promotes 'awareness' and 'understanding']. What is
needed is to 'get' it. But one must shift one's paradigm to be able to
'get'it. An example: How can a man ever know what it is like to give birth
to a child? Answer: they can't---unless they shift their structure (in a way
we don't know how to do, today) and then go through the process involved. So

The challenge of this new paradigm, then, seems to me to be to shift
our structure, expecially our linguistic structure, or else live out the rest
of our days never knowing this new view, or being able to take the actions
one can take when one has that view to see with, and to guide them.

Maybe we could talk about that soon, eh? I'll be away for a few days,
but wanted to get this off before then. Maybe upon my return Sunday night or
Monday we can continue.

Best, Gary

> Tim A. Connor wrote:
> Gary--
> What I would like to do is sketch out your basic position as I have
> gleaned it from the accumulated totality of your posts. It's entirely
> possible that I've missed some key points or misread others, and I hope
> you'll correct my construction of your stance.
> You identify yourself as a Constructivist in the Maturana/Varela line. My
> acquaintance with that particular school of constructivist thought is
> superficial, but the basics, as I understand them, are as follows:
> All the potential responses of an organism (or, by extension, any system)
> to its environment are determined by the organism/system's internal
> structure. The organism/system can change its organization in response to
> perturbations caused by the external environment, but all possible modes
> of organization are latent in the structure. Therefore, we cannot acquire
> (i.e., internalize) information about the external environment, only about
> our own perturbations--what happens inside us as we come in contact with
> the world. [Here ends my summary of Maturana & Varela--what follows may
> or may not coincide with their thinking, but I think it does with yours].
> What happens inside human beings, principally, is language: we give names
> to our perturbations and to the bumping and prodding from outside that
> causes them. WE construct systematic relationships among these names and
> call it reality. This is what is meant by "living in language."
> However, Constructivism offers tools by which we can analyze this
> linguistic web and recognize the distortions and limitations it imposes.
> By rigorous application of these methods, we can distinguish between
> linguistic, belief-based perceptions of reality and scientific, factual
> perceptions.
> Is this a fair statement of your basic position? Get back to me...
> Best,
> Tim
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
> Pacific University an applied science, it
> School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
> 2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
> Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
> <> therapist"
> --George Kelly
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^