21 setembro, 2012 • 1:03 Enviado por Cristina Caldas

Explanatory principles

Por Nelson Vaz

In a short book chapter, Maturana stated that he is not interested in “explanatory principles” because “explanatory principles” are not “explanations”. They do not contain “generative mechanisms”, as true explanantions do. Actually,  “explanatory principles” tend to hide what they pretend to explain (Maturana, 1987). A few years before, in a comment of an article by Fedanzo, he explains why he refrains from using the notion of “information” in the discussion of biological problems: because: “…it is prone to generate confusion” (Maturana, 1983). Information is an “explanatory principle”, not an explanation. When I say that this key, or this magnetic card, contains the information required to open this door, I am not explaining how this takes place. The structural coupling between the key (or card) and the lock, might explain it.

Explanations always contain a generative mechanism, i.e. the description of components and relations between these components that, by their operation, are able to generate in the observer the phenomenon (or the entity) he or she wants to explain.

Interpreted as “meaning”, information refers to interactions in which organisms change through certain kinds of (informative) interactions. But “informed” organisms are the result, or consequence of these (informative) interactions, not the mechanism through which these changes may take place.

Similar mistakes may be present in “explanatory principles” used to explain other basic biological issues. Natural Selection, for example, may be seen an important mechanism in biological evolution, or, as a result of living in a natural phylogenetic drift (Maturana & Mpodozis, 2000). “Selection” is an explanatory principle. Anti-infectious immunity is another one. Organisms may develop  anti-infectious immunity, but immunity is not a mechanism to develop enhanced resistance in the organism, because anti-infectious immunity is not a special biological mechanism that may be separated from the basic mechanisms of living.

Sub-systems composing living systems, such as the Kreb’s cycle in unicellular organisms, or the nervous system in meta-cellular organisms, only exist in the living systems that they integrate and are subordinate to these larger systems. They have no independent existence. Thus, in a way, the efforts to explain the operation of one of these sub-systems in the absence of an explanation – albeit very  general – of the organism to which they belong, are bound to renmain incomplete.

For many years now, I have proposed arguments in favor of a conservative physiology of immunological activity, which I believed to be a generative mechanism of immunological phenomena, such as anti-infectious immunity, or allergic and autoimmune reactions (Vaz et al., 2006; Pordeus et al., 2009). However, this may be also misleading. The conservative physiology of immunological activity, is only able to explain immunological activity as an add to understand immunological phenomena; but the generative mechanism necessary to understand immunological phenomena is the living process of the organism itself, i.e., its autopoiesis and the conservation of its adaptation to the ever-changing circumstances of living, as proposed by Maturana (Maturana, 2002).

Maturana, H. R. (1983). “Comment on Fedanzo Jr., Anthony  All Things are full of gods – or information.”.J. Social Biol. Struct. 6: 155-158.

Maturana, H. R. (1987). Everything is said by an Observer. Gaia : a way of knowing.  Political Implications of the New Biology. W. I. Thompson. New York, Lindisfarne Press: 11-36.

Maturana, H. and J. Mpodozis (2000). “The origin of species by means of natural drift.” Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 73: 261-310.

Maturana, H. (2002). “Autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition: a history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition.” Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9 (3-4): 5-34.

Pordeus, V., G. C. Ramos, Carvalho, C.R. Barbosa De Castro Jr., A Cunha , A, P.& Vaz, N.M. (2009). “Immunopathology and oligoclonal T cell expansions.Observations in immunodeficiency, infections, allergy and autoimmune diseases.” Current Trends in Immunology 10: 21-29.

Vaz, N. M., G. C. Ramos, Pordeus, V. & Carvalho, C.R.  (2006). “The conservative physiology of the immune system. A non-metaphoric approach to immunological activity.” Clin Dev Immunol 13(2-4): 133-142.