Humberto Maturana passed away

Tribute to Humberto Maturana

Umberta Telfener

I remember a trip by train from Zurich to St Gallen in Switzerland, a clear sky evening and Ciccio – Humberto Maturana – who tells stories looking at the full moon shining in the sky. It was February 1987. With his soothing voice, full attention, intensity and wonder he tries to explain to me the reflexivity concept. We met by chance at the train station, we are both going to a meeting organized by Gilbert Probst, systemic thinker then economist at the Ginevra University. At the arrival Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask and Ernst von Glasersfeld had come to greet us. Four days together with never ending discussions, personal anecdotes and evidences of their cybernetic common passion. I felt very privileged to be with them.

I remember his conferences, he always asked for a blackboard in order to draw on a top corner the eye of the observer; with his nervous writing he would then fill the board up with circular scribbles under the enthusiastic amazement of the people who had come to listen to him. I remember when he came to the Milan Center – I don’t remember which year – creased and intense. The students were astounded to meet in person the author of the difficult books they were “forced” to read for their training: apparently easy to follow in person, but so profound that you could not sleep after having listened to his reasoning. Then I met him many other times around systemic conferences, the last at the Milan Expo in 2015 at the Chilean pavilion, where he was the honorary guest and had invited the Milan team, meeting with Pietro Barbetta and Jacky Boscolo.  

A fascinating man, intense – the word spread that he had admirers in every city around the world where he stopped – coherent to himself and ready to surprise and enchant with the recursive operations he used to propose. Each encounter was the coordination of the coordination of actions and meanings for him, love the only occasion to allow an exchange of information: “Love is the emotion that organizes the social reality, without the acceptance of the other in coexistence there is no social process” he used to affirm.

Humberto Maturana, biologist, philosopher and writer has died the 6th of May this year, he was 92 years old (born the 14th of September 1928). National prize for science in Chile, Nobel prize candidate, he had founded the neurobiology laboratory at the University of Chile, where he used to live. For a long time he collaborated with Francisco Varela with which he wrote Autopoiesis and cognition (1972) and The tree of knowledge (1985). They both were often guests at the Biological Computer Laboratory in Urbana Michigan, founded by Heinz von Foerster.

Fritjof Capra and Peter Senge considered him their master, so did the Dalai Lama- of which Humberto was an interlocutor for many conversations in Dharamsala in India. At the beginning of the XXI century he founded with his companion Ximena Dàvila the Matristic Association ( with the aim to collaborate to form an ethic society. “Human beings are the result of the cooperation for conservation, not of the fight for survival: bio-evolutionary wise we exist because we love- he used to say with conviction.

We all loved him, we will miss him a lot, but his seeds are very well rooted within each systemic thinker.


Maturana H. R., 1978, Biology and Language: the epistemology of reality, in Miller G.A. e Lenneberg E. (a cura di),Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought, Academic Press, New York.

Maturana H. R., 1988. Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. The Irish Journal of Psychology 9.1: 25-82.

Maturana H. R., [1989] 2006. ‘Lenguaje y realidad: el origen de lo humano’. 96-102 [Archivos de Biologia Médica Experimental 22: 77-81].

Maturana H. R., 1994a. Veinte años después. Prefacio de Humberto Maturana Romesín a la segunda edición. In Maturana H. R., Varela F. J. Garcìa, De máquinas y seres vivos: Autopoiesis, La Organización de lo vivo. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago de Chile, segunda edición.

 Maturana H. R., 1997a. Metadesign. in

Maturana H. R., 1997b. El Sentido de lo Humano. Dolmen Ediciones, Santiago, Chile. 1a Edición, 1991.

Maturana H. R., 1999. Transformación en la convivencia. Con la colaboración de Sima Nisis de Rezepka. Dolmen Ediciones, Santiago de Chile.

Maturana H. R., 2005. The origin and conservation of self-consciousness: Reflections on four questions by Heinz von Foerster. Kybernetes 34.1/2: 54-88.

Maturana H. R., Bunnell P., 1998. Biosphere, Homosphere, and robosphere: What has that to do with Business. Society for Organizational Learning, 1-28.

Maturana H. R., Nisis S. de Rezepka, 1991. El sentido de lo humano. Hachette.

Maturana H. R., Poerksen B., 2004. From Being to Doing. Carl-Auer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany.

Maturana H.R., Varela F.J., 1972, Autopoiesis and cognition, the realization of the living, Springer, New York.

Maturana H.R., Varela F.J., 1985, The tree of knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Shambhala Publications, Inc. New York.

Maturana H. R., Verden-Zöller G., 2008. The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love. Ed. Pille Bunnell. Imprint Academic

Maturana H. R., Bitbol M., Luisi P. L., 2012. The Transcendence of the Observer Discussions at the Conference. Constructivist Foundations vol. 7, 3, 174-179.