Humberto Maturana Romesín / Gerda Verden-Zöller:

The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love 

Charlottesville 2008


Die Autoren fassen in diesem Buch sehr erstaunliche Erkenntnisse dazu zusammen, inwiefern im Tier-Mensch-Übergangsfeld sowohl Mitgefühl als auch Erotik evolutiv erweitert wurden und deren „Fulguratio“ (Konrad Lorenz) zu Liebe und zu liebevoller Sprache entscheidend für die Herausbildung von frühmenschlichen Kulturen war. So entstanden menschliche Gesellschaften, in denen liebevolle Kooperation und Sprache wichtiger als Macht und Hierarchie (die noch bei den Schimpansen vorherrschen) wurden. Sie zeigen desweiteren, wie diese Qualitäten der Liebe geschichtlich durch aggressive Linien unterdrückt wurden und wie die Zukunft von einer bewussteren Weiterentwicklung der Liebe abhängt. 



We are saying that we think the fundament of human living is love, and that cooperation in humans arises through the pleasure of doing things together in mutual trust, not through the manipulation of relations. We do not say that love is the only emotion under which we human beings live. Of course not. Certainly, we human beings flow or can flow in our emotioning through all the emotional dimensions that we can live. But we claim that it can be argued biologically that we are the kind of beings that we are because love has been the emotion that has grounded the course of the evolutionary history that gave origin to us.

We human beings become ill at any age if we have to live a life centered in mistrust, instrumentalization, and manipulation of relations. Our children need to grow in trust, mutual care, body acceptance and cooperation, to become well-integrated individuals and social beings as they learn their bodies and the bodies of others in the generation of a social space. ...


Cooperation is a consensual activity that arises in a domain of mutual acceptance in a co-participation that is invited, not demanded. The basic grounding emotion or mood in cooperation is love, and as cooperation takes place in the pleasure of mutual acceptance, its realization occurs in play (see Maturana and Verden-Zöller, 1993), in the enjoyment of actually doing things together. As cooperation entails the pleasure of doing with the other, it is open to continuous expansion in the domain in which it takes place. In a life centered in trust, cooperation, and mutual acceptance – that is, in love, the opening for consensuality is multidimensional, and, in fact, unlimited. In mutual acceptance and in mutual trust, all situations of life become opportunities for the pleasure of doing things together – that is, for cooperation.

            The conservation of a manner of living centered in cooperation constitutes an opportunity for an unlimited and unrestricted systemic expansion of intelligence as a recursive evolutionary opening for the continuous generation of new domains of consensuality and their extension. Such expansion of intelligence also occurs in the ontogeny of individuals living in cooperation. The conservation of a manner of living immersed in competition and in the struggle for domination and submission does not negate consensuality altogether, but restricts its scope to a narrow path of coexistence in struggle and competition which, in essence, is always the same – mutual negation.


Indeed, mammals in general are loving animals at their infancy, and we humans in our loving behavior can relate and evoke loving behavior practically with all vertebrates, at least during their childhood, but also in their adulthood. What we say is that we are peculiar in that our evolutionary history is centered in the biology of love as a basic feature of our manner of living in a way that has expanded through our whole life span. But we think that there is more.

            We think that in the conservation and expansion of the emotioning of the mother/child relation in the neotenic history of our lineage, and prior to the beginning of the conservation of language as a manner of living, there was a transformation of sexuality in our female ancestors. In the course of this history, the short annual period of female desire for and enjoyment of body contact and sexual intercourse expanded and became continuous. At what historical moment did this happen? We do not know, but we think that its happening had a fundamental consequence that made the origin of language and its conservation as a manner of living possible. Such a happening separated sexual intercourse from reproduction for our ancestors, allowing sex as the domain of acceptance and enjoyment of body contact in general, and genital intercourse in particular, to operate as an expanded source of pleasure and stability in the formation of interpersonal relations, particularly in couples and small families.

            Sexuality as a source of joy and pleasure in the nearness of the body of a particular other gives permanence to the close relations between the members of a couple or of a small group. And as the expansion of the female sexuality expands the joy of nearness, it creates a possibility for the enjoyment of doing things together in the pleasure of mutual acceptance through the conservation of that nearness. Accordingly, we think that the expansion of female sexuality as part of the neotenic trend of our lineage created a space of stable intimacy, pleasure, and trust around her, in a dynamics of mutual acceptance and enjoyment of recurrent body contact that drew together females, males, and children in small families of a cooperative living together.


            Sexuality does not entail only sexual intercourse; it includes, in greater or lesser degrees, all aspects of body acceptance in total trust and in the enjoyment of body nearness and contact, regardless of the sex of the participants. Thus, sexuality is involved in platonic friendship, in friendly embraces, in the acceptance and enjoyment of the nearness of another, implying in each situation different dimensions of body mutual acceptance in nearness and contact than those involved in genital sexual coupling, regardless of whether these are heterosexual or homosexual. Accordingly, what we say is that the expansion of the sexuality of the females of our ancestors is peculiar because as it occurred, and the females became as continuously interested and desirous of sexual nearness and genital intercourse as the males, a domain of coexistence appeared in which living together in small intimate groups became a permanent source of pleasure, of joy in the company of the other, and of playfulness around the realization of the chores of daily life in cooperation and not in competition.


Cooperation is doing things together in love, in trust and mutual acceptance, in the pleasure of the doing together. As such cooperation constitutes a relational space completely different from that in which relations of domination, submission and competition, take place. In other words, we use the word “cooperation” in daily life to refer to doing things together for an explicit or implicit common purpose in a space of full behavioral freedom, in trust, and in implicit or explicit mutual acceptance. Cooperation does not take place in a space of demands, mistrust, and control. Moreover, cooperation constitutes a relational space in which intelligence is spontaneously opened to continuous expansion without effort, as a simple result of love as the very emotioning that makes it possible as a manner of living. Finally, we think that it is only in the relational space of intimacy, in the acceptance of the body nearness of the other in cooperation, where living in language could arise, and in fact arose. Language could only arise in such a relational space, because it is only closeness in mutual acceptance and intimacy that makes it possible for occasional coordinations of consensual coordinations of behavior to begin to be conserved as a manner of living together. And we think that such a space of stable intimacy in love and cooperation was created in our lineage by the expansion of the sexuality of the females, as it opened a space for the expansion of sexuality in general.


            Furthermore, we think that as the sexuality of the female expanded within the neotenic trend of the lineage, the sexuality of the male expanded as well in the domains of tenderness and sensuality, and female and male became co-participants in these dimensions. Male and female constituted each other in sensuality, tenderness and sexuality through participating in sensuality, tenderness, and sexuality. In this process they became systemic partners in living in cooperation, each one becoming a systemic participant in the conservation of sexuality as a source of pleasure and playfulness with the other (playfulness as the joy of doing in the joy living, see Maturana and Verden-Zöller, 1993). Indeed, we think that it must have been male/female playfulness in the neotenic trend that permitted and conserved the progressive expansion of female sexuality that made living in language possible. These are not romantic claims; it is enough to observe ourselves in our relations of friendship to see love undistorted by cultural injunctions or recommendations.


The difference in brain size between chimpanzees (around 450 cc) and humans (around 1500 cc), with all the inner differences that such difference entails, is, according to us, the result of these two basically different manners of community living. One, the human manner of living, is fundamentally social in the conservation of cooperation and consensuality without restrictions, and constitutes the basis for an evolutionary trend of systemic expansion of intelligence during the whole life span. The other, the chimpanzee manner of living, is fundamentally political in the conservation of competition and the struggle for domination and submission, and constitutes the basis for an evolutionary trend of systemic restriction of intelligence to the narrow domain possible in competition in adult life. So, we think that the increase in brain size in the evolutionary history of our lineage is the consequence of the systemic reproductive conservation of a manner of living in cooperation rather than in competition and aggression. We modern human beings have a languaging, loving, and cooperative brain, so to speak, because we belong to a lineage in which languaging, cooperation, and love were systemically conserved in an evolutionary trend in which all genetic variations were systemically co-opted in the conservation and expansion of that manner of living.


Language is not a system of symbolic communications, language is a manner of living together in a flow of consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviors. Moreover, we do not just live in languaging, we live in conversations in the braiding of languaging and emotioning. Ethics is a particular kind of conversation, a reflexive conversation of seeing and care for the consequences of one’s actions on others. In other words, ethics is a network of doings and emotioning in which the care and concern for the consequences of one’s actions on others is present in what one does, and one acts in a way that entails accepting the consequences of that care and concern. 

Ethics belongs to the domain of emotions, not of reason, and as such it belongs to the domain of love.

            We human beings care for other human beings and other living beings in the biosphere, and have ethical concerns and ethical behavior, because we are loving, languaging animals. That is, we belong to an evolutionary history in which the biology of love has been a central feature of the manner of living that defined our lineage. Yet, we see the other and care for him or her only to the extent that we have lived in the biology of love and intimacy, and have cultivated seeing and caring for the other as part of our living as caring human beings with other human beings.


Love is our grounding, nearness our fundament, and when we lose love and nearness we try again and again to recover them because without them we disappear as Homo sapiens-amans even if our bodies may still remain Homo sapiens as zoological entities. Even health, our psychic and physiological health, depends on love and the acceptance of the body nearness of other human beings, and a word in love or a touch intended as a caress, may reestablish a lost physiological and psychic harmony. If we do not realize this, if we do not see that ethical concerns arise in love, and we believe that they belong to the domain of our rationality, in our desire for a harmonious social life we begin to use rational arguments or even force to secure something that looks like ethical behavior. As we lose respect for our emotions we begin to use rational arguments to hide, deny, or justify them. We do so in a path that progressively leads to the negation of the other through manipulation as we become Homo sapiens aggressans in the expansion of the patriarchal passion for control. ...


Therefore, our manner of relating and living with others, that is our psychic identity, can change through an act of intended assertion of our dignity as a result of our reflective awareness of our emotioning in self-respect and self-acceptance. Reason may help us to shift our psychic identify if it guides our emotioning, but does not do so by itself. It is not a matter of behaving or not behaving according to reason, because what changes when there is a shift in the psychic relational space that one lives is the emotioning, not the coherence of a rational argument. At any moment we live in the only way that we know, and we do not even have the possibility of being aware of this unless we release our hold on our certainties and we reflect as an act in our emotioning. We repeat: only reflection can liberate us as an act that will appear to us and others as a choice, but a reflection is an act that begins with an emotional shift and is not an operation of pure reason. The emotional change that usually opens a space for such a shift is love, that is the acceptance of the legitimacy of oneself, of the others, and of the circumstances that one does not like and wants to change. Without love there is not emotional opening to act in responsibility and freedom.



... total body acceptance in mutual trust in a human sexual embrace is a basic experience of cosmic unity in human life, and as such it has in itself nothing to do with reproduction. Moreover, a spiritual experience, as an experience of reflective awareness of the unity of all existing beings, is an experience of acceptance of the body of the other in total trust proper to the mother/child relation that is also lived in our neotenic condition as a feature of our adult life. As sexual intercourse must have been lived by our early ancestors as a source of pleasure and not of procreation, pregnancy and birth must have appeared to them as a spontaneous natural manifestation of life through the female in its continuous changing present, and as nothing special in the easy comfort of an innocent spiritual living. But with the distinction of the spiritual experience as something different from daily life, all changed, and the psychic relational existence of the human beings that made such a distinction shifted as spirituality became a distant condition to be desired and searched for in an attempt to recover its presence. its origin human life must have been fundamentally spiritual, not political, as it arose in the unconscious awareness of the connectedness and unity of all existence through the spiritual experience. Moreover, it must have remained so for many thousands of years, notwithstanding the advent of reflective awareness in the expansion of language, until patriarchality began to destroy or to obscure the unconscious awareness of the connectedness of all existence. The biology of love, through the acceptance of the legitimacy of everything, must have constituted for our ancestors the emotional opening for seeing all, and, therefore, for the expansion of their operational knowledge and understanding of the world that they lived. At the origin of humanness, the expansion of the biology of love must have constituted the operational fundament that permitted our ancestors to see and to use analogical relations for the explanation of their existence as active components of a dynamic interconnected whole.


            Patriarchality has altered all this, but not fully. Because the biology of love and intimacy is what makes the spiritual experience possible as an expansion of the awareness of the unity of all existence, and the biology of love and intimacy is still a fundamental aspect of human life, it is still possible to regain the expansion of awareness of the unity of all existence as a spontaneous feature of human daily living. Thus, even now, in our present manipulative Western patriarchal culture with its essentially non-spiritual character, we still see “being in love” and the sexual intimacy that this entails as a fundamental source of spiritual experience. And not only that. We still see from the darkness of our patriarchal culture, that being in love is, through the extension of sensuality that it entails, our basic opening for a shift in our psychic existence towards the expansion of our intelligence and understanding as members of the biosphere. Furthermore, we think that the biology of love and intimacy constitutes our only possibility of reaching awareness of our inclusion and participation in the unity of the biosphere in a non-manipulative relation.


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