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The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,102 ratings  ·  60 reviews
"Knowing how we know" is the subject of this book. Its authors present a new view of cognition that has important social and ethical implications, for, they assert, the only world we humans can have is the one we create together through the actions of our coexistence. Written for a general audience as well as for students, scholars, and scientists and abundantly illustrate ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published March 31st 1992 by Shambhala (first published 1984)
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Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interested in cybernetics, theoretical biology, and philosophy but still find Dan Brown novels to require mental gymnastics? Put on your philosophical training wheels and give "Tree of Knowledge" a spin!
A mixture of dated scientific ideas, profound frameworks for thinking about living organisms, and unnecessarily complicated jargon, ToK is essentially the children's menu version of Maturana and Varela's Autopoiesis and Cognition papers on living organisms, communication, and consciousness.

I hig
Dec 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Psychology students, Philosophers
Recommended to Magi by: Author
This is the book that inspired me to give up fighting what I saw as mainstream unenlightened biological determinism in psychology, and enrol as a mature age student in psychology while a single parent of four. The language is difficult and challenging and the concepts complex, it took me many attempts to get it, but worth the effort. A classic, an all time favorite. I read it twenty years ago, after having the privelege of attending a workshop with the author, a delightful shamen of a man. His u ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: every person on the planet (who can read and gain awareness from it!)
Recommended to zynphull by: Seneda
Shelves: cogsci
This is the best book I've read probably since I began to read. Undoubtedly, it is at least the conceptual cherry in the proverbial intellectual cake I've been cooking for at least the past two years as I reflected upon and studied about justice, political philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, as well as, most notably recently, systems theory, complexity and cognitive science.

Through existing we "put forth a world" that is a result not of direct contact with "objective external realit
José Luis
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The authors present a unified theory of cognition and concept formation, that can be extended to explain knowledge, knowing, social interactions. The basic concept is autopoiesis, "Our proposition is that living beings are characterized in that, literally, they continually self-producing. We indicate this process when we call the organizations that defines them an autopoietic organization. " (page 43). Then on page 48, "We are proposing that the mechanism that makes living beings autonomous syst ...more
Ade Bailey
Jun 28, 2010 rated it liked it
This book came out of a series of lectures given by the writers as a contribution to a decision in 1980 by the Organization of Anerican States to research the many difficulties confronted in social communication and knowledge transfer.

It begins by unmasking the 'temptation of certainty' in all branches of knowledge and proceeds thence to present 'a coherent formulation of the foundation of communication as the biological being of man."

Clearly illustrated with diagrams, pictures and blocks of key
Donna Barthule
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I purposefully read this book three times in order to better comprehend as much as possible. If you are interested in cybernetics, whole systems, evolution, epistemology, or any related discipline then this book would be at home on your bookshelf. If you are at all interested in how we "work" .. we human beans, read this book, and whatever else you can find by Maturana and his protege Varela. Make a label for your bookshelf: Neurophilosophy, Etc. Put this book there after you've done reading it. ...more
Oliver Hodson
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I like reading these technical books but I can never quite hang on to enough of the wow moments and 'penny drops' to keep it in my consciousness or communicate it to others properly but I'll give it a go.

I think the big concept is autopoiesis, which is that in living things there is an internal unity and divider between the living thing and the environment. This condition gives rise to possibilities of interaction, that in many lineages give rise to behaviour, and in some language, and in curren
Darin Stevenson
This book introduces an extremely complex topic ‘autopoeisis’... which, simply rendered means... something like... intensely relational co-self-mergence into being, sensing and existence. But my definition pales.

This describes an entirely new direction in understanding living symmetries and relational hypersystems. Our minds, ideas, and life on Earth are explicit examples of such systems.

Astonishing, and requires a few readings over years to get the ideas clearly. If -realized- they turn minds i
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2014
"Humm... I'm going to bring my cabbages to someone who understands my needs." ...more
Javier Villaseñor
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The path is not a way of certainty but rather of accepting the mutual way of bringing forth a world, of knowing how we know without the immovability of knowledge itself. The path is an endeavor of love, and what love brings forth.
Kandachamy Vijayakumaran
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
An extremely unique synthesis of the process of human cognition from the biological basis. Helps to widen our thinking process and understanding the world around us.
Alex Lee
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fairly expansive book. I would imagine that it is incredibly hard because it is interdisciplinary in scope. The authors do a good job of jumping away from representationalism in the sciences -- and a pretty good job at outlining how knowledge can be understood as a series of "plateaus" layered on one another -- but they do miss some of the more esoteric applications. In some way this book can be compared to one chapter of Deleuze and Guattari's "1000 Plateaus" under "geophilosophy" an ...more
Jun 04, 2011 rated it liked it
I loved it!
There are a few things I didn't like about it, though.
For instance, the overall tone of the book was extremely arrogant. I know that may seem like a petty complaint, given the nature of the book, but this is major leagues conceit we are talking about. The author explicitly states at the beginning of the book that he intends to reform the totality of the scientific method, and not only that, the totality of knowledge as well, by establishing a new all-encompassing conceptual framework
A comprehensive outline of how living systems are also mental systems; that self-organizing, autopoietic, living systems are the basis mind and sentience.

Following from earlier work in second-order cybernetics such as Gregory Bateson's and Heinz Von Forester's work, the authors follow a circle from first-person lived experience through the objective third-person facts of the evolution of complexity and back again to lived experience to reveal a view of how consciousness and mind are embedded an
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read that explains the incredible auto-organisation of life from the simplest molecules and cells up to something as utterly complex as human ethics and social norms. Few card-carringly biologistic books come across as this charming, and its probably due to the authors knowledge in both fields of Epistemology and Biology.

It comes with the conclusion that the organisation of all life allows us to recognize it which brings us into the moral position to question our own interaction and t
Fernando Kaiowá
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is most likely going to totally change your perspective on what it means to know. Extremely well structured and well explained. I find it amazing how the authors are able to fit so many different topics into a meaningful cascade of concepts and theories that fits perfectly to their main conclusions, of cognitive processes as circular biological, social and linguistic phenomena inherent of living beings. The two biologists go well beyond their original disciplines, delving into philosop ...more
Marijn Meijles
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting book as it presupposes almost no knowledge and tries to explain a theory of cognition rooted in biology. It therefore needs to cover a lot of ground before arriving at the good parts.

For me the good parts constitute the last two chapters and the afterword. The rest does have some nice insights but consists mostly of rather dry material sprinkled with some examples. Other people who don't have previous experience with biology and sociology might enjoy it, but still I would have li
Jun 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ciências, ensaio
Amazing book on the building of complexity in biological beings. Complexity in inherent of living things, how simple unicelular being evolved to more complex ones and how the nervous system works. I was not aware that a portuguese version was available, so I´ve bought this book based on the recommendation I´ve found in Daniel Dennet books. This book is cited in many other ones and should be read by everyone looking for a better understanding of biology basics.
David Sousa
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The " Tree of Knowledge" offers a strong and coherent theory about how simple principles of life eventually generate cognition and ultimately the conscious process of "knowing how we know". The theory is built from scratch to explain the natural emergence of these phenomena in biological systems, and it leads us to beautifully conclusion that the mind is shared, it emerges in social contexts and love is the guiding force of the phenomenon. Inspiring! Read! ...more
Bill Baer
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
an excellent description of "Constructionism" and how we exist and understand each other through language. Language is connotation and not denotation of the objects we create through our reality processing device (the brain/mind) All of what we see and know is a "construction" of our own inner consciousness. ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book succeeds at using a relatively accessable framework and accessable language to lead the reader through what are quite challenging and perhaps counter-intuitive ideas about autopoesis and cognition.
For that, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone at all with more than a cursory interest in science, thought or society.
Joe Raimondo
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Unpacking all the ideas and thinking in this book would take a lifetime. Essentially, the book discusses autopoiesis -- a process that the authors posit is universal by which objects in the physical world (living and non-living)incorporate information from their environment into themselves.
Oct 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Unpacking all the ideas and thinking in this book would take a lifetime. Essentially, the book discusses autopoiesis -- a process that the authors posit is universal by which objects in the physical world (living and non-living)incorporate information from their environment into themselves
Mahipal Lunia
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of those rare books that are a lil hard to read but ones that change ones outlook to life
Jul 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is a prime example of obesity in literature, a book that says much but nothing at all. It read like various sources combined and I certainly do not recommend it.
Bob Nichols
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was ok

The authors begin on a promising note. Life forms are “autopoietic,” which means they take charge of their life and do what must be done to survive. Life forms are autonomous entities that go out into the world and bring it (food) back inside to be used (metabolism). Yet, they protect themselves from the world to preserve their autonomy. The line that separates a life form from the world is the membrane, from which they defend themselves by closure or via resisting behavior.

While life forms go
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroanatomy
“All doing is knowing and all knowing is doing” (27)
“all knowing is an action by the knower” (34)
“Everything said is said by someone.”

Unities: A unity (entity, object) is brought forth by an act of distinction. Conversely, each time we refer to a unity in our descriptions, we are implying the operation of distinction that defines it and makes it possible. (40)

“Our proposition is that living beings are characterized in that, literally, they are continually self-producing. We indicate this proces
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a Thing, is for Certain!
Moana Avvenenti
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Utterly confused and lost (partially in translation).
Piers Varley
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting. Ethereal.
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Humberto Maturana is a Chilean biologist. Many consider him a member of a group of second-order cybernetics theoreticians such as Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Herbert Brün and Ernst von Glasersfeld.

Maturana, along with Francisco Varela and Ricardo B. Uribe, is particularly known for creating the term "autopoiesis" about the self-generating, self-maintaining structure in living systems, and con

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