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Maturana and his student Francisco Varela were the first to define and to employ the concept of autopoiesis. Aside from making important contributions to the field of evolution, Maturana is also a founder of radical constructivism, a relativistic epistemology built upon empirical findings of neurobiology. In his own words:
Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with or without a nervous system.
After completing secondary school at the Liceo Manuel de Salas in 1947, Maturana enrolled at the University of Chile, studying first medicine then biology. In 1954, he obtained a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to study anatomy and neurophysiology at University College London. He obtained a PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1958. He works in neuroscience at the University of Chile, in the research center "Biología del Conocer" (Biology of Knowledge). Maturana's work has been developed and integrated into the work on ontological coaching done by Fernando Flores and Julio Olalla.
As of the year 2000, professor Maturana established his own reflection and research center: the Instituto de Formación Matriztica. Here Maturana has contributed extensively to the Biology of Knowledge and Biology of Loving. At this point, Maturana has formulated, with Ximenda Davila, new perspectives about human life and continues to do so; psychology, the use of language, experience, and the general impulse to understand serve as explanatory bases for the depiction of human ways of life.
- 1972 (with F.G. Varela). De máquinas y seres vivos. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria. English version: "Autopoiesis: the organization of the living," in Maturana, H. R., and Varela, F. G., 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel.
- 1978, "Biology of language: The epistemology of reality," in Miller, George A., and Elizabeth Lenneberg (eds.), Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Eric Lenneberg. Academic Press: 27-63.
- 1980, "Man and society" in Benseler, Hejl, and Köck: 11-32.
- 1982. Erkennen: Die Organisation und Verkörperung von Wiklichkeit. Wiesbaden: Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn Braunschweig.
- 1987 (with F. J. Varela). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-373-2
- (with F. J. Varela). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living.
- 1988, "Ontology of Observing, The biological foundations of self-consciousness and the physical domain of existence," Conference Workbook: Texts in Cybernetics, American Society For Cybernetics Conference, Felton, CA. 18-23 October, 1988.
- 1988, "REALITY: The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument," The Irish Journal of Psychology 9: 25-82.
- 1991, "The origin of the theory of autopoietic systems," in Fischer, H. R. (ed.), Autopoiesis. Eine Theorie im Brennpunkt der Kritik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag.
- 1993 (with G. Verden-Zöller), Liebe und Spiel, die vergessene Grundlage der Menschlichkeit. Carl Auer Verlag.
- 1996 (with G. Verden-Zöller), "Biology of love," in Opp, G., and F. Peterander, F. (eds.), Focus Heilpadagogik. Munchen/Basel: Ernst Reinhardt.
- 1999, "Autopoiesis, Structural Coupling and Cognition."
- 2000 (with J. Mpodozis). "The origin of species by means of natural drift," Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 73: 261-310.
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