about domains


what IS a domain?

As you are aware, the nature of a question determines what is possible as an answer.  Thus to ask what “is” a domain is giving it an ontological status of pre-existing as itself; whether as a tangible object or a specific notion.

However, we can still ask a question that provides a satisfying and even rigorous answer that helps us understand our living.  Namely we can once more convert the question from “being” (ie. what IS it) to “doing”, namely what is it that we are doing such that this “thing” that we can refer to as a “domain” arises as part of our living. 

metaphors and isophors

A metaphor is an evocation of similarities between one domain and another that may enable us to see configurations in the new domain that hitherto were invisible to us.  Metaphors further serve as navigation between domains, as ways of seeing some of the congruences that arise as part of how we ourselves live. Metaphors, whether used to explain, or used poetically, serve to enrich our lives.

The etymology of metaphor is from the root meta or “accross” and pherein “to carry.”  The root meaning of iso is “equal” or “equivalent”, as in isobar, or an isoceles triangle.  Thus an isophor means to carry something equivalent from one domain to another.

The word Isophor was invented by  Maturana in a conversation with Kathleen Forsythe when she was presenting a paper with a title something like “Cathedrals of the Mind”.   An isophor needs to be specific in what sense that which is carried from one domain to the other is “equivalent”. 

Since distinctions are not readily equivalent, or if they are, there is no need for carrying (e.g. a cup is a cup, whether we’re talking about dishes, or drinking a cup of tea).  Thus I have taken to using the word isophor when the equivalency refers to a process of the same form, or dynamic,  that can  be seen to operate in another domain, where it results in a configuration of the same type, but as appropriate in the new domain.

communities of observers

… all descriptions constitute configurations of coordinations of actions in some dimension of the domains of experiences of the members of a community of observers in co-ontogenic structural drift. Physics, biology, mathematics, philosophy, cooking, politics, etc., are all different domains of languaging, and as such are all different domains of recursive consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of actions in the praxis or happening of living of the members of a community of observers. In other words, it is only as different domains of languaging that physics, biology, philosophy, cooking, politics, or any cognitive domain exists. Yet, this does not mean that all cognitive domains are the same; it only means that different cognitive domains exist only as they are brought forth in language, and that languaging constitutes them.

Maturana, 1988 Ontology of Observing*

another look at science

Language is a system of recursive consensual coordinations of actions in which every consensual coordination of actions becomes an object through a recursion in the consensual coordinations of actions, in a process that becomes the operation of distinction that distinguishes it and constitutes the observer. In these circumstances, all participants in a language domain can be observers with respect to the sequences of coordinations of actions in which they participate, constituting a system of recursive distinctions in which systems of distinctions become objects of distinction. Such recursive distinctions of distinctions in the happening of living in language that bring forth systems of objects, constitute the phenomenon of description.

As a result, all that there is in the human domain are descriptions in the happening of living in language which, as happenings of living in language, become objects of descriptions in language. Descriptions, however, do not replace the happening of living that they constitute as descriptions; they only expand it in recursions that follow its operational coherences. Accordingly, scientific explanations, as systems of descriptions, do not replace the phenomena that they explain in the domain of happening of living of the observer, but bring forth operational coherences in that domain that allow for further descriptions in it.

Maturana, 1988 Ontology of Observing

* Maturana, H. R. Ontology of Observing: The Biological Foundations of Self Consciousness and The Physical Domain of Existence in Conference Workbook  “Texts in Cybernetic Theory: An In-Depth Exploration of the Thought of Humberto Maturana, William T. Powers, and Ernst von Glaserfeld” edited by Rodney Donaldson, Conference Chair.  American Society for Cybernetics, 1988.

story: smoke and pray