On Maturana’s Question | How Will We Live Together?

“We must first agree that we want to live together.”

In 2016 Humberto Maturana spoke remotely to a large audience at RSD5, at the OCAD Auditorium. The essence of his talk is expressed well in the sketchnote actually – he was profound, but expressed simply. He died two years this month, and yet his words continue to haunt me years later. I wished to bring his appeal to our shared humaneness into the centre, for this return to DwD. As human beings with a shared space of co-existence in cities and social spaces, who are we becoming?

We explore his inquiry in talking circle format, with a design-oriented frame to encourage the expansion rather than the closure of propositions. The inquiry questions explored:

Can we design a way to hold our structures, collective cultures, and our individual autonomies together into a future that seems to promise perplexity, hazard, incredulity, and wonder-loss?

What do we “conserve?”

What do we dispose?

And how do we identify who we are – as a we? How do we together decide how to conserve human values while confronting the heedless pursuit of technological controls that our economies have largely invited.

From Humberto’s ideas expressed in the keynote summary Co-designing for Society and Meta-systems:

  • We human beings as languaging beings are, in our recursive reflecting present, the only living beings on earth that consciously choose the course of their natural drift
  • The act of design is the act of specifying intentionally an arbitrary matrix of relations in some chosen operational domain. What guides the process of design is the desire of creating a particular configuration of relational conditions that will as a result give rise to what we want to happen.
  • [We must] Conserve our reflective autonomy and the capacity to stop at will at any instant any automatically operating autonomous technological system that we may design.

Questions reflecting the question back into dialogue, as a second-order feedback, were generated in a final round of a “wandering dialogue” to embody the ideas and questions that emerged. Sketched at the time following the share out from the exercise: