Volume 18 · Number 1 · Pages 069–077
Maturanian Observer-Dependent Immunology

Nelson Monteiro Vaz

Log in to download the full text for free

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: From the perspective of mainstream immunology, immune activity is presented as cognitive and anticipatory in the sense that vaccines condition the organism for more effective specific immunity. This perspective works with terms alluding to cognition and portrays the immune system in a defensive, militaristic way. Problem: Almost all attempts to invent new vaccines fail. Something seems to be conceptually mistaken. This and other cases call for a change of view in the experiential scope of immunology, and, by changing this, the view of the organism is changed. I describe immune phenomena as biological, observer-dependent phenomena. Method: Maturana explicitly included the observer in descriptions and stated that we do not have access to an objective reality, as we explain our experiences in terms of the coherence of our experiences. I apply these notions to immunology and claim that the immune system is not passively moved by antigenic contacts, nor does it live in its own interiority, where anything is possible. Between these two pitfalls we discuss anti-infectious immunity and the specific nature of immunological phenomena. In particular we expose pitfalls in the current languaging used to think about immunological phenomena. Results: In mainstream science, immunoglobulins are seen as biochemical reagents produced by the body in its own defense. This amounts to a cognitive proposition. I map this cognitive stance to the actions of the immunologist’s observations, that is, the specificity of antibodies belongs to the eye of the beholder, the expectations of the immunologist operating as an observer in human language. Implications: Immunoglobulins and antibodies are different entities: as components of the vertebrate organism, immunoglobulins emerged in natural phylogenetic drift hundreds of millions of years ago, while antibodies were invented by immunologists in the 1890s as identifying labels pasted on immune sera. By keeping an eye on what we do as observers in describing the immune system, we move away from focusing on specific immune responses and come to appreciate the conservative aspect of the immune system’s dynamics and its operational congruence with the organism of which it is a component subsystem. In doing so, the main focus of attention shifts to what we do as observers operating in human language.

Key words: Antibodies, autopoiesis, immunoglobulins, immune system, observer.


Vaz N. M. (2022) Maturanian observer-dependent immunology. Constructivist Foundations 18(1): 069–077. https://constructivist.info/18/1/069

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Cadenas H. & Arnold M. (2015) The Autopoiesis of Social Systems and its Criticisms
Maturana H. R. (2012) Reflections on My Collaboration with Francisco Varela
Whitaker R. (2011) The Constructivist Foundations Bibliography: Humberto Maturana
Hejl P. M. (2011) The Individual in Radical Constructivism. Some Critical Remarks from an Evolutionary Perspective
Maturana H. R., Bitbol M. & Luisi P. L. (2012) The Transcendence of the Observer. Discussions at the Conference “The Ethical Meaning of Francisco Varela’s Thought”


Adib M., Ragimbeau J., Avrameas S. & Ternynck T. (1990) IgG autoantibody activity in normal mouse serum is controlled by IgM. The Journal of Immunology 145(11): 3807–3813. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Azevedo G. M., Jr., Costa R. A., Resende M. A., Rodrigues C. M., Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2012) Indirect effects of oral tolerance inhibit pulmonary granulomas to schistosoma mansoni eggs. Clinical and Developmental Immunology 2012: 293625. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/293625
Behring E. von & Kitasato S. (1961) The mechanism of immunity in animals to diphtheria and tetanus. In: Brock T. D. (ed.) Milestones in microbiology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ: 138–140. German original published 1890. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Burnet F. M. (1959) The clonal selection theory of acquired immunity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cantaruti T. A., Costa R. A., de Souza K. S., Vaz N. M., Carvalho C. R. (2017) Indirect effects of immunological tolerance to a regular dietary protein reduce cutaneous scar formation. Immunology 151(3): 314–323. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cantaruti T. A., Costa R. A., Franco-Valencia K, Nóbrega I. B. C., Galdino D. A. A., Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2019) Parenteral re-exposure to an immunologically tolerated protein up to 6h after skin injuries improves wound healing in diabetic mice. Journal of Immunology and Regenerative Medicine 6: 100022. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Carvalho C. R., Lenzi H. L., Correa-Oliveira R. & Vaz N. M. (2002) Indirect effects of oral tolerance to ovalbumin interfere with the immune responses triggered by Schistosoma mansoni eggs. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 35(10): 1195–1199. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Castro-Junior A. B., Horta B. C., Gomes Santos A. C., Cunha A. P., Steinberg R. S., Nascimento D. S., Faria A. M. C. & Vaz N. M. (2012) Oral tolerance correlates with high levels of lymphocyte activity. Cellular Immunology 280: 171–181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cellimm.2012.12.004
Cohen I. R. & Sercarz W. (2004) Introduction: T cell degeneracy. Molecular Immunology 40(14–15) 983. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cohen I. R. (2013) Autoantibody repertoires, natural biomarkers, and system controllers. Trends in Immunology 34(12): 620–625. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Costa R. A., Ruiz-de-Souza V., Azevedo-Jr G. M; Gava E., Kitten G., Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2011) Indirect effects of oral tolerance improve would healing in skin. Wound Repair and Regeneration 19(4): 487–497. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Eichmann K. (2008) The network collective: Rise and fall of a scientific paradigm. Birkhäuser, Berlin. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Eisen H. N. (2001) Specificity and degeneracy in antigen recognition: Yin and yang in the immune system. Annual Review of Immunology 19: 1–21. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ferreira C., Mouthon L., Nóbrega A., Haury M., Kazatchkine M. D., Ferreira E. & Sundblad A. (1997) Instability of natural antibody repertoires in systemic lupus erythematosus patients, revealed by multiparametric analysis of serum antibody reactivities. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology 45(3): 331–341. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Fesel C. & Coutinho A. (2000) Serum IgM repertoire reactions to MBP/CFA immunization reflect the individual status of EAE susceptibility. Journal of Autoimmunity 14(4): 319–324. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Franc N. C., White K. & Ezekowitz R. A. B. (1999) Phagocytosis and development: Back to the future. Current Opinion in Immunology 11(1): 47–52. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gouglas D., Thanh Le T., Henderson K., Kaloudis A., Danielsen T., Hammersland N. C. & Rottingen J. A. (2018) Estimating the cost of vaccine development against epidemic infectious diseases: A cost minimisation study. Lancet – Global Health 6(12): E1386-E1396. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hanson D. G., Vaz N. M., Maia L. C., Hornbrook M. M., Lynch J. M. & Roy C. A. (1977) Inhibition of specific immune responses by feeding protein antigens. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 55(1–6): 526–532. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Jerne N. K. (1974) Network notions. In: Lefkovits I. (ed.) A portrait of the immune system: Scientific publications of N K Jerne. World Scientific, Singapore: 757–758. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Jerne N. K. (1974) Towards a network theory of the immune system. Annales de l’Institut Pasteur/Immunologie 125C: 373–392. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kaplan D. T., Furman M. I., Pincus S. M., Ryan S. M., Lipsitz L. A. & Goldberger A. L. (1991) Aging and the complexity of cardiovascular dynamics. Biophysical Journal 59(4): 945–949. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lemieux R., Bazin R. & Neron S. (2005) Therapeutic intravenous immunoglobulins. Molecular Immunology 42(7): 839–848. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lettvin J. Y., Maturana H. R., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1959) What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) 47(11): 1940–1951. https://cepa.info/518
Lipsitz L. A. (2004) Physiological complexity, aging, and the path to frailty. Science of Aging Knowledge Environment 2004(16) Pe16. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Dávila X. Y. (2009) Habitar humano. Palas Athena, São Paulo. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Mpodozis J. (2000) The origin of species by means of natural drift. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 73(2): 261–310. https://cepa.info/680
Maturana H. R. & Poerksen B. (2004) From being to doing: The origins of biology of cognition. Carl-Auer. Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Dordrecht. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1970) Biology of cognition. Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) Research Report BCL 9.0. University of Illinois, Urbana. https://cepa.info/535.
Maturana H. R. (1978) Biology of language: The epistemology of reality. In: Miller G. & Lenneberg E. (eds.) Psychology and biology of language and thought: Essays in honor of Eric Lenneberg. Academic Press, New York: 27–63. https://cepa.info/549
Maturana H. R. (1988) Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 25–82. https://cepa.info/598
Maturana H. R. (1993) Prefácio. In: Vaz N. M. & Faria A. M. C. (eds.) Guia incompleto de imunobiologia: Imunologia como se o organismo importasse. COOPMED, Belo Horizonte: i–ii. https://cepa.info/4368
Maturana H. R. (2002) Autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition: A history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9(3–4): 5–34. https://cepa.info/685
Maturana H. R. (2005) The origin and conservation of self-consciousness: Reflections on four questions by Heinz von Foerster. Kybernetes 34(1/2): 54–88. https://cepa.info/702
Maturana H. R. (2008) Anticipation and self-consciousness: Are these functions of the brain? Constructivist Foundations 4(1): 18–20. https://constructivist.info/4/1/018
Maturana H. R. (2017) Diseases: Loss of inner harmonies? Constructivist Foundations 13(1): 149–150. https://constructivist.info/13/1/149
Maturana H. R., Lettvin J. Y., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1959) Evidence that cut optic nerve fibers in a frog regenerate to their proper places in the tectum. Science 130(3390): 1709–1710. https://cepa.info/520
Maturana H. R., Uribe R. & Frenk S. (1968) A biological theory of relativistic colour coding in the primate retina. Archiva de Biologia y Medicina Experimentales Suplemento 1: 1–30. https://cepa.info/534
Nóbrega A., Stransky B., Nicolas N. & Coutinho A. (2002) Regeneration of natural antibody repertoire after massive ablation of lymphoid system: Robust selection mechanisms preserve antigen binding specificities. The Journal of Immunology 169(6): 2971–2978. https://doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.169.6.2971
Parnes O. (2004) From interception to incorporation: Degeneracy and promiscuous recognition as precursors of a paradigm shift in immunology. Molecular Immunology 40(14–15): 985–991. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ramos G. C., Dalbó S., Leite D. P., Goldfeder E., Carvalho C. R., Vaz N. M. & Assreuy J. (2012) The autoimmune nature of post-infarct myocardial healing: Oral tolerance to cardiac antigens as a novel strategy to improve cardiac healing. Autoimmunity 45(3): 233–244. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ramos G. C., Rodrigues C. M., Azevedo G. M., Jr., Pinho V., Carvalho C. R. & Vaz N. M. (2009) Cell-mediated immune response to unrelated proteins and unspecific inflammation blocked by orally tolerated proteins. Immunology 126(3): 354–362. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rodrigues C. M., Martins-Filho O. A., Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2006) Systemic effects of oral tolerance on inflammation: Mobilization of lymphocytes and bone marrow eosinopoiesis. Immunology 117(4): 517–525. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365–2567.2006.02327.x
Rosenberg Y. J. & Chiller J. M. (1979) Ability of antigen-specific helper cells to effect a class-restricted increase in total Ig-secreting cells in spleens after immunization with the antigen. The Journal of Experimental Medicine 150(3): 517–530. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rosenberg Y. J. (1981) The ability of nonspecific T-cell stimulators to induce helper-cell-dependent increases in either polyclonal or isotype-restricted Ig production in vivo. Cellular Immunology 61(2): 416–424. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Scott R. (2011) Heinz von Foerster’s heuristics course. Kybernetes 40(7/8): 1149–1158. https://cepa.info/2630
Souza V. R. (1990) Alta e baixa reatividade imunologica: Além da especificidade. Master thesis, Departamento de Microbiologia, ICB, Univ. Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Spalter S. H., Kaveri S. V., Bonnin E., Mani J. C., Cartron J. P. & Kazatchkine M. D. (1999) Normal human serum contains natural antibodies reactive with autologous ABO blood group antigens. Blood 93(12): 4418–4424. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stevens J. L. (1892) Metchnikoff on the comparative pathology of inflammation. Glasgow Medical Journal 38(3): 195–205. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Talmage D. W. (1959) Immunological specificity, unique combinations of selected natural globulins provide an alternative to the classical concept. Science 129: 1643–1648. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1994) A cognitive view of the immune system. World Futures 42: 31–40. https://cepa.info/1989
Varela F. J., Anderssen A., Dietrich G., Sundblad A., Holmberg D., Kazatchkine M. & Coutinho A. (1991) The population dynamics of natural antibodies in normal and autoimmune individuals. PNAS 88(13): 5917–5921. https://cepa.info/2072
Vasconcellos R., Nóbrega A., Haury M., Viale A. C. & Coutinho A. (1998) Genetic control of natural antibody repertoires: I. IgH, MHC and TCRβ loci. European Journal of Immunology 28(3): 1104–1115. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M. & Andrade L. A. B. (2017) The epigenetic immune network. Constructivist Foundations 13(1): 141–159. https://constructivist.info/13/1/141
Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2015) On the origin of immunopathology. Journal of Theoretical Biology 375: 61–70. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M. & Varela F. J. (1978) Self and non-sense: An organism-centered approach to immunology. Medical Hypothesis 4(3): 231–267. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M. (1990) Construir a identidade: Contribuição de um imunologista [Building identity: Contribution of an immunologist]. PhD thesis, Departamento de Bioqímica e Imunologia, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M., Faria A. M. C., Verdolin B. A. & Carvalho C. R. (1997) Immaturity, ageing and oral tolerance. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology 46: 225–229. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M., Fesel C. A., Nóbrega A. F., Silva Neto A. F., Secor W. E. & Colley D. G. (2001) Severity of schistosomiasis mansoni in male CBA mice is related to IgG profiles reacting with mouse liver extracts in Panama-blots. In: Proceedings of the XVI Reunião Annual da Federação de Sociedades de Biologia Experimental (FeSBE), Caxambu MG, 29 Aug.–1 Sept. 2001. Federação de Sociedades de Biologia Experimental, São Paulo: 136. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vaz N. M., Maia L. C. S., Hanson D. G. & Lynch J. M. (1977) Inhibition of homocitotropic antibody response in adult mice by previous feeding of the specific antigen. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 60(2): 110–115. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Verdolin B. A., Ficker S. M., Faria A. M. C., Vaz N. M. & Carvalho C. R. (2001) Stabilization of serum antibody responses triggered by initial mucosal contact with the antigen independently of oral tolerance induction. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 34(2): 211–219. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Weiß E., Ramos G. C. & Delgobo M. (2022) Myocardial-treg crosstalk: How to tame a wolf. Frontiers in Immunology 13: 914033. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2022.914033

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.