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

Nelson Monteiro Vaz

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Abstract

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.

Citation

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

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