In this interview, the neurobiologist and theorist Gerhard Roth gives us an impression of the latest findings and problems of brain research. According to his opinion, brain research will have to find out to what extent the brain is excluded or not excluded (the brain as an autopoietic system). A solution will have to be found for the paradoxon of how everything we perceive and experience can be the result of brain activity while the organism can at the same time orientate itself towards the environment. In addition, Gerhard Roth emphasizes the considerable function memory assumes in the course of perception and uses the analogy between brain and computer to point out the differences of these two "information-processing" systems (the problem of creating meaning via computer).
A.: The concept of exclusion, as developed by Maturana and Varela, has led to a number of misunderstandings. One would have to invest a lot of work in this in order to clarify it. First of all, this concept is contra-intuitive. The problem is that an animal or a person must orientate itself with the environment, by means of its sensory organs. The brain is the organ which processes this sensory information, ultimately producing a conduct by means of which the animal or the person can survive in its environment. How at all could living beings successfully live in an environment if the brain was to be excluded from it? Maturana and Varela have not supplied an adequate answer to this question in their theory. This gap has also not really been bridged by the constructivists. For example, it is the task of cognitive brain research to find out in what sense the brain is excluded or not excluded.
Q.: You wouldn't therefore readily agree with the constructivist thesis that we construe our reality; that it is only an image which is not in contact with what is outside?
A.: The answer to this is complicated. There is an exclusion of the brain in the sense that everything we perceive and experience is the result of the activity of our brain i.e. what is "outside" and what is "inside" for us is produced by the brain. In this respect there is nothing that comes in from "outside". This is a trivial part of the concept of exclusion. However, what is not trivial is the question as to how this construed world arises in the brain and how the organism can orientate itself at the same time with the environment. How can these paradoxes be resolved? The solution is that the brain naturally orientates itself with the environment with the aid of the sensory organs, by receiving signals from it. However, what the brain does on the strength of these signals is in no way determined by the environment. The brain of a person and an animal must always interpret the signals which come from outside and which, as such, are free from significance. This is where the only meaningful substance to "exclusion" can be found.