INTERNATIONAL CONGRESSES ONTRANSDISCIPLINARITY: THEIR IMPORTANCE FOR THE EMERGENCE OF A TRANSDISCIPLINARYMÉTHODOLOGY*

 

 

INTERVIEW GIVEN BY BASARAB NICOLESCU

TO PROFESSOR AUGUSTA THEREZA DEALVARENGA OF THE FACULTY OF PUBLIC HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF SŐO PAULO, BRAZIL

 

- translation from the French byKaren-Claire Voss -

 

1.  When did youbegin to be interested in transdisciplinary thought?

 

Since my adolescence, even though the word “transdisciplinarity” hadnot yet been invented.  My firstbook, published in Romania in 1968, just a few months before my definitivedeparture for France – Ion Barbu, The Cosmology of Jocului Secund, Editura pentru Literatura, Bucharest, 1968 - was devoted to therelations between mathematics and poetry in the work of a great Rumanian poet IonBarbu, also known for being a mathematician of international reputation, namedDan Barbilian, who signed his poems using the pseudonym Ion Barbu.

 

How did you make this trajectory?

 

In a very natural way, I could even say “innate”.  As a student, I had solid knowledge in philosophy.My interest was concentrated on Schopenhauer and Hegel. Literature impassionedme, even if mathematics remained the center of my passions. Also, I had, veryearly, from the time I was around six years of age, a well-developed orthodoxChristian education, with a priest who was one of the greatest Rumaniantheologians - Father Galeriu.  He gaveme the taste for apophatic thought (particularly, Pseudo-Dionysus, Gregory ofNyssa, and Gregory Palamas), a taste which was developed by my practice ofquantum physics and which was a fundamental component of the methodology oftransdisciplinarity that I worked out after my arrival in France. Quantumphysics was, for me, a place of conciliation between all its apparentlycontradictory concerns. My major references in the philosophy of quantumphysics and mathematics were - and still are - Werner Heisenberg, WolfgangPauli, Niels Bohr and Kurt Gödel.

 

2-When and how did you propose a transdisciplinary methodology basedon three pillars: that of complexity, that of the various levels of reality,and that of the logic of the included middle?

 

I did not proposeit: I worked it out.  I formulatedthe methodology of transdisciplinarity in a series of articles published in theFrench review “3rd Millenium” (oldseries), which was included in my first book published in France Nous, leparticule et le monde, Éditions Le Mail, Paris,1985 (2nd edition: Rocher, Collection “Transdisciplinarité”, Monaco, 2002;translation in Portuguese: Nós, a particular e o universo, Colecćčo “Ciźncia e Consciźncia”, Esquilo, Lisbon, 2005,translation in Portuguese by Isabel Debot).

 

How is this process carried out? 

 

Very slowly. It seemed important to me to formulate a methodology,because in absence of this methodology, transdisciplinarity is only frivoloustalk, a momentary fashion. But this methodology should be open, not dogmatic.This is why it seemed to me crucial that transdisciplinarity is defined via itsmethodology. A single methodology, which is the logos of method, is compatiblewith a great number of different methods. In other words, transdisciplinarityis based on a single methodology, but there can be variations of transdisciplinarity.This point is not generally understood even today; because even educated peopleconfuse methodology and methods. My approach to thought is built on the exampleof the methodology of modern science: the one and only methodology, thatformulated by Galileo, Newton and Kepler, that proved to be compatible withextremely different theories, like, for example, traditional mechanics (the twotheories of relativity of Einstein included) and quantum mechanics.  Another essential difficulty in theformulation of the methodology of transdisciplinarity is related to theirreducible presence of the Subject in transdisciplinarity. This is why it wasclear for me that the methodology of modern science, founded on the exclusionof the Subject, is not valid in the field of the transdisciplinarity. Theunification between hard (exact) sciences and soft (human) sciences cannot be accomplishedusing the methodology of modern science. A new methodology was necessary and, overthe course of a few years, I have adhered to this formulation.

 

The first axiom (or “postulate” or “pillar”, according to popularterminology), that concerning levels of Reality, seemed to me obvious, since1970, from my own practice of quantum physics.   But the ideadid not exist in the extant scientific corpus and I hesitated to publish it.Fortunately, during my post-doctoral training course at Lawrence BerkeleyLaboratory (1976-1977) I was in contact with Geoffrey Chew, the founder of the bootstraptheory, and also with Henry Stapp, who both encouraged me to publish it. Ifinally articulated the first axiom in an article published in 3rd Millenium, No 1, Paris, March-April 1982. Much later, in 1998, I learned thatWerner Heisenberg had also proposed a formulation of the concept “level ofReality” (Werner Heisenberg, Philosophy - the manuscript of 1942, Paris, Threshold, 1998. Translation from German and introductionby Catherine Chevalley. First German edition: Ordnung der Wirklichkeit, Munich, R. Piper GMBH § KG, 1989. Published first in W. Blum, H.P. Dürr, and H. Rechenberg (ED.), W. Heisenberg Gesammelte Werke, Flight. Ci: Physik und Erkenntnis, 1927-1955,Munich, R. Piper GMBH § KG, 1984, pp. 218-306. 

 

The third axiom,that concerning complexity was announced at the same time, in my book Nous,le particule et le monde. There are certainly agreat many definitions of complexity, practically all incompatible with theconcept of level of Reality. The only one which is appropriate fortransdisciplinarity is that of Edgar Morin.

 

Paradoxically it is the second axiom, that concerning the logic ofthe included middle, which was the most difficult to formulate. Of course, Ihad been working closely with Stéphane Lupasco since 1969. I knew also theconsiderations of Aristotle and, especially, Hegel, who applied this logic inhis philosophy of the spirit. But it was obvious for me that a strictly formallogic was unsuited to transdisciplinarity, because it is very poor, and islimited to solving theoretical paradoxes. Moreover, the logic of the includedmiddle of Lupasco did not take into account the existence of levels of Reality,but it had the capacity to be a true philosophy. This is why I extended andgeneralized the logic of Lupasco by introducing the levels of Reality of theSubject and the levels of Reality of the Object. The result was published, withthe encouragement of Lupasco himself, in Nous, le particule et le monde.  During the last fewyears, Joseph Brenner showed all the richness of such a logic in the study ofthe processes of Reality. Through this methodology, transdisciplinarity succeedsin becoming a tour de force that joins togetherontology (the first axiom), logic (the second axiom), and epistemology (the thirdaxiom).

 

I must affirm in all modesty (since I was the initiator or organizerof the majority of congresses) that I played a large role in the emergence ofan international community of transdisciplinary researchers, brought togetheraround an already extant methodology of transdisciplinarity. In this respect,one can certainly speak of a methodological consolidation. But it is not correctto speak of an “emergence” of methodology during these congresses, because thismethodology existed already. It is true that I chose, for tacticalconsiderations, to show this methodology gradually, the apogee being located atthe 1st World congress of Transdisciplinarity and the Congress ofLocarno. It should not be forgotten that the atmosphere in the academic milieu ofthe time was very unfavorable towards transdisciplinarity and it was necessaryto proceed with courage but also with prudence.

 

4- What do you think of the proposal that the three pillarsconsidered in the official documents of the Congresses are of fundamental importancefor the characterization of a methodology of transdisciplinarity? What are thepossibilities and the challenges that this proposal brings, on the one hand, and,on the other hand, the limits that it presents? 

 

I have already answered the question concerning the importance ofthese congresses.

One of the limits of transdisciplinary methodology is that it doesnot allow us to do science, on the technical level: the methodology of scienceis largely enough for that. In this respect, transdisciplinary methodology and scientificmethodology are complementary. It may be nevertheless that transdisciplinary methodologyleads to great scientific discoveries, especially in the study of consciousness.

 

The essential limit of transdisciplinary methodology is that it doesnot constitute a spiritual way in itself. It is here where potentially huge deviationsof transdisciplinarity reside. I observe an occultist temptation here andthere, which is extremely harmful and must be fought by transdisciplinaryresearchers. One should not forget that even if transdisciplinary methodologyis very different from the methodology of science, it nevertheless has thescientific spirit in its center.

 

5- Certain authors like Patrick Paul, of France, and AmČncioFriaća, of Brazil, argue the need for introducing a fourth pillar of transdisciplinarityto the three already allotted; i.e., the “paradox” (Formation of the subjectand transdisciplinarity: history of professional life and the imaginal. Paris: Harmattan, 2003, p.401) and the “vacuum” (O vácuo e oespaćo transdisciplinar in: Educaćčo Etransdisciplinaridade III. Sčo Paulo: Triom,2005, p.439-451), respectively. Some others defend the need for non centrality inthe “logic of the thirds included” but in various nontraditional logics (Messageof Vila Velha/Vitória, Brazil, of the Second World Congress of Transdisciplinarity).What do you think?

 

It is not necessary to introduce a fourth axiom if it can be derivedstarting from the first three. The paradox and the vacuum are a consequence ofthe first three axioms. It is important to keep minimum axioms in themethodology of transdisciplinarity: if it leads to tautologies one obtains as aresult of what one puts inside. Of course, the number three is neither magicnor sacred.  If it is necessary, onecan introduce a new axiom but, for the moment, it is not a necessity. I alreadyanswered the question of the “non-centrality” of the logic of the includedmiddle. It is a question of confusion: the logic of transdisciplinarity, whileincluding a formal logic is, at the same time, a philosophy, the philosophy ofthe included middle. 

 

6- Among the Congresses on Transdisciplinarity enumerated below, inwhich have you participated?

- Conference of Venice “Science and the Boundaries of Knowledge,” in1986

- Congress“Science and Tradition: Transdisciplinary Prospects for the 21st Century,” in199l

- First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity, in 1994

- InternationalCongress of Transdisciplinarity “Which University for Tomorrow?” 

- Second World Congress of Transdisciplinarity, in 2005.

 

I participated to all of them.

 

7- Which is your perception of the importance of each congress inwhich you have participated for the emergence of transdisciplinary thoughtbased on the three pillars?

Conference of Venice “Science and the Boundaries of Knowledge”:preparation of the emergence of a community.

Congress “Science and Tradition: Transdisciplinary Prospects forthe 21st century”: preparation of the First World Congress.

First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: the core of thecommunity is formed.

Internationalcongress of Locarno: “Which University for Tomorrow?”: Participated in byeducators and students of the member states of UNESCO, in 1997

Second World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: Withparticipation from the international community and a large number oftransdisciplinary researchers in Brazil.

 

8- We affirm, in one article, that one can think that such Congressessupported the constitution of what we could designate as a “community ofthinkers transdisciplinary”, (to employ the terminology of Thomas Kuhn) This isbecause we consider that many of those who took part in these congresses becamefollowers and started to defend the idea that this proposal of atransdisciplinary methodology based on three pillars should be employed, inreflections on transdisciplinarity, like a basic diagram, or even like a paradigm(also in the design of T. Kuhn), because it is formed with the bestmethodological strategy available. What do you think of this assumption?

 

I agree completely with this idea of a “community oftransdisciplinary thinkers.”  But Ihave important reservations concerning the word “followers”, with its connotationof the New Age. It is not necessary that transdisciplinarity gives rise to anykind of guru.  I also havereservations concerning the word “paradigm”, which was formulated by ThomasKuhn in a precise context - that of science - and should not be used in othercontexts.

 

9- In your opinion, which is the strong point (or points) of this(these) same Congress(es) in which you have participated?

 

Conference of Venice “Science and the Boundaries of Knowledge”:the word “transdisciplinarity” is mentioned for the first time in aninstitutional document.

Congress “Science and Tradition: transdisciplinary prospects forthe 21st century”: the entry into the transdisciplinary movement of the greatArgentinean poet Roberto Juarroz, who in this context also formulated animportant expression of the transdisciplinary terminology: the transdisciplinaryattitude.

First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: adoption of theCharter of Transdisciplinarity which is, today still, the most importantdocument of the transdisciplinary movement.

International congress of Locarno “Which University for Tomorrow?”:formulation of the recommendations concerning the higher education than theintention of the Member States of UNESCO.

Second World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: demonstrationof the vitality of the movement transdisciplinary in Brazil.

 

10- And which are the weak point (or points) of this (these) sameCongress(es), in your view?

Conference of Venice “Science and the Boundaries of Knowledge”:the conference was restricts with a small number of personalities of thecultural and scientific world.

Congress “Science and Tradition: transdisciplinary prospects forthe 21st century”: mixed participation due to the double (andcontradictory) patronage by UNESCO and an association of engineers.

First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: no weak point.The organization this congress was ensured in an exceptional way by the great Portuguesepainter Lima de Freitas and profited from the important intellectualcontribution of the President of Portugal, Mario Soares.

International congress of Locarno “Which University fortomorrow?”: no weak point. This congress profited from the participation ofvery important personalities, like the Nobel Prize Werner Arber and the greatarchitect Mario Botta.

Second World Congress of Transdisciplinarity: The documentthat came out of this congress was backward compared to the Charter ofTransdisciplinarity. It is too specific to theBrazilian movement and less adapted to the international community.

 

11- In your opinion, what were the important challenges for the developmentand/or deepening of this proposal for transdisciplinarity, from the point ofview of the methodological, epistemological and theoretical?

 

The challenges are unforeseeable. And the possible deviations arenumerous.

 

12- Can you identify some work or author (man or woman) (yourselfincluding) already progressing, that it is from the theoretical point of viewor the methodological /epistemological point of view, toward the point ofembarking on transdisciplinarity? In the affirmative, could you mention thename of the work and its author (man or woman)? Could you tell us in whatrespect you consider that this author was makingprogress? ((Note: In case there are many authors (men or women) make a list ofthem, one by one, below).

 

I do not like the spirit of lists. To see which are the importantpersonalities it is enough to observe which are the books or the articles mostquoted in the transdisciplinary literature.

 

13- In many published articles, it is usual that the proposal ofthis transdisciplinary methodology, based on three pillars, is considered as a “paradigm”.If one considers how the term “paradigm” was used in the traditional work byThomas Kuhn (Structure of Scientific Revolution), like a kind of “model” in which the problems of investigationare suggested by the paradigm and resolved by it, or, accepted as dominant by agiven scientific community, whose function is to direct all research in adetermined field, by furnishing problems and model solutions to a community of practicingscientists, what do you think about the nature and heuristic capacity of thisproposal of “transdisciplinary methodology”? This proposal would be (or couldbe) in fact, a new paradigm, in the form of Thomas Kuhn, presenting itself as ahegemonic approach? Or should it be considered, considering the propercomplexity of the topic, like one of the possible theoretic-methodologicpropositions liable to be adopted by its followers and to contribute, with theextant or emerging others, to the study of transdisciplinarity? In the case ofunderstanding it as a paradigm for the study of transdisciplinarity, what isyour concept of paradigm?

 

I have already answered this question: in my view, one is not ableto speak of a “paradigm” á propos of transdisciplinarity.

 

 

14- By way of a final point, we would ask whether you consider itimportant to add still more comments, in the form of other questions which youconsider important on the theme/subject and which we have not mentioned. If so,what would you add and why?

 

I thank youfor these very intelligent questions.

 



* Published in Transdisciplinarity inScience and Religion, n° 3, 2008, Curtea Veche Publ., Bucharest, p. 193-202.