Basarab Nicolescu




We first analyze the needto find a spiritual dimension of democracy and, in this context, we define thetranscultural and the transreligious attitude. We also analyze theconfrontation between Homo religiosus and Homo economicus. We argue then why the only way toavoid the dead end of the Homo religiosus vs. Homo economicus debate is to adopt the transdisciplinaryhermeneutics. The transdisciplinaryhermeneutics is a natural outcome of the transdisciplinary methodology.



There is a big spiritualpoverty present on our Earth. It manifests as fear, violence, hate anddogmatism. In a world with more than 8000 academic disciplines, more than 10000religions and religious movements and more than 6000 tongues, how can we dreamabout mutual understanding and peace? There is an obvious need for a newspirituality, conciliating technoscience and wisdom. Of course, there arealready several spiritualities, present on our Earth from centuries and evenmillennia. One might ask: why is there a need for a new spirituality if we havethem all, here and now?

Before answering to thisquestion, we must face a preliminary question: is a Big Picture still possiblein our post-modern times?[1]Radical relativism answers in a negative way to this question. However itsarguments are not solid and logical. For radical relativists, after the deathof God, the death of Man, the end of ideologies, the end of History (and,perhaps, tomorrow, the end of science and the end of religion) a Big Picture isno more possible. For transdisciplinarity, a Big Picture is not only possiblebut also vitally necessary, even if it will never be formulated as a closedtheory. The great quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), Nobel Prize ofPhysics, wrote fifty years ago: “Facing the rigorous division, from the 17thcentury, of human spirit in isolated disciplines, I consider the aim oftransgressing their opposition […] as the explicit or implicit myth of our presenttimes.”[2]

The first motivation fora new spirituality is technoscience, with its associated fabulous economicpower, which is simply incompatible with present spiritualities. It drives a hugelyirrational force of efficiency for efficiency sake: everything which can bedone will be done, for the worst or the best. The second motivation for a newspirituality is the difficulty of the dialogue between differentspiritualities, which often appear as antagonistic, as we can testify in oureveryday life.

In simple words, we needto find a spiritual dimension of democracy. Social and political life go well beyondacademic disciplines, but they are based upon the knowledge generated by them.We therefore need transdisciplinarity. Transdisciplinarity can help with thisimportant advancement of democracy, through its basic notions of“transcultural” and “transreligious”[3].

The transcultural designates the opening of allcultures to that which cuts across them and transcends them, while thetransreligious designatesthe opening of all religions to that which cuts across them and transcends them[4].This does not mean the emergence of a unique planetary culture and of a uniqueplanetary religion, but of a new transcultural and transreligious attitude. The old principle “unity indiversity and diversity from unity” is embodied in transdisciplinarity.

Through thetranscultural, which leads to the transreligious, the spiritual poverty couldbe eradicated and therefore render the war of civilizations obsolete. Thetranscultural and transreligious attitude is not simply a utopian project— it is engraved in the very depths of our being.

Homo religiosus probably existed from thebeginnings of the human species, at the moment when the human being tried tounderstand the meaning of his life. The sacred is his natural realm. He tried to capture theunseen from his observation of the visible world. His language is that of theimaginary, trying to penetrate higher levels of Reality - parables, symbols,myths, legends, revelation.

Homo economicus is a creation of modernity. Hebelieves only in what is seen, observed, measured. The profane is his natural realm. His languageis that of just one level of Reality, accessible through the analytic mind– hard and soft sciences, technology, theories and ideologies, mathematics,informatics.

In my view, the only wayto avoid the dead end of the homo religiosus vs. homo economicus debate is to adoptthe transdisciplinary hermeneutics[5]. The transdisciplinary hermeneuticsis a natural outcome of the transdisciplinary methodology.

Transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all discipline. Its goal is theunderstanding of the present world, of which one of the imperatives is theunity of knowledge[6].

The most importantachievement of transdisciplinarity in present times is, of course, theformulation of the methodology of transdisciplinarity, accepted and applied byan important number of researchers in many countries of the world.

Many years of researchlead to the following three axioms of the methodology of transdisciplinarity[7]:

i. The ontologicalaxiom: There aredifferent levels of Reality of the Object and, correspondingly, differentlevels of Reality of the Subject.

ii. The logical axiom: The passage from one level ofReality to another is insured by the logic of the included middle.

iii. The epistemologicalaxiom: Thestructure of the totality of levels of Reality is a complex structure: everylevel is what it is because all the levels exist at the same time.

The first two get theirexperimental evidence from quantum physics, but they go well beyond exactsciences. The last one has its source not only in quantum physics but also in avariety of other exact and human sciences. All three are in agreement withtraditional thinking, present on the earth from the beginning of historicaltimes.

The above three axioms give aprecise and rigorous definition of transdisciplinarity.

Let me now briefly describethe essentials of these three transdisciplinary axioms.

The key concept of thetransdisciplinarity is the concept of levels of Reality.

Here the meaning we giveto the word “Reality” is pragmatic and ontological at the same time.

By “Reality” we intendfirst of all to designate that which resists our experiences, representations, descriptions,images, or even mathematical formulations.

In so far as Natureparticipates in the being of the world, one has to assign also an ontologicaldimension to the concept of Reality. Reality is not merely a socialconstruction, the consensus of a collectivity, or some inter-subjectiveagreement. It also has a trans-subjective dimension: for example, experimentaldata can ruin the most beautiful scientific theory.

Of course, one has todistinguish the words “Real” and “Reality”. Real designates that which is, while Reality is connected to resistance in ourhuman experience. The “Real” is, by definition, veiled for ever, while“Reality” is accessible to our knowledge.

By “level of Reality”, Idesignate a set of systems which are invariant under certain laws: for example,quantum entities are subordinate to quantum laws, which depart radically fromthe laws of the macrophysical world. That is to say that two levels of Realityare different if, while passing from one to the other, there is a break in theapplicable laws and a break in fundamental concepts (like, for example,causality). Therefore there is a discontinuity in the structure of levels of Reality, similarto the discontinuity reigning over the quantum world.

A new Principle of Relativity[8] emerges from the coexistencebetween complex plurality and open unity in the transdisciplinary approach: nolevel of Reality constitutes a privileged place from which one is able tounderstand all the other levels of Reality. A level of Reality is what it is because allthe other levels exist at the same time. This Principle of Relativity is whatoriginates a new perspective on religion, politics, art, education, and sociallife.

The zone between two differentlevels and beyond all levels is a zone of transparency, of non-resistance to our experiences,representations, descriptions, images, and mathematical formulations. Quitesimply, the transparence of this zone is due to the limitations of our bodiesand of our sense organs — limitations which apply regardless of whatmeasuring tools are used to extend these sense organs.

The zone of non-resistance corresponds to the sacred — to that which does notsubmit to any rationalization. Proclaiming that there is a single level ofReality eliminates the sacred, and self-destruction is generated.

The unity of levels of Reality andits complementary zone of non-resistance constitutes what we call thetransdisciplinary Object.

The different levels of Reality of the Object areaccessible to our knowledge thanks to the different levels of Reality of theSubject.

The unity of levels of Reality ofthe Subject and its corresponding complementary zone of non-resistanceconstitutes what we call the transdisciplinary Subject.

The zone of non-resistance plays therole of a thirdbetween the Subject and the Object, an Interaction term which allows theunification of the transdisciplinary Subject and the transdisciplinary Objectwhile preserving their difference. In the following I will call thisInteraction term the Hidden Third.

The ternary partition {Subject, Object, Hidden Third } is, of course, different from the binarypartition{ Subject vs. Object } of classical realism.

The existence of different levels ofReality has been affirmed by different traditions and civilizations, but thisaffirmation was founded on the exploration of the interior universe only.

The transdisciplinaryObject and its levels, the transdisciplinary Subject and its levels and theHidden Third define the transdisciplinary Reality.

How can we jump, in ourunderstanding, from one level of Reality to another level of Reality?

Our habits of mind are stillgoverned by the classical logic, which does not tolerate contradictions. One ofits axioms is the axiom of the excluded middle: There exists no third term T (“T” from“third”) which is at the same time A and non-A.

Knowledge of the coexistence of the quantum world and the macrophysicalworld and the development of quantum physics have led, on the level of theoryand scientific experiment, to pairs of mutually exclusive contradictories (A and non-A). The intellectualscandal provoked by quantum mechanics precisely consists in the fact that thepairs of contradictories that it generates are actually mutually exclusive whenthey are analyzed through the interpretive filter of classical logic.

However, the solution is relatively simple: one has to abandon the axiomof the classical logic, imposing the exclusion of the third, the includedmiddle T[9].

Our understanding of the axiom ofthe included middle — there exists a third term T which is at the sametime A and non-A — is completely clarified once the notion of “levels ofReality”, not existing in the works of Lupasco, is introduced.

In order to obtain a clear image ofthe meaning of the included middle, let us imagine the three terms of the newlogic — A, non-A, and T — and the dynamics associated with them as atriangle in which one of the vertices is situated at one level of Reality andthe two other vertices at another level of Reality. If one remains at a singlelevel of Reality, all manifestation appears as a struggle between twocontradictory elements. The third dynamic, that of the T-state, is exercised atanother level of Reality, where that which appears to be disunited is in factunited, and that which appears contradictory is perceived as non-contradictory.

The logic of the included middledoes not abolish the logic of the excluded middle: it only constrains itssphere of validity. The logic of the excluded middle is certainly valid forrelatively simple situations, for example, driving a car on a highway. On thecontrary, the logic of the excluded middle is harmful in complex cases, forexample, within the economical, social, cultural, religious or politicalspheres. In such cases it operates like a genuine logic of exclusion: good or evil, right or left, heaven or hell, alive or dead, women or men, rich or poor, whites or blacks.

Finally, the dynamics of all thelevels of Reality are governed by complexity. From a transdisciplinary point of view,complexity is a modern form of the very ancient principle of universalinterdependence.

Let us note that the combinedaction of the ontological, logical and epistemological axioms engenders values. The transdisciplinary values areneither objective nor subjective. They result from the Hidden Third.

The transdisciplinary model ofReality allows us to define three types of meaning:

1. Horizontal meaning - i.e. interconnections at onesingle level of Reality. This is what most of the academic disciplines do.

2. Vertical meaning - i.e. interconnections involvingseveral levels of Reality. This is what poetry, art or quantum physics do.

3. Meaning of meaning - i.e. interconnections involvingall of Reality - the Subject, the Object and the Hidden Third. This is theultimate aim of transdisciplinary research.

The crucial differencebetween academic disciplines on one side and cultures and religions on theother side can be easily understood in our approach. Cultures and religions arenot concerned, as academic disciplines are, with fragments of levels of Realityonly: they simultaneously involve one or several levels of Realityof the Object, one or several levels of Reality of the Subject and the non-resistance zone of theHidden Third.

Technoscience is entirely situatedin the zone of the Object, while cultures and religions cross all the threeterms: the Object, the Subject and the Hidden Third. This asymmetrydemonstrates the difficulty of their dialogue: this dialogue can occur onlywhen there is a conversion of technoscience towards values, i.e. when the techno-scientificculture becomes a true culture[10].It is precisely this conversion that transdisciplinarity is able to perform.This dialogue is methodologically possible, because the Hidden Third crossesall levels of Reality.

Technoscience has a quiteparadoxical situation. In itself, is blind to values. However, when it entersin dialogue with cultures and religions, it becomes the best mediator of thereconciliation of different cultures and different religions.

Transdisciplinaryhermeneutics is able to identify the common germ of homo religiosus and of homo economicus - called homo suitranscendentalis inmy Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity[11].

At a more or less longterm, we can predict that the transdisciplinary hermeneutics will lead to whatGadamer calls fusion of horizons not only of science andreligion but also of all the other fields of knowledge, like arts, poetry,economics, social life and politics, so crucial in the science/religion debate. Transdisciplinaryhermeneutics avoids the trap of trying to formulate a super-science or asuper-religion. Unity of knowledge can be only an open, complex and pluralunity.

Homo suitranscendentalis is in the processof being born. He is not some new man but man reborn. This new birth is apotentiality inscribed in our very being.




Gablik, Suzi 2004: HasModernism Failed?.New York: Thames§Hudson, 2004.

Lupasco, Stéphane 1951: Leprincipe d’antagonisme et la logique de l’énergie - Prolégomènes à une sciencede la contradiction. Paris: Hermann & Cie. 2nd ed. Monaco:Le Rocher, 1987, foreword by Basarab Nicolescu.

Nicolescu, Basarab 1996: Latransdisciplinarité, manifeste. Monaco: Le Rocher. English translation:Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. New York: SUNY Press, 2002, translation fromthe French by Karen-Claire Voss.

Nicolescu,Basarab 2004: ‘Toward aMethodological Foundation of the Dialogue Between the Technoscientific andSpiritual Cultures’. In Moreva, Liubava (Ed.): Differentiation andIntegration of Worldviews. Sankt Petersburg: Eidos.

Nicolescu,Basarab 2006: ‘Transdisciplinarity – Past, present and Future’. In Haverkort, Bertus and Reijntjes,Coen (Eds.) 2006: MovingWorldviews - Reshaping sciences, policies and practices for endogenoussustainable development. Holland : COMPAS Editions, p. 142-166.

Nicolescu,Basarab 2007: ‘Transdisciplinarity as Methodological Framework for Going Beyondthe Science andReligion Debate’. Transdisciplinarity in Science and Religion, 2, to be published.

Pauli, Wolfgang 1999: Physique moderne et philosophie. Paris, Albin Michel, translated from the German by Claude Maillard.

* Published  in Andrei Marga, Theodor Bercheim and JanSadlak (Ed.), Living in Truth, Cluj University Press, Babes-BolyaiUniversity, Cluj-Napoca, 2008, p. 509-516.

[1] Gablik, 2004.

[2] Pauli, 1999, chapter “Science andWestern Thinking”, p. 178. Thischapter was first published in 1955, in Europa –Erbe und Aufgabe, Internazionaler Gelehrtehkongress,Meinz.

[3] Nicolescu,1996.

[4] Nicolescu,2004.

[5] Nicolescu,2007.

[6] Nicolescu,1996.

[7] Nicolescu,1996.

[8] Nicolescu, 1996, p. 54-55.

[9] Lupasco,1951.

[10] Nicolescu,2004.

[11] Nicolescu,1996.