Meaning through Transdisciplinary Knowledge

Introduction

Time has passed since 1959 when C. P. Snow formulated the concept of two cultures - scientific and humanist culture - perceived as antagonists [1].  The marriage between fundamental science and technology is now accomplished, generating the technoscientific culture which drives the huge irrational force of globalization, centered on the economy, which in turn could erase all differences between cultures and between religions.  Part of humanistic culture has already been absorbed in the technoscientific culture.  In front of this new monolithic culture, there is what I call the spiritual culture, which is in fact a constellation of a huge variety of cultures, religions and spiritual communities, sometimes contradictory but still united through a common belief in the two natures of the human being - on one side, his (her) physical, biological and psychological nature and, on the other side, his (her) transcendental nature.

As scientists, active participants in the technoscientific culture, we have a great responsibility to avoid the disintegration of the spiritual culture resulting from the unbridled development of technoscience, whose probable outcome will be the disappearance of our human species.  As a practicing quantum physicist, I know very well that, if we insist on the technical aspects of science, no link between the technoscientific culture and the spiritual culture is possible.  The only way is to question the axioms of fundamental science and its most general results.  Only by situating ourselves at the frontier of science or in its very center can we establish a dialogue with the spiritual culture.

In establishing these links, I tried, as much as possible not to interfere with my religious beliefs as an Orthodox Christian.  In contrast to superficial views, the Orthodox Christian religion is open to a dialogue with science via its basic idea of an ontological rational order, as shown, for example, in the works of Alexei Nesteruk [2].  In spite of everything, I still keep my faith in a transcendency that participates in our own world, and I am convinced that this faith is justified by contemporary science.

It is only if we question the space between, across and beyond disciplines through transdisciplinarity that we have a chance to discover meaning and to establish links between the two post-modern cultures, integrating both science and wisdom.  The methodology of transdisciplinarity [3] is founded on three postulates:

i.    There are, in Nature and in our knowledge of Nature, different levels of Reality and, correspondingly, different levels of perception.
ii.    The passage from one level of Reality to another is insured by the logic of the included middle.
iii.    The structure of the totality of levels of Reality or perception is a complex structure.  Every level is what it is because all the levels exist at the same time.

The first two postulates receive experimental evidence from quantum physics, while the last one has its source not only in quantum physics but also in a variety of other exact and human sciences.

It is important to note that one can assume the validity of the three postulates of transdisciplinarity independently of their historical roots in some branches of modern science.  Modern science, via its most general aspects, allowed us to identify the three postulates of transdisciplinarity, but once they are formulated, they have a much wider validity then in modern science itself....

Here the meaning we give to the word "reality" is pragmatic and ontological at the same time.  By "Reality" we intend first of all to designate that which resists our experiences, representations, descriptions, images, or even mathematical formulations.
Insofar as Nature participates in the being of the world, one must give an ontological dimension to the concept of Reality.  Reality is not merely a social construction, the consensus of a collectivity, or some intersubjective agreement.  It also has a trans-subjective dimension: e.g. experimental data can ruin the most beautiful scientific theory.

Of course, one has to distinguish the words "Real" and "Reality".  Real designates that what it is, while Reality is connected to resistance in our human experience.  The "Real" is, by definition, veiled for ever, while "Reality" is accessible to our knowledge.
By "level of Reality", a notion I first introduced in 1985 [4], I designate a set of systems which are invariant under certain laws.  For example, quantum entities are subordinate to quantum laws, which depart radically from the laws of the physical world.  That is to say that two levels of Reality are different if, while passing from one to the other, there is a break in the applicable laws and a break in fundamental concepts (like, for example, causality).

The emergence of at least three different levels of Reality in the study of natural systems - the macrophysical level, the microphysical level and cyber-space-time (to which one might add a fourth level - that of superstrings, unifying all physical interactions) - is a major event in the history of knowledge.

Two adjacent levels (...of reality) are connected by the logic of the included middle, which emerged as a valid quantum logic.
Our understanding of the axiom of the included middle - there exists a third term T which is at the same time A and non-A - is completely clarified once the notion of "levels of Reality" is introduced.

In order to obtain a clear image of the meaning of the included middle, we represent (...) the three terms of the new logic - A, non-A, and T - and the dynamics associated with them by a triangle in which one of the vertices is situated at one level of Reality and the two other vertices at another level of Reality.  If one remains at a single level of Reality, all phenomena appear to result from a struggle between two contradictory elements.  The third dynamic, that of the T-state, is exercised at another level of Reality, where that which had appeared to be disunited is in fact united, and that which had appeared contradictory is perceived as non-contradictory.

The logic of the included middle is capable of describing the coherence among these levels of Reality by the iterative process described in Fig.1.  The action of the logic of the included middle on the different levels of Reality induces an open structure of the unity of levels of Reality.  This structure has considerable consequences for the evolution of the theory of knowledge.

The open structure of the unity of levels of Reality is in accord with one of the most important scientific results of the twentieth century concerning arithmetic, the theorem of Kurt Gödel ,which states that a sufficiently rich system of axioms inevitably leads to results which are either undecidable or contradictory [5].  The implications of Gödel's theorem have considerable importance for all modern theories of knowledge, primarily because it concerns not just the field of arithmetic, but all of mathematics which include arithmetic.

The levels of Reality allow us to give us a possibility of understanding of the mysterious quantum indeterminacy through the action of one level on another level. It is extremely important that Gregory Chaitin showed that the indeterminacy is surprisingly acting even in mathematics [6].

There is certainly a coherence among different levels of Reality, at least in the natural world, as shown by the bootstrap and the anthropic principles.  If coherence is limited only to the levels of Reality, it stops both at the "highest" level and at the "lowest" level.  If we introduce the idea of a coherence which continues beyond these two limiting levels, we must conceive the unity of levels of Reality as extending by a zone of non-resistance to our experiences, representations, descriptions, images, and mathematical formulations.  The "highest" level and the "lowest" level of the totality of levels of Reality are united across a zone of absolute transparence.  In this zone, there are no levels of Reality.

Quite simply, the non-resistance of this zone of absolute transparence is due to the limitations of our bodies and of our sense organs - limitations which apply regardless of what measuring tools are and will be used to extend these sense organs.  The zone of non-resistance corresponds to the sacred - to that which does not admit of any rationalization.

The unity of levels of Reality and its complementary zone of non-resistance constitutes what we call the transdisciplinary Object.  A new Principle of Relativity emerges from the coexistence between complex plurality and open unity: no level of Reality constitutes a privileged place from which one is able to understand all the other levels of Reality.  A level of Reality is what it is because all the other levels exist at the same time.  This Principle of Relativity can provide a new perspective on the dialogue between different academic disciplines and between different religions and cultures. The different levels of Reality are accessible to human knowledge thanks to the existence of different levels of perception....

As in the case of levels of Reality, the coherence of levels of perception presupposes a zone of non-resistance to perception.  In this zone, there are no levels of perception.

The unity of levels of perception and this complementary zone of non-resistance constitutes what we call the transdisciplinary Subject.
The open unity between the transdisciplinary Object and the transdisciplinary Subject is conveyed by the coherent orientation of the flow of information, described by the three oriented loops (...) which cut through the levels of Reality, and of the flow of consciousness, described by the three oriented loops which cut through the levels of perception.

The loops of information and consciousness have to meet in a least one point X in order to insure the coherent transmission of information and consciousness everywhere in the Universe.  In some sense, the point X is the source of all Reality and perception.  The point X and its associated loops of information and consciousness describe the third term of transdisciplinary knowledge: the Interaction term between the Subject and the Object, which can be reduced neither to the Object nor to the Subject.

The views I am expressing here are in total conformity with those of the founders of quantum mechanics Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr.

In fact, Werner Heisenberg came very near, in his philosophical writings, to the concept of "level of Reality".  In his famous manuscript of the year 1942 (published only in 1984) Heisenberg, who knew Husserl well, introduced the idea of three regions of reality, able to give access to the concept of "reality" itself: the first region is that of classical physics, the second - of quantum physics, biology and psychic phenomena and the third - that of the religious, philosophical and artistic experiences [7].

The transdisciplinary models of Reality [3] allow us to define three types of meaning:

1. Horizontal meaning - i. e. interconnections at one single level of Reality.  This is what most of the academic disciplines do.
2. Vertical meaning - i. e. interconnections involving several levels of Reality.  This is what poetry, art or quantum physics do.
3. Meaning of meaning - i. e. interconnections involving all the Reality - the Subject, the Object and the Interaction term.  This is the aim of the transdisciplinary research, in which the dialogue between science and spirituality is the main axis.

The crucial difference between academic disciplines on one side and cultures on the other side (are as follows):  Cultures and religions are not concerned with fragments of levels of Reality only: they simultaneously involve a level of Reality, a level of perception and fragments of the non-resistance zone of the sacred.  In other words, cultures, religions and spiritual traditions correspond to a well-defined horizontal section...

Two crucial problems today are certainly the status of the sacred (as forseen by Mircea Eliade) and the status of technoscience.
As can be seen (...), technoscientific culture is entirely situated (in the left part of the diagram -- this diagram and another cannot be shown here.  Nicolescu's idea is, I believe, a reflection of the isolated nature of technoscience--The Editor), while spiritual culture crosses all the three terms which figure in the diagram.  This asymmetry between the two post-modern cultures demonstrates the difficulty of their dialogue: this dialogue can occur only when there is a conversion of technoscience towards the values and towards the sacred, i.e. when the technoscientific culture becomes a true culture.

One way or another, different cultures and religions, as well as agnostic and atheist currents are defined in terms of the question of the sacred.  Experience of the sacred is the source of a transcultural attitude.

The transcultural designates the opening of all cultures to that which cuts across them and transcends them.  It concerns the time present in transhistory, notion introduced by Eliade, which concerns the unthinkable, the unthought, and epiphany.

One can understand why my position differs from the one recently expressed by the great post-modern thinker George Steiner, who recently expressed his own deep belief in the value of a future atheistic civilisation [8].  It is my conviction that a post-modern humanism disconnected from the sacred has no chance to survive in the framework of the recent, strong and irrational technoscientific culture.  The fascination of post-modern humanists in the face of technoscience is troubling.

Let me close with a quotation from my one tradition, namely from Saint Gregory the Theologian (or Nazianzus): "I take as admitted by men of sense, that the first of our advantages is education; and not only this our more noble form of it, which disregards rhetorical ornaments and glory, and holds to salvation, and beauty in the objects of our contemplation: but even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and dangerous, and keeping us afar from God.  For us we ought not to neglect the heavens, and earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them, and honor God's works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers.”

References

[1] C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993; this book is based upon a lecture delivered by C. P. Snow in 1959.

[2] See, e. g., Alexei V. Nesteruk, Design in the Universe and the Logos of Creation - Patristic Synthesis and Modern Cosmology, to be published in "Studies in Science and Theology", August 2001.

[3] Basarab Nicolescu, La transdisciplinarité, manifeste, Le Rocher, Monaco, coll. "Transdisciplinarité", 1996; English translation : Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, State University of New York (SUNY) Press, New York, to be published in February 2002, translation by Karen-Claire Voss.

[4] Basarab Nicolescu, Nous, la particule et e monde, Le Mail, Paris, 1985; Basarab Nicolescu, Levels of Complexity and Levels of Reality, in "The Emergence of Complexity in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology", Proceedings of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 27-31 October 1992, Casina Pio IV, Vatican, Ed. Pontificia Academia Scientiarum, Vatican City, 1996 (distributed by Princeton University Press), edited by Bernard Pullman; Michel Camus, Thierry Magnin, Basarab Nicolescu and Karen-Claire Voss, Levels of Representation and Levels of Reality: Towards an Ontology of Science, in The Concept of Nature in Science and Theology (part II), Éditions Labor et Fides, Genève, 1998, pp. 94-103, edited by Niels H. Gregersen, Michael W.S. Parsons and Christoph Wassermann; Basarab Nicolescu, Hylemorphism, Quantum Physics and Levels of Reality, in Aristotle and Contemporary Science, Vol. I, Peter Lang, New York, 2000, pp. 173-184, edited by Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou, introduction by Hilary Putnam.

[5] Basarab Nicolescu, Gödelian Aspects of Nature and Knowledge, in "Systems - New Paradigms for the Human Sciences", Walter de Gruyter, Berlin - New York, 1998, edited by Gabriel Altmann and Walter A. Koch.  See also, for example, Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Gödel's Proof, New York University Press, New York, 1958 ; Hao Wang, A Logical Journey - From Gödel to Philosophy, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts - London, England, 1996.

[6] Gregory Chaitin, Exploring Randomness, Springer, 2001.

[7] Werner Heisenberg, Philosophie - Le manuscrit de 1942, Seuil, Paris, 1998, translation from German and introduction by Catherine Chevalley; German original edition: Ordnung der Wirklichkeit, R. Piper KG, Munich, 1989 (published first in W. Heisenberg Gesammelte Werke, Vol. C-I:  Physik und Erkenntnis, 1927-1955, R. Piper KG, Munich, 1984, pp. 218-306, edited by W. Blum, H. P. Dürr and H. Rechenberg); to my knowledge, there is no translation in English of this book.

[8] George Steiner, Penser Europe, in L'Europe en quête d'harmonie, Rencontres Européennes de Clichy, La Maison sur le Monde, 71250 Mazille, France, 2001, pp. 42-68, edited by Aude Fonquernie.

Basarab Nicolescu: English Texts and Translations

- Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, State University of New York (SUNY) Press, New York, 2002 (in press)

- Transdisciplinarity and Complexity: Levels of Reality as Source of Indeterminacy, in Determinismo e Complessitè, Armando Editore, Roma, 2000, pp. 127-142, edited by F. Tito Arecchi.

- Hylemorphism, Quantum Physics and Levels of Reality, in Aristotle and Contemporary Science, Vol. I, Peter Lang, New York, 2000, pp. 173-184, edited by Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou, introduction by Hilary Putnam.

- Gödelian Aspects of Nature and Knowledge, in Systems - New Paradigms for the Human Sciences, De Gruyter, Berlin, 1998, translation from French by Karen-Claire Voss, pp. 385-403, edited by Gabriel Altmann and Walter A. Koch.

- Levels of Representation and Levels of Reality: Towards an Ontology of Science, in The Concept of Nature in Science and Theology (part II), in collaboration with Michel Camus, Thierry Magnin et Karen-Claire Voss, Éditions Labor et Fides, Genéve, 1998, pp. 94-103, edited by Niels H. Gregersen, Michael W.S. Parsons and Christoph Wassermann.

- Peter Brook and Traditional Thought, in Contemporary Theater Review, Vol.7, Part 1, 1997, Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, translated from the French by David Williams (translated also in Japanese)

- In the Valley of Astonishment, an interview with Basarab Nicolescu by Jean Biés, in Parabola, Vol.XXII, No.4, Winter 1997, New York

- Levels of Complexity and Levels of Reality, in "The Emergence of Complexity in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology", Proceedings of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 27-31 October 1992, Casina Pio IV, Vatican, Pontificia Academia Scientiarum Editions, Vatican City, 1996 (distributed by Princeton University Press)

- Science, Meaning and Evolution - The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme with selected texts by Jacob Boehme, translated from the French by Rob Baker, foreword by Joscelyn Godwin, afterword by Antoine Faivre, Parabola Books, New York, 1991

- Science as Testimony, in "Science and the Boundaries of Knowledge", Proceedings of the Venice Symposium, UNESCO Editions, Paris, 1986 (translated in Spanish and many other languages)

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