From the Executive Director—October 2008
With everything going on in the world today—economic crises; issues with energy, food, and water; war and terrorism; critical elections—it is easy, I suppose, to lose sight of the “big picture.” Is there some way all of these issues we face, crises we have to confront, and choices we have to make fit together? Why is it so difficult to deal with these broad, complex challenges?
The answer can almost be found in the asking. Because our problems are so broad and complex, they demand approaches that are suitably rich in resources for tackling them. But are there such approaches? Where can they be found?
Too few places, that’s for sure. We have plenty of knowledge about the various spheres of reality and activity that we’ve carved up for ourselves. In fact, one might just wonder whether knowledge in some sense got us into these troubles—I mean disciplinary knowledge divorced from the larger view, from the whole, in some sense. After all, there is no shortage of Ivy-league trained individuals working on Wall Street, in the halls of government, and in large enterprises all across the world. There is plenty of brain-power being applied to our challenges, no doubt. But is there any wisdom? Could it be that knowledge without wisdom can cause as many problems as it solves?
At the Metanexus Institute, we are working to respond to what we call the “transdisciplinary imperative.” The situation in an ever-more-globalized, ever-more-complicated, ever-more-interconnected world calls for transdisciplinary approaches for confronting our extraordinary challenges. Without employing this approach—of trying to recapture a vision of the “forest” and not just the “trees”—one can see the negative consequences unfold. The fragmentation of knowledge is an inevitable consequence of disciplinary practices which are, it is true, impressively effective in their own right. The fragmentation of knowledge leads to the fragmentation of the university, which has a significant impact on the mission to educate the next generation. The fragmented university leads—consciously or unconsciously—to training students (and faculty, too) to compartmentalize their thinking, their reality, and hence their lives.
Transdisciplinarity recognizes the need to work simultaneously within disciplinary practices, between the disciplines (as in multi- and interdisciplinary endeavors), as well as beyond the disciplines and the institutions they form and in which they reside, in the hope of approaching something like the unity of knowledge as an integral complement to disciplinary knowledge. Transdisciplinarity recognizes the imperative—if we are truly to understand ourselves and our world—to seek for approaches to research, learning, teaching, institution building, and policy making that reflect a desire for an integral or synthetic view of reality, not as a replacement for but as a complement to our traditional analytic and disciplinary way of dealing with reality. Transdisciplinarity recognizes, finally, that deep in the heart of each person is a desire for something like the whole story of the whole cosmos in order that they might be whole persons living in whole communities with a profound regard for the whole of nature and reality. In other words, we all seek wisdom, and pursuing the unity of knowledge through rich transdisciplinary approaches is a part of wisdom.
It is in pursuit of this vision that we are dedicating our best efforts, and we invite you—we urge you—to join us at this most pivotal moment in our history. Transdisciplinarity is not some optional sidelight to research, education, and policy making. It is not some frivolous ivory-tower pastime. It is imperative that we learn how to think and research and teach in this way if we are to have the opportunity for a better future, one more just, more safe, more convivial, more wise.
Please join us now! Your financial support is vital!