Back to homepage

Learning after September 11, 2001:

A collaborative reflection

Dmitri Plavinsky: "Manhattan Ghost" (1993 - private collection)


The tragedy that hit the people of the United States of America on September 11, 2001, is a tragedy that hit the world. The LDI community is saddened and profoundly shocked by what happened and expresses its solidarity with the victims of the misguided human ingenuity that caused death and injury among many ordinary citizens of a respected and contributing member of the community of peoples of the world.

We have initiated a collaborative reflection inspired by the question "What directions do we see for the development of human learning in the light of the events of September 11, 2001, and similar atrocities throughout the history of humankind?" We have asked the invited participants in this reflection, while addressing the above question, to particularly also "clarify the important things we don’t know about learning and that appear to be important challenges."

Originators of this collaborative reflection are Leon Lederman (Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, IL, and Director Emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory [Nobel Physics Laureate, 1988]); Federico Mayor (President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, Madrid, Spain, and former Director-General of UNESCO); and Gavriel Salomon (Director of the Center for Advanced Studies and Co-director of the Center for Research on Peace Education, University of Haifa, Israel), together with Jan Visser (President, Learning Development Institute, Tallahassee, FL), who is responsible for the initiative.

On September 21, 2001, an invitation to participate in the above collaborative reflection went out to a group of distinguished individuals, drawn from such diverse fields as the sciences of learning and instruction; the natural sciences; psychology; community development; the performing arts; letters; communication studies; brain research; and media development.

Jan Visser


Contributions to the
collaborative reflection

Contributions have been posted below in the order in which they came in, i.e. older ones before newer ones. A menu of contributors' names appears below, names being ordered alpabetically. Following the contributor's name is the date at which her/his contribution was received. Click on the name to read that contributor's thoughts on the questions posed in this collaborative reflection. Details about the contributor are included with that person's thought piece.


Luiza Alonso (contribution received Nov 4, 2001 - em inglês e português)
HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal (contribution received Nov. 15, 2001)
Danielle Boutet (contribution received Oct 4, 2001 - en anglais et en français)
Ron Burnett (contribution received Sept 27, 2001)
George Cowan (contributions received Sept 23, 2001 and Feb 9, 2002)
Vera P. John-Steiner (contribution received Dec 14, 2001)
Leon M. Lederman (contribution received Nov 26, 2001)
Mariana G. M. Lacombe (contribution received Oct 4, 2001 - en français)
Federico Mayor (contribution received Sept 19, 2001)
Thierry Magnin (contribution received Jan 22, 2002)
Maria F. de Mello (contribution received Oct 23, 2001)
Edgar Morin (contribution received Jan 28, 2002)
Basarab Nicolescu (contribution received Oct 16, 2001)
Norma Nuñez (contribution received Oct 9 - en español)
Gavriel Salomon (contribution received Oct 31, 2001)
Jan Servaes (contribution received Sept 21, 2001)
Lee S. Shulman (contribution received Jan 4, 2002)
Hélène Trocmé-Fabre (contribution received Oct 2, 2001 - en français)
Jan Visser (contribution received Jan 13, 2002)
Karen-Claire Voss (contribution received Nov 17, 2001)

An edited version of the Collaborative Reflection on "Learning after September 11, 2001" has been published in print and on the Web under the title "L'apprentissage dans le creuset/Learning in the crucible" as a special issue (No. 16, dated February 2002) of "Rencontres Transdisciplinaires," the Interactive Bulletin of the Centre International de Recherches et d'Études Transdisciplinaires (CIRET), Paris, France, one of the institutions with which LDI entertains important collaborative ties. Editors of this special issue of "Rencontres Transdisciplinaires" are Basarab Nicolescu and Jan Visser.


Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Federico Mayor

President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, Madrid, Spain
Professor at the Center for Molecular Biology at the Autonomous University of Madrid
Former Director-General (1987-1999) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Contribution received September 19, 2001 (retyped from a handwritten statement sent in by fax)

11 September 2001, a turning point
What this terrible event implies in terms of learning?
What directions do we see for the development of human learning in the light of the events of September 11, 2001, and similar atrocities throughout the history of humankind?
The events of the 11th of September represent a turning point in many dimensions of life, both at national and global level. Many present trends must be redressed. Education plays a critical role in forging citizen's behaviour, and now an in-depth change is urgently needed, focussed on the basic aspects that constitute the permanent essential pillars of an endless process throughout life.
In a nutshell, I think that - now more than ever - education must lead to:
  1. "Personal sovereignty:" Develop the creative and thinking capacities in order that every unique human being will have her/his own answers, being able to express them, and to listen to those of others, in a permanent interaction.
  2. A global vision: To "lean out" as a constant attitude, being in a watchtower (and not in an ivory one), truly becoming a world citizen, open, with sharing and imaginative entrepreneurial capacity (daring to learn and learning to dare).
  3. A passionate and compassionate behaviour in favour of the democratic ideals of justice, freedom, equality and solidarity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the best way to sow in all the minds the fundamental values and principles to guide reflections and conducts.
  4. A multicultural and plurilingual preparedness, developing a temper of tolerance and otherness. "We the peoples..." All the peoples, in a culture of peace context, promoting the transition from a culture of force and imposition to dialogue and understanding.
  5. Anticipatory outlook and foresightedness, in order to build and consolidate a prospective and preventive attitude.
Concerning your last question:
Education has normally been considered and adapted from the teaching angle and not from the learning one. It is from this latter perspective that we realize now that it is a lifelong process, and that the behavioural attitudes that are forged, the awakening of the distinctive capacity of the human to create and to search for answers to the essential questions are the inner core of "education" in terms of personal autonomy. Skills and professional capacity building are the "outer rings." They evolve rapidly according to the knowledge acquired and technology developments in each particular area.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Jan Servaes

Professor, Catholic University Brussels
President, European Consortium for Communications Research (ECCR)
Vice-President for Academic Research and Publications,
International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)

Contribution received September 21, 2001

The root causes for the barbaric action on 'September 11' are mammoth, complex issues. Some of them are clearly structural, others related to cross-cultural (mis)understandings and perceptions.

I believe complexity too overwhelming for one person to handle can be figured out by all of us together. We will need a new kind of school; not a school for teaching writing and arithmetic, but a school for problems. This type of 'school' necessitates the latitude for participation, for the appropriate attitudes and structures on the part of personnel and institutions. A school which gives people the opportunity to identify their problems, deal with their problems, and learn from their problems. Analysis should begin at the level of the people within their own experience and their own level of understanding. This ensures people's collective initiative and participation in any kind of change process.

Trust can foster or inhibit communication and participation between and among all groups regardless of education, culture, social, or economic status. It is "an a priori requirement for dialogue ... without this faith ... dialogue is a farce which inevitably degenerates into paternalistic manipulation" (Freire, 1983:79). It may be more important to know about trust than about educational standards, pedagogical methods, media technology or communication benchmarks.
Trust is egalitarian. We may succumb to superiors, and condescend to subordinates, but these are not manifestations of genuine trust. Freire (1983:53) contends those who do not trust others "will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiques, monologues, and instructions." Trust isn't manifest in positions or labels, but in persons.

If we do not trust, we deem others untrustworthy. But is that quality within them, or in our own attitudes of insecurity and aspirations of superiority? More often than not, it may be the latter. Again, to the extent we trust, we are equals. We often do not trust those we want, and are socialized, to feel above, those 'lower on the ladder.'

Hence, education for social change requires first of all changes in the thinking of teachers and policymakers themselves. The needles, targets, and audiences of communication and development models, combined with self-righteousness, titles, and insecurities, perhaps sprinkled with a dash of misdirected benevolence, often renders 'experts' a bit too verbose and pushy. Perhaps this is because it requires much more imagination, preparation and hard work to have dialogical learning. It is far easier to prepare and give lectures. However, there is possibly a valid reason why we have two ears, but only one mouth.

Communication between people thrives not on the ability to talk fast, but the ability to listen well. People are `voiceless' not because they have nothing to say, but because nobody cares to listen to them. In this perspective it is legitimate to say that education for social change begins with listening. It is so simple and yet we fail often because of an egocentric attitude. Perhaps the best advice to the modern development communicators is to shut up for awhile.

Authentic listening fosters trust much more than incessant talking. Participation, which necessitates listening, and moreover, trust, will help reduce the social distance between leaders and citizens as well as facilitate a more equitable exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences.

Participation can involve the redistribution of power at local, national, international and global levels. As such, it directly threatens those whose position and/or very existence depends upon power and its exercise over others. Reactions to such threats are sometimes overt, but most often are manifested as less visible, yet steady and continuous resistance.
Such barriers are not limited to government-populace relationships, but are prevalent both among bureaucratic organizations and communities as well.

Attitude is paramount for the facilitator. S/He must truly believe the participants are not only capable, but are indeed the most qualified persons for the task at hand. Therefore, beyond class and organizational interests, perhaps the major obstacles to participation are large egos and self-righteousness. The most important expertise, technique, or methodology cannot be operationalized. What is needed is a change of attitude, the patient fostering of trust, and the ability to listen.

Reference: Freire, P. (1983). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

George Cowan

Distinguished Fellow, Santa Fe Institute, Santafe, NM

Contribution received September 23, 2001

This is the authorized reproduction of a message received from George Cowan, raising doubts about the impact of this reflection in the short-term. We found it of interest to be included because of its implicit call to develop thinking in a long-term perspective [JV].

From: George Cowan
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 12:11 PM
Subject: Re: Learning after September 11, 2001 - INVITATION

Dear Jan:

As you know, I fully share your convictions about the need for a deeper understanding of the learning process in every individual, its variability among individuals, and the benefits to be obtained from improvements that may be readily achievable once we better understand the process. However, I see this as a long-term program that will take at least another generation to contribute to society, probably longer. We are committing ourselves now to neutralizing people who are already so thoroughly indoctrinated that they will not change. I doubt whether a scholarly discussion of learning will contribute much to policy planning or actions taken during the foreseeable future. I am always interested in discussions of this important subject but I'm not hopeful that they will make a difference just now. Keep me on your distribution list. Best, George


The above brief e-mail text was updated, at our request, by the more comprehensive text, received February 9, 2002, prepared at our request.

What now?

Widely predicted for years, the power to wreak catastrophic damage on large segments of society has now diffused from a few nations to relatively small outlaw groups and even to individuals. A demonstration of this power on September 11, modest compared to what is potentially possible, provoked a devastating response in Afghanistan. But our military success does not effectively deal with the underlying reality. An aggrieved few can imperil an entire society and the power to do so is growing, not diminishing.

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to this horrendous dilemma. We may reduce the threat but there is little likelihood of finding a short-term, universal solution that will spare our society further attacks. We must now assume that military power and political coalitions can at best buy us time to produce effective, long-term solutions. We shall probably need a generation or more, which means that these solutions will be subject to the beliefs and actions of people who are currently unborn or are very young.

What should be done now to improve society's prospects for the future?

Answers to this question vary with our definition of the root causes of the threat. It is often said that the problem is due to the economic gap between the haves and have-nots. It is an important issue but is more symptomatic than basic. Closer to the root is the fierce discontent in many people of substance, with intellectual and material means, who were reared in an unchanging, rigid culture and who seem unable or unwilling to construct satisfying lives in an increasingly Westernized world.

For such people and for those who live in truly deprived and miserable conditions, a sense of irrelevance contributes to the appeal of promised rewards in a glorious paradise elsewhere. Unfortunately, their leaders and teachers habitually protect rigidity and their own power by diligently nurturing hatred of external enemies, real or imagined. The habit of hatred, once acquired, is likely to remain a lifelong addiction. Although we tend to focus on radical Islamic fundamentalism as the current source of this phenomenon, history provides many similar examples in many societies and in many faiths. What has happened in our generation that has transformed this age-old problem into an intolerable menace is that relatively small numbers of people who have been steeped in hate are acquiring the means to destroy the entire social fabric.

The immediate response is to find such people and eliminate or contain them. The process can continue indefinitely if others, equally addicted, replace them. But their numbers will grow as long as teaching children to hate, from infancy on, continues. An obvious remedy is to remove such teachings from the early schooling environment. Since it is so difficult to change the current system, truly secular public schooling should be introduced and made universal. We have learned from long and often contentious history that this kind of schooling promotes healthy tolerance. Preaching hatred at worship should be outlawed. The educational system should nurture the child's desire and skills to find significance and to prosper in a peaceful society.

Clearly, implementing such changes will be enormously challenging. Success is not assured and will require, in any case, a generation or more. Chances of a constructive result will be improved if we better understand the nature of early learning and the teaching processes that shape the eventual behavior of adults in Islamic countries, other rigid societies, and in society in general. Training of mothers and other primary caretakers must be included in an effective educational program. It will be essential to minimize prevailing sexual biases.

We have an obvious immediate opportunity to find solutions to these problems as we undertake the rebuilding of the infrastructure in Afghanistan. Because the need there is so great, we must try to establish an effective system for early care and education, beginning with babies and toddlers. An encouraging prospect is that, if we take on this problem, we shall have to better understand learning processes in children in all cultures and societies. Effective changes will require wisdom, not edicts.

Our ability to achieve deeper understandings of how the young learn is increasing very rapidly. Research in this field now includes not only educators and psychologists but neuroscientists who study the essential relationships between neurophysiological functions in the brain and cognitive, social, and emotional development. Brain development and behavior in animals is strongly coupled to the richness of the very early environment. Although similar experiments with human babies do not exist, it is clear that the developmental history of the young brain is affected by a variety of cultural inputs whose relative importance can now be more clearly defined and assessed. This expanding field of study will inevitably affect the ways in which we teach our children. It should also suggest ways in which we can help all children construct rewarding lives in a variety of social, political, economic, and family environments.

The prospect that improvements of this sort at home might, with appropriate modifications, be introduced elsewhere adds to the importance of a field of research that some psychologists and educators, believing that existing teaching systems should not be challenged, have chosen to disparage. I propose the organization of a meeting of a number of qualified scholars, including psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists, to examine what is presently known in this field and to begin to provide a guide for the design of an innovative, universal educational system for the very young in Afghanistan.

The immediate need to contain terrorism must, of course, be addressed with whatever resources are required. Successful containment will provide time to promote basic changes in motivation and behavior, changes that must start with the rearing of the young and that are unlikely to occur if our efforts focus on mature adults. I suggest that a good beginning is to design an early education initiative that will help demonstrate the possibility of effecting lasting change not only in Afghanistan but more generally.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Ron Burnett

Contribution received September 27, 2001

Learning about Horror through the Media

I was in Montreal at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would add very little to the already voluminous material that has been produced about this terrible event for me to comment in great detail on my feelings of despair and revulsion at such a senseless taking of human life. It is hard to imagine the mental space of terrorists and even harder to try to derive a rational explanation for their motivations. I will say that I fell into a state of deep anguish, empathy and anger. The problem is that words do feel inadequate and even the most poetic and nuanced of analyses cannot fully render the events themselves or their implications.

Instead, I want to focus on the images of the events and on the importance of live television.

I was born just after World War Two and have witnessed the development and growth of television over a fifty-year period. I remember where I was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and as it happens, I was sitting in a high-school classroom. The Principal used an old intercom system to send us broadcast radio and we listened in stunned silence. At the end of the day, I ran home to watch the events on television. No other medium is as raw, direct and naïve in large measure because crises make journalists and their producers throw out their normal guidebooks for what works and what doesn't work. Events take over and the flow of information is exactly that, a flow. More often than not, television is in the past tense. The news has already happened and we get the news reports, carefully edited and presented according to assumptions about audience and about our ability to understand what we are being shown.

Live events turn the tables on both audience and television news. The sense that everything is unfolding in front of our eyes collapses the distance between screen and viewer. First-person narration, eyewitness reports, commentary from the scene, impromptu reactions and sudden shifts of location all add up, and the results are overwhelming. History folds in on itself. The distinctions that normally govern our relationship to television disappear. It is not possible to remain distant or uninvolved. This goes as much for the commentators and reporters as it does for viewers. The dissolution of the screen unifies disparate parts of what is normally a well-defined set of parameters and boundaries.

September 11th changed the very meaning of what it means to engage with and experience live television.

Those of us who watched the events unfold, that is the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center and then the collapse of the buildings will never escape the horrors of those moments. None of the endless replays could match the initial sense of "being there" and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. So much of the despair born of this event comes from that original feeling. Television is so rarely a direct witness to catastrophe that is has begun to rely on the accidental presence of amateurs to bring events into the present tense. Even in those instances, we are witnesses to something that has been recorded which doesn't lessen the horror, but softens the impact.

The intertwining of event and broadcast is also about a loss of control on the part of journalists. They cannot simply "report" but must respond as participants. This shift to participation, I believe, allows us as audiences to "learn" in completely different ways. We can no longer assume that learning about the events divorces us from their personal impact. The distance of discourse and analysis from event and subjective response is broken. We now have the chance to examine what it means to learn in a "mediated" world because the intervening layers have disappeared. This is, of course, momentary, a fleeting chance to understand our relationship to the present through completely different paradigms of vision and comprehension.

The lessons must not be lost. If we are to honour the memory of those who lost their lives, it is our responsibility as audiences, critics and analysts to keep on dissolving the mediations so that the world we live in ceases to be "just" images. When I say just, I mean it in all senses. For is it not the case, quite paradoxically, that so much of what the rest of the world knows about the America it hates has come to audiences via images of every sort and every genre? The combination of geographic distance and images is lethal. We need to explore the implications of learning in this manner and prepare ourselves for a different approach to the televisual world.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution par

Hélène Trocmé-Fabre

Docteur en linguistique, Docteur en Lettres et Sciences Humaines
Auteur de, entre autres, "J'apprends donc je suis" et "Réinventer le métier d'apprendre"

Contribution received October 2, 2001

Apprendre aujourd’hui à lire et écrire le livre de la vie

Le regard que le monde éducatif porte sur le 11 Septembre 2001 et sur son propre questionnement concernant “l’après”, ce regard ne peut faire l’économie de l’”avant”. Pendant des siècles où "l’accès au savoir” était entre les mains du maître, le verbe apprendre a été le synonyme d’ être enseigné et les savoirs de base ont été ceux de l’École. Aujourd’hui, grâce aux avancées des recherches sur l’organisme apprenant que nous sommes, nous comprenons qu’apprendre est un processus qui s’inscrit dans la durée, et qu’il est beaucoup mieux défini par les termes proposés par Francisco Varela : “entrer dans un chemin de transformation”.

Le paradoxe du monde contemporain du 11 Septembre 2001 est que les changements dûs aux avancées des sciences et des technologies n’ont pas provoqué dans le monde éducatif un rapide bouleversement conceptuel. Les données qui nous éclairent sur la vie et le vivant sont encore réservées aux spécialistes et sont affaire de biologistes. L’École, régie par le souci d’efficacité, n’a pas encore découvert que le vivant n’est ni mesurable ni quantifiable et que la vie cognitive ne se laisse réduire ni à des prévisions ni à des chiffres ni par des statistiques.

Apprendre est, comme le vivant, fait de gestes simples, quotidiens (une rencontre, une parole, un regard nouveau) qui tissent notre reliance à l’environnement, aux autres et à nous-même. Cette réalité exige que le monde éducatif devienne apprenant lui aussi ; qu’il remette en question certains concepts fossiles (causalité, objectivité, origine, temporalité...) ; qu’il dépoussière le vrais-faux débats sur l’inné et l’acquis, sur le réel ou l’information-entité ; qu’il accompagne l’apprenant dans sa découverte du pluriel des mots “logiques”, “mémoires”, “intelligences”, “langages”, niveaux de réalité... ; qu’il encourage l’émergence de concepts dynamiques et novateurs d'auto-organisation, structuration, potentialisation, actualisation, complexification, transdisciplinarité.... C'est à ces conditions et à ce prix que l’apprenant, après le 11 Septembre 2001, pourra s’ouvrir et participer à l’écriture du livre de la vie. Rappelons que le mot “livre” vient du latin “liber”, qui signifie “la partie vivante de l’écorce sur laquelle on écrivait”

Les pages de la vie parlent d’émergence, d’innovation, d’échange, de renouvellement, de reliance, d’interconnexion, de reconnaissance... Parce que le vivant est autre d’instant en instant, parce qu’il est en perpétuel mouvement et en devenir, le monde éducatif a pour rôle de guider celui qui lui est confié dans sa lecture des mots-clés du vivant. Son rôle est précisément de construire avec les briques du vivant les interactions entre les partenaires éducatifs.

Parce que notre organisme humain est doté d’un système nerveux central (son cerveau), notre fonctionnement de base est une boucle qui relie nos perceptions sensorielles et nos actions. Lorsque cette boucle n’est pas nourrie de sens, lorsqu’elle n’est pas ancrée dans notre histoire, lorsque nous sommes dépossédés de la relation signe-sens, lorsque nous ne sommes pas auteurs de ce que nous voyons, comprenons, ressentons, lorsque les conditions d’actualisation de tous nos “possibles” ne sont pas présentes, alors la violence se libère, sous une forme ou sous une autre : violence contre soi- même, violence contre les autres, violence d’un langage quotidien linéaire, prêt-à-dire, stagnant sous le verbe “être” (la grande machine à étiqueter la réalité), ou cloisonné dans des compartiments étanches et sclérosés par le verbe”avoir” (le grand englueur de nos relations aux objets, aux autres, et à nous-même). Quand la violence se libère, l’écriture de la vie est effacée. Plus rien ne s’inscrit ni ne se lit “dans la durée au-delà de la durée” (l’une des définitions de la vie). L’oubli redoutable et mortel du visage de l’Autre règne en maître. Ce monde-là a chassé l’émergence.

Ce n’est pas le monde que nous voulons contribuer à construire. Un programme inépuisable de reliance attend les partenaires des situations éducatives. L’éventail des outils, démarches et activités de reliance est infiniment vaste, comme est vaste celui qu’on accompagne dans son élan d’apprenance, jusqu’à ce qu’il sache qu’il est un être en devenir. Se reconnaître en devenir : n’est-ce pas la compétence-clé du vivant ? Elle contient toutes les autres et elle se
place, plus que jamais, au coeur de nos préoccupations éducatives.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Danielle Boutet

Director, MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program - Goddard College, Vermont, USA

Contribution received October 4, 2001

L'original de cette contribution en français suit la version anglaise, ci-dessous. La traduction en anglais est de l'autrice.

Dear Jan Visser,

Thank you for inviting us to " clarify the important things we don't know about learning and that appear to be important challenges. " I would like to suggest, first, that we already know a great deal. We also have a good intuitive sense of the direction in which we would like to see things going. What seems to elude us still, however, is the resolve - and perhaps an effective process - to implement radical changes in the education system. The question might be: Do we have the means to support our convictions?

I would propose that we start believing our own prophecies. Have we not observed, for at least four decades now, some major transformative forces in contemporary societies? Have we not extrapolated possible outcomes and imagined strategies?

For example, we noted the shift from an industrial era to the information age, pointing out the impact of new technologies on culture and knowledge. While information proliferates and sources of information multiply, real - embodied - knowledge loses ground. We are experiencing a major epistemological crisis.

We announced the advent of post-modernism and post-colonialism. These too constitute an epistemological crisis, triggered this time by our identifying, critiquing and deconstructing modernity's meta-narratives and canons.

We have commented at length on a globalization of the economy, warning about possible threats to cultural diversity and democracy. New forms of colonialism and a further aggravation of inequalities are feared, along with disastrous over-exploitation of natural and human resources.

We are witnessing multiple ecological disasters and progressive destruction of ecosystems, which seem to indicate that in several places we have reached (or are about to reach) a point of no return.

If these forces (and I could list others too, operating at even deeper levels) are indeed at work, then the West is in tremendous crisis - though we don't know if the outcome will be positive or only disastrous. The rationalist mind is meeting the millenarian; they have begun speaking a common language. Ecological, human, industrial, military catastrophes are foreseen. We find ourselves in the midst of a cultural revolution while the economic system may be collapsing. We are beginning to understand that these shifts proceed from similar root causes, to be found in the intimate heart of modernity: grave epistemological errors, spiritual bankruptcy, Self-Other dynamics in crisis. With this situation in mind, then, what should we teach?

Federico Mayor, in this forum, highlighted the need to shift our focus from "teaching" to "learning." This shift is imperative, indeed. Interestingly, education specialists agree with this suggestion, as we can see from the debates around the UNESCO Commission's report. A consensus has formed about the recommendations of the Commission, which stress the importance of learning throughout life and the importance of the "four pillars" for an education centered on the holistic development of the individual. (It may be relevant here to remind ourselves of Wilhelm Reich's remark, that if a true revolution in the ideological superstructure governing society keeps failing, it is because the support base for this superstructure, that is, the psychic structure of human beings, hasn't changed [my own translation; Reich, La Psychologie de masse du fascisme, Payot, Paris, 1974, p. 238]. The Delors Report seems to address Reich's remark.) Not only are we quite advanced in our conceptualizing of this new education, we also have significant practical expertise - with experiments conducted throughout the world. Half a century of progressive education in the US has provided us with concrete data on possible applications of this kind of educational philosophy. For more than sixty years now, Goddard College has had the four pillars embedded in its academic program, and keeps actualizing them in new formats.

The time has come for us to move from reflection to implementation. Yes, we might have to redo the entire curriculum and pedagogy of the university if we want to help our students meet the challenges we have identified. But, to begin with, there are at least three things we could do for them:

  1. See them as researchers and creators in the first place. They will be undertaking the construction of new epistemologies, of a good portion of the content of science and culture - all those discourses that we, postmodernists, have deconstructed.
  2. Be honest with them about the shortcomings of modernity. It may not be any more relevant today to perpetuate the content we learned than it was to teach scholasticism to Renaissance minds. We should tell our students that, much as we wanted to believe in the ideals of science and technology, of democracy, of "great culture," our passion for them did not prevent us from making terrible mistakes. It may still be relevant to teach history, science, the arts, and philosophy, but we need to add to our curricula some good explanations as to how those bodies of knowledge were constructed, what methods we employed, what were our paradigms and our assumptions. This, in order to help students make their own decisions as to what they want to keep, what they want to transform, what they may discard.
  3. Most importantly, empower them. Inheriting the keys to the City, they may find the current architecture obsolete, if not the City in ruins. Our street maps will only be marginally useful to them - and only insofar as they might want to draw new streets along the same lines, or historicize the previous era. Wouldn't it be wiser to teach them to create, to build, to imagine the future, without burdening them with an old collection of maps?


Ensuite la version originale en français du texte en langue anglaise ci-dessus:

Cher Jan Visser,

Merci de nous avoir invité-es à " clarifier les choses importantes que l'on ignore encore sur l'apprentissage, et qui semblent poser d'importants défis. " J'oserais commencer en suggérant que nous connaissons déjà beaucoup d'éléments, de fait, et qu'en plus, nous avons de bonnes intuitions quant aux directions à prendre. Ce qui semble nous échapper, c'est la détermination et peut-être la marche à suivre pour changer radicalement le système d'éducation. La question à se poser, je dirais, est la suivante : Avons-nous les moyens de nos convictions?

Je propose de croire nos propres prophéties. En effet, n'avons-nous pas observé, depuis au moins quatre décennies, de grands vecteurs de transformation dans les sociétés contemporaines? N'avons-nous pas extrapolé plusieurs conséquences possibles de ces transformations et imaginé des stratégies?

Par exemple, nous avons noté le passage de la société industrielle à la société de l'information, signalant l'impact des nouvelles technologies sur la culture et les savoirs en général. Alors que l'information prolifère et que les sources d'information se multiplient, la véritable connaissance - elle - perd du terrain. Nous sommes entrés dans une crise épistémologique profonde.

Nous avons noté l'avènement du post-modernisme et du post-colonialisme. Une autre crise épistémologique, déclenchée cette fois par l'identification, la critique et la déconstruction des idéologies et des canons de la modernité.

Nous avons aussi abondamment commenté la mondialisation de l'économie, soulignant entre autres les menaces qu'elle fait peser sur la diversité des cultures et la démocratie. De nouvelles formes de colonialisme et une aggravation des inégalités sont observées, ainsi qu'une sur-exploitation désastreuse des ressources naturelles et humaines.

Nous assistons aussi à la multiplication des désastres écologiques et à la destruction progressive des écosystèmes, ce qui semble indiquer qu'en plusieurs endroits et à plusieurs niveaux, des points de non-retour sont déjà (ou seront bientôt) atteints.

Si ces vecteurs (et on pourrait en nommer d'autres, agissant à des niveaux encore plus profonds) sont effectivement à l'œuvre, alors une crise majeure secoue l'Occident - quoique nous ignorons si cette crise sera bénéfique ou seulement terrible. L'approche rationnelle rejoint l'angoisse millénariste - elles trouvent soudain un langage commun. Des catastrophes écologiques, humanitaires, industrielles, militaires sont envisagées. On se retrouve en pleine révolution culturelle, alors que le système financier pourrait s'effondrer. Et nous commençons à comprendre que ces bouleversements procèdent des mêmes causes profondes, inscrites au cœur même de la modernité : des erreurs épistémologiques graves, une grande faillite spirituelle, une crise de l'altérité. Avec cette conscience, que faut-il enseigner?

Federico Mayor, dans le présent forum, a souligné l'importance de regarder moins ce qui est enseigné et davantage ce qui s'apprend. Ce changement de perspective s'impose en effet. Fait intéressant, les spécialistes en éducation sont d'accord avec cette suggestion, comme l'indiquent les débats autour du rapport de la commission de l'UNESCO. Un consensus s'est formé autour des recommandations de ce rapport, lequel met l'emphase sur l'apprentissage tout au long de la vie et sur les " quatre piliers " d'une éducation centrée sur le développement holistique de l'individu. (Il est peut-être pertinent de rappeler la phrase de Wilhelm Reich : " La révolution dans la superstructure idéologique fait faillite parce que le support de cette révolution, la structure psychique des êtres humains n'a pas changé " (La psychologie de masse du fascisme, Payot, Paris 1974, p. 238). Le rapport Delors semble vouloir répondre à la remarque de Reich.) Et non seulement sommes-nous avancés dans la conceptualisation de cette nouvelle éducation, nous avons aussi une expertise pratique volumineuse, comme en font foi de nombreuses expériences sur tous les continents. Aux États-Unis, plus d'un demi-siècle d'éducation progressiste a permis d'amasser des données concrètes sur les applications possibles de ce genre de pédagogie. Depuis plus de soixante ans, les quatre piliers sont au cœur du programme académique du collège Goddard, qui les réactualise régulièrement dans de nouvelles formes.

Le temps est venu de passer de la réflexion à la pratique. Oui, il faudra peut-être refaire tout le contenu et toute la pédagogie de l'université, si nous voulons préparer adéquatement la génération de nos étudiant-es pour les défis que nous avons identifiés. Il y a au moins trois choses que nous pourrions faire pour leur être utiles :

  1. Les voir comme des chercheurs et des créateurs en premier lieu. Ils, elles doivent entreprendre la reconstruction des épistémologies, d'une bonne partie du contenu de la science et de la culture - tous ces discours que nous, les postmodernes, avons déconstruits.
  2. Être honnête envers eux au sujet de la modernité. Il n'est peut-être pas plus pertinent aujourd'hui de perpétuer les contenus que nous avons appris, qu'il fut pertinent d'enseigner la scolastique aux esprits de la Renaissance. Nous devons dire à nos étudiant-es qu'autant nous avons crû passionnément à ces idéaux de la science et de la technologie, de la démocratie, de la " grande culture ", autant cela ne nous a pas empêchés de faire de graves erreurs. Je présume que nous pouvons encore enseigner l'histoire, la science, les arts et la philosophie, mais nous devons ajouter à nos contenus de cours des explications sur comment nous avons construit ces contenus, quelles ont été nos méthodes, nos paradigmes et nos présuppositions. Et ce, de façon à les aider à déterminer ce qu'ils et elles voudront garder, transformer ou rejeter.
  3. Le plus important serait de leur faire confiance. En héritant des clés de la Cité, ils, elles risquent d'y trouver une architecture obsolète, si ce n'est carrément une Cité en ruines. Nos plans de rue ne leur seront que marginalement utiles - utiles seulement dans la mesure où ils voudront redessiner la ville, ou historier l'ère ancienne. Il serait plus sage de leur enseigner à créer, à construire, à imaginer le futur, sans les encombrer de notre vieille cartographie.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution par

Mariana G. M. Lacombe

Prof. de philo dans l'enseignement supérieur á São Paulo
Coordonnatrice d'un centre de recherches inter et transdisciplinnaire à l'Unifieo

Contribution received October 4, 2001

Qu'avons nous désappris le 11 septembre 2001?

Aujourd'hui lorsque nous tentons de comprendre l'histoire de la pensée en Occident nous faisons référence au monde contemporain comme à un lieu de crise, d'échec des grands systèmes et de vide métaphysique. Notre horizon est bouché par le réalisme ou l'ironie des théories déconstructivistes et effectivement devant les tragédies issues de tant de conflits mondiaux, des camps de la mort, des dictatures, de la torture, des persécutions de toutes sortes, de la douleur issue de la grande pauvreté, personne ne se risquerait à affirmer, en saine conscience, que Dieu ait pu vouloir ses massacres, qu'ils font partie d'un plan de l'évolution humaine... Devant l'horreur, nous ne saurions justifier rationnellement l'injustifiable au nom du ciel, ou de qui que ce soit.

Le 11 septembre je faisais classe alors que les avions s'écrasaient sur le World Trade Center. Les étudiants et moi même étions en état de choc, tandis que les nouvelles affluaient du couloir, des nouvelles qui nous paraissaient absurdes, incroyables...Immédiatement je me suis souvenue d'une interview de Gérard Depardieu où il commentait que le cinéma n'était pas la vie, mais que c'était la vie qui dépassait de loin la fiction.

"Madame, que pensez vous de ce qui est en train de se passer ? "

A priori je ne savais pas quoi penser ; je n'étais pas préparée à penser cela. Comment expliquer par la raison ce qui a lieu hors raison? Je fouillais dans ma mémoire des mots d'appel au calme, des mots de deuil, rien de bien brillant. Je passais les jours suivants avec une forte sensation d'échec, en panne d'espoir et d'arguments.

Si la métaphysique n'est plus notre fort, Corbin écrit à merveille sur les mystiques de l'Islam où l'amour de Dieu est présent. Il est aimé au point que l'on meure pour lui sans sourciller.
Quant à nous Occidentaux nous sommes souvent matériellement riches d'un fatras de choses inutiles, d'une technologie de pointe qui nous conduit en promenade sur la lune, mais nous sommes devenus pauvres en utopies, en horizon, en Paradis...

Où sont passés nos jardins, l'Abbaye de Thélème chère à Rabelais, nos promesses d'aube, "de jour de palme et d'épaule nue où les gens s'aimeront, des jours comme un oiseau sur la plus haute branche", comme écrivait le fou d'Elsa? Nous ne sommes plus fous de rien.

En revanche ces populations arabes privées de tout, qui tiennent des années dans des conditions qui, pour ma modeste part, pourraient me tuer rapidement, sont riches d'une foi profonde que nous ne comprenons pas, que nous appelons fanatique. Une semaine plus tard, je demande à l'une de mes classes : "qu'avons nous appris le 11 septembre ?"

Nous parlons à bâtons rompus, les idées fusent pèle mêle, la discussion est animée. A São Paulo, le fort métissage culturel permet un débat ouvert, sans préjugés, qui ose l'utopie.

Nous apprenons ensemble qu'au fil de l'histoire nous avons désappris la possibilité d'avoir un monde commun, un temps et un lieu pour se mettre d'accord. Nous avons désappris la faculté de relier. La "concordia mundi" ne fait plus partie de nos programmes.

Devant l'horreur, je pense encore qu'il nous faut le courage de reprendre nos études de métaphysique, non pas sous la forme des certitudes, nous sommes bien loin des preuves ontologiques de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, mais sous la forme bouleversante et risquée du pari. Le pari que nous saurons trouver un temps et un lieu en nous pour nous mettre d'accord, pour nous relier à une bonté souterraine, suffisamment sensée pour déjouer toute les guerres... Alors nous pourrons nous dire, peut être, que nous avons appris effectivement quelque chose de toute la douleur. Mais nous ne pourrons jamais penser qu'elle était nécessaire.

Back to list of contributors

Contribución por

Norma Nuñez de Dentin

Profesor Titular en Salud Publica y Epidemiología
Coordinación Proyecto Transdisciplinariedad
Facultad de Medicina - Universidad Central de Venezuela

Contribution received October 9, 2001

Como polifonía transversal de desarrollo de aprendizajes,
aquí volvemos necesaria e infinitamente al esfuerzo amoroso de colaboración creadora de sentido,
para el desarrollo del aprendizaje,
en este complejo mundo-naturaleza, soñado diverso, mezclado, contento y mejor.
Lo siento.
No tengo sino resonancias, dudas y preguntas, para poder aprender.
Aprender, desaprender, reaprender en el dolor inmenso por la vida de todas las muertes,
las simultáneamente activas y pasivas,

de desesperanza y sacrificio,
de amor y de odio,
de inequívoca y cruel virtualidad;
de desencuentros, sorpresas, asombros,
retraimientos, inmolación, parcelamientos, planeamientos y/o calculada dirección.
Historia aprender. Historia, avatar, vicisitud.
Historia acto, espectáculo, información/desinformación.
Historia texto, contexto y escenario de arte y de cultura, de poder, economía, paz, conflicto y emoción.
Vuelve a terminar y recomenzar un primer ACTO. Uno y otro ACTO-Espectáculo, primario y primitivo.
Acto-alba y acto-noche de luna, miedo, llanto, silencios, armas
¿Cómo y entre quienes?
¿Con qué pasado y con qué porvenir?
Historia en vaivén. Compleja y múltiple.
Cuerpo flotante atado a qué cuerdas que tiran de uno y otro lado,
buscando y perdiendo el sentido a cada instante,
recuperándolo entonces pero a veces como si no lo aprehendiéramos,
como si el animal y el hombre y el universo no fuesen nuevos y viejos y sin espacio ni tiempo, siempre, al mismo tiempo y cada vez...
¿Qué es lo que al comienzo, antes y enseguida fueron sólo dualismos de honor y de horror?
Seguirá siendo ese el escenario del pensamiento y del aprendizaje?
Y preguntamos y nos preguntan: Qué direcciones vemos?
¿Qué es lo tolerable y qué lo intolerable?
¿Dónde los cambios, las tecnologías, oportunidades y re-distribuciones?
¿Y eso basta, bastaría?
¿Aprendiendo podemos ser justa y democráticamente libres?
¿Es una trampa pensar la libertad en nombre de algo?
¿En qué sentido, con qué propósito con cuál disponibilidad y disposición?
Buscaremos más allá de todos los escombros,
entre, a través, más allá de los hechos y palabras,
aproximándonos a las emociones de las realidades que continuamente y a la vez,
nos atraviesan y atravesamos, descubrimos e ignoramos.
Tal vez cuenta trascender la realidad del sentido de lo sentido
aún sin poder saber científica y completamente por que? por qué, por qué?
Tantear, intentar, conscientes,
entre, a través, más allá
de todos los deseos, las necesidades, las incertidumbres y los "en-mara-villa-mientos".
Inventando. Imaginando. Preguntando.
Recomponiendo el sentido de la posibilidad amplia de comprender y de crear.

por la paz, la esperanza, la penumbra, el agua limpia,
el color del pan,
la luz, la sombra,
los ritmos, los sonidos, el tiempo,
la belleza y el rigor,

aún si ello nos toca en un contexto incierto e intranquilo
de verdades, mentiras, máscaras, mitos y sabidurías.
Inevitables humanos Mal y Bien, Bien y Mal. Razón y Sin-Razón. Ilusión y error.
Transitar. Elegir. Emerger. Persistir.
En, a través y más allá de las lógicas simples de la realidad, de lo imaginario y de lo virtual.
Seducidos, concisamente, por la autenticidad
por el aroma del vino y del velo transparente
en las bodas entre la vida-sabiduría
y el amor.
Complejo espejo complejo, al mismo tiempo cambiante plano-universo cóncavo y convexo,
del aprender y desaprender, enseñar y crear,
cada vez que se hace nuevo y necesario, en toda y cada civilización,
o más concretamente, en cada hipótesis y cada incógnita de ser humano, de humanidad en civilización.
No tengo sino dificultades, dudas y preguntas, sin cursos y discursos, para poder aprender.
Solo trato --sin conclusiones, confusa, honesta e incansablemente-- de amar aprender.
¿Y si ese triple carillón de tristes muertes de hombres y de pueblos
nos hiciese "esta vez sí" despertar más duraderamente
al alcance de la apertura ilimitada del Acto-Realidad del compartir aprender?
11 de Septiembre-
¿Qué más es el hombre que un poco de fé?.
Arzac, primeros días de octubre del 2001

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Basarab Nicolescu

Theoretical physicist at CNRS, University of Paris 6
President of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research (CIRET)
Member of the Romanian Academy

Contribution received October 16, 2001

Is it merely accidental that the new century begins with an act of horror that marks for ever the imagination of our generation and of those to come? The capacity of human beings to forget is certainly infinite, but it can't act on symbols. And it is precisely a symbol that was aimed at by the cold and implacable brain of an esoterico-technological engineer who conceived the act of staging the castration of the economic and financial power thought of, till now, as untouchable.

We can't keep silent and accept, certainly not in an involuntary way, what is at the end of the road: the self-destruction of our species. It is crucial to ask questions about the roots of this horror if one really wants to put oneself on the road to a new kind of learning reality.

One lesson I draw myself from the period we now live in, starting September 11, 2001, has to do with the unfathomable pornography of binary thinking. This phenomenon is not new. Modernity invented all kinds of deaths and ends as a consequence of binary thinking: the death of God, the death of man, the end of ideologies, the death of Nature, the end of history and - tomorrow - the end of science and the end of religions.

The binary logic of the absolute truth and of the absolute falsehood acts today with astonishing shamelessness. Slogans such as "The fight between Good and Evil" or "God is with us" have great success with the masses and it is amazing to hear an old Leninist slogan "Who is not with us is against us" in the mouth of a great liberal leader. Is it so difficult to see that binary thinking is precisely the favored ground of terrorists? Is it so difficult to see that violence always engenders violence in the absence of a new logic? "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" - said Mahatma Gandhi. New logics have to be integrated in the process of new learning, both in a theoretical and in a practical way.

A second lesson I draw is the necessity to rethink the problem of the sacred. We eliminated the sacred in what we thought to be an act of freedom, of liberation of the human being. Thus appeared the reign of relativism in the name of which one can assert anything and also the contrary of anything. The terrorist acts "in the name of God (or that of the Good)" and those who fight the terrorists act also "in the name of God (or that of the Good)." Which God? Are there as many Gods as there are religions? I think that a new vision of learning must integrate the search of the transcultural and of the transreligious attitude. The transreligious attitude is not simply a utopian project - it is engraved in the very depths of our being. The transcultural (transreligious) designates the opening of all cultures (religions) to what cuts through them and transcends them. If the transcultural and transreligious attitude were to find their proper place in modernity, a war of civilizations could not take place.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Maria F. de Mello

University of São Paulo
The School of the Future
CETRANS - Center for Transdisciplinary Education

Contribution received October 23, 2001

Uma versão em língua portuguesa segue a presente versão em língua inglesa.

Transdisciplinarity: An Experience in Implementation

Fostered by limitless greed for power, disguised under the banner of economic, ideological, national, political, religious certainties imposed as safeguards of human lives and well being, atrocities are abundant, in the history of humankind. This chronic trend has conditioned minds, bulldozed cultures and inflicted immeasurable grief to innocent lives reaped before their time .

Today, millions of people on the planet Earth have reached their point of resilience, in the sense of the ability to stand and respond to adversities. Statistics and the continuous outpouring of information communicated by the media make all of us aware of the acute suffering that permeates the lives of so many persons, regardless of their age, sex, faith, nationality or ethnic background. The difficulties faced are not restricted to physical and material deprival: emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual tensions/pressures are also part of this context that pushes people and societies beyond the limits of their security on livelihood and self sustainability. The need for change is imminent, but where to start?

Unveiling a World-Commons and a Concordia Mundi, where human beings living their own identity respect that of each of their fellowmen in a multireferential and multidimensional reality, is fundamental to transforming the current scenario. In this respect, Transdisciplinarity [1] - what goes between, through and beyond the disciplines - has an enormous contribution to make. Incorporating the vision, attitude and praxis of transdisciplinarity for the benefit of the progressive enhancement of the inner dimension of the human being will naturally and significantly bring about a psycho-social, political, economic, social and spiritual evolution so much dreamed of, needed, as well as overtly or silently claimed for, by so many of us, members of the worldwide community.

Transdisciplinarity goes beyond the reductionism founded on the logic of exclusion yes/no, true/false, which has so powerfully molded the minds and actions of western society. Reductionism and the imperious success of science, raised to unsurpassing status as the principal means to produce and transmit knowledge, carry striking limitations if the notion of human learning is to be revised. Respecting the exercise of disciplinarity, the practice of multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and holism, Transdisciplinarity seeks the iota creative difference, in another level of reality, conceives a broader horizon for the cognitive act, by presenting a new epistemology and methodology that encompass the principles of Complexity, the notion of Levels of Reality, and the Logic of the Included Middle, where given a pair of contradictories (A, non A), there is a T-state, situated at a different level of reality, where (A, non A) is found. Transdisciplinarity can be thought of as one, among other powerful means, to a greater end defined as: sustainability of the human being and of society.

After years of studying transdisciplinary epistemology and methodology our research team reached the perception that to implement transdisciplinarity it is required to bridge theory and praxis; to find a way to synthetize the complexity of the transdisciplinary vision and to put it in simple language; to create spaces where transcultural and transreligious dialogue and expression can take place; to explore Beauty, in nature and in arts, as a transdisciplinary cognitve act that unites human beings; to keep alive questions such as - why? what for? and thus reviving in human learning processes the notion of meaning, and, last but not least, to create heuristic tools to implement all previous mentioned points in contextualization, with flexibility and rigor.

These considerations led to a great challenge: HOW to do it? Implementation of Transdisciplinarity presupposes humbleness while trying the new, disposition to learn from the difficulties and mistakes, willingness to resolve conflicts by exercising the logic of inclusion. Treading this path demands patience, perseverance and confidence. The collaboration of each human being in this direction is most significant, no matter how minute one's contribution is, in face of the urgent demands of our society.

Presently, we carry our tasks inspired by four vectors: 1) Authenticity in Identity; 2) Identity in Alterity; 3) Quality in Formative Upbringing; 4) Emancipation in Creativity. These vectors are in no way a pre-established route, a hyperdirection to be followed blindly, but a map, an inspiration, a world to be discovered, explored and created.

Moreover, whatever practical tools we choose, whether presential or virtual, finding meaning in and contextualizing ideas, contents and actions have proven to be a great challenge. In this respect, more than giving answers and ready-made prescriptions, alongside with the above mentioned vectors, an Exploration Transdisciplinary Matrix has greatly helped us guide the implementation of Transdisciplinarity in its multireferential and multidimensional aspects, always permeated by the notions of complexity, levels of reality and the logic of inclusion.

This Exploration Transdisciplinary Matrix [2], a practical, heuristic tool, helps us see and understand more clearly - the external material reality and also the interior, non material reality - both equally relevant for the exercise of transdisciplinarity. Composed of three layers of three compartments each: Layer 1 - Basis: 1) Physical, 2) Cognitive, 3) Perceptive; Layer 2 - Transformation Space: 4) Social/Economic, 5) Environmental, 6) Inner Human; Layer 3 - Meaning: 7) Global, 8) Local, 9) Personal, this Matrix is a robust instrument to orient and evaluate a transdisciplinary implementation process.

Moreover, posing to each one of these compartments specific questions, briefly exemplified below, though lacking contextualization, enhances the emergence of a creative dynamics of change, breeds the new by means of an ever-renewed reflexion/action/meaning, integrated in a vivid learning process of a given group of people, in a given environment, at a given time.

Basis - Physical: 1. What physical resources do we need? What are the goals short, medium and long term? 2.Why do we want to go beyond the domain of impotence - passiveness, discussion-theory, and proceed towards practice? 3. How can we set specific goals towards this end?

Basis - Cognitive: 1. In a one year period what kind of transdisciplinary knowledge would we like to acquire and transmit ? What are the essential messages to be learned and transmitted? 2. Why would this development help us become aware of the interdependence among people, natural systems, and traditions , in the sense of spirituality? 3. How to train people to partake in assembling and creating this knowledge?

Basis - Perceptive: 1.What characterizes my personal lifestyle as it relates to my aspirations, feelings, vocation, aptitudes, idealism, memory, boredom, anxiety? How do I relate to the diversity around me, in my immediate world, as well as in a worldwide scale? 2.Why is this lifestyle favorable and/or unfavorable to me? What are the alternatives? 3.What desires and human physical, emotional/mental needs, if met, could enrich my lifestyle and respond to the quests of my soul and spirit?

Transformation Space - Social/Economic: 1. What economical program is most needed by this environment? 2.Why could it help its social development? 3.What would be our first step towards this goal?

Transformation Space - Environment: 1. What is expected to change in the environment with the implementation of the planned actions? 2.What memory tools would we like to develop through presential or virtual environment among the following: manual, kinesthetic, intellectual, technical, linguistic, verbal, creative, visual, artistic, musical, spatial, spiritual? 3. How can we expect to demonstrate them in our working environment? What is expected to be gained by using presential and virtual tools for the implementation of the planned actions?

Transformation Space - Inner Human: 1.What places and ideas inspire me and why? 2.The places I live in - do they reflect my inner space? How much time do I commit myself to activities I wish to accomplish? 3. How can I represent, non verbally, be it in drawing, verse, music or any other artistic means: 1) my dream space, 2) my studying/working space 3) the space where I interact with others.

Meaning - Global: 1.What relational aspects must be developed, in presential or virtual environment? 2. Why is this collective perspective important? 3. How can we participate in this global action?

Meaning - Local: 1.What kind of imagination and collective talents would we develop in our environment? 2.Why is this important? 3. Imagine and express this creative energy in the space of your environment, and all the ideas, products and services that could stem from it.

Meaning - Personal: 1. Of what does the project consist: Becoming MYSELF? 2. Why Becoming MYSELF would contribute to the sustainability of Us All? 3. How can I share my project with those around me?

To incorporate Transdisciplinarity in human learning, effectively and affectionately, involves among other equally relevant aspects , to recover tacit knowledge; to decrystalize outmoded forms thus broadening one's life experience; to be creative in the dynamics of outgrowing outdated thoughts; to undergo a trans-formation process; to conjugate convergent and divergent thought; to learn to anticipate; to nurture and be nurtured by actively participating in this internal and external learning process permeated by transdisciplinary values. This dynamics of implementation presupposes that all participants engaged in a transdisicplinary action are voluntarily together and reciprocally free in their endeavours. Transdisciplinarity views human learning as art, in the sense of articulating different levels of reality, and also as a creative informative, formative, trans-formative endless learning process contribuiting to enrich and heal our bodies, minds and spirits.


[1] Basarab Nicolescu (2002). Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. New York: State University of New York (SUNY) Press. Translated from the French by Karen-Claire Voss.

[2] RAJU, KV. BN Hiremath. Holistic Approach to Agricultural Technology Adoption: Insights from Semi-Arid Areas of India. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland. 2000. Adapted by DE MELLO, Maria. Matriz Transdisciplinar de Exploração. São Paulo, Outubro, 2001.


A seguir a versão em língua portuguesa

Promovidas pela avidez ilimitada de poder, dissimuladas sob a bandeira das certezas econômicas, ideológicas, nacionais, políticas, religiosas impostas como salvaguardas das vidas humanas e do bem estar, as atrocidades são abundantes, na história da humanidade. Esta tendência crônica tem condicionado mentes, terraplanado culturas e infringido imensurável dor a vidas inocentes ceifadas prematuramente.

Hoje, milhões de habitantes do planeta Terra atingiram seu ponto de resiliência, enquanto capacidade de suportar e responder às adversidades . Estatísticas e uma precipitação contínua de informação veiculadas nos meios de comunicação, faz-nos todos cientes do sofrimento agudo que permeia a vida de tantas pessoas, idependente de sua idade, sexo, credo, nacionalidade ou grupo étnico. As dificuldades enfrentadas não se restringem à privação física e material: tensões/pressões emocionais, mentais, psicológicas, anímicas e espirituais também são parte deste contexto que empurra as pessoas e as sociedades além dos limites da segurança de sua sustentação social e humana interior. A necessidade de mudança é iminente, mas por ONDE começar?

Desvelar um Lugar Comum - Mundo e um Concordia Mundi, onde os seres humanos vivendo a sua própria identidade respeitam a de seu próximo em uma realidade multirreferencial e multidimensional, é fundamental para a transformação do cenário atual. Nesse sentido, a Transdisciplinaridade [1] - o que está entre, através e além das disciplinas - tem uma enorme contribuição a dar. Incorporar a visão, a atitude e a prática transdisciplinar para o benefício do aprimoramento da dimensão interior do ser humano resultará naturalmente e significativamente na evolução psico-social, política, econômico-social e espiritual tão sonhada, e necessária, como silenciosa ou explicitamente clamada por tantos de nós, membros da comunidade mundial.

A Transdisciplinaridade vai além do reducionismo fundamentado na lógica da exclusão do sim/não, do verdadeiro/falso, que de uma maneira muito poderosa tem moldado as mentes e as ações da sociedade ocidental. O reducionismo e o sucesso régio da ciência, entronada a um status insuplantável enquanto o principal meio de produção e transmissão de conhecimento, contém limitações sérias, se a noção de aprendizagem humana for revista. Respeitando o exercício da disciplinaridade, a prática da multidisciplinaridade, da interdiscipinaridade e do holismo, a Transdisciplinaridade busca um diferencial criativo, em um outro nível de realidade, concebe um horizonte mais amplo para o ato cognitivo, ao apresentar uma nova epistemologia e metodologia que abarca os princípios da Complexidade, a noção de Níveis de Realidade e a Lógica do Terceiro Incluído, onde dado um par de contraditórios (A, não A), existe um estado-T, em um outro nível de realidade, onde (A, não A) é encontrado. A Transdisciplinaridade pode ser pensada como um meio poderoso, entre outros para um fim maior, definido como: sustentabilidade da sociedade do ser humano.

Após anos de estudo sobre a epistemologia e a metodologia transdisciplinar, nosso grupo de pesquisa chegou à percepção de que para implementar a Transdisciplinaridade faz-se necessário criar pontes entre a teoria e a prática; encontrar maneiras de sintetizar a complexidade da visão transdisciplinar e colocá-la numa linguagem acessível; criar espaços onde o diálogo e a expressão transcultural e transreligiosa possam emergir; explorar o Belo, na natureza e nas artes, como um ato cognitivo transdisciplinar que une os seres humanos; manter viva as questões - por que? para que? assim, reavivando sempre, no processo de aprendizagem humana, a noção do sentido, e finalmente, e nem por isso de menor importância, criar instrumentos heurísticos para implementar os pontos previamente mencionados de forma contextualizada, com flexibilidade e rigor.

Essas considerações levaram a um desafio maior: COMO fazê-lo? Implementar a Transdisicplinaridade pressupõe humildade ao tentar o novo, disposição de aprender com as dificuldades e com os erros, e vontade de resolver conflitos através do exercício da lógica da inclusão.Trilhar esse caminho exige paciência, perseverança e confiança. A colaboração de cada ser humano nessa direção é de grande significado, independente do quão diminuta possa ser essa contribuição, face às demandas prementes da sociedade.

Atualmente, nossa ação está apoiada em quatro vetores: 1) Autenticidade na Identidade; 2) Identidade na Alteridade; 3) Qualidade na Formação Educativa; 4) Emancipação na Criativiadade. Esses vetores não são de forma alguma um percurso pré-estabelecido, um superdirecionamento para ser seguido cegamente, mas sim um mapa, uma inspiração, um mundo a ser descoberto, explorado e criado.

Além do mais, independentemente dos instrumentos práticos que viermos a escolher, sejam eles presenciais ou virtuais, encontrar o sentido e contextualizar idéias, conteúdos e ações tem sido um grande desafio. Isso posto, mais do que dar resposta e receitas prontas, junto como os vetores acima mencionados, uma Matriz Transdisciplinar de Exploração tem significativamete nos guiado na implementação da Transdisicplinaridade nos seus aspectos multirreferenciais e multidimensionais, sempre permeados pelas noções de complexidade, níveis de realidade e lógica da inclusão.

Essa Matriz Transdisciplinar de Exploração [2], instrumento prático e heurístico, contribui para que possamos ver e compreender mais claramente - a realidade exterior material e também a realidade interior, não material - ambas relevantes para o exercício da transdisciplinaridade. Composta por três camadas de três compartimentos cada: Camada 1 - Base: 1) Física, 2) Cognitiva, 3) Perceptiva; Camada 2 - Espaço de Transformação: 4) Sócio/Econômico, 5) Ambiente, 6) Humano Interno; Camada 3 - Sentido: 7) Global, 8) Local, 9) Pessoal, essa Matriz é um instrumento robusto para orientar e avaliar o processo de implementação transdisciplinar.

Colocar perguntas à cada um desses compartimentos específicos, abaixo brevemente exemplificadas, ainda que fora de contexto, realça a emergência da dinâmica criativa da mudança, gera o novo através da sempre renovada - reflexão/ação/sentido - integrados em um processo vivo de aprendizagem de um dado grupo, em um dado ambiente, em um dado momento.

Base - Física: 1. Que recursos físicos necessitamos? Quais são nossas metas a curto, médio e longo prazo? 2. Por que queremos sair do terreno da impotência - passividade - discussão - teoria e caminhar em direção à prática? 3. Como fixar metas específicas para orientar essa realização?

Base - Cognitiva: 1. No período de um ano, que conhecimentos gostaríamos de adquirir e transmitir? Quais mensagens essenciais devem ser aprendidas e transmitidas? 2.Por que esse desenvolvimento nos ajudaria a nos tornarmos conscientes da plenitude e interdependência entre as pessoas, os sistemas naturais, as tradições, no sentido de espiritualidade. 3. Como capacitar pessoas para participarem na aquisição e criação desse conhecimento?

Base - Perceptiva: 1. O que caracteriza meu estilo de vida pessoal no que se refere às minhas aspirações, sentimentos, vocação, aptidões, idealismo, memória, tédio, ansiedade? Como me relaciono com a diversidade que me rodeia, no meu ambiente imediato e na escala mundial? 2. Por que meu estilo de vida me é favorável e/ou desfavorável? Quais são as alternativas? 3. Que satisfação dos desejos e necessidades humanas físicas, emocionais, mentais, de minha alma e do meu espírito poderiam enriquecer meu estilo de vida? Que decisão acertada e de comportamento responsável posso tomar nesse sentido?

Espaço de Transformação - Social/Econômico: 1. Que programa econômico é mais necessário nesse ambiente? 2. Por que ele poderia ajudar o desenvolvimento social local? 3. Qual seria o primeiro passo para realizá-lo?

Espaço de Transformação - Ambiente: 1. O que se espera que mude com a implementação dessas ações? 2. Que habilidades, entre as em seguida nomeadas, seria importante que fossem desenvolvidas através do ambiente presencial ou virtual: manual, cinestésica, intelectual, técnica, lingüística, visual, artística, musical, espacial, espiritual? 3. Como os espaços onde atuo podem começar a demonstrar o que espero receber do ambiente virtual? O que se espera ganhar usando instrumento presencial ou virtual na implementação de ações planejadas?

Espaço de Transformação - Interior Humano: 1. Que lugares e idéias me inspiram e por que? 2. Os lugares onde vivo refletem meus espaços interiores? Quanto tempo dedico às minhas atividades e às coisas que quero realizar? 3. Como apresentar não verbalmente, através de desenho, verso, musica ou qualquer outro recurso artístico: a) meu espaço de sonho, b) o lugar onde estudo/trabalho, c) o espaço onde me relaciono com os outros.

Sentido - Global: 1. Que aspectos relacionais precisam ser desenvolvidos, seja em ambiente presencial ou virtual? 2, Por que essa perspectiva coletiva é importante? 3. Como, enquanto indivíduo, é possível participar de uma ação coletiva?

Sentido - Local: 1. Que imaginação e que talentos coletivos deveriam ser desenvolvidos em nosso ambiente? 2. Por que essas expressões são importantes? 3. Imagine e expresse essa enegia criativa no seu ambiente e as idéias, os produtos e os serviços que poderiam emergir dela.

Sentido - Pessoal: 1. Em que consiste meu projeto: Tornado-me EU MESMO? 2. Por que Tornado-me EU MESMO contribuiria para a sustentabilidade de todos nós? 3. Como compartilhar meu projeto com aqueles que me rodeiam?

Incorporar a Transdisciplinaridade na aprendizagem humana, com efetividade e com afetividade, envolve, entre tantas outros aspectos igualmente relevantes, recuperar o conhecimneto tácito; descristalizar formas superadas e assim ampliar a experiência de vida; ser criativo na dinâmica de transpor pensamentos ultrapassados; vivenciar um processo de trans-formação; conjugar pensamento convergente e divergente; aprender a antecipar; nutrir e ser nutrido por participar ativamente no processo de aprendizagem interna e externa permeado por valores transdisciplinares. Essa dinâmica de implementação pressupõe que todos os participantes envolvidos em uma dada ação transdisciplinar estejam voluntariamente juntos e se sintam reciprocamente livres naquilo a que se dedicam e se esforçam para realizar. A Transdisciplinaridade concebe a aprendizagem humana como uma arte, no sentido de articular diferentes níveis de realidade, enquanto um processo criativo, informativo, formativo e trans-formativo que, sem jamais ser finalizado, se propõe a contribuir para enriquecer e curar nossos corpos, mentes e espírito.


[1] Basarab Nicolescu (2002). Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. New York: State University of New York (SUNY) Press. Translated from the French by Karen-Claire Voss.

[2] RAJU, KV. BN Hiremath. Holistic Approach to Agricultural Technology Adoption: Insights from Semi-Arid Areas of India. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland. 2000. Adapted by DE MELLO, Maria. Matriz Transdisciplinar de Exploração. São Paulo, Outubro, 2001.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Gavriel Salomon

Contribution received October 31, 2001

The truth is that we have quite a bit of expertise in the field of learning. But our expertise is limited to mainly scholarly learning, particularly the acquisition of facts, concepts, formulae and organized bodies of knowledge. This kind of expertise we have is badly limited in three respects: (a) We know how information is acquired but know far less about how it is being transformed by the solo learner and by a team of learners into meaningful knowledge. Only recently have we come to realize that information is not knowledge and that the acquisition of the former is hardly a necessary and surely not a sufficient condition for the latter. (b) We know even less about ways of turning knowledge into usable, rather than inert knowledge. (c) Most importantly, though, is the fact that we know how intellectual stuff is learned, but we know far less about acquiring human values and learning to live by them. There is expertise out there about the acquisition of values through authoritarian indoctrination, on the one hand, and on the effects of life-long socialization, on the other. However, the former counters our own democratic values while the latter is not in the hands of educators. So, no wonder that the domain of value education is not one in which we have enough expertise.

It is quite obvious that the first two shortcomings mentioned above need to be addressed as soon as possible. But addressing the third is less self-evident. Indeed, it may well be the case that value education is a less developed area of expertise simply because it is of lesser importance nowadays. In a world where economic growth depends on the accumulation of knowledge which is then used in merciless competitions for survival and domination, thus, a world in which information, skill and knowledge reign supreme, what role do values play and what need is there for value education? In light of such questions, do we really need expertise in the field of value education? There is no question about the gruesome and inhumane nature of the September 11 events, but should they need to arouse a new concern for and interest in value education? The answer ought to be a clear and loud YES.

We have created a most sophisticated and complex culture and a technology that far exceeds in its demands of us our built-in capacities. Our brain is still mainly that of a reptile (or, if we are to be more generous - that of a horse) with a very thin layer that makes us human. The parts that deal with emotions and values lag behind the intellectual ones. In the absence of social values we are like walking computing machines which are great in problem solving and poor in dealing with feelings, stress, and other human beings.

No wonder therefore that the very success (if success it is) of the Western society and its economical system contains the seeds of its own troubles, or maybe even - its own destruction. The so-called rational world of globalization, profit-above-all and each one for him/herself, is a world in which Society sheds most of its responsibilities towards the welfare of the individual. You need medical insurance? Go buy it! You need fire protection? Go become a customer of a private fire fighting company (however, too small a monthly premium will cover flames no taller than 15 feet). One feels left out by Society to struggle and survive on one's own. And where Society sheds its responsibility and commitments towards its members, the members shed all responsibilities and commitments towards the Society as a collective. The result - as Putnam describes it in his recent book Bowling Alone [1]: the loss of social capital, manifested in phenomena like NIMBY, alienation, lack of empathy, and decline in social interdependence. These are among the less welcome bedfellows of affluent societies. Educational systems that emphasize intellectual learning to the exclusion of social values, scholastic achievements at the expense of social commitments, and cognitive development without emotional maturity, do not cause the loss of social values, but they reinforce the social trends of alienation and exacerbate its consequences: Violence, indifference, and a self-serving approach to life.

The way the Americans have suddenly discovered each other and the community to which they belong and which was so badly hurt, attests to the fact that alienation can be replaced by values long neglected. But it sounds a bit sad that we have to wait for major disasters to bring social values back to life. If we knew how to help youngsters acquire socially useful values such as mutual help, caring, shared responsibility, striving for greater equality, interdependence instead of self-serving independence, and their likes, we might see a more humane society, perhaps poorer in monetary possessions yet richer in social capital. Such a society might also show greater compassion for the rest of the world that feels left out, oppressed, and exploited. It is that part of the world that breeds enough hatred to send human missiles into towers occupied by unsuspecting, innocent human beings.

[1] Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Luiza Klein Alonso

Contribution received November 04, 2001

A versaõ original desta contribuição, em língua portuguesa, segue à tradução em língua inglesa apresentada imediatamente a seguir.


Sept. 11,01

When the impossible is possible...


The scene is repeated over and over again:
a tower bursting into flame
the second airplane diving
smoke and dust : "ashes to ashes dust to dust"

an avalanche of words, spoken and written,
try to explain and justify what had not been
thought, imagined, considered and did not have a name

Caught in the same trap
we struggle at the limits of linear and single mode thinking
reading the world as this or that, all or nothing
unable to believe in a new way of Being

The order of the day is to attack the enemy (Who is it?)
Anger focuses the eyes on aggression as the only way to defend ourselves.
Dumbfounded by force we are either for or against.

We are afraid of the transformation that is coming
of abandoning an old shape, however tight.
The movement produces anguish.
The unexpected causes anxiety.

We insist
not to believe that the real is bigger than our realities
not to tolerate the silence of rethinking Life
not to look for new meanings and directions

We have a new challenge: to live with uncertainties
but full of confidence.


A seguir a versão original em língua portuguesa do texto em inglês acima apresentado:


Quando é possível que o impossível aconteça.....


A cena se repete continuamente:
a torre em chamas
o segundo avião mergulhando,
fumaça e muito pó: "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" .

Em seguida
uma avalanche de palavras, escritas e faladas,
procuram dar explicações e justificativas para o que não havia sido
pensado, imaginado, nomeado e considerado

Pegos na mesma armadilha:
nos debatemos nos limites do pensamento único e linear
em ler o mundo como ou isto ou aquilo
na não crença em um novo jeito de Ser

A palavra de ordem é atacar o Inimigo ( Quem é ele?)
A ira foca o olhar na agressão como única alternativa de defesa
A força da estupefação, nos posiciona contra e a favor

Receamos a transformação que está chegando
em abandonar uma forma antiga, mesmo que apertada.
O movimento gera angústias
O inesperado provoca receios

em não acreditar que o real é maior do que as nossas realidades
em não suportar o silêncio para repensar a Vida
em não buscar novos significados e sentidos

Temos um novo desafio: viver com incertezas
mas plenos de confiança

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

President, Club of Rome
Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Contribution received November 15, 2001

After the attacks of 11th September, how will learning change?

A good education does not just consist of making a mass of information available; it teaches knowledge in the form of skills and adaptability. It promotes openness towards different ways of doing things and, at the same time, it emphasises the values that all human beings hold in common. It has to take in the innovations that mankind continues to devise. It also has to take in the ancient values shared by all cultures: respect for life, respect for justice, altruism, dignity, integrity and understanding, among others. School is just the beginning; good students never stop learning.

How will education be in the future? As Albert Einstein said,"At a time of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge". However, dare I say, we will always need both knowledge and imagination in equal measure. Improved knowledge will enable us all to co-exist more easily in the present and will open the way to a safer and happier world civilisation. However, if we do not imagine that civilisation vividly, we will have little chance of moving towards it.

Let us imagine a world of people who all enjoy sufficient health and education to make their own opportunities for a better future. If educational methods and assumptions do not evolve to bring that about, we will continue to suffer from conflict, violence and war. If we do achieve it, violence will still exist - but it will have lost most of its power. Terrorists find support where there is despair and poverty, because violence then appears to be the only option for survival. Education offers other options.

After this emergency, we need to state clearly our educational purpose, heighten ethical values and cultivate a vigorous determination that we may in fact achieve the impossible. The task of educators all over the world should now be to establish the standards and criteria which will make us able to assert our differences and disagreements without recourse to violence.

We may look to other times as well as other places in seeking expressions of humanitarian values. The twelfth-century Sicilian Muslim author, Ibn Zafari, held up a number of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as examples of virtuous living, and wrote: "Nations, despite difference in religion, time and country, are agreed in praising four virtues: knowledge, detachment, generosity, fidelity." [1] Who could disagree? How could these same values be promoted today?

The first step is to establish, through intercultural dialogue, that these and other values are the same values to which every culture subscribes. Educational methodologies worldwide will need to take these universal values into account in promoting a culture of diverse humanity, peaceful resolution of disagreements, honesty and justice.

Improved education is linked with two other factors in a stable community: democratic politics and civil society. Democratic politics allow the individual to contribute to the leadership of the community or nation. Civil society - composed of nongovernmental organisations, charities, educational institutions, clubs, societies, think-tanks, trading partnerships, and so forth - enables the individual to contribute to the society which shapes the policies and culture that connect the individual and the government. These three factors are interrelated. It may well be that, if one is strengthened, the other two can become stronger in turn. Education can be started with just a few ideas. It provides the easiest and cheapest route towards change.

The call for a new humanitarian education is not mere idealism. It is the basis of global security in the future. We have to come to terms with the idea that adversity anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Before 11th September, we thought we were nations. Now, we realise that we are a globe. The fact is accomplished; our attitudes and actions must catch up quickly. Education will be the key.

[1] Translation by A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, Sulwan al-Muta'fi Udwan al-Atba: A Rediscovered Masterpiece of Arab Literature and Painting (Shuwaikh, Kuwait, 1985), p. 61.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Karen-Claire Voss

Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, USA
Independent scholar, writer, ESL teacher, Istanbul, Turkey

Contribution received November 17, 2001

Jan Visser has invited me to share some reflections following the events of September 11 and I am pleased to do so. The question we have been asked to focus on is: "What directions do we see for the development of human learning in the light of the events of September 11, 2001, and similar atrocities throughout the history of humankind?"

I will begin by plunging into what I believe to be the heart of the matter: Since the beginning of the so-called "Age of Reason" we have been taught, no, rather, trained, to suppress our reflective abilities, to suppress our capacity to imagine, our capacity to feel, in particular to love, to suppress the effects arising from the fact that we are, each and every one of us, a living subject, and instead have been encouraged to objectify everything as much as possible. Thus, we have learned to exclude experience from anything having to do with education. And even though the word 'education' comes from the Latin 'educare,' meaning 'to bring up,' 'to raise,' which is etymologically related to 'educere,' meaning to 'draw out,' 'to lead out,' and thus means the process of leading out and developing what is already within us, we generally understand education to be the process of filling empty minds.

Moreover, in spite of the fact that quantum physics has shown us the incredible complexity that characterizes the microphysical realm interpenetrating our own macrophysical universe, all the institutions of this planet - political, economic, social, even religious, are based on an outmoded worldview, derived from Newtonian science and characterized by one-level, binary thinking. Women could perhaps have had a large part in softening the effects of this but that hasn't happened. To be sure, especially in the 20th century, numerous women escaped the confines of the house and entered business, industry, the professions and public office. Some made their way in careers involving alternative writing and teaching or the arts. However, many of those who entered the arenas of business, industry and politics have not only tacitly acquiesced to this gradual dulling of our humanity, but in some cases have even surpassed men in their ability to think like machines. For example, in a recent article appearing in The Guardian, writer Arundhati Roy related the following:

In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of state, was asked on national television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was "a very hard choice", but that, all things considered, "we think the price is worth it". [1]

Ah, yes. Hard choices, hard facts, the bottom line - these are characteristic of the kind of thinking that helped the world get where it is today. Perhaps, deep inside, Madeleine Albright felt differently, but as a product of this way of thinking, it would have been difficult for her to say anything else. Along with these efforts to suppress our humanity, we have elevated and reified conceptual dualism to such a degree that it is no longer regarded merely as a philosophical position (thereby susceptible to attempts at refutation), but as an ontological truth. When something attains the status of being considered ontological truth we are hard put to call its veracity into question. Notwithstanding, a number of scholars and writers, including myself, have called it into question. For example, physicist Basarab Nicolescu's stunning Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity sets forth a compelling, extremely well-reasoned alternative approach to thinking exclusively in terms of binary logic and as though the universe existed on only one level. If widely adopted, this approach, the "transdisciplinary approach," could propel us beyond the present conceptual framework, and could make possible what he calls the "re-enchantment of the world." [2]

Surely we are at this moment a long, long way from anything that looks like a re-enchantment of the world. One thing seems clear: while the destruction of the Twin Towers was undeniably horrific, it was perceived to be largely because it was done in practically full view of the media and because it happened in a country that had not experienced war on its own soil for almost 150 years. However, it was but one in a long line of atrocities. Consider what happened in Bosnia and in Lebanon, during the Kurdish conflict in Turkey, and the Gulf War in Iraq, etc., ad infinitum. Notwithstanding the fact that each of these events involved far greater numbers of deaths, all of them seemed more or less removed from us and thus lacked the compelling immediacy of the event that occurred on September 11. Besides death, the one thing that each of these events has in common is the fact that each occurred as the result of a deadly combination of one-level, binary thinking accompanied by the conviction that complete objectivity is not only possible but eminently desirable. This is, as I have already said, the basis of the worldview driving the political, economic, and social agendas of each and every country on this planet and this is the worldview within which all but so-called "alternative" education [3] takes place.

It is certainly beyond the scope of a short essay to attempt to trace the complex line of events that culminated in the horror of that day. What I can do is to focus on some of the most important implications.

To begin with, any number of illusions were shattered on September 11. Now, illusion being what it is, this can only be a good thing. Perhaps the most significantly affected was the sense of isolation, of being somehow removed and protected from the "Otherness" of the world "out there," that was characteristically American, but is, of course, one that is shared to a certain extent by all human beings. In my view, the fact that this illusion was shattered is one positive thing that came out of what happened. What has become apparent is that there are increasing signs that individuals and even governments are beginning to think more in terms of the world as a whole, of humanity as a whole, and are, to greater or lesser extent, distancing themselves from divisive language. [4] There is one other less obvious potential benefit from what has happened. In as much as the Other has become apparently less so, it may be that we are also on our way to being able to recognize the fact that just as "terrorism" is not only something that victimizes the Other, it is also not something that is only perpetrated by the Other. Each and every human being has the capacity to inflict terror. By the same token, each of us has the capacity to choose to do good. The present situation did not come from the sky - it is one that we all had a hand in creating. [5] Even if the "War on Terrorism" is successful it will not be enough - the current efforts can only wipe out the immediate cause, the symptom. The terrorists who perpetrated the atrocity of September 11 are certainly responsible for their actions on one level, but on another level, their actions were merely symptoms of a diseased world. Healing can only emerge from out of deep change, and everyone will have to change.

Moving on to the issue of the things we don't know about learning, I can say that one thing we don't seem to know about learning is that it does not merely entail the collection and memorization of objective data. Learning is round, not flat. That is to say, learning involves discerning and contemplating nuance, it involves hermeneutics - in other words, we must interpret rather than simply analyze. For the most part, though, we are taught to take things apart and examine disembodied pieces instead of embodied wholes. While we can certainly learn how a lawnmower operates by using that methodology, it simply doesn't work when we are dealing with human issues. We really don't seem to know how to learn about living things. Human issues are comprised of complex clusters of elements and both the clusters and the elements within them are related to each other in exceedingly complex ways. Analysis of the parts is not enough. We must delve into the whole and interpret the meaning that emerges from out of the connections between elements. Another thing we don't seem to know about learning is that every encounter with the unknown involves us in something that results in ontological change. Rather than taking pride in the fact that we remain utterly objective (and hence, utterly unmoved) by the data we learn about, we must recognize the fact that the act of learning is a transformative act. Every act of learning is an act of becoming, of becoming more than we were before our encounter with what we have learned. Finally, we don't seem to know that to embark on the quest for learning is an ennobling act because at base, every act of learning involves an essentially heroic grappling with the unknown. Regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be deeply religious or atheistic we can no longer afford the luxury of denying that there is an ontological connection between ourselves, as finite beings, and the universe, which is infinite. Learning affirms our connection with the infinite.

Perhaps it isn't so much that there are things we don't know about learning, but rather, there are things we have forgotten. There are traditional models of learning as a sacred enterprise in every culture, but such models have been all but forgotten. Regrettably, introducing an idea like this into the context of, say, the social sciences as they are presently constituted, could appear ridiculous. Notwithstanding, the fact is that if humanity is to survive, individuals and countries must embark on a long-term process of reflection, deep spiritual and philosophical reflection, on those models of learning. Our only hope is to embark on the task of re-membering all that has been forgotten, not least of which is a sense of the sacred. Such a process is inherently transformative. It is a risk - all change necessitates risk - but if we take it we will discover that we are in a space beyond separate cultures, separate countries, separate religions - we will find ourselves in that space of infinite creativity, the space in which everything is possible.


I am inclined to agree with George Cowan who in his letter to Dr. Visser raised doubts about the efficacy of short term projects like this one. Perhaps they may do some good, but I really have to say that at this moment I am not at all certain that anything I or anyone else could write can make the slightest difference, and this is perhaps worst of all. In any case, there was something about what happened on September 11 which has functioned to turn the whole world upside down. On September 10, I still felt that doing something especially well or saying something particulary apt mattered. That was no longer the case on September 12. This may well be a sign that the one thing now required of me, and of all of us, is to continue, in spite of everything, to trust that the universe is ultimately meaningful, and will continue, like a "rockshelf further forming underneath everything that grows." [6]

[1] Arundhati Ray, "The Algebra of Infinite Justice," The Guardian, Saturday, September
29, 2001.

[2] See Basarab Nicolescu, Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, translated by Karen-Claire Voss, State University of New York Press, forthcoming. Originally published as La Transdisciplinarité Manifeste (Paris, Editions du Rocher), 1996.

[3] For example, Waldorf, Montessori and Summerhill schools.

[4] I hoped there would be more focus on the underlying reasons for this event and on how to begin the long work of reconciling the things that divide us from one another. I was heartened to see Tony Blair apparently attempting to do the latter recently when he visited Syria. I have not yet heard anything like the same rhetoric coming from any of the other first world countries, and his may well be the first philosophical statements made in a political context that I have heard in a long time.

[5] While this is certainly metaphysically true, it is, unfortunately, literally true as well. For example, it is a documented fact that since 1946, the United States has funded an institute called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (Whisc, formerly called the School of the Americas) in Fort Benning, Georgia, that has undertaken the training of more than 60,000 Latin American policemen and soldiers. Among other things, their education consisted of learning advanced techniques of torture and interrogation. See George Monbiot, "Backyard Terrorism. The US Has Been Training Terrorists At a Camp in Georgia for Years - And It's Still At It," The Guardian Tuesday, October 30, 2001. I don't consider myself naive, but this shocked me so much that I did a little research. I discovered that such training is de rigeur in all so-called civilized countries. The only thing different about them are the names and the language of instruction.

[6] Adrienne Rich, "Transcendental Etude," The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 (New York: W.W. Norton), 1993, p. 77.


Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Leon M. Lederman

Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
Director Emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Nobel Physics, 1988)
Contribution received November 26, 2001

Learning after 9/11

After September 11, 2001, ordinary activities have taken on new meaning and new significance. Terrorism so blatant and so meaningless has affected even those populations who live with terrorism daily - in Ireland, in the middle east, in so many of the anguished regions of our riven world. We are living through a time of profound change, great tension, and general foreboding. One of the activities which is touched deeply by this challenge to civilization is learning. Among populations there is a profound ignorance of how science works. Do they understand that science proceeds by trial and error, by the passions of talented young people who have been advantaged by good education and by an infrastructure that has taken generations to construct? Are they - indeed is the educated public, including the media and policymakers - aware of the complex effect of rapidly expanding new knowledge and innovation, whose consequences are often unexpected and even disorienting? And does science offer any consolation for the bleak prospects that humanity faces in this seemingly cold, still, vast and empty universe?

We also live in an age of paradox. Our scientific understanding is immense and continues to grow exponentially. We can sketch the origin and evolution of the universe, sketch an astonishingly simple code underlying the organization of all of matter, energy, space and time, grow our knowledge of living matter to the frontiers of human consciousness. The seemingly cold, still, vast and empty universe has been revealed by earth and space based observations as an incredibly complex array of astronomical phenomena; our solar system is a tiny piece of the sweeping arm of a spiral galaxy of a billion suns, part of a local cluster of a billion galaxies. Vast clouds of dust and debris of exploded stars continue to swirl and condense to form new stars, new planets and, perhaps, new life. Supernovas explode; quasars radiate unimaginable quantities of energy and give evidence of their own creation in a very young universe. And our skies are full of mystery: dark matter, dark energy that seems to provide fuel for continuous expansion. How tragic that so much of this is unknown. Cold, still, vast and empty?

The scientific revolution in the 20th century entered a new phase; it became universal, the unique world culture, laced with optimism, adventure and passion. The associated technologies - advancing hand-in-hand - can make us comfortable, immortal, enabling access to a vast ocean of knowledge and bringing us, in our living room and at the squeak of a mouse, all the works of literature (soon in any language); also all of the art, music, philosophy, all the summaries and analyses of history, the values weighed and accumulated in every epoch, in every place on the globe.

The paradox lies in the indifference of our populations to so much of this. A part of the blame stems from the inequities in the distribution of these comforts and capabilities. But even in the populations of industrial nations, the glories of humanity's achievements are drowned in a sea of trivialities, of mindless and passive entertainment. We are inundated by a tide of unsustainable consumerism. The wonders of nature revealed pass us by. Thus we lose the value of the heritage of older experiences, we lose the exposure to the spiritual beauty of nature, but we also lose the personal empowerment that comes from scientific thinking.

That ignorance and hostility towards the use of intellect and reason, and this is the most chilling of all paradox, is vested in our leadership at a time in our history when need for marshalling vast thinking skills is most required. This is the best yet evidence of the failure of education.

So we must teach; and we must learn.

My concern is with all students - work bound, college bound. All students become all ordinary people - a crucial class to go after. Ordinary people manage their own lives in this complex 21st century world; they have families and arrive at consensual decisions, they pay taxes, they worry about schools, they vote and write letters to the editor. Some become politicians and leaders. Their expectations must be respected.

The learning of science must then serve in helping ordinary people to understand the competing claims of the new information society. We have a choice. We can work to enhance cultural understanding, democratic openness and informed decision making; or, we can drown in information which radiates effortlessly from cyberspace - it reduces our attention span, erodes our communities and supports universal commodification. We can choose to motivate students with the virtues and eventually the joys of creative engagement of care of our environment and the profitability of rational discussion, or we can surrender, uncritically to demagogues, charlatans, TV commercialization, and other hijackers of the spirit of enlightenment.

The scientists and educators, in a new and essential collaboration, must play a role in shaping our education, and then our policies.

The question we must set ourselves and our students to thinking about is how will our society, in full view of the rest of the world, adequately cope with the consequences of our own ingenuity?

It is among ordinary people that we note the increasing schism between those who have comfortable access to quality information and those who are not comfortable and even have no such access. Whereas the famous gap between two cultures was fairly static, the digital divide is dynamic and, if allowed, only increases.

This then is the task of education. Our war is a war on ignorance and on the noise and anti-thinking that fills the bandwidths. We must prepare all of our students to thrive in the 21st century and this is a new stage in the history of education. This must be the paramount mission for general education. It must be strong in language and communications, in science and mathematics and in literature, art, music and history. In the sciences, explanation resides in atoms and molecules. Very early exposure to languages and mathematics, to the hands-on science process, will greatly aid in preparing the student for ideas that used to be abstract. The goal of the science curriculum is to inculcate a way of thinking, an influence that affects personality, judgment and taste. This influence should last a lifetime. And just as we embed mathematics into the sciences, we must teach that our knowledge of the physical and biological universes must be tempered by the "wisdom of the humanities".

So we have recreated the venerable liberal arts curriculum - but now for all students, ordinary people, living in a new age which requires the power of science to explain, but also to infect the way of thinking, blending, embedded and connected with history and the literary arts to provide guidance from "our great heritage of the past."

By stressing concepts and connections, we can relax the mathematical mystique that so often provides excuses. The new curriculum must weigh the criteria of "what do we want them to remember ten years from now" as well as the need to master, at the appropriate level, the discipline and, of course, to pass the test.

To achieve a K-12 curriculum, it must be designed coherently and it must leave room for change. The science of learning will continue to influence the learning of science. Teacher training, recruitment and retention become a priority. Wherever possible, we must make use of new educational technologies, of the power of the Internet to spread the best practices.

Teachers need enough time for collegial development of their skills and the connections of their various disciplines. We must study grammar and vocabulary before Shakespeare. Then we must study physics before chemistry and physics and chemistry before modern biology. And, as I have already stressed, each discipline must pay a tithe towards the process of science - its history, evolution and connections. We connect math to science, physics to biology and science to literature and the arts.

The new education will (like good medicine) be very expensive. It is a war and we pay what we must to win.

There is too much to know. There was too much to know 100 years ago. The curriculum designers must select, focus and defocus appropriately, but also enable the student to continue to learn outside of the school.

My final thought is that this kind of reform that seems trivial but that is really profound, requires that scientists, problem solvers who are trained within the one universal culture, take an active leadership role in the realization of a 21st century educational system.

One reward will be a bonanza of scientific genius, which will appear out of a population from which the gifted may very likely already have been filtered. We have rarely paid enough attention to the ordinary student. We may be in for wonderful surprises.

Why is this kind of curriculum different? It clearly differs from US schools today. The proposed curriculum for all students has a strong 3-4 year core science curriculum, which organizes the disciplines in the hierarchy of physics before chemistry and biology after chemistry, that is clearly recognized in the practice of science. The stress is on connections. The last year could well be project-based, e.g. students designing a habitable dome on Mars. Complete with governance, leisure activities, and even a cost estimate. In the UK, the education specializes at an early age. The old Soviet Union had a superb science educational system, but graduated students without a sense of how science really works into an impossible political system.

Finally, returning to the dark mood of the times, there has never been a greater need for all students to appreciate the empowerment given by critical thinking, rationality and by the attributes of freedom, democracy and open-mindedness.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Vera John-Steiner

Professor of Education and Linguistics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
Sussman Visiting Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, NY - Fall 2001
Author of Creative Collaboration (2000) and Notebooks of the Mind (1997)
Contribution received December 14, 2001

The days after September 11th were both deeply lonely and full of human contact. As I walked uptown in Manhattan, with thousands of people escaping the site of the explosions, I witnessed many acts of human caring between people looking dazed and frightened. Fleeing from a danger-filled sky was not new in my life. I experienced the terror of bombardment without a chance of escape, during World War II. Thus I was thinking, what have I learned from the past to help me with the present? What can I teach to others? What can we collectively contribute to our theory of learning?

And thus, I welcome this "collaborative reflection." First, I concur with many of the contributors who see learning as a holistic process rather than the accumulation of increasingly standardized information. I see learning first and foremost as sustained engagement in the worlds of knowledge, passion, tradition, and innovation. It is that engagement that makes it possible to survive horror, it is that engagement that combines skill, expertise, and compassion so beautifully demonstrated by the many volunteers at Ground Zero. While their commitment has been honored by the citizens of a traumatized city, officially, and in many local and personal ways, this compassion is accompanied by a more far-reaching national response of revenge. Aren't these conflicting models for our children who are exposed primarily to skill acquisition rather than to learning to make thoughtful appropriate responses to unexpected terrifying events?

Thus my first objective concerns teaching/learning as the acquisition of the practice of dignified debate. It is with helping learners of all ages to think constructively, and to bring multiple perspectives to emotionally explosive issues in the midst of unique and overwhelming events. Gavriel Salomon writes in this exchange, " We have created a most sophisticated and complex culture and a technology that far exceeds in its demands of us our built-in capacities. Our brain is still mainly that of a reptile (or, if we are to be more generous - that of a horse) with a very thin layer that makes us human." I agree, and would like to suggest that through recent research in neuroscience, we have increasingly stressed how deeply interwoven cognition and emotion are. That is what makes us human. But a barrier is frequently created between feeling and thought because of the way we teach children. That barrier is also constructed by our focus on individual competition rather than a creative co-construction. It requires the delicate movements of initiative, listening, dialogue, the building of trust, the discovery of the self through the eyes of the other, and the joys of shared achievement. To me, learning how to think and work collaboratively brings the classroom closer to the increasingly bewildering challenges of the future. It contributes to an early training for dignified interdependence, among learners, teachers, and community members, so necessary in the face of fanatic conviction.

I have been listening with a particular keenness to the words and thoughts of my students. They have all experienced September 11th in New York, and they are all rebuilding their sense of purpose and their quest for hope. Perhaps the most urgent task for those of us committed to the exploration of learning is to renew our own hope in the transformative possibilities of felt knowledge.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Lee S. Shulman

President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Contribution received January 4, 2002

Sept. 11, engraved in memory, seared in our collective soul. That morning we informed the staff of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that they were free to return home. We also set up a television in our common area. Remarkably, no one left, as most chose to sit with colleagues and friends, watching in disbelief as the events of that day unfolded. We found ourselves asking why it is important to continue with our work. Why should we keep up the daily tasks of our programs in the face of acts of violence and mass destruction? Of what possible value was "the advancement of teaching" in a world gone mad? And that very work began to offer a few gentle, reassuring answers.

Within a day or two of the horror, the listserv of scholars of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) began to heat up as these extraordinary teachers from colleges and universities all over the nation began to exchange ideas about how they might respond educatively within their individual classrooms and institutions to these events. They wrote about their teaching, their students' thoughts and feelings, and their own sense of loss and responsibility. In their exchanges, we witnessed the burden of the pedagogical imperative in a democratic society: to support the natural expressions of patriotic and nation-building commitments, while striving to sustain the critical and even skeptical thinking that is the hallmark of a liberally educated human being. Through these exchanges, we also witnessed one of the key aims of our CASTL work, the creation of a community of scholars engaged in thoughtful reflection on the acts and experiences of teaching and learning - a learning community that also comes together to make sense of tragedy and to forge new understandings of roles and responsibilities. It is in this area of learning through collaboration - communities of scholars and students striving to build understandings together that would be far more difficult to accomplish in isolation - where I see one of the important possibilities for new directions for the development of human learning in light of September 11 events.

When visiting Beijing a couple of years ago, my former student who is now the Executive Vice President of Peking University, Min Weifang, took me for a walk on the university campus. Pointing out an irregularly shaped lake right in the middle of that campus, he said, "Do you see anything interesting about this lake?" I had no ready answer. He responded, "If you look carefully, you will see that this lake has been designed so that there is no place anyone can stand on the shore and see the entire lake." And I said, "That's a very interesting metaphor for acquiring understanding." He said, "Truly." For me, that lake at the center of a great university is an image of what a learning community of our students could be, a community in which different folks who come to understand different things bring them together to forge new understanding. It's an image of what both our faculties and our student bodies can be. As they collaborate, and as scholars try to understand, improve, and eventually sanctify the kind of learning that goes on in their institutions, they must do so as a collective, interdependent activity, not as the work of individuals alone.

I also began to contemplate the ways in which teaching had been one of the root causes of the terror, and why it therefore must be employed in addressing the eradication of terror, as well. Those who engage in suicide bombings are themselves the products of intentional, carefully designed and monolithically deployed systems of education. In our day, as in centuries past, hatred and extremism are taught explicitly to children in their schools, are modeled in curriculum materials and educational programs, and are fanned in houses of worship. We clearly know enough about the conditions of human learning to form young people into fanatics and fundamentalists. If intentional pedagogies can be used to teach hate and fanaticism, can they also be deployed in the service of tolerance and critical understanding? Or are we, as both species and culture, more readily taught dogma and unilateralism than reason and multiple perspectives? Are principles of learning for dogmatic ends qualitatively different than those for the development of more subtle, prudential human judgment?

These are some of the thoughts about learning that have accompanied me since the horrific events of September 11. I am persuaded that if we are intelligent enough to use pedagogy for destructive ends, we must be wise enough to teach for democratic, humanistic purposes. It is not human nature to be evil; nor is it our nature to be virtuous. We are inherently the species that learns and teaches, that evolves in a Lamarckian manner through the transmission of culture, values and understanding. And we must use the very same pedagogical weapons that have been used to breed hate in the service of restoring humanity.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution by

Jan Visser

President, Learning Development Institute
Former UNESCO Director for Learning Without Frontiers
Contribution received January 13, 2002

Beauty, the scientific mind, and September 11

When it happened, more than 4000 miles away, I was sitting behind my desk. The telephone rang. Had I seen it? No. I switched on the TV minutes before the second plane crashed into the second tower. Then I saw it. Or did I? What was it that I saw? What questions ought to be asked? Was this really different from anything else we had experienced before? Were we witnessing an event that, as so many would later claim, changed the world forever? What difference did it make that we could see it live on TV? What difference did it make that the images were repeated and repeated again, amplified, and enhanced for impact, as the days progressed? Is outrage a function of something being televised? If so, what does that mean for how the media are being controlled and how existing power structures condition what and how we learn? Were we finally hurt because we were being hurt?

For a long time we have been familiar with all the various ingredients in different combinations: people killing themselves in a spectacular way to serve some cause, trying to attract attention to it; people taking the lives of others, deliberately or as the collateral result of an act in pursuit of a goal; people using their most human of all capabilities, the ability to understand and creatively visualize processes, to fashion the means that will ultimately kill people, doing so dispassionately and with great attention to detail and effectiveness; people applying those means for purposes and in circumstances that, according to some are justified, according to others are beyond justification or outright ill-conceived or misconstrued. What happened on September 11, 2001, was not an act of uncontrolled emotion. It was an act of deliberate and meticulous planning - like there have been many other such acts in human history - made possible by separating our cognitive abilities from our faculties to reflect, cognitively and emotionally, on what we knowingly do or know how to do. So, here is perhaps a clue.

There are many things, small and big, with minor or major potential consequences, in which we use our well developed intellectual skills to sequentially order, understand and transform the world, without at the same time being able - or is it wanting? - to see that that same world is a complex array of interacting processes, the totality of which is more than the sum of its parts, thus giving rise to emerging phenomena and unpredictable long-term consequences of actions that were intended to solve problems in the short run. We reserve the appreciation of beauty for special occasions and places, like when we admire a work of art, listen to serene music, or stand in awe of magnificent scenery, but we have difficulty experiencing the beauty of ordinary things. We have grown used to believing that the world and we are separate entities and thus that the world can be manipulated by us. Our sense of belonging, traditionally often inspired by religious beliefs, is in urgent need of being rediscovered within the context of worldviews that transcend the outmoded schism between science and religion. We must overcome our feelings of discomfort at having to entertain multiple perspectives on reality. We must equally overcome our complacency of not asking ourselves questions about what is right and what is wrong in our day-to-day behavior, effectively banning ethical considerations to the realm of the big issues only or ignoring such considerations altogether.

The challenges the world is facing are harrowing and captivating. They are intimately linked with our capacity to learn and our ability to give new meanings to learning. We build on centuries of development of learning behavior, often based on too narrow an emphasis on mere utilitarian goals. That emphasis has allowed us to become cleverer and cleverer at the things we do, without, at the same time, leading us to look at and pass judgment over what we are doing. In addition to becoming knowledgeable, we must develop our meta-cognitive abilities. In addition to developing our skillfulness and capacity to create, we must become masters at meta-creativity, able to creatively pass judgment over and intervene in the results of what we do while we are being creative. In addition to learning, we must develop our aptitude at asking ourselves questions about our learning; we must elevate our learning behavior to beyond its current level and continually expand our capacity at meta-learning.

Observing the current political debate, the world seems to be at risk of returning, at the global level, to the kind of conflict humanity experienced at an earlier phase of its history, but then at the level of countries and regions, namely the violent clash between cultures, often expressed with reference to religious convictions. While focusing on those religious convictions, we seem to have replaced our spiritual resources by an obsession with judging others - rather than ourselves - by the standards we invent. Having reached the unprecedented level at which we are currently able to intervene in our world, we should be able to learn the lessons of the past and draw from them the inspiration and resourcefulness to overcome our current dilemmas. To learn such lessons, different mindsets are required than the ones that are being promoted by most of the media and to which we get exposed through much of the formal educational practice.

I see the lifelong disposition to engage in dialogue with our ever-changing environment as the essential basis of what it means to be learning. As humans we are able to make the choice between good and bad; between destroying things and creating them; between caring for beauty and ignoring to appreciate what is beautiful. For learning to qualify as "human learning," it must clearly express the choice we wish to make. That implies a commitment to developing learning for the purpose of constructive interaction with change.

It is a great common good that we live in a world that still has an incredible richness of cultures, with roots in history that extend over thousands of years. The preservation of that diversity and the development of dialogue among those cultures are at the core of what it means to live together in harmony.

There is much to lose. The signs we see are those of cultures that experience other cultures as potentially hostile. There is a risk that a culture that experiences being under attack takes up the challenge and starts attacking the other culture in order to destroy it. In addition to the tragic loss of lives and material goods, such a course of action can only lead to loss of diversity, thereby reducing our most essential resource of growth. Should this happen, then we will have put ourselves back at least a thousand years in the history of humankind with potential consequences that may eliminate the concept of future.

More than ever is there a need to learn to learn together.

Societies, organizations and individual people do various things to promote and facilitate learning. Traditionally, much of the attention has gone to the practice of schooling as the most important way to influence the development of human learning. I believe that such a narrow focus is wrong and that some of the problems we are currently facing can be related to the narrowness of focus on, and perspective inherent in, traditional school-based learning. It has led to over-emphasizing the development of competencies and acquisition of relatively isolated pieces of knowledge to the detriment of the development of critical thinking; creativity; the exploration of connections; challenging the boundaries of existing conceptions; the ability to reflect; the appreciation of complexity; and seeing things in the light of such integrative concepts as beauty and harmony.

Thus my answer to the question about what we don't know about learning, or at least what we don't know sufficiently well about it, has in the first place to do with the above concerns. Acts such as the ones committed on September 11, 2001, as well as some of the responses to those same acts, reveal the dominant absolutist belief that the world can be interpreted in only one way, leading to, as Nicolescu observes in this collaborative reflection, forced choices between predetermined binary categories such as Good and Evil. If there is only one way in which the world can be interpreted, if there is only one way in which it ought to develop, how, then, can we ever experience it as beautiful? Doesn't the very concept of beauty presuppose that there is choice, immense choice? Doesn't it recognize that we live in a world of haphazard incidents and accidents and of choices made while we interact with that haphazard reality and, incidentally, carve out our different niches in it, becoming part of and reshaping it collectively and collaboratively? Isn't the search for the only answer, the assertion of a doctrine, a sign that one is totally unprepared for a world in which things are essentially uncertain and unpredictable? Isn't such an attitude the negation of the possibility that there is beauty? If so, would not much be gained if, while we develop as human beings, the possibility that we encounter beauty would once again be taken as a serious dimension of our motivational make-up.

I owe it perhaps to my background as a physicist that I find much of that motivation embodied in the scientific pursuit. The way I interpret that pursuit is one in which art and science have much to do with each other in terms of what drives people to be both scientifically and artistically engaged. The development of a scientific mindset is not disconnected from what makes us appreciate the world as beautiful and what motivates for instance artists to create works that represent beauty. Salomon, in his contribution to this collaborative reflection, notes that we live in a world that has made economic growth a prime criterion for judging progress and which sees knowledge, however poorly defined conceptually, as a prime requisite for economic development, thus turning knowledge into a commodity that can be accumulated and "used in merciless competitions for survival and domination." He thus raises the question if in such a world, "in which information, skill and knowledge reign supreme," there still is a role for values and if there still is a need for value education?" I agree with Salomon that the answer to both questions is a "clear and loud YES." I furthermore suggest in this connection that ethics and aesthetics should not be treated as separate domains. Consequently, I think that, for example, a notion like "reverence for life" is a relevant one but that much confusion results from narrow definitions of life, not connoted by meanings that relate to the beauty of life and of nature in general.

Value education, as I see it, is not the inculcation of fixed rules of behavior in people subjected to some sort of instructional procedure. In contrast, it means helping people to discover and appropriate concepts - or rather perhaps essential motivations shared among the members of our species (above I mentioned beauty as an example) - that can serve to inspire "personally sovereign" (see Mayor in this collaborative reflection) decisions to do what is best done at any particular moment. We have little experience if any that allows us to make claims as to how this process can best be nurtured. I posit that it depends on the interplay of the intellectual and emotional challenges and opportunities we get exposed to in multiple contexts, such as the school, the family, the workplace and the media, to name but a few, and that much harm has resulted from how societal preoccupation with these different environments has always treated them as separate, as if they had nothing to do with each other. To appreciate how they hang together, one has but to think about such questions as, "What kinds of state of mind are necessary for humans to function adequately in the circumstances of our time?" and "What is necessary to develop such states of mind?" I use the concept "mind" here in the sense of "embodied mind," i.e. recognizing that the whole body is involved in the process of knowing and creating meaning.

One such a state of mind, I propose by way of example - and no doubt motivated by my own personal bias - is the scientific mind. Lederman refers to this state of mind when he says in this collaborative reflection:

We are inundated by a tide of unsustainable consumerism. The wonders of nature revealed pass us by. Thus we lose the value of the heritage of older experiences, we lose the exposure to the spiritual beauty of nature, but we also lose the personal empowerment that comes from scientific thinking.

The scientific mind embodies such things as the spirit of inquiry; the spirit of collaboration; the quest for beauty (harmony, parsimony, wholeness); the desire to understand and do so profoundly; the aspiration to create; the urge to be critical; the will to transcend existing boundaries; the spirit of building on prior knowledge; the search for unity; and the spirit of construction. When truly developed, in an integral manner, having such a mindset would cause dissonance for those who contemplate committing acts like those of September 11, 2001, and for those who contemplate reacting to those same acts in some of the less constructive ways we have witnessed.

No one single environment is most suited for the development of the scientific mind. When we are born we all come equipped with most of what the scientific mind entails. A healthy, open-minded, encouraging and stimulating family environment is thus one factor of importance to keep what one already has and to develop it further. The school could also be one of the places where the scientific mind develops and matures, but this requires a different conception of the purposes of learning and teaching in that environment. As long as the school retains its strong emphasis on mastery of knowledge and skills, rather than on the ability to problematize one's environment, to raise questions, and interact with problems in a constructive and intelligent manner, it will often kill rather than nurture the scientific mind. Many other factors, present in a variety of contexts, will further contribute to developing the scientific mind - or at least ensure that what is accomplished in one setting does not get undone by exposure to what happens elsewhere, such as when, for instance, the "ignorance and…the noise and anti-thinking that fills the bandwidths" (Lederman in this collaborative reflection) gets in the way of the development of clear thinking and sound feeling.

My overall and final recommendation is therefore that learning be once again seen as something that is not reserved for special occasions and restricted to special places, but as something that it is pervasive. There is thus a great and urgent need for integrating different learning contexts and exploring the connections between them, so that different factors that promote and facilitate human learning can work in synergy. Societies are diverse in terms of the conditions, resources, opportunities and problems they deal with. It is therefore to be expected that responses to this need for integration will vary across societies. One thing is sure, though, human learning can no longer be seen as the responsibility of a single sector. It is everyone's responsibility and concern. It must therefore be dealt with, at the societal level, as a multisectoral and transsectoral issue.

Back to list of contributors

Contribution par

Thierry Magnin

prêtre catholique et physicien
Contribution received January 22, 2002

Pour un dialogue inter-religieux basé sur les relations entre science et religion

Que n’a t-on pas fait dans l’histoire de l’humanité « au nom de Dieu », que ne fait-on pas encore aujourd’hui, un peu partout dans le monde ! Voilà que les religions, qui sont faites pour « relier » l’homme à Dieu et les hommes entre eux, deviennent parfois, sous l’influence de fanatismes et de fondamentalismes, des instruments de divisions voire d’affrontements terribles et odieux ! Une légitime tentation serait de se dire : « puisqu’il en est ainsi, passons-nous des religions, créons de nouveaux systèmes de valeurs déconnectés des grandes religions et de leurs institutions». Même ainsi, personne n’est à l’abri du sectarisme, et le remède peut devenir pire que le mal ! De plus la dimension religieuse de l’homme est essentielle et, quand elle est vécue dans un vrai dialogue entre foi et raison, peut devenir un lieu d’épanouissement et de rencontre unique entre personnes et entre peuples. Les initiatives prises aujourd’hui par des responsables des grandes religions pour se rencontrer, prier et œuvrer ensemble pour la paix sont de cet ordre. Ils sont porteurs de beaucoup d’espoir face à la montée des intégrismes.

C’est bien le dialogue entre foi et raison qui peut servir d’aiguillon aux rencontres inter-religieuses et permettre d’éviter en partie les sectarismes. Je voudrais donner ici un exemple d’ébauche d’un dialogue inter-religieux à partir de recherches sur les relations entre foi et science, entre spiritualité et science.

L’Unesco, associée à d’autres partenaires, organise des rencontres devenues régulières entre des scientifiques du monde entier (physiciens et biologistes) appartenant à diverses grandes religions. Ainsi, pendant plusieurs jours, chacun dit comment il vit conjointement les démarches du scientifique et du croyant, avec harmonie, conflit ou difficulté selon les cas. Chacun écoute aussi les réactions et les questions de ses confrères scientifiques d’autres religions ou sagesses. De ces riches partages germe une possibilité originale de dialogue inter-religieux à partir des grandes questions posées par les sciences dures, questions d’éthique et questions métaphysiques. Ce fait est sans doute une surprise pour beaucoup de nos contemporains qui, s’imaginant que science et religion ne peuvent faire bon ménage, voient que les questions posées par les sciences peuvent être un dénominateur commun qui ouvre au dialogue inter-religieux ! De plus, que l’Unesco soit le cadre d’un tel dialogue n’est pas non plus sans ouvrir de belles perspectives au niveau mondial !

Beaucoup de chemin reste à accomplir, non seulement entre scientifiques mais aussi au niveau du grand public. Le scientisme, le fondamentalisme et le matérialisme résistent ! Mais les premiers pas accomplis disent une piste intéressante, celle empruntée par la philosophie morale. Explicitons un peu. Ce qui intéresse souvent les chercheurs de sens, c’est de savoir comment on peut etre à la fois scientifique et croyant. Montrer qu’il peut y avoir des attitudes communes entre les deux démarches à partir d’une analyse des fondements de ces attitudes (c’est cela la philosophie morale) devient alors une recherche passionnante.

A titre d’exemple, je citerai deux attitudes communes : l’attitude d’ accueil d’une réalité qui toujours nous échappe et l’ouverture au sens du mystère. Le grand leitmotiv de l’épistémologie des sciences dures est « quelque chose échappe». La réalité est toujours au-delà de nos représentations même si elle se laisse appréhender de mieux en mieux par la raison. C’est la capacité d’accueil et d’analyse de « cette réalité qui résiste à nos représentations » qui constitue vraiment le chercheur scientifique. N’est-ce pas cette même attitude que le croyant en recherche expérimente devant un Dieu qui se laisse connaître et qui pourtant toujours lui échappe ? Dieu ne se confond pas avec la réalité physique, mais c’est une même attitude morale qui peut animer le scientifique et le croyant, sans confusion des domaines scientifique et religieux. Le chercheur scientifique comme le croyant en recherche peuvent alors s’ouvrir au sens du mystère, ce dernier ne désignant pas ce qu’on ne peut pas comprendre mais ce qu’on n’aura jamais fini de comprendre. C’est cet accueil, cette confrontation honnête, rude et passionnante à la réalité qui échappe qui constitue le sujet scientifique et le sujet croyant, en recherche avec d’autres.

Si le dialogue entre scientifiques et croyants conduit à expérimenter de telles attitudes, nul doute que cela rapproche les croyants des grandes religions. Non pas dans un relativisme bon marché qui consisterait à dire que toutes les religions se valent et qu’on peut prendre ce qui plait dans l’une ou l’autre et laisser le reste. Non pas non plus en créant une sorte de supra-religion à partir d’une vision pseudo-scientifique de l’homme et du monde, comme cela est parfois le cas de nos jours. Mais l’esprit et le cœur des hommes s’ouvrent aux dimensions de la profondeur de l’être et de fraternité en expérimentant humblement ces attitudes communes, fruit d’un approfondissement des sciences d’une part, des traditions religieuses d’autre part,.

Le travail est long et difficile. Il demande patience, rigueur et enthousiasme, il demande d’éviter les concordismes faciles. Mais quand science, culture et religion dialoguent ainsi, c’est toute l’humanité qui peut s’ouvrir davantage à l’intelligence de la Vie et au cadeau de la liberté!

Back to list of contributors

Contribution par

Edgar Morin

Directeur de Recherche émérite au CNRS
Président de l'Association pour la Pensée Complexe
Auteur de "La Tête Bien Faite" et de nombreux autres livres
Contribution received January 28, 2002
An English translation follows the original contrinution in French.

Nous avons appris ce que nous savions déjà, mais qui n'était pas au centre de nos consciences.

  1. que l'humanité planétaire est mortelle, non seulement à terme, mais dès maintenant;
  2. que notre civilisation a produit les moyens de destruction qui font que l'humanité soit mortelle;
  3. que le XXe siècle a vu se nouer l'alliance entre deux barbaries, l'une, de destructions et massacres venus du fond des ages historiques, l'autre intérieure a notre civilisation, venue du règne anonyme et glacé de la technique, d'une pensée qui ignore tout ce qui ne relève pas du calcul et du profit. Le bin laddenisme constitue une nouvelle alliance entre les deux barbaries;
  4. que la civilisation occidentale a produit les trois antidotes à la barbarie; ceux-ci bien qu'insuffisants, fragiles et menacés, sont l'humanisme universaliste, la démocratie, la laïcité;
  5. que ce sont ces vertus qu'il faut sauvegarder et propager, non les formes barbares de la civilisation occidentale;
  6. que l'occident, très sensible pour les souffrances des siens, se montre indifférent et pire impitoyable aux souffrances des autres : ainsi la sensibilité aux 3.000 morts du World Trade Center a été suivie par une insensibilité totale aux civils afghans victimes des bombes aux missiles, et manifeste une indifférence glacée aux répressions aveugles dont souffre le peuple palestinien, comme elle s'est montrée, dans le passé insensible aux victimes africaines, asiatiques dont celles de Hiroshima;
  7. qu'on n'aura jamais un monde noble par des moyens ignobles;
  8. que l'édification d'une société monde est devenue vitale; seule une société monde peut répondre à une Terreur Monde. D'où la nécessité de dépasser l'idéologie economistique qui donne au marché mondial la mission de réguler la societe-monde, alors que c'est la société-monde qui doit réguler le marché mondial;
  9. que les Etats-unis et plus largement l'Occident oscillent entre deux voies celle de la folie, à terme catastrophique et celle de la sagesse, difficile et aléatoire. La sagesse dit qu'il faut non une politique impériale mais une politique de civilisation pour la société monde. La voie de la Folie est celle de la croisade, de la diabolisation, du manichéisme aveugle (car il y a du mal dans le bien mais aussi du bien dans le mal) et, développant l'hystérie de guerre, elle est la voie des massacres de part et d'autre;
  10. que La voie de la Sagesse comporte la prise de conscience capitale de l'inter solidarité humaine et de la communauté de destin planétaire. nous sommes tous enfants et citoyens de la Terre;
  11. qu'une reforme de pensée, inséparable d'une reforme de l'esprit, elle même inséparable d'une réforme de notre être individuel, nous demande (tout en sauvegardant nos racines), de comprendre autrui, de nous désegocentrer, désethnocentrer.


Following is the English translation of the above French original. The translation was made by Jan Visser and Karen-Claire Voss.

We have learned what we already knew, but what was not yet at the center of our consciousness, namely:

  1. that planetary humanity is mortal, not only in the long run, but from now on;
  2. that our civilization has produced the means of destruction that have made humanity mortal;
  3. that the 20th century has seen the alliance of two barbarisms, one of them, that of destruction and massacres, dating back to the roots of historical times and the other one, a way of thinking that comes from inside our own civilization and that stems from the anonymous and chilling reign of technology, which ignores everything that is not based on calculation and profit. Binladenism is a new alliance between those two barbarisms;
  4. that Western civilization has produced three antidotes to barbarism, which are - albeit insufficient, fragile and threatened - universalist humanism, democracy, and secularism;
  5. that it is those virtues that we must preserve and promulgate and not the barbaric forms of Western civilization;
  6. that the West, although very sensitive to the suffering of its own citizens, shows itself to be indifferent to and, worse, without pity for the suffering of others, as exemplified by the sensitivity towards the 3000 dead of the World Trade Center which was followed by a total insensitivity towards the Afghan civilian victims of bombs and missiles, and manifests an icy indifference towards the blind repression suffered by the Palestinian people, just as it has shown itself in the past to be insensitive to African victims and to Asian victims, including those of Hiroshima.
  7. that there will never be a noble world through ignoble means;
  8. that the establishment of a world society has become vital; only a world society can respond to a World Terror. Hence the need to go beyond the economistic ideology that entrusts the global market with the mission of regulating world society, whereas it is world society that must regulate the global market;
  9. that the United States, and more generally the West, oscillates between two ways: the way of madness, which in the long run will be catastrophic, and the way of wisdom, which is difficult and hazardous. Wisdom tells us that, in order to attain a world society, we do not need imperial politics but rather a politics of civilization. The way of Madness is the way of crusades, of demonization, of blind Manicheism (because there is evil in good but also good in evil) and, by promoting the hysteria of war, it is the way of massacres on both sides;
  10. that the Way of Wisdom entails the grasp of a profound awareness of our inter-solidarity as human beings and of our belonging to a community with a planetary destiny. We are all children of the Earth;
  11. that a reform of thinking, which is inseparable from a spiritual reform, which is itself inseparable from a reform of our personal way of being, calls for us to understand others, abolish our egocentrism, and abolish our ethnocentrism, all the while preserving our roots.

Back to list of contributors

Back to homepage