Leadership Emerging

June 2010 / Leadership Emerging

Frederick Darbellay, Moira Cockell, Jerome Billotte, Francis Waldvogel, Editors.A Vision of Transdisciplinarity: LayingFoundations for a World Knowledge Dialogue. Laussanne, Switzerland: EPFL Press, 2008.

Dartbellay coverThis book deserves a far more in depth review that I will be able to offer at this time. It represents something that is very much at the heart of transdisciplinarity: given the growing complexity of the challenges we face in the world (or, at least, our appreciation of complexity), the pursuit of intelligent responses (if not solutions) is no longer something we can rely upon an individual to produce. Just as raising a child requires a village, fostering innovation and creativity in addressing these complex challenges requires a team, perhaps a very, very large team. Consequently, our pursuit of solutions, of responses, will require us not only to master one or more discipline, but to master the skills required to engage in such work. While I cannot say whether or not this book is a product of such capabilities, it is an example of how we must reach out and draw in stakeholders of the issues we want to address.

This book is a product of dialogue, a dialogue that took place in Switzerland in 2006 (www.wkdialogue.ch). Participants came from around the world. This is part of an ambitious effort:

“This encounter between leading researchers from different and complementary horizons marked the starting point for a much larger and more ambitious project aimed at uniting the forces of experts from all academic branches in the common cause of understanding and resolving complex issues which face the contemporary world.”

Fundamentally, knowledge and its development is a product of the interplay of the interface between our experience and our perception. We are working at the interface of what can be observed (science) and the meaning we make of it (personal and cultural). The editors state,

“The desire to facilitate a productive dialogue between the different branches of academia has become a central preoccupation within the upper echelons of teaching and research at national European and global levels and is now frequently proclaimed in the public statements of their institutions.”

The world knowledge dialogue is a practical step in service of these efforts. Interestingly, they used a case study approach–a cornerstone of much management education–so that participants from all disciplines can rapidly acquire a minimum of shared information upon which to build. It is also intended to illustrate that the mental boundaries we choose to place between domains of expertise are mere operational concepts, tools of reductionist thinking that can be moved at will if there is an advantage to be drawn in doing so.”

The chapters in this volume are analyses and summaries of presentations of others by the editors. Here are some examples:

  1. From Brain Dynamics to Consciousness–presented by Gerald M. Edelman.
  2. Searching for Simplicity in Complexity–presented by Geoffrey West.
  3. The Origins of modern Humans: Linguistic Issues–presented by Bernard Victorri.

In addition, there are authored chapters, such as

  1. Why Physics is Easy and Autism is Hard by Ian Hacking.
  2. Consilience and the Status of Human-Level Truth by Edward G. Slingerland.
  3. Promoting Scientific Dialogue as lifelong Learning Process by Michel Alhadeff-Jones.
  4. Patterned Diversity in Interdisciplinary Dialogue by Veronica Boix Mansilla.
  5. Organizing Cross-disciplinary Dialogue in Academia by Markus B. Karner.
  6. Knowledge, Culture and Interdisciplinary Dialogue by Ravi de Costa.

The book closes with a reflection by the Editors on a question posed in a Foreword by Andre Hurst: Have we made discernable progress in our quest and do we know where the path will lead us next? The first part, progress, they answer affirmatively. As in other integrating quests, they also encountered frustrations and naivete leading to the conclusion that there is still much to do. They, too, find that there is no common approach. They did not have a container for the very valuable work that is being done. They do not have a metatheoretical framework that allows for integration.

The lack of integration led to a conclusion that there is a “need to develop better awareness of the existence of different ontological frameworks and methods of knowledge construction.” It is here that I believe the work of Mark Edwards and other metatheorists is so very important. It is here where there is potential for integral theory to demonstrate its integrative capacity across significant boundaries by showing a way to break down those boundaries.

If knowledge development and integration is of interest to you this is an important read. Work like this represents what is happening in worldwide leadership of knowledge creation and implementation.

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