I am pleased to have interviewed Prof. Ervin Laszlo who is a systems philosopher, integral theorist, and classical pianist. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he has authored more than 70 books that have been translated into nineteen languages, and has published in excess of four hundred articles and research papers, including six volumes of piano recordings. Dr. Laszlo is generally recognized as the founder of systems philosophy and general evolution theory and serves as the founder-director of the General Evolution Research Group and as past president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He underscores the importance of developing a holistic perspective on the world and humankind, an outlook he refers to as “quantum consciousness”. He is also the recipient of the highest degree in philosophy and human sciences from the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, as well as of the coveted Artist Diploma of the Franz Liszt Academy of Budapest. Additional prizes and awards include four honorary doctorates. For many years he has served as president of the Club of Budapest, which he founded. He is an advisor to the UNESCO Director General, ambassador of the International Delphic Council, member of the International Academy of Science, World Academy of Arts and Science, and the International Academy of Philosophy.
I started my interview with Prof. Laszlo by asking him about his links with Italy. He explained that in his earlier years he was a pianist and so he gave concerts all over the World. His very first concert outside Hungary was in Italy. Since then, he developed a passion with Italy that led him to buy a house in Tuscany. So, Italy is still his favorite place.
I have also asked his opinion about whether Italy can provide good examples for leadership studies with its unique history and complexity. Laszlo replied that it is difficult for a particular form of leadership to emerge in Italy. Italy has a very long history and its social dynamics are quite complex. The result is that Italians are too individualistic and Italy has a very diverse culture. In Italy there coexists so many regional cultures that make this country a highly culturally complex society (reflected in its gastronomy, too), which cannot give raise to a homogeneous leadership style.
Antonio: Can you tell us something about your Theory of Everything?
Ervin: All things are co-evolving. This is how they evolved in time and in space, of course. In that sense I think you can have a theory of everything that is correct in relation to the main variety of observations that you have in science.
Antonio: So a Theory of Everything can be useful to study leadership, especially in those settings like in Italy where complexity, particularly culture complexity, is very important?
Ervin: Such a theory can provide general guidelines and can offer general concepts. Then the question is how you apply the information that you get from the theory, the insight that you get from the theory. How you apply it depends on the interpretation you give to that theory. But you can give general guidelines, because you can look at the relationship between subsystems and the overall system. You can see that a certain level of coherence between the subsystems is a requirement for the existence of the overall system – where you have detailed proper balance between integration and diversification, for example. All of these are guidelines that you can apply when you analyze the evolution of a complex system such as the culture in Italy.
Antonio: It would be interesting to understand your consideration of transdisciplinarity.
Ervin: Disciplines in science are artifacts; they are artificial. They are often necessary, but not always a satisfactory limitation on the number of observations and the number of facts that one takes into account. There are no boundaries in nature that correspond one to one with the boundaries of disciplines. For example life is not necessarily limited to biology, it’s also obviously evident in sociology and psychology. It also appears in the cosmos.
The way we can think about evolution is not limited to one kind of system. It appears from the big bang onwards all the way up to the evolution of consciousness, the evolution of the whole cosmos at the same time. So disciplines are a necessary self-restriction in science, but they should be considered as permeable, as transferrable and expandable boundaries that one keeps to as long as they are useful. When we can get over these boundaries, then it’s an improvement when you manage to overcome them.
Antonio: Is there any difference between transdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity and the like?
Ervin: I think there is yes, but of course this is a question of definitions. Multidisciplinarity means several disciplines. Disciplines can be brought into conjunction with one another, but they are not brought together. They do not become a coherent whole. A theory that is transdisciplinary does not simply enumerate or place side-by-side different disciplines, but transcends them. That’s what the word says: transcend the different disciplines and show that they actually are so many different facets or local manifestations of the same phenomenon.
Antonio: Then it’s important to understand a particular phenomenon rather than just looking at it from a mainstream disciplinary point of view.
Ervin: I think disciplinary analysis is very limited. I think there is a nice metaphor that you can use as a story for a disciplinary approach. When you ask someone, for example a travel agent, to tell you something about a given island, the travel agent describes to you the geography, the culture, the demography, the architecture and everything else about that island. But when you ask that agent, “But how do we get there? Where is the island?” she says, “We don’t know”. Because you know a lot about particular thing, this.does not mean that you know how to situate that in a broader context. For that you need a transdisciplinary approach. You need to have a general map.
You can’t use just a general map or a high resolution local map. You need both of them. But you don’t really make sense of a high resolution map until you can locate it in the context of a broader set of relationships. That is supplied by a set of transdisciplinary perspectives.
Antonio: Can you apply this to a system as complex as Italy?
Ervin: I think it is necessary to understand what is the nature of human culture as the first step. Then you can see how Italian culture fits into the general perspective or general spectrum of different cultures. Then you can start analyzing how this particular culture relates, for example, to leadership or esthetics or quality of life or other things.
Antonio: Because of the complex culture and history in Italy there may not be just a single way to lead the Italian people, is that right?
Ervin: Well, there could be. Perhaps there should be. But there is not at the present time, because the culture doesn’t permit a single leadership to emerge. It’s too diversified, too individualistic for that.
Antonio: Do you think that there are other cultures that are in the same situation as Italy?
Ervin: Yes there are, but I think Italy is particularly complex because of its tremendous historical heritage.
Antonio: For example, do you think that China is the closest to Italian in relation to history? It also has a range of different cultures. Do you think China would be in a similar position as Italy?
Ervin: I think less so. Italy has great geographical and climatic diversity and there’s also a difference from the North to the South. China, of course, practically is the size of a whole continent and, of course, it has got great diversity. But it has a more unified historical heritage and despite the communist system, Buddhism and Confucianism are very much present in China. I think the two elements of Buddhism, communism and Confucianism are very much present in China.
Lately, of course, in the last century or last half a century at least, the Confucian element with its emphasis on discipline, obedience and serving has dominated. That gives a possibility for China to act in a more unified way, because people subscribe, whether they know it or not, whether conscious or subconscious. They subscribe to the idea that they are part of an organized whole. They have a particular role. They accept that role and therefore get less mobility, more discipline and more acceptance of regulations and laws. So it’s a less complex situation despite the fact that there are many times more people in this 20 times larger country.
Antonio: Do you think it will be possible to live in a world, where leadership is inified?
Ervin: It would be possible only if there is a very major catastrophe of some kind, like a climate catastrophe. Even more so, if there were any chance of being invaded from another civilization from outer space. Something like that would unify humanity. I don’t think in a normal course of affairs would there be a unity that could emerge. It would require a best group level of meritocracy, democracy and reason in a sub-diversified group of leaders or spokesmen for different groups.
I think a unified leadership is a very great threat, actually. It’s a danger, because it could easily degenerate into a dictatorship. It would hold such power that it would be difficult to resist. As we know, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts even more absolutely. There would be a single unified structure having the authority to order and command the entire human population. That would be not a utopia, but a dystopia.
Antonio: Do you see this in what Karl Marx said about how capitalism as a factor that can unify humanity?
Ervin: For Marx, Capitalism represented only one class. According to his theory there is an antagonism or struggle between the proletarian and the capitalist classes and that results in a synthesis on a higher level. In the context of the class struggle capitalism is unified, but today there is no contrary class to capitalism. It has become a worldwide class. One can talk about social capitalism or talk about conscious capitalism or even talk about ecological capitalism, but there is no real alternative since the demise of the socialist world.
Antonio: In Italy there is much debate about the financial crisis that was an outcome of the capitalist crisis and of how capitalist leaders have developed the economic system during the last 20 to 50 years. I would like to hear your opinion about that.
Ervin: Well, in the life of people and the society, the economy is the main factor in the current crisis. In that sense capitalism is a unifying force, because most world leaders agree that the economy is the basic factor. They agree that society is something that can evolve or not evolve according to whether there is a good economic basis for it and the environment is only a factor in the economy.
It is one of the subsidiary factors of the ecology. In that sense capitalism is a uniting force and because of this emphasis on economy as the main value in business, for example, competitive advantage and shareholder value are the two main components, the two main considerations that almost every business leader would accept to act accordingly. This is the product of that kind of thinking. If you call this capitalist thinking, then you will thus agree that, yes, capitalism has been the main factor in creating a world that it is today.
Antonio: Especially older Catholic’s are claiming that the actual crisis is an outcome of an ethical failure of the major leaders. Do you think that this is correct or do you think that globalization can be the main issue and the fact that the current structure of our economics now is not able to deal entirely with globalization?
Ervin: I think the latter, yes. An ethical failure comes in whenever people are in a crisis situation. They look first of all to their own advantage or they conceive their immediate advantage, short-term advantage. The ethics of responsibility for a longer term future for the larger group tends to take a secondary place. So in that sense, because there is a crisis, there is also an ethical failure. But I don’t think that the crisis came about because of an ethical failure.
The crisis came about because there is a worldview, a very particular culture, which claims that only economic advantage and value is the goal of one’s activity. In this sense business activity and politics becomes a subsidiary of business, because political success depends very much on bringing about economic growth. It’s the overall culture that is at risk. The lack of ethics is a manifestation or a concept derived from the failure of the strategy to satisfy people in today’s world.
Antonio: Is there any relationship between the theory of everything and theories of ethics?
Ervin: There should be a theory of human behavior, as well. Human behavior obviously depends very much on, and is governed very much by, the ethics that some people espouse. So it’s not a separate theory of ethics. I think it’s a theory of everything that should be a theory of complex systems evolution. Complex systems evolution has to shed light on the way human beings act in today’s world, how they act face to face with each other and with the environment. It sheds light on their values and what they aim for, what they strive for. That is the ethics. Ethics is not just being honest. That is, of course, part of it. But primarily ethics is accepting responsibility for one’s self and for those whom one is in relationship with and that is affecting one’s behavior.
It’s primarily an acceptance of responsibility. This responsibility is very much dependant on how people are thinking. People’s thinking, in turn, is strongly conditioned by their perception of who they are and what the world is around them. Therefore, it’s conditioned on their view of the world or their dominant paradigm.
Antonio: From an ethical point of view do you have any particular author that you like and you think would give us a good perspective for your theory?
Ervin: The standard ethical formulation at least in Utilitarianism, which is striving for the greatest good of the greatest number, is a very good principle. I don’t believe strictly in Utilitarianism. As somebody said, we always should calculate whether an action produces good or not. We should act ethically. I believe there are certain basic principles of striving for the good of all, which are the foundation of ethical drivers. Otherwise, it becomes opportunism; it degenerates into the opportunistic ethic.
Antonio: What projects are you leading and supporting now that reflect your philosophy and theory?
Ervin: I have just recently concluded a book that is a development of several other books that I’ve written. It deals with the New Paradigm – the New Paradigm of subconscious subliminal interconnection based on quantum physics. There is a strong connection among individuals according to this paradigm, a non-local paradigm, a non-local state paradigm. It’s very important for people to understand that their actions, even their thought, affect other people and therefore that they have the responsibility for what they do and what they think. Their connection actually means that they are all belonging to a larger system that has a coherence of its own. They are either assisting this coherence, enhancing this coherence or they work in opposition to this coherence.
Either they do good to the overall system or they are a kind of a cancer. They are a malady for their system. That kind of insight into the consequences of one’s action is very important. It depends in the last analysis on the final count. It depends on our view of the world, on the paradigm that we hold. I maintain that the current paradigm maintained in society is outmoded. It is basically the thinking of the Old Paradigm
The front line of science is way beyond that. But it hasn’t penetrated from front line science to society. I’m trying to help this transfer of worldview from the front line of the sciences, where there is a new image of the world that is coming to be. It is not very clearly understood yet, but it is emerging. I’m trying to help this, to make it clear, to apply it to life in society and to our own view, people’s own view of themselves and of the world around them.
Antonio: I would like to thank you for this opportunity to listen to your thoughts.