As the prefix “trans” indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all disciplines. Its goal is the understanding of the present world , of which one of the imperatives is the unity of knowledge.”[i]

Essentially, transdisciplinarity is the study of correspondences between different fields of knowledge. It is an inquiry method that goes beyond the dualism of opposing binary pairs: subject/object, matter/consciousness, nature/divine, simplicity/ complexity, reductionism/holism, diversity/unity which have marked the history of ideas for millennia. Like the quantum physics, transdisciplinarity is radical, in the sense that is goes to the roots of knowledge, and questions our way of thinking and our construction and organization of knowledge, integrating the observer in the process of knowing.

The three pillars of transdisciplinarity are: the levels of Reality, the logic of the included middle, and complexity. Reality here means that which resists our knowledge, experiences, representations, descriptions, images or mathematical formalizations. For Basarab Nicolescu, one of the initiators and promoters of transdisciplinarity, the levels of organization all exist at a single level of Reality. He defines a level of Reality as “an ensemble of systems which are invariant under the action of certain general laws.”[ii] For instance, quantum theory describes a completely different level of Reality in that fundamental laws are not the same as those at the macrophysical level.

The passage from one level to another can be better understood employing Stephane Lupasco’s logic of contradiction and complementarity. In the 1940s, through contact with quantum physicist Louis de Broglie, Lupasco developed what he called “le principe d’antagonisme” (the antagonism priciple), a theory that formalizes the ”logic of the included middle” and allows for a complete integration of the different levels of Reality. Let’s remember that the mainstay of the western culture is the Aristotelian logic of “the excluded middle”, founded on three axioms:

  1. The axiom of identity : A is A.
  2. The axiom of non-contradiction : A is not non-A.
  3. The axiom of the excluded middle : There exists no third term T which is at the same time A and non-A.

Thus, in this view, the middle is seen as non-connective, non-participatory to the logical construct. On the contrary, “… the logic of the included middle is a true logic, formalizable and formalized, multivalent (with three values: A, non-A, and T) and non-contradictory. Our understanding of the axiom of the included middle – there exists a third term T which is at the same time A and non-A – is completely clarified once the notion of ”levels of Reality” is introduced.”[iii] ‘T’, in the transdisciplinary language, plays the role of a mediating between subject and object, facilitating the interaction across multiple levels of reality, involving the essential notion of simultaneity. In other words, ‘T’ is the included middle at a different level of Reality.

In a famous conversation, Einstein, anxious and slightly irritated, interpellates Niels Bohr : ”You are not going to tell me that the moon doesn’t exist when I am not looking at it?…” History has not registered Bohr’s answer, but the lecture of his texts and theories would rather lead to a sum of interrogations of the kind : How can I know it? What does ‘to exist’ mean ? etc. All the notions we conveniently grew up with are reconsidered now as we understand that reality is something much more mysterious than we have ever imagined, that the postulate of absolute objectivity, as well as the one of absolute causality are not actual anymore. In other words, reality is partly determined, but it remains partly undetermined.

Opposing discontinuity to continuity, haphazard to causality, interconnectedness of the atoms to separability and objectivity, quantum physics has played a fundamental role in the emergency of postmodernity and of its different forms of art starting from the first half of the XXth century, opening to a new pattern of thinking. Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Gödel, in the physics, Surrealism in art, Stéphane Lupasco in the philosophy of sciences, Proust, Joyce or Ionesco in literature, Jung in psychiatry, for instance, started to ”see” differently, to feel unease in this artistotelian logic of the non-contradictory, to look for something else.

Complex Nature demands complex thought and this century has seen the rise of chaos, complexity and the non-linear sciences. Edgar Morin has been calling for a new complex thinking for over fourty years now, asking for a radical reformulation in our organization of knowledge.[iv] For Basarab Nicolescu, “the logic of the included middle is perhaps the privileged logic of complexity, privileged in the sense that it allows us to cross the different areas of knowledge in a coherent way, by enabling a new kind of simplicity.”[v]

“Reality isfuzzy, is crumbling, and it is ambiguous. Somehow there’s a basic ambiguity at the center of the world – the center of the inanimate world, the unconscious world. So that’s the first reason why there are some formal resemblances between quantum theory and what the mind looks like from the inside. (…) We’re learning that the world is put together in such a strange way that (…) you don’t know what’s going to happen next. All the patterns are perfectly ordinary; they preserve space and time, and they’re separated at light speed. Yet the bricks that make up these patterns are not that way at all. They don’t know anything about space and time, and they’re connected instantaneously.” (Nick Herbert, physicist)

[i] Basarab Nicolescu, Trandisciplinarité. Manifeste, Paris, Ed. du Rocher, 1996.

[ii]Basarab Nicolescu,Gödelian Aspects of Nature and Knowledge. Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études transdisciplinaires, 1998 http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret/

[iii] Basarab Nicolescu, Le tiers inclus : De la physique quantique à l’ontologie, in Badescu H., Nicolescu B. (sous la dir.),Stéphane Lupasco, l’homme et l’oeuvre, Paris, Ed. du Rocher, 1999, pp.128-129.

[iv]Edgar Morin, From the Concept of System to the Paradigm of Complexity. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, JAI Press, 1992, pp. 371-385.

[v]Basarab Nicolescu,Gödelian Aspects…

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