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.

Center for Transdisciplinary Education (CETRANS)
The School of the Future, University of São Paulo

October 23, 2001


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

[2] K. V. Raju, B. N. Hiremath, Holistic Approach to Agricultural Technology Adoption: Insights from Semi-Arid Areas of India. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland. 2000. Adapted by Maria de Mello, Matriz Transdisciplinar de Exploração, , São Paulo, October 2001.

Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires n° 16 - Février 2002

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