Excerpt from the invitation to partcipate in the collaborative reflection on "Learning after September 11, 2001" *

The events of September 11, 2001, have shocked the world. Yet, it was not the first time that human ingenuity was used to cause harm to humanity. As one of us observed during the consultation that preceded this invitation, the September 11 events should crystallize human conscience as other events, throughout human history, could have. The horrendous acts we have all been able to witness were not the uncontrolled spontaneous explosion of emotion on the part of some. They were perpetrated by educated people who had used their capabilities to think and to solve problems in the careful and ingenious preparation and planning of a terrible act with tragic consequences. While the group that was involved in carrying out the act and those who might ideologically have supported it could be small, the simple reality of our time is that small groups of people and even single individuals can wreak immense havoc with global consequences.

It seems justified to ask ourselves questions about what human beings do with their brain and what we together do, as communities and societies, to create the conditions for the proper management and self-management of that faculty. The question thus comes up if such events as the ones we witnessed should prompt us to reflect on what it means to learn. Has our focus on learning been too narrow? Have we overly focused on learning for the purpose of acquiring skills and mastering knowledge, having in mind narrowly defined performance goals, without paying sufficient attention to developing the perhaps more important faculty to reflect on our behavior while we perform the things we have prepared ourselves for? Have we forgotten that learning is not only what we do in school or other instructional settings, but that it is a lifelong disposition manifested in a wide variety of contexts? Have we failed to see that learning is not a mere event within the individual brain, but that it also has to do, perhaps even primarily, with what happens between human beings, or between human beings and their ever changing environment? In short, aren’t our visions of learning blocking our sight of what is really at stake, as it relates to the full complexity of human consciousness, the dynamics of our group behavior, emotions, love...hate. If learning is important, what actually is it and, as we create the conditions in our world to make learning happen, what should we attend to? These are but a few questions among the many that can be asked.

During our prior consultation we felt that it is worth asking such questions and, while exploring them, raise other questions in the process. We also felt that we should become more concerned with our puzzlement than driven by what we already know about learning in advancing the cause of its development.

Jan VISSER, President of LDI
September 21, 2001


* The following paragraphs are excerpted from a letter of invitation, circulated by LDI President Jan Visser on behalf of Leon Lederman, Federico Mayor, Gavriel Salomon and himself. The invitation was the result of a consultation during the ten days following the events of September 11, 2001, between the four persons mentioned.

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

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