Draft - 8/29/2014 Copyright Earon S. Davis 2014
Note: Pardon me while I work on improving the formatting of this paper.
Transdisciplinarity approaches all possible data points in all possible disciplines. Mind-boggling, indeed! It is a highly creative adventure, requiring an equal measure of discipline, which seeks to use the tools of all disciplines to find new truths, to uncover new data that give rise to different approaches to understanding our situations and our challenges. It combines a proficiency with science and logic along with the openness of a child in a candy store, or some adults at a new hardware store or a sale at a huge thrift shop. Through these new perspectives, being open to the vast array of available tools and fabrics, we may find new solutions, new relationships that we may never have discovered using the tools in just one or two or three departments.
- 1. Inertia. We cling to our worldviews and all of the odd notions that get grandfathered into our mindsets along with the old notions. It is in our nature to reject new paradigms until they somehow gain a “critical mass” to appear mainstream. However, before that time, we may (individually or collectively) put them into distant elliptical orbits around our consciousness rather than integrate them. When exploring new concepts, we do tend to have some “fear of the unknown.” We do not know what conflicts may arise with our various ideas, disciplinary lineages and values, so we are cautious.
- 2. Nausea. We can actually feel physically ill when we contemplate dissonant topics, so much so that we tend to resolve the conflict through rationalization, rather than embracing the dissonance and learning to tease apart our feelings of attraction and avoidance.
- 3. Confusion. As with the physical symptoms of dissonance, like nausea or “that sinking feeling,” we are uncomfortable entering into realms that challenge our basic belief systems. The easiest way for us to deal with this confusion is to block our attempts to understand the dissonance and move on to other activities.
- 4. Peer Groups. Our nature is intensely social, so we depend upon the creation and maintenance of shared realities, supported by colleagues, friends, partners, etc. We derive pleasure from these relationships and from “fitting in” to a peer group, a department or college, etc. Leaving the shared reality of our close associates is uncomfortable, potentially depriving us of pleasant company, and this can be scary.
- 5. Proportionality. The more the basic values and “truths” are different in a new paradigm, the more assumptions that are challenged, the more intense all of the above obstacles can be.
There are patterns and relationships, concepts and perspectives that can help our species live sustainably that we cannot yet envision. Interestingly enough, one group that most readily engages transdisciplinary thinking is entrepreneurs. Not wedded to any given discipline, small, local businesses, especially when partnered with relevant technical specialists, are in a position to identify new opportunities, new ways of doing things. One of the tasks of our universities is to facilitate and cultivate such problem-solving.
Will we be sufficiently open-minded to let go of the “tried and true” so that we encourage the thinking and research that will open up the new possibilities? Consider the anthropocene! Today’s young people are growing up in an era that is far more aware of the impacts of humans on our world. They have already experienced a quantum change in consciousness and we need to build upon that. Otherwise, we can keep our heads buried inside the traditional disciplines with which we and our predecessors have painted humanity into the corner in which we now find ourselves.