David K. Scott was Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1993-2001.
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Learning in an Integrative Age: the University of Communication

Dr. David K. Scott

Chancellor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA

ABSTRACT

Since their creation in the 12th Century, universities of the Western World have undergone many transformations. They began as Universities of Faith, with knowledge revealed by authority. This mode persisted for 500 years. Over the last 500 years, as a result of the Enlightenment, they have become Universities of Reason. Parallel transformations were taking place in society with the change from an agrarian to an industrial era demanding the new science of the University of Reason. The nature of scholarship also changed from Medievalism to Modernism, through driving forces ranging from economics to epistemology. The epistemological changes were profound, based on the world-altering views of Copernicus, Descartes and Kant, which led to a three-fold estrangement of the individual–cosmological, ontological and epistemological. However the lesson derived from the University of Reason is that the basis of the communication problem–the problem of human knowledge in the world–must be viewed as centering in the human mind. In the words of Tarnas, "the pivot of the modern predicament is epistemological and it is here that we should look for an opening."

Modern theories of mind and matter lead us to believe that the next transformation will lead to Integrative Universities, or Universities of Communication. Humanity in this century will gather on stage as if for a climactic denouement that will integrate different approaches to knowledge. The fragmentation and specialization of modernism and post-modernism have also created the necessary context for a new intellectual vision of open communication among different understandings, vocabularies and cultural paradigms. The Integrative Age will be the Age of Communication and of the University of Communication.

We believe that the Age of Communication is a better description of the future than the Information Age or even the Knowledge Age. The Internet and the new communication technologies will actively enhance communication across disciplines, cultures, and frontiers to create knowledge without frontiers. For example, the new medium opens up a fuller range of multiple intelligences. The University of Reason emphasized cognitive intelligence. So did the typewriter! But the Internet will honor abstract, textual, visual, musical, social and kinesthetic intelligences.

The University of Communication will combine the prior phases of Faith and Reason–not by a return to pre-rationality but by an evolution to trans-rationality, which includes pre-rationality, incorporates the rational perspective and adds its own defining characteristics, as Wilbur has noted. The 21st century will prove to be the most exciting and vital time for our Universities in the next Communication Civilization.

 

In the western world, universities have existed for close to a thousand years. During this time they have undergone massive transformation. As society changed from an agrarian age to the industrial age and now to the information age, our approaches to knowledge also evolved. For the first five hundred years, universities operated in the medieval culture where knowledge was based on faith and religion. Medieval society and learning were all compounded of numerous and diverse elements, with scholars pursuing knowledge from a mixture of motives, combining rational and irrational, scholarly and superstitious methods of empiricism and speculation. There were, however, attempts at the integration of knowledge which we lost in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The so-called Age of Enlightenment also coincided with the onset of the industrial age. Philosophers of the Enlightenment aimed to develop objective science and a universal morality and law. They planned to use the accumulation of specialized culture for the enrichment of everyday life through highly analytical and empirical thinking about a universe that was mechanical and predictable. Although noble in intention, the epistemology has resulted in enormous fragmentation of knowledge with the concomitant loss of a coherent, integrative perspective.1 In the twentieth century, post-modernist philosophy has challenged the assumption that the intellect can direct human civilization toward the progressive realization of ideal forms of human existence and understanding that are universal, knowable, and achievable through discoveries in science. In this epistemology, objective standards of truth and justice are nothing more than conventions propagated by dominant forces in society. This philosophy has perpetuated a fragmented approach to knowledge so that physics departments in different universities around the world interact more closely with each other than with philosophy departments in the same university. Their approach is that there is no universal truth, but a multiplicity of different truths. This approach to knowledge is also giving rise to dissatisfaction within the academy and in society. An outline of the evolution of knowledge illustrating the issues in this paper is given in Figure 1.

I believe that post-modernism is a transitory phase and that we are on a journey to a transmodern philosophy that will overcome the modern world view, not by eliminating world views as such, but by constructing a new world view through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts. This constructive trans-modernism demands a new unity of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and religious intuitions. It rejects not science as such but only that scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our world view.2 In spite of its fragmented approach, the post-modern movement has created the characteristics necessary for a new intellectual vision, which I call transmodernism. In the words of Tarnas3: "If the postmodern mind has sometimes been prone to a dogmatic relativism and a compulsively fragmenting skepticism, and if the cultural ethos that has accompanied it has sometimes deteriorated into cynical detachment and spiritless pastiche, it is evident that the most significant characteristics of the larger postmodern intellectual situation — its pluralism, complexity and ambiguity — are precisely the characteristics necessary for the potential emergence of a fundamental new form of intellectual vision, one that might both preserve and transcend the current state of extraordinary differentiation. In the politics of the contemporary Weltanschauung, no perspective — religious, scientific, or philosophical — has the upper hand. Yet that situation has encouraged an almost unprecedented intellectual flexibility and cross-fertilization, reflected in the widespread call for, and practice of, open conversation between different understandings, different vocabularies, different cultural paradigms."

 

Figure 1

Instead of the information age and the explosion of knowledge, we should speak of the integrative age and the implosion of knowledge. I am not advocating a return to the past with a total rejection of reason and empirical approaches. Rather, the possibility now exists for the connection of different knowledge areas in new transdisciplinary ways at a deep level. This connection differs from the traditional interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches common in universities, which really continue to link closely related areas of knowledge. The university of old — the University of Faith — evolved to the University of Reason4. We must now foster the University of Communication, described by Gregory Heath,5 which will integrate different approaches to knowledge. I call this university of the future the Integrative University for an Integrative Age.

The task ahead relates to Kant’s attempts to integrate the "big three" value spheres of art, science, and religion (morals) that, as a result of the Enlightenment were beginning to fall apart, and which have become even more disassociated in the modern university. Attempts to bring about this integration in the past have failed because they have adopted a rigid stance against rationalism, as in the romantic movement, for example. Wilbur points out that they fell into the "pre-trans" fallacy. "Granted, spirituality is, in some sense, beyond rationality. But there is a trans-rational and a pre-rational. Pre-rationality includes all of the modes leading up to rationality … Trans-rationality, on the other hand, lies on the other side of reason. Once reason has emerged and consolidated, consciousness can continue to grow and develop and evolve, moving into trans-rational, trans-personal … modes of awareness. Trans-rationality includes pre-rationality, happily incorporates the rational perspective and then adds its own defining characteristics."6 The exploration of these approaches to knowledge is the responsibility of the modern university, influencing all aspects of education through the curriculum, research, and applications of knowledge.

An excellent starting point for a dialogue between different disciplines, including humanities, sciences and religion, is David Bohm’s work on implicate order.7 In his theory, which derives from a reformulation of quantum mechanics, the universe is constructed as a hologram with all aspects of the entire universe enfolded into each component, just as a holographic image contains the entire image in each fragment of the hologram, only more blurred as the component selected becomes smaller. Karl Pribram8 has also suggested that the hologram is a possible model for how the brain stores memory in a distributed rather than localized fashion. Since holograms are constructed from interference patterns of laser beams reflected from objects, perhaps the brain also deals in interactions, interpreting frequencies of vibration so that what we perceive as reality is in fact isomorphic with the brain processes. Pribram observed: "It isn’t that the world of appearances is wrong; it isn’t that there aren’t objects out there at one level of reality. It’s that if you penetrate through and look at the universe with a holographic system, you arrive at a different reality, one that can explain things that have hitherto remained inexplicable: paranormal phenomena ... synchronicities, the apparently meaningful coincidence of events."9 This example is not meant as "scientific proof" of spiritual dimensions of experience but rather as fertile ground for opening up a dialogue across disciplines that have little contact at present.

After all, our current approach to knowledge evolved over the last 500 years and is also based on a theory of mind and matter, the relationship between them, and the relationship of human beings to the universe. Following Tarnas,3 the evolution began from the Copernicus shift of perspective in the mid-sixteenth century, which displaced the human being to a peripheral position in a vast, impersonal universe with the ensuing disenchantment of the natural world. The Copernican revolution constituted the epochal shift to the modern age. Almost a century later, Descartes woke up in the Copernican universe and fully articulated the experience of the emerging, autonomous self as separate from the external world it tries to master. With the human mind distinct from the world, then the apprehended universe was ultimately the mind’s interpretation. Another century passed, bringing us to the mid-eighteenth century, before Kant, building on his empiricist predecessor, drew out the epistemological consequences. He deduced that all human knowledge is interpretive, and that the mind can draw no mirror-like knowledge of the objective world. Here were seen emerging the roots of post-modernism. The world is essentially a construct, and knowledge is radically interpretive. Every act of perception and cognition is congruent, mediated, situated, contextual, and theory-soaked. Over a period of 200 years the cosmological estrangement of Copernicus and the ontological estrangement of Descartes were completed by the epistemological estrangement of Kant, a threefold, mutually-reinforcing prison of modern alienation that has resulted in the fragmentation and relativism of knowledge prevalent today.

Gradually, over the ensuing 250 years, the model permeated thinking in almost every discipline. Another century after Kant, the radical displacement of the human being from the cosmic center was emphatically reinforced by Darwin’s relativization of the human being in the flux of evolution — no longer divinely ordained, no longer the favored child of the universe. Tarnas concludes: "The world revealed by modern science is devoid of spiritual purpose, opaque, ruled by chance and necessity, without intrinsic meaning. The human soul has not felt at home in the modern cosmos: the soul can hold dear its poetry and its music, its private metaphysics and religion, but these find no certain foundation in the empirical universe … But the lesson of Kant is that the locus of the communication problem — the problem of human knowledge in the world — must first be viewed as centering in the human mind. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that the human mind has more cards than it has been playing. The pivot of the modern predicament is epistemological, and it is here that we should look for an opening."

The theory of mind and matter implicit in the holographic model of memory and the universe and of the intimate relation between them differs radically from the theory of Descartes and Kant. Instead of estrangement we discover a web of connections that could reverse the fragmentation of knowledge, the separation of reason and emotion, of spirituality and science. Here may lie the opening to greater overlap of the value spheres of art, science, and religion. The times have never been more propitious for such transdisciplinary thinking.

In his idea of the University of Communication, Heath points out that the foundation of communication theory derives from Kant’s philosophy with "the establishment of communicability as a transcendental ground for judgment." Kant argued that communicability is not only necessary for aesthetic judgment because of the subjective element, but also for cognition and therefore free knowledge in general. Heath writes: "The origins of communicative theory and its ‘consensus theory’ of truth lies with the Kantian Copernican revolution in philosophy," as we noted earlier. The situation to be addressed, in Heath’s view, is "one where truth was determined by our cognitive power, yet had to be universal. It was Charles Sanders Peirce, who proposed a theory that could respond to the dilemma left by Kantian insight that paved the way for the development of communicative theory. Pierce proposed10 the notion of the ‘final community’ that was to become an essential factor in the pragmatic theory, as it was the putative ‘final community’ that served as the truth-crucial criterion. What is offered is an objective, but not absolutist basis for non-instrumental rationality that can encompass the subjective dimensions essential to communication that instrumental reason leaves out." In this theory of the Communicative University, I believe that the post-Kantian strands of post-modernism, Wilbur’s ideas of trans-rationality, together with Bohm’s and Pribram’s ideas of implicate order and holographic theories of mind and matter show intimations of some grand unification.

These new theories of communication and epistemology will be enhanced rather than diminished by the new media of the Web and the Internet. In this sense the Information Age, the Knowledge Age, and the Communication Age will all converge into the Integrative Age. The possibilities are spelled out in the article by Brown11 on "Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education and the Ways People Learn." He describes how the Web is the first medium that honors multiple intelligences.12, 13, 14 Whereas the concept of literacy in the University of Reason grew out of our belief in text–a focus enhanced by the technology of the typewriter which prized a particular type of intelligence–the new media draw on abstract, textual, visual, musical, social and kinesthetic intelligences. The new technologies also emphasize relationships between individuals rather than predominant support to the individual. With that shift we will discover new protocols for helping us help each other, which is the very essence of social learning and communicative theory. He concludes: "It is also the essence of lifelong learning–a form of learning that learning ecologies could dramatically facilitate. And developing learning ecologies in a region is a first, important step toward a more general culture of learning." This task is, of course, paramount for our universities in the 21st Century.

The new digital culture is significantly different to a print culture in many ways. The new culture focuses more on knowledge processes rather than knowledge products. There is no longer an exclusive focus on cognitive skills to produce consensus, since hypertextual, associational thinking and conversational congruence are also valued. The print culture emphasized structural, linear, logical thinking skills. Also, no longer will knowledge belong to the privileged few. The greater access to publishing will ensure that the authority of knowledge production is produced.15

Figure 2

I believe that these trends are consistent with the epistemological evolution underway as I described earlier. We are struggling towards a new theory of knowledge, which is an inevitable evolution from the earlier philosophy and theories beginning with the early Greek philosophers. A new idea of higher education is emerging which will be key to the next Communication Civilization. Part of the change of philosophy is illustrated in Figure 2, based on the work of Maxwell16. Most approaches to knowledge in universities would argue that we must first search for truth and then subsequently apply that truth to making a better world. The consequence is, as shown in Figure 3, that the university world of abstract knowledge, with facts leading to theories, which are then applied to the world of experience, must be impermeably separated from human problems directly, which deal more with policies applied to the world of experience. But there is only one world of experience in the end. The next age of communication, including the opening up of knowledge to wider constitutencies through the Internet, will bring these two strands into greater overlap. This philosophy will lead to a change in scholarship as shown in Figure 2 based on wisdom. In this way it is possible that universities may lead the way to a better world faster.

Figure 3

Just as our approach to knowledge is the product of the reductionist approaches of science developed so successfully in the eighteenth century, so also are the models of organizations. In the 20th century, modern science describes the universe as a web of connections in which all components are highly linked to every other component. Margaret Wheatley describes17 how these ideas will influence the organization of the future, including our universities.

"The world described by new science is changing our beliefs and perceptions in many areas, not just in the natural sciences. I see new science ideas beginning to percolate in my own field of management theory. One way to see their effect is to look at the problems that plague us most in organizations these days or, more accurately, what we define as the problems. Leadership, an amorphous phenomenon that has intrigued us since people began studying organizations, is being examined now for its relational aspects. More and more studies focus on followership, empowerment, and leader accessibility. And ethical and moral questions are no longer fuzzy religious concepts but key elements in our relationships with staff, suppliers, and stakeholders. If the physics of our universe is revealing the primacy of relationships, is it any wonder that we are beginning to reconfigure our ideas about management in relational terms?

"We are focusing on the deep longings we have for community, meaning, dignity, and love in our organizational lives. We are beginning to look at the strong emotions that are part of being human, rather than segmenting ourselves (love is for home, discipline is for work) or believing that we can confine workers into narrow roles, as though they were cogs in the machinery of production. As we let go of the machine models of work, we begin to step back and see ourselves in new ways, to appreciate our wholeness and to design organizations that honor and make use of the totality of who we are.

"The impact of vision, values, and culture occupies a great deal of organizational attention. We see their effects on organizational vitality, even if we can’t quite define why they are such potent forces. We now sense that some of the best ways to create continuity of behavior are through the use of forces that we can’t really see. Many scientists now work with the concept of fields–invisible forces that structure space or behavior. I have come to understand organizational vision as a field–a force of unseen connections that influences employees’ behavior–rather than as an evocative message about some desired future state.

"Our concept of organizations is moving away from the mechanistic creations that flourished in the age of bureaucracy. We have begun to speak in earnest of more fluid, organic structures, even of boundaryless organizations. We are beginning to recognize organizations as systems, construing them as "learning organizations" and crediting them with some type of self-renewing capacity.

"In chaos theory it is axiomatic that you can never tell where the system is headed until you've observed it over time. This is also true for organizations, and it is what makes trusting something as ethereal as a strange attractor difficult. It takes time to see if a meaning-rich organization really works. A few are already out there, bright beacons to the future. But if they have not been part of our own experience, we are back to acts of faith. As the universe keeps revealing more of these invisible allies, perhaps we will grow in the belief that systems can evolve into an orderly shape when they center around clear points of self-reference."

The model is essential for institutions to become resilient, engaged, and vibrant. The transformation will be deep, broad, and systemic. It will impact the organization as a whole and how its units interrelate rather than simply changing things in one segment of the organization. Resiliency in individuals describes the ability to prosper in the midst of the most unfortunate circumstances. Theorists and researchers of resilience alike argue that single-system approaches, to say nothing of single-faceted approaches, to promoting resilience will fail. Transformational change means getting to the heart of the institution, to its values and its people. Universities, like most organizations, spend a great deal of time focused on incremental or transactional change — change that does not take the entire organization into consideration and is narrowly focused. This transactional change usually affects the operating procedures of the institution. Unfortunately, a large part of determining if such change takes place has to do with elements that often receive little attention. These are the social environment and culture of the organization, the perceptions of the individuals who make up the institution, and the deeper communication between them. As Figure 4 shows, it is as if we deal only with the surface tip of an iceberg, ignoring the deeper issues below the waterline.

Figure 4

Without "unfreezing" the current attitudes and behaviors of people at all levels who comprise the institution and without creating such a cultural framework for change, there will be little synergy between isolated, individual change efforts on campus. This approach constitutes a journey in search of wholeness, completeness, and integration of all dimensions of work, life, and thought, which will complement the new epistemology described earlier.

I have attempted to show that a powerful movement is under way to transform education and organizations through integrative approaches that overcome fragmentation, specialization, and isolation in life, learning, and in the workplace. The movement represents a search for greater communication, meaning and wholeness. I quote again from Tarnas, who sums up the emerging ideas as follows: "More generally, whether in philosophy, religion, or science, the univocal literalism that tended to characterize the modern mind has been increasingly criticized and rejected, and in its place has arisen a greater appreciation of the multidimensional nature of reality, the many-sidedness of the human spirit, and the multivalent, symbolically mediated nature of human knowledge and experience. With that appreciation has also come a growing sense that the postmodern dissolving of old assumptions and categories could permit the emergence of entirely new prospects for conceptual and existential reintegration, with the possibility of richer interpretive vocabularies, and more profound narrative coherencies. Under the combined impact of the remarkable changes and self-revisions that have taken place in virtually every contemporary intellectual discipline, the fundamental modern schism between science and religion has been increasingly undermined. In the wake of such developments, the original project of Romanticism–the reconciliation of subject and object, human and nature, spirit and matter, conscious and unconscious, intellect and soul–has reemerged with new vigor."

This vision sets the stage for education in an Integrative Age18,19. It will combine aspects of the University of Faith and the University of Reason into a new Integrative University, preparing educated citizens for a new millennium and a Communication Civilization in a new age. The words of Lawrence Durrell in Justine from the Alexandria Quartet give a message of hope for the future:

Somewhere in the heart of experience there is an order and a coherence which we might surprise if we were attentive enough, loving enough, or patient enough. Will there be time?

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank my colleagues Susan Awbrey and Vachel Miller for contributing to many ideas in this paper. I also acknowledge many discussions with Mark Kriger and Peter Senge.

Endnotes

  1. See Nicholas Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods of Science (Basil Blackwell, London, 1984).
  2. See David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy (State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1992).
  3. R. Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Ballantyne Books, 1991).
  4. Steven Muller, Universities in the 21st Century, International Political Currents–Volume 2, Berghahn Books, 1996, pg. 15.
  5. Gregory Heath, The University as a Communicative Institution (EAIR Forum, University of Warwick, England, 1997). See also The Self and Communicative Theory (Awbrey Series in Philosophy), Ashgate Publishing Company, October 2000.
  6. Kenneth Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (Random House, 1998).
  7. See David Bohm, On Creativity, ed. Lee Nichal (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1998); David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980); Kevin J. Sharpe, David Bohm’s World: New Physics and New Religion (Bucknell University Press, London and Toronto and Associated University Presses, 1993).
  8. See Karl Pribram, Consciousness and the Brain, ed. Gordon Globus. (New York: Plenum Press, 1976); and Perceiving, Acting and Knowing, ed. R. E. Shaw and J. Bransford. (Wiley, 1977).
  9. David Peat, Synchronicity (Bantam Books, 1988).
  10. Charles Sanders Peirce, From Pragmatism and Pragmaticism, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1981.
  11. John Seely Brown, Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn, Change Magazine, March/April 2000, pg. 11.
  12. Daniel Golman, Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 1995.
  13. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.
  14. Howard Gardner, The Disciplined Mind, Simon and Schuster, 1999.
  15. Robert B. Barr and John Tagg, From Teaching to Learning–A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education, Change Magazine, November/December 1995.
  16. Nicholas Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods of Science, (London: Basil Blackwell, 1984).
  17. Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe (Berrett-Koehler, 1994).
  18. David K. Scott and Susan M. Awbrey, Transforming the University (Proceedings of the Conference on Women in Science and Engineering, Bloomington, Indiana: Committee on Institutional Cooperation, 1993).
  19. Sohail Inayatallah and Jennifer Gidley, The University in Transformation: Global Perspectives on the Futures of the University, Bergin and Garvey, 2000.

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