Transcending disciplinary boundaries toward a cosmic perspective
by Remedios Abijan-Nalundasan
I was greatly impressed by how Dr Dejillas aptly and neatly capsulized some contemporary disciplines to show the birthing of a new paradigm for viewing reality. Indeed, the new paradigm is in itself an emerging discipline, so to speak – Applied Cosmic Anthropology (ACA). It left me thinking however, why I missed this very significant orientation lecture or introduction to this degree program ACA in my first year courses.
From that presentation of Dr Dejillas, I can only marvel at how knowledge had been evidently fragmented in the many disciplines that have evolved since the time the fund of knowledge had been handed to us as our cultural heritage. As a student of culture, I have known that this fund of knowledge had been accumulated while societies and cultures evolved. It was handed down from one generation to another through apprenticeship and various forms and types of education – informal, non-formal and formal in order for us to pursue the continuity of our existence. Howard Gardner (2000) in his book The Disciplined Mind, elaborated the passing of this fund of knowledge or cultural heritage to specifically mean as: “transmission of values, modeling of roles, mastery of notations and disciplines.”
But how in the world did this fragmentation of thinking and knowing come about when digging from indigenous cultures we are told that ancient societies had a holistic knowledge of the universe where they operated. In fact even to this day indigenous peoples hold a cosmic perspective, never separating healing (medicine) from belief systems (religious traditions) and the knowledge of the stars and natural phenomena (physical sciences) that keep them grounded to the rhythm of the earth and the balance of nature (ecology), otherwise they say disaster or illness would occur due to imbalance of energy and lack of diversity. Why not? Biology teaches us that diversity of life forms helps in regenerating life or more life forms.
A quick revisit on the history of thought brings us to the mind of Rene Descartes, known as the father of modern theory of knowledge, on which western epistemology was shaped. Accordingly, Rene Descartes had a vision and a series of three dreams on November 10, 1619. From his dream emerged his philosophical thought: ‘Mathematical reasoning is the foundation for scientific understanding, adjusting everything to the level of reason and separating the intellect from intuition.’ (Reandon, 2000). Anyway, from then on the concept of duality, e.g. separating the mind from the heart became a standard way of knowing. From then on more reductionism occurred with our stock of knowledge being compartmentalized into bodies of disciplines. These disciplines constitute the fund of knowledge from which modern schools derive their teachings. The texts are neatly stored in information banks such as textbooks, articles, studies and today in the powerful chips of the computer - but they are not frozen. These bodies of knowledge continue to grow because each discipline has evolved a life of its own in the arena called scholarship.
Stepping back, I surmise that probably Descartes was a ‘mystic’ of some sort. But how ironic is it that his ‘dream’ would translate to his advocacy for rational thinking? From his intuitive gift Descartes would soon formulate a philosophy that rational science, including the method of deductive reasoning, reductionism, and the elegance of the proposition, “I think, therefore I am,” would guide our pursuit for knowledge and truth. How ironic for him to separate reason from faith when he was drawing his view from a space called ‘intuition’ bounded by faith without reason? And I throw my thinking to the wind of wisdom that lurks in the bounded space where reason and faith meets without disagreement. Honestly, while Descartes must have been well loved in his time, after five centuries we are discovering new ways of knowing that will solve today’s challenges. We are feeling the limitations of rational thinking and mathematical propositions to explain natural phenomena. Descartes’ ghost parading in the broad daylight telling us to reason precisely with mathematical engagement to support our new new-found knowledge is on the verge of being challenged.
Today we begin to question the great divides – the boundaries that fence the particular domains of knowing. We begin to question the essence of dualities. In higher education research we begin to question the merits of ‘objective’ vs. ‘subjective’ as a way of knowing the truth; reductivism and fragmentation in education vs. holistic learning. Reductionism is a way of teaching that emphasizes a lot of slicing, more of quantitative rather than qualitative thinking. We begin to question our teaching of too much analysis without synthesis; and our way of knowing – with too much separation of parts to understand the meaning – only to be told that we can never understand the meaning of the ‘parts’ of the whole without understanding each ‘part’ as involved in the whole. Fritjop Capra (2000, transcript of interview) says it well:
“ . . . the properties of the smallest pieces depend on the properties of the whole. So in other words, whereas before we believed that the dynamics of the whole can be explained in principle -- by breaking it down, and from the properties of the parts, now we see that the properties of the parts can only be defined in terms of the dynamics of the whole. It is a complete reversal.”
The emerging view of education for wholeness and towards a holistic paradigm is not something very new. We are just recovering and reviving a template for education that had been held by indigenous people in the old world long before we knew our western and modern science. People then knew by heart their interconnections with the earth and they sustained their relationships by respecting nature and all its creatures (Cajete, 1999; Mellor, 1992; Sheldrake, 1991). However, when modern science used the machine as a metaphor for education we ceased to educate for wholeness, instead fragmented and reductivism became the bedrock of our education.
With the emergence of a new paradigm for perceiving reality, in this case – applied cosmic anthropology we are made aware of the vastness of the cosmos and more so of our cosmic origin. This is a new awakening to who we are in relation to the whole universe. We are told to transcend the boundaries of our humanity for us to understand our capacities, our gifts, and what we can do both consciously and unconsciously. For me this is an exciting trip to the great unknown, only if we let open ourselves to the immensity of the cosmos and its possibilities. This is what I now call collapsing the boundaries that once imprisoned us – transcending the fences of disciplines. More than interdisciplinary learning, I hope to bring down the barriers. More than social scientist, I envision traveling within the peripheries of the cosmologist’s domain. Great dream, indeed. But it is only when you allow the balloon to soar up high that it will burst to its limits and find its revered space in the cosmos.
the search for a life of integrity in a globalized world