"The expepeditionary ship Space Beagle had been sent to find out what exists in the vast stretches of the universe not yet penetrated by man. Its crew, eminent scientists from every field of human knowledge, had been specially trained and equipped to overcome any danger they might encounter. But their greatest peril was aboard ship -- where advanced technical knowledge, in the hands of ruthless men, could become an irresistible force for destruction... Sole representative of the new Science of Nexialism aboard the spaceship Beagle, Elliott Grosvenor is responsible for developing new methods of handling interglactic problems... And for Elliot Grosvenor, there will be no greater test than to battle the monster of creation that lives at his very side..."
The term "nexialism" was coined in 1950 by A.E. Van Vogt in his science fiction novel, "The Voyage of the Space Beagle." In that book, Van Vogt created a protagonist, Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, who was the first graduate of "the Nexial Foundation." Trained in integrated science and thought, Grosvenor was able to see the connection between many aspects of a problem that other specialists could not see because of their narrow training. In this Star Trek like adventure, Grosvenor provides indispensible skills to save the ship and the future of humanity. Perhaps truer to life, the book also explores the interpersonal dimensions of scientific rivalry, fear, and skepticism that results.
Van Vogt's vision of a new "science-of-all-sciences" undoubtedly stemmed from his fascination with the work of Alfred Korzybski in "general semantics," which has been carried on since 1938 by the Institute of General Semantics.
Van Vogt referred to "The General Semantics Institute" in his popular "Null-A" ("non-Aristotelian") science fiction books. There was a strong relationship in Van Vogt's mind between general semantics and its offspring, "nexialism." Nexialism is thinking and acting holistically and practically; that is, using both general semantics and logical structures to solve problems and gain understanding. According to Van Vogt: "Nexialism is the science of joining in an orderly fashion the knowledge of one field of learning with that of other fields. It provides techniques for speeding up the processes of absorbing knowledge and of using effectively what has been learned." In our interpretation at the Nexial Institute, this goes beyond traditional 20th Century science, to integrate science and other modes of understanding. It is surprising that such a simple concept is so little practised today, nor are there widely recognized methods for its development. The Nexial Institute begins a collaborative investigation into integral views of nature, and practices of integrated understanding. Perhaps it will someday realize Van Vogt's vision of a Foundation for the education of a new breed of scientists -- the first true "nexialists."
The work of the Nexial Institute is strongly rooted in systems science and philosophy, which is generally recognized to have been conceived by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy in the 1940's, and described in his book "General System Theory" (Von Bertalanffy, 1968). In 1954 Von Bertalanffy founded the "Society for General System Research," which is today called the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). Systems science is the part of science that explores whole, natural systems and their internal relationships, including relationships with their own origin and context. The foundation of the Nexial Institute rests on system science, and particularly the system definitions proposed by Robert Rosen, who was one of the later architects of systems science and once President of the ISSS. Rosen's life's work, which ended in 1999, may well qualify him as the "Einstein" of biological science, in that he clearly identified the boundary between simple and complex, beyond which lie natural and living systems; and he provided a rigid mathematical framework for comprehending complex and living systems. He carefully and methodically exposed the exclusion of life from our modern scientific philosophy, which is the mechanical view; and he mapped a path toward re-integration by developing "relational biology" from the ideas of Alexander Rashevski (Rosen, 1999). Rosen's theories provide a strong rational and mathematical foundation for an integrated scientific view of life. The ISSS continues the work of Von Bertalanffy and many others who created a branch of science capable of considering anticipatory and participatory systems. The systems sciences is thus the natural home for the integration we seek.
Aristotelian or non-Aristotelian?
General semantics identifies itself as being "non-Aristotelian" in that it seeks to go beyond the theory of axioms and thus the roots of Western scientific logic. However, Aristotle also spoke of four natural causes: material, efficient, formal and final. Western science, which claims to be "Aristotelian" has focused primarily on Aristotle's material cause, has given little consideration to efficient and formal cause, and has excluded his final cause altogether. There is increasing consideration of efficient and formal cause in certain fields of science, such as 2nd-order cybernetics and relational biology, but it is not widespread. Robert Rosen introduced a rigorous theory in which final cause can be considered without the epistemological difficulties of past vitalistic notions; however Rosen's view is very poorly understood and not widely used. Most of science has thus, until very recently, largely ignored systems that are closed to their own causation (self-generating), design (self-defining) and especially purpose (self-determining). Such non-mechanistic systems may not be said to be Aristotelian in the traditional sense. Yet we might also say that Aristotle's four causes transcend the limitations on which modern "Aristotelian" science is based. Aristotle himself gave strong deference to Platonic "first principles" and Socratic metaphysics, part of which his view of causes was intended to capture. This leads to a view of reality that is clearly larger than the logical structures of mechanistic science which are thus only part of what Aristotle believed. Aristotle described metaphysics as "... the most general or abstract features of reality and the principles that have universal validity. ... metaphysics studies whatever must be true of all existent things just insofar as they exist, [and] it studies the general conditions which any existing thing must satisfy (O'Connor and Robertson, 1999). Hence we can only conclude that poor Aristotle has been saddled with a false identity, and Aristotle's complete views must be considered "non-Aristotelian." Nevertheless, such are the terms we have adopted over the years.
We each have a philosophical worldview at the root of our thoughts, and all aspects of human life are affected by it. A worldview is the lens through which we view reality. Humanity is currently polarized by two general world views; the archtypically eastern view of reality as a unified flow of creative happenings; and the archtypically western view of reality as separate things in energetic motion. The Nexial Institute seeks integration across this dichotomy to achieve a fuller understanding of nature and our place in it.
Nexial's investigations into life deal with the deepest questions about the origin of life and its intrinsic nature. Merely asking this question is a significant step in science, because it implies that life itself is something and thus something that can have causal effects of its own. Most modern treatments of the definition of life presume that it is essentially non-existent, except as a particular pattern of behaviors or organization of non-living parts. The traditional definition therefore defines what life does instead of what it is. "Objective" science in general attempts to construct a view of reality from parts to wholes, and never from wholes to parts. We thus have a worldview that life isn't something of itself. But that leaves the poets, lovers, artists, musicians, spiritualists, humanists, and just common people out of the picture, because outside of intellectual concepts, most of us are more concerned with living than with an objective view of life. If the definition of life is based on behavior alone, then what is it we experience as living? What is it we feel as love? WILL therefore includes both the observation of life and the experience of life in an attempt to understand it and to represent it, or its effects, better in science. The effort is both scientific and experiential; seeking a common metaphysical view for both. These investigations were a major part of the development of the Nexial Institute. Many links to this work are on the Nexial.org web site. While Nexial will hopefully pursue many related approaches and relevant research topics, these initial studies have outlined a direction of study that we hope will be developed further by others following similar paths.
While science explores what can be "known" from study of one's external reality, "understanding" is harder to define, involving the part of human experience that is both cognitive and experiential. Exploration of that inner reality -- the essence of being -- also requires careful methods and painstaking work, but of a very different kind. There are many organizations centered on the goal of inner awareness and methods for discovering it, and there are organizations that attempt to represent the field (for example, The Institute of Noetic Science). The Nexial Institute is similarly involved in understanding the principles of mind and noetics from experiential perspectives. In a complete view of reality, exploration of both internal experiential reality, and external observational reality must be connected. This is a basic principle on which the Institute is founded.
The Nexial Institute does not promote any particular religious belief or practise. The principles and teachings of modern contemplative and medatative practices, however, are seen as methods for discovering deep philosophical and psychological truths that may also be represented in the ancient spiritual writings going back to the Vedas and Upanishads. There is an emerging contemporary psychology that attempts to integrate western Christian views with the "perennial philosophy" discussed, for example, by Alan Watts, Peter Russel, Kenneth Wilber, Depak Chopra, and modern "gurus" such as Sai Baba, Krishnamurti, Ram Das, and many others. Nexial recognizes these veiws and practices as representing a foundational thought system with considerable relevance to questions of life, consciousness, mind, and society. Many other related practices and teachings are also of interest.
The Nexial Institute publishes and discusses leading edge work from new perspectives in the systems and noetic sciences at annual meetings of the ISSS. It addresses questions such as: What does all life have in common? What fundamental principles are involved in the origin of life? Why is life different from non-life? Is life a cause or an effect? Is evolution passive or active? Is the universe alive? Do we determine our future? Is life meaningful? Although much has been said on these questions, Nexial's goal is to develop integral views that organize and establish rigorous foundations for our answers. Because society depends heavily on the answers to these questions, Nexial attempts to be socially relevant and culturally creative, relating systems philosophy and science to current issues in futureism and conflict resolution. The questions asked at Nexial Institute take us to the deepest roots of science and noetics.
The most useful answers are necessarily those that lead to a more comprehensive understanding and thereby benefit individual, social, and systemic well-being. The answers to modern day social, political, and humanistic problems will not come wholly from one perspective, but from an understanding that is informed by a combination of the primary ways of "knowing." These include scientific, practical, philosophical, spiritual, introspective, and artistic methods. Broadly, these combine observational and experiential knowledge. Nexial's philosophy of integrated understanding is central to pursuing this goal, and thus a curriculum for integrated thinking and understanding is being developed. As the name implies, the curriculum inherits the vision of a "nexus" of views and methods, or the practise of seeing a problem from a fully integrated perspective.
We would gain little through this effort if we could not apply it for the betterment of our condition. Nexial science, philosophy, and practise converge in service to mankind and the whole of nature. Service that helps to heal the person, the society, our natural surroundings and our experience, is service to both humanity and creation (however one perceives that) as an undivided whole. Through the practise of integrated understanding, or "nexialism," unique and wholistic solutions to problems can be found and applied.
O'Connor, J.J. and E. F. Robertson. 1999. The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland. http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/Mathematicians/Aristotle.html
Rosen, R. 1999. Life Itself. New York: Columbia University Press. 285p.
Schneider and Boston, 1991
Von Bertalanffy, L. 1968. General System Theory. New York: George Braziller, Inc. 295p.