Themes and research groups
While CLEA welcomes any innovative, boundary-crossing research and regularly explores new subjects, we of course have built up our most extensive expertise in topics that are close to our core mission of transdisciplinary integration. These topics, which define our main research “programs”, can be summarized as follows:
Integrating worldviews is CLEA's defining framework. Research aims at unifying results from all the sciences and humanities into an encompassing picture of human life in the cosmos: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going to? What is the meaning of life? This encompasses research in philosophy, “Big History” (history of life and the universe), cosmology, psychology of meaning and sense-making, and cultural anthropology of different worldviews.
Since our worldview is based on science, clarifying this worldview also requires clarifying the most fundamental, epistemological and ontological assumptions on which the different scientific theories and methods are based. We have in particular investigated the foundations of physics, cognitive science, systems theory and the theory of evolution. We publish two journals on these topics (see further).
The unifying principle underlying our worldview is that the universe has evolved step-by-step so as to produce ever more complex systems, from quantum fluctuations of the vacuum to elementary particles, atoms, molecules, networks of chemical reactions, primitive cells, and multicellular organisms, up to humans and socio-technological systems. These define levels of complexity that are superficially autonomous, but deeply connected by common principles. We call the emergence of a new level during evolution a “metasystem transition”.
Another mechanism that connects seemingly independent phenomena into larger wholes is “entanglement”, a non-intuitive, mathematical concept that originates in quantum physics, but which we have been applying to a growing number of other domains: quantum logic, quantum computation, quantum cognition and most recently quantum information retrieval. CLEA researchers are considered pioneers in the application of quantum structures to explain cognitive phenomena such as concepts, decision-making, and perception.
The two research programs on entanglement and evolution of complexity come together in our research on intelligence: what does it mean to be an intelligent system? How can we become more intelligent? We investigate intelligence in all its forms and facets: individual, collective, artificial, and distributed intelligence (the combination of all the former). For example, we have done research on giftedness, the (anti) Flynn effect (secular increase in IQ), the possibilities and limitations of artificial general intelligence, and the processes of thinking.
We try to answer the worldview question “where are we going to?” by extrapolating the evolution of our present information society under the impact of ever more ubiquitous, powerful and intelligent ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). Our guiding metaphor is that the Internet will increasingly play the role of a distributed intelligence for humanity, i.e. a Global Brain. Thanks to a substantial donation from the Yuri Milner Foundation to promote this research, we were able to create a “Global Brain Institute” within the framework of CLEA.
The ArtScience research group is part of the Center Leo Apostel for Transdisciplinary Studies (CLEA) at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). We aim at a synthesis of artistic and scientific methods for the creation of meaning, by producing works, performances and publications that integrate reason and intuition, subject and object, logic and imagination. In this, we continue CLEA’s long-standing project of bridging between the “two cultures”, as first expressed in the university-wide “Einstein meets Magritte” conference that CLEA organized in 1995.
The conceptual groundwork for the practices of education and pedagogy is carried out at CLEA by the Pearl Divers research group, organised jointly with Buckminster College. The group's activities aim to consolidate the philosophical underpinnings that can foster understanding of education and cognitive development in good attunement to complexity: the complexity of the world—and the complexity of the mind.
A transdisciplinary approach to wellbeing The aims of our research in CLEA are both academic and practical: the vision is to explore avenues that lead to a better world in which people live longer, happier and healthier lives, in harmony with their social and natural environment. In other words, they should increase quality of life or overall well-being for the world population. That requires a better understanding of what well-being, physically and mentally, precisely is, and which measures are likely to have the greatest impact on it.
One of the most important challenges of this century is the integration of worldviews. CLEA has dedicated to this problem for several decades (see other working groups to know more). When it comes to scientific and quantitative oriented aspects of this challenge, we confront with a number of issues. For the sake of clarity, suppose we want to study a complex-enough phenomena which needs several perspectives to be even partially understood (e.g. global warming or social inequality) such as:...
Next to the ongoing research themes, we are also involved in several research projects.