The Double-Edged Sword
The idea of founding an international association for exploring the major challenges facing humanity in a nongovernmental context grew out of many interactions that took place among leading scientists and intellectuals in the years following World War II. It assumed concrete shape at the First International Conference on Science and Human Welfare in Washington, D. C. in 1956. The main subject of the conference was the future of humankind. Its first and foremost aim was to chart a peaceful course for global social progress, toward a “future in which all mankind will be able to enjoy the immense achievements of the human brain.” Its strategy was to create a permanent transnational forum in which this objective could be pursued on a non-political, impartial, scientific and highly ethical basis.7 The decision they took was to establish a global Academy of Art and Science, “an institution of the highest scientific authority held in the highest esteem by all peoples as a strictly objective advisory body for countries and peoples, and gradually growing into an influential position in all questions decisive for the future of mankind.”8 The conference led directly to the formal establishment of WAAS on December 24, 1960 with the call “Non-Scientists and Scientists alike! Let us all help to make this forum a true Agency for Human Welfare.”
While the global scope encompassed by the World Academy’s mission is shared today by many organizations, at the time of its founding it marked a moment in which history ceased to be the history of single peoples, states or groups and humanity became an indivisible whole.10 The divisions wrought by political frontiers were rapidly vanishing even as the number of nation states multiplied nearly three-fold within a few decades. The UN system was already 15 years old at the time, but it remained as it still remains today, an organization directed by the will of independent nation states, more than by the aspirations of humanity as a whole.
Integration of Knowledge
By the late 1960s, the Academy had already extended the scope of its work from peace, disarmament, population and food to even more challenging and more complex problems concerning the environment. WAAS conducted a five-day joint conference with the American Geographical Society which led to the publication of Environment and Society in Transition in 1970.16 The topics included meteorology, population, fertility, family, food, water, energy, law, policy science, economics, waste management, health, education, electronic technology, and public order. The integration of environmental issues with these other dimensions has been a cardinal theme of the Academy’s work since then, including three projects with the UN discussed later in this paper.
The quest for transdisciplinary knowledge led subsequently to the exploration of more complex theories of society, such as the seminal work by the eminent social theorist Harold Lasswell, WAAS President during the 1970s, whose theory and model of complex social processes integrated political, legal, organizational, social, cultural, psychological perspectives encompassing the role of individuals, institutions, communication and most especially values.19 On parallel lines this led WAAS to a study of paradigmatic change in a book of essays entitled New Paradigms: The World 300 Years After Newton on developments in Physics, Ecology, Economy and Art. Including among the authors was WAAS Fellow Ilya Prigogine, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems, and irreversibility.20 This thread continued in the 1990s when Harlan Cleveland organized a series of conferences on the need for an integrated theory of social development at Vancouver (1998), Washington and Chennai (1999) leading to publication of a monograph on human choice.21 The work was also carried forward in a series of articles published in Cadmus and Eruditio. 22,23 6 R E T R O S P E C T I V E A N D R E F L E C T I O N S S S More recently, systems thinking has also been central to the work of other Fellows on the sciences of networks and complexity, as well as on the emerging discipline of anticipatory systems.
Science and Human Values
During the period in which WAAS was founded, the globalization of values was proceeding side by side with that of knowledge. The intentional lip-service paid to human rights in the UN Charter was partially compensated by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – a document that affirmed the highest ideas of individual freedom and equality, but fell far short of buttressing them with the force of law and mechanisms of enforcement. Subsequent decades gradually translated high ideals into political intention and social reality, until the rights affirmed in the UDHR eventually became the foundational principles and values for formation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. In Transforming our Futures, Ivo Slaus describes the SDGs as a conscious action plan for each one of us and for humankind as a whole and achieving them is necessary and urgent.29
The concern for human rights, welfare and wellbeing has always been a central motivation of the Academy’s work, but never so central that it does not require continuous reminders. This was the rationale for an international conference organized at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in 2013 and for the high level symposium co-organized by WAAS, CERN and UN at Geneva in 2015 on Science, Technology, Innovation & Social Responsibility, which included leaders of five UN agencies.
In 2008, the WAAS Board of Trustees established a Strategic Planning Committee to prepare a strategic plan for the future of the Academy.33 And among the many issues the planning committee was asked to address, was the development of a program framework to characterize the type of work the Academy would undertake. In-depth reflection on forty years of its earlier work and present occupations led to the formulation of a multidimensional conception of reliable knowledge which has guided its subsequent work over the past decade. The committee’s findings were presented and endorsed by the Board in May 2009 and then adopted at the New Delhi General Assembly in November 2011.
The defining characteristic of this conception of reliable knowledge is based on a 1961 mission document by the founders placing emphasis on the “policy implications and social consequence of knowledge”. WAAS was not an academy founded for specialized knowledge in specific fields, nor for the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake, but rather to study the impact of knowledge on policy and society, which ultimately means with reference and relevance to human beings and their life on earth.
WAAS was not an academy founded for specialized knowledge in specific fields, nor for the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake, but rather to study the impact of knowledge on policy and society, which ultimately means with reference and relevance to human beings and their life on earth. In other words, it must be human-centered and seek to meet all the criteria required for knowledge to be reliably relevant, applicable and effective to the lives of people.
From the outset, the founders had intended the Academy to provide counsel and assistance to the agencies of the UN system. This was made possible by the number of WAAS Fellows among the founders of UN agencies and those subsequently elected with extensive experience in international diplomacy, such as the founding heads of FAO, UNESCO and WHO, present and former heads of state and ministers, ambassadors, other senior officials in government and international organizations with which WAAS has collaborated. The list of past and present distinguished political leaders and diplomats elected to the Academy is far too long to replicate here, but its practical importance has been immense.
Over the decades its work has included many projects and meetings directly or indirectly related to global governance, including a series of workshops in USA during the period 1992-95 on Implications of Globalization, Global Surprise: Reframing Governance and Citizenship, Governance of Diversity, Cultural Identity and the Requirements of Civilization, and Global Governance in a Turbulent World. This led in turn to the focus on nuclear abolition, peace and security during the period 2005-10. And subsequently to three projects in direct collaboration with the UN, beginning with the New Paradigm Project in 2013. The formulation of a comprehensive and integrated conception of global society has been facilitated by a comprehensive and inclusive program framework that takes into account the complex linkages and interdependence between all aspects and dimensions of human existence. The quest for integrated, transdisciplinary social theory became the basis for the Academy’s project and major conference on “Opportunities and Challenges for the 21st Century: Search For New Paradigm” in collaboration with the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) in 2013, followed by conferences in 2014-15 in collaboration with Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts (Podgorica), National University of Kazakhstan (Almaty) Nizami Ganjavi International Center (Baku), Bohdan Hawrylyshyn Foundation (Kiev) and CERN (Geneva). More recently it formed the basis for collaboration between WAAS and Club of Rome on what the latter has termed the Emerging New Civilization Initiative.
Today WAAS continues to pursue this aim. Building on the momentum of the new paradigm project, in late 2019 WAAS entered into a second partnership with UNOG for a project titled Global Leadership in the 21st Century (GL-21) which was made possible by the active contributions of three current WAAS Fellows with distinguished careers in the UN system.57 The second project continues its focus on the study of the complex social challenges generated by the rapid evolution of world forces. But now the emphasis is on applying an integrated knowledge framework to develop catalytic strategies to fill the apparent global leadership gap and overcome the inertia and resistance preventing the global community from effectively addressing these challenges.58,59 This project involved the constitution of 15 working groups, two major conferences in collaboration with UNOG, and nearly twenty workshops, involving in all more than 350 experts and 70 partner organizations and including 11 collaborating UN agencies.60 Recommendations emerging from the GL-21 project include creation of a model for multistakeholder, multidisciplinary, integrated research-policyimplementation institutions.
Role of the Individual and the Collective in Social Processes
In its quest for quantitative scientific validity, in recent decades the social sciences have largely focused on phenomena that lend themselves to statistical analysis. One consequence is to minimize the role played by individuality and individual uniqueness in social processes and social evolution. The Academy’s concept of reliable knowledge leads instead to the recognition that the individual represents the conscious peak of the social collective and plays an indispensable role as the explorer, adventurer, inventor, entrepreneur, social catalyst, political leader, independent and original thinker, idealist and visionary.
The idea of founding a World University was not new to WAAS. The need for changes in education had been a recurring theme of discussion since the inception of the Academy.64 Indeed, the Academy’s founders had described their vision of WAAS as an “informal world university” and actually operated a prototype model of it in the 1960s and 70s through a distributed system of research centers headed by WAAS Fellows. In early 2014 WAAS revived the idea and founded the World University Consortium (WUC) in a meeting at the Library of Alexandria in partnership with nine other charter members, including the Library, Foundation for a Culture of Peace (Spain), Green Cross International and others. WUC elected as its first president, Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, Rector of UN University (1987-97) and WAAS President (2013-19). From its inception, WUC has followed a multi-pronged strategy. The first focuses on development of new curriculum aligned to better meet the needs of the 21st century. It has involved the development of a syllabus for an integrated series of transdisciplinary Master’s level courses based on fresh perspectives and insights generated by WAAS on a range of different topics. The topics vary widely but are all founded on common principles. Between 2014 and 2019, fifteen curriculum development meetings were conducted and videotaped at the InterUniversity Centre, Dubrovnik on topics such as the future of democracy, social power, individual accomplishment, mind-thinking-creativity, future education, theory of money, human-centered economics, transdisciplinary science of society and global leadership. A detailed outline for a course on history of mind, thinking and creativity was also prepared. The next step contemplated is to develop the prototype for the first full master’s program on Global Leadership in the 21st Century, drawing on the research conducted during the GL-21 project with UNOG and to introduce it through partnerships with universities around the world.
Why Art & Science?
WAAS’ founders had great faith in science. But they also realized that science alone is not enough to ensure human welfare. The knowledge required is not limited to that which can be defined by equations and quantified in mathematical formulas. It is a knowledge that encompasses the whole “art of living”. It is not merely the objective knowledge obtained by analysis of the hard facts generated by observation of the external world. It depends also and perhaps more so on the subjective knowledge derived from the highest universal values, irradiated “by hope and belief”. It encompasses not just material results but social consequences and policy implications. It requires not only reason but also “imagination”, for the testimony of great scientists confirms that the highest knowledge has been generated by experiences of insight and intuition that transcend the linear logic of rational mental processes.70,71 As Bronowski, a mathematician, saw it, “Truth in science is not different than truth in the arts. The facts of the heart, the bases of personality, are simply more difficult to communicate.”72 The inclusion of Art in the title of the Academy was not merely an attempt to broaden the range of disciplines of its members, but to foster a marriage of the objective and subjective dimensions of knowledge essential for cracking the ‘genetic code’ of consciousness and social evolution.73 It reflects the fact that real knowledge is not arrived at independently from universal values. It is based on the realization that all human knowledge—that of the scientist as well as that of the artist and the theologian—is a social construction of reality and its efficacy depends on the values on which it is based and which it seeks to realize by application of what is known.74
Network of Networks
From its inception the Academy has been a transnational network of individuals bound together by shared understanding, vision, and values committed to address global social challenges related to the social consequences and policy implications of knowledge. WAAS has never been a conventional organization with a fixed headquarters, paid staff or endowments. WAAS has grown both in number, activities and reach through the decades based on an alternative organizational model.
Youth Leadership Network
WAAS’ newest partner is the Youth Leadership Network established with WAAS’ active encouragement by a small group of aspiring youth with the aim of becoming a network of networks in its own right and at the same time a conduit connecting WAAS’ network of networks of older generations and organizations with the energy, dynamism and creativity of the world’s first fully networked generation. Both WAAS and YLN concur that what the world needs today is not more independent organizations but more exchange, connectivity and relationship between organizations spreading out into a vast web or fabric of increasingly close and harmonious relationships in constant motion and evolution joining together, exchanging their energies and thus multiplying their momentum to become an increasingly unified and harmonious forward movement of global society.