Edgar Morin’s Theory Of Complex Thinking

The theory of the French author delves into the confines of reflective and moral thought.

Edgar Morin's Theory of Complex Thought

Each person has their own vision of the events, in addition to being influenced and, why not say it, indoctrinated by the principles in which, unconsciously, their educational center, their social group or family have immersed them.

Morality is something that varies greatly depending on where you were born, but the truth is that, with the development of society as we know it today, it seems that local morality is no longer something so solid and valid like yesteryear.

Within Edgar Morin’s philosophy, the idea of ​​opting for a more holistic view of events is proposed, both in terms of scientific knowledge and ethic-moral perception, and understanding that more than differentiated cultures, we are part of a huge planetary culture.

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Within his theory of complex thought, he tries to expose how this vision should be promoted, and this article is focused on trying to explain his proposal in greater detail.

Complex Thought Theory: What is it?

The notion of complex thinking was coined by the French philosopher and sociologist of Sephardic origin Edgar Morin, born Edgar Nahum.

This idea refers to the ability to connect different dimensions of reality, which has been characterized by acquiring more and more components, as humanity has progressed and evolved. Reality could be compared to a fabric, made up of multiple fabrics and, therefore, something really complex.

The more complex it is, the more details about the society you live in have to be taken into account. The person should not think reducing what he is experiencing, nor should he opt for a position based on one or a few facts. Thus, due to the characteristics of today’s society, it is necessary for the person, in order to have a well-founded opinion, to carefully reflect on the information they receive. This reflective capacity is what Morin called complex thinking.

Complex thinking is, in essence, a strategy that has a globalizing intention, that is, it tries to cover all the phenomena of which it is present, but taking into account their particularities as different events that they are. This concept is totally contrary to simplifying thinking, which unifies all knowledge to a single vision, nullifying the possible diversity that exists and directing the person, whether student or teacher himself, to a ‘blind intelligence’.

The term complexity, within Edgar Morin’s thought, can be represented as a kind of great network, whose thin threads intertwine and relate its components. The threads are events, actions, interactions, feedbacks, determinations, hazards that make up the world.

Complex thinking addresses issues, both profound and banal, such as concern about where the human species is going, the social problems that arise every decade and how these can be solved with adequate education.

Complex thinking is not innate. It must be educated in it and its application strengthened. The philosopher specialized in pedagogy Matthew Lipman believed that it was extremely necessary to instill this type of thinking in children already at an early age. Complex thinking has the remarkable characteristic of not accepting a fact as something blunt and undoubtedly credible, but rather of promoting the search for other options, exploring and seeing to what extent what is perceived is true or not.

The seven basic knowledge for the education of the future

Edgar Morin believes that education should be aimed at promoting reflection in its students. Students should not accept the facts as undoubtedly true, but should seek, as if they were genuinely using the scientific method, possible alternative explanations to the knowledge learned.

Thus, in 1999, Morin proposed the seven basic knowledge or principles for the education of the future, which were published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. According to this philosopher, every society, regardless of its culture, should try to promote this knowledge in its population.

1. Cure the blindness of knowledge

All knowledge carries with it a risk of error, which can be higher or lower. As has always happened with science, there are data that in a historical moment are taken as true and, after being investigated again, they are refuted.

Knowledge is something that evolves and, therefore, can be very relative and fragile. That is why students should be taught that what they are learning is something that can accept changes over time, and that they are not absolute truths.

Thus, you must be critical of your own knowledge.

2. Guarantee relevant knowledge

This principle, especially important in the era of new technologies, refers to the importance of knowing how to carefully select the bombardment of data and information that we receive.

The truthful information must be detected, with expert opinion behind it. It is also important to understand what real problems are and what type of information is adequate to be able to solve them.

General intelligence is based on the knowledge that is accepted by the population, and also by the criticism that is made.

3. Teach the human condition

The human species is divided into ethnic groups, religions, languages, countries, nations … That is why it is very important to understand that, although there are differences, all people are part of the same humanity.

You must know how to appreciate cultural diversity and not try to homogenize humanity, but also understand that everyone has the same rights and obligations.

People must be contextualized according to the situation in which they live, not as something undoubtedly inseparable from them.

4. Teach earthly identity

Related to the previous point, it must be understood that the thousands of years of human history have witnessed how what at first should have been the same ethnic group, a pristine culture, was expanding and fragmenting into many others.

However, thanks to the emergence of technology, whether through intercontinental transport or through computer networks, it is possible to establish contact very easily with people from cultures radically different from one’s own.

It is necessary to understand that the development of humanity should be promoted not only in economic terms, but also, and thanks to the appearance of the aforementioned technologies, promote intellectual, affective and moral development worldwide.

National, regional and local identities are fine, but the identity that unites all people, as citizens of the Earth and therefore members of an earthly megaculture, has always been largely neglected.

5. Face uncertainties

Uncertainty, in itself, does not have to be a good thing or a bad thing. Students must be taught that history will always face a situation of uncertainty, in which the next phase may involve a breakthrough or, conversely, a real catastrophe.

History, as has happened to biological evolution, is not something line. You move forward using detours and shortcuts, which can make great progress one moment and another seem like you’re back to where you started.

Chance and the lack of control of the entire system is undoubtedly something typical of the human condition.

This, in turn, is applicable to knowledge, which can also be uncertain. It may be that what was discovered is not really as true as it was believed when a piece of information appears to refute it.

6. Teach understanding

Understanding should be fostered both within the group itself (endogroup) and in relation to people from different groups, whether in cultural, linguistic, religious or any other kind of terms.

It is very important to understand that understanding and communication are not synonymous. Despite new technologies that facilitate contact between very different people, this does not mean that the ethical codes present in each culture have been surpassed, or that those of the other ethnic group are understood.

One’s moral values ​​can be an obstacle when it comes to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The great enemies of understanding, according to Edgar Morin, are selfishness, ethnocentrism and sociocentrism.

Teaching understanding means teaching not to reduce the human being to one or more of his qualities, since, really, these are multiple and complex.

7. The ethics of the human race

An ethic should be promoted not only in individual terms, that is, that each person has a moral respectful towards others, but also the idea that the group to which they belong behaves morally when establishing contact should be promoted with others.

In addition, the creation and teaching of an ethics valid for all humankind should be promoted, something like the equivalence of human rights but in terms of moral obligations.

It is understood, based on Morin’s vision, that the maximum exponent of this principle is to make democracy something common in all countries of the world.

This democracy should not be synonymous with the dictatorship of the majority, but should constitute a form of government in which, although some will have a greater voice, the multiple opinions of its citizens are respected and listened to.

Bibliographic references:

  • Morin, E. (1992). From the concept of system to the paradigm of complexity. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems. 15 (4): 371–385
  • Szekely, E .; Mason, M. (2018). Complexity theory, the capability approach, and the sustainability of development initiatives in education. Journal of Education Policy.

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