Information Study for the Benefit of Humanity:
Learning from the Past and Building the New Normal
Marcin J. Schroeder
The 2021 IS4SI Summit is coming in the shadow of the global crisis of new coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of millions of people have been already infected, some of them suffered but managed to recover but more than a million perished. Millions lost their sources of income, jobs, businesses. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek discernment, judgement, which describes well our present experience. There are now many examples of an authentic heroism manifested by people who risk their health or lives bringing the medical care to those infected with the virus and there are many examples of unscrupulous exploitation of human suffering for political or economic gains.
Recently, there is hope that new vaccines will soon bring the spread of the virus under control and that life will return to normal. In this desire to return to normal and putting the dramatic experience behind us there is a hidden danger of forgetting about what we can learn from it. Hegel in the Introduction to his Philosophy of History pessimistically claimed “What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Now, almost two centuries later this assessment of the short span of memory among politicians and in the general public is equally accurate, but this should not be an excuse for the academic community to forget and not to learn from our experience. Going back to the “old normal” would have been a defeat of the reason and betrayal of those who suffered and those who sacrificed themselves in the fight with disease.
It is important not only not to forget and to learn, but what to learn. If the lesson we were given was only about the lack of responsibility of political and economic leaders, their lack of imagination, about the deficiency of their morals, or about frequently irrational reactions of the general public, then the pain brought by the pandemic would have been in vain. We have multiple examples of those in the past centuries or even millennia. Only someone really naïve can expect that next time will be different. Searching someone to blame for errors cannot replace searching for sources of errors. We can see that a lot of damage and suffering was a result of ignorance fueled by anti-scientific and anti-intellectual attitudes frequent both among political and economic leaders and within broad masses of human population. It would be counterproductive to be satisfied with this diagnosis, in particular in the latter case. Are we, members of the academic community without blame? It is our responsibility to promote knowledge and understanding of the world through education. Can we be satisfied with what we offer our societies? Do we have a comprehensive, consistent scientific, or more generally intellectual view of reality which we could all understand and share among ourselves and which we can present to the global society?
It does not mean that we have to seek consensus regarding the answers to specific research questions. Progress in science and philosophy always depended on competing ideas, but the productive competition requires common foundations, common rules and mutual understanding.
So, we can disagree about answers, but we have to understand each other’s questions. It is very important that we can present this common foundation to general public, which does not have any reason to trust in our advice when confronted with the lack of agreement and mutual understanding among scientists and intellectuals in stark contrast to the extreme self-confidence of those who unite in the fight for political and economic power.
There is a desperate need for building the common foundation for science, philosophy, humanities, for the construction of a comprehensive view of reality integrating the results of diverse methods of inquiry to restore the position of knowledge and reason as guides for global society. IS4SI has special role to play in this task. The concept of information, as probably no other concept in modern thought, is not only present and fundamental in virtually all academic and technological disciplines, but it is familiar (admittedly without very deep understanding) to the majority of human population. Its universality qualifies it as the best tool to build authentic transdisciplinary vision of reality and at the same time its familiarity for the general public makes it good tool for the propagation of this vision. The 2021 Summit will consist of several component conferences grouping experts in specific forms of inquiry of information, but it will include plenary activities bringing together all participants. These conferences will be an opportunity to present to fellow researchers the most recent developments within their foci of expertise and the plenary events of the Summit will have the role of a forum for the exchange of views coming from multiple perspectives for seeking mutual understanding and cooperation.
For more information about IS4SI 2021 Summit, use the following link: IS4SI 2021