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IAU Durban Conference, August 20-25, 2000
                                    11th General Conference: Universities as Gateway to the Future
                                                                                  Plenary Panel I


Mahdi Elmandjra
Professor of International Relations, Futurist, University Mohammed V, Morocco

Introduction
Sometimes through reactions you finally discover what you had meant to say and what you did not
say. Some of you might have got a form of schizophrenia. I was rereading the text I wrote and which
was distributed in writing. I did not recognize what I had said yesterday, so I am caught up in this
dilemma. I think the key points came out and I will comment briefly. I definitely agree with Vice-
Chancellor Talgeri, about Globalization and Civilization. I have written over 1,000 pages about
Globalization in different articles. You can see them on the Net. I refused to go to Davos, for a lot of
reasons, including that. But, the distinction you make is the essential one, one in which there is
participation. Without participation you cannot have innovation. With the other one, you will just get a
carbon copy. The university is made to make Xerox go bankrupt. No photocopies.
Clarifying Distinctions
So, Juan Tobias, Academic Freedom, I very much like this distinction. This distinction between the
inner and the outer. In economics and development this has been a source of conflict. There is the
difference between an endogenous development, which starts by what takes place in yourself; by
defining your own priority and then going outside and getting all the assistance necessary. Then there
is the exogenous development, where things come from the outside and impose on you all the rest of
the system. It is an essential distinction. I would say when I attacked, what I call the academic elite of
the Third World, I was not attacking the Ministries of the Interior or the Prime Ministers. I was
attacking the professors, who accept it and accept the state of things without moving. I went to the
United States as as a university student. It was a period when Academic Freedom turned to something
operational. It was the McCarthy Era. I saw professors, students, people playing football, people in the
kitchen, everybody mobilized about this principal of Academic Freedom. If we have lost Academic
Freedom in the Third World, it is not the Ministries of the Interior. It is the academic staff, which has
been complacent. And so is the term used yesterday by the Vice-Chancellor.
The Comfort Zone
So, thank you very much for that distinction between the interior and the exterior. Let me take an
expression we use, the comfort zone. The comfort zone is a psychological phenomenon. For some
reason or other, I found myself on the top very early and at a very young age. At home, outside home,
etc. I looked at people in power. I looked at the transformation of what I call the three-year cycle. The
first year people have all the passion, they have come to a new job. They are learning. The second year
they are understanding and preparing something to give. The third year, they give. The fourth year,
they start taking. And, once they start taking, it is a drug. They will never let it go until they are kicked
out. So, that comfort zone to me, is what I have been always avoiding. Each time I was close to getting
something I would then run away. I discovered that that comfort zone is, in fact, an expression of a
deep internal insecurity. If you have the internal security for spiritual reasons, as Professor Scott said,
or for other, you are above that. You can walk into a Minister's office. If he raises his voice, you raise
it three times higher.
Learning, Re-learning and Remembering
Lidia, you said something that has been written recently by some close friends, Alvin Tofler, and
Heidi. They have written this: The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read and write.
They are those who cannot learn, learn and relearn. This function, the university has not assumed. Yet,
it is a basic one with a speed at which knowledge is developed. A university is a learning place, an
unlearning place and a re-learning place. A great Professor of mine at the London School of
Economics, Martin White, when I finished passing my exams, said: " Look, you have your PhD now,
Mahdi, can I give you two pieces of advice?" I said, "No." (I was joking). He said, "Yes, I will give
them. Forget everything you have learned here. You needed it to pass, to get your thesis. You have it,
forget it. Go develop other things that you may need out of what you have learned. But, don't go living
on it back again and twenty years later, as I wrote in my thesis on page 322, footnote 6." I said: "No."
The second I followed. He said. " Never say you are an economist. "
So, this learning and unlearning question is good. I would like also to infer from what you said as
something that strikes me is really essential. It ties together what you and what Professor Scott said. It
comes from Physics, from quantum physics, which if you want to sum them up philosophically or in
terms of the epistemology of the development of knowledge.
Constancy, Descartes and Meta-physics
I went through a degree in Biology and Chemistry, then went to the rest. This quantum revolution has
a meaning. It is leading science. According to some people, it is a sort of a very reductionist
explanation that I am giving. It is releading science to think of itself as an interpretation of the real, not
as a description of the real. The big dogmatic thing in universities and in today's classical education is
the non-revitalisation of reality, which prevents you to going and discovering the immaterial and the
spiritual. In quantum physics, doubt is very strong. The simple fact is that no longer can any professor
of science or philosophy can enter a classroom and say, " We have constancy. The speed of light is a
constant." No, it is not. Because, every three, four or five months the perfection of equipment forces us
to correct it - maybe by a 1,000 of a second. But, you have shaken the notion of what is an absolute
truth from a scientific sense observed in a laboratory. Quantum physics has brought about doubt.
I am sorry for the people who think here about Descartes. It has killed Descartes. To still want to be
Cartesian today, they say, " Look 1., 2., 3., little a., little b. and little c." A student who does not do
that is thought as not being methodical and flunks out. No, now that he has reached a degree of
complexity tha very clear desire to find your mental equivalent of the zone of comfort, he says. "
Look, I know it all. I put this, I call it a., b., c., I am logical, I am pragmatic. I have read William
James, I can explain things and there it is."
No, the quantum revolution that has come about in respect to what science means says that the role of
science is to interpret science. I mean the interpretation of the real, to interpret it, not to describe it as
the real. You cannot describe it as the real. This is where the spiritual dimension comes in.
Changes in Knowledge Society
I often think that what has happened in what you said in respect of learning. Richard Knight has
written alot about the philosophy of the Knowledge Society and Sociology. It entails a very simple
description. We have moved from a society of production, where we needed raw materials, cheap
labour in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Then, we produce a product and we sell it. With capital, we
need capital. Today, the process is different. In the Society of Knowledge, you need knowledge, the
human resources, that we are supposed to train in universities. Capital becomes almost something
secondary. You can start up companies and societies if you have an idea. People say, 'We can't find
jobs.' No, the change with the Knowledge Society was before people went to look for a job. Today, if
you are competent, it is the jobs that look for you. You sit back home. The trend? Today, anybody.
If I am in a society that is developing and somebody comes adding work in the same company, in the
same position for three years, I shall not recruit him. It means he has no sense of innovation. He has
not been competing with other things. Before they could say, "Oh, eight years in the same place?
Wonderful. Stability, by the way, this also applies to the state. In international relations, stability is
death. If you want to kill a country, make it stable. Just keep the army and it is stable. So, in the
society of knowledge, the main revolution is that there has been an immaterialiazation of the material.
This laptop here does more operations per second than the UNIVAC computer, which was bigger than
this room. This process is called the immaterialiazation of the material. You manage to do more things
with less and less material things.
If I wanted 10,000 telephone communications within a neighbourhood, I needed 50 tons of copper. I
had to go and get them in Zambia and Bolivia. Today, with 50 grams of optic fibres, I can do it. I can
build you an optical laboratory for optic fibres in 10 square meters. This is an immaterialization of the
material. The latest IBM computer can do 12 billion operations a second. And one billion is already 50
years worth of seconds! But, on the other hand, - here I join and will conclude, Sir, with what
Professor Scott had said - this immaterialization of the material has brought about with it what is now
conceivable, namely, the immaterialization of the immaterial.
I go to a British Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine, who says today that we have electronic microscopes
that can examine one millionth of a millimetre. It is not excluded that many things that we call as
immaterial, like the conscious and other things that will not be able to sustain a material
conceptualization of what they are like. It is at this intersection of this revolution, moving from society
of productions to societies of knowledge, where the immaterial is taking over. Yes, even in this global
society where they are trying to sell us the capitalism of the 19TH Century when they have given it up
themselves. Nobody speaks really of capital. Every day this company buys another one. Sometimes,
the total assets involved in the transaction are worth the GDP of ten of our countries.
New Capital
What they are really about is the real new capital. That capital you can call 'the software of
knowledge.' You can call it, I would myself prefer it, a 'spiritual capital.' If it is knowledge without the
context, you can have all the vocabulary in the world. But, if you don't have the grammar, and you
don't have contextual analysis you are brought back to a basic issue: how to use this specific word in
this particular context? And whether with this instance, you should do nothing. And,
underdevelopment is being able to work out such algebra and equations of development, because we
have incompetent people and if they were not incompetent they would not be where they are. So, the
role of the university in that sense, is finally as Knight said. Knight summing up his mutation, says, «
In a society of production what is important is the product. This was important. I made glasses. This is
important. In the society of knowledge this is not important. The process is important. How do I make
the process last? Because, with the process with which I make last, I can make eyeglasses; I can make
light bulbs, etc. » This is why what I think Lidia Brito said is very important.
Learning has three components. It has a place. The physical place historically has been important.
Bologna is important, because it was the building first. The Caraouain started as a place, as a building.
The Zituna is a building. El Achzar is a building. El Matzuria is a building and so forth. It then
transformed gradually from a building, as it was, into a sort of a content, in the educational sense.
Then it moved from the building into an institution. The institutionalization of the university has
probably taken five, six, seven, eight centuries. Today, I think, we have to think of it as a process.
Then, we find the learning process, the un-learning process, the re-learning process. At that moment,
the discussion whether it is on ten acres, whether it is in Dundee or whether it is in Johannesburg or
whether it is ---- all becomes secondary in so far as you meet all the other conditions of networking, of
processing, and of doing. So, if we can make this jump, not negating the past of the university as a
place, nor as a place where we can go, a place considered sacred and go to like we go to a church or to
a mosque.
Secondly, de-institutionalization even if still largely unrecognised - has taken years. It too has to be
respected and has to find its place and its reflection in the spiritual thinking about the university which
it is its genetic code and which you do not throw away. But, then dwell for a moment on this: unless
we think of the university as a process, it will die.

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Durban p1 mahdi elmandjra

  • 1. IAU Durban Conference, August 20-25, 2000 11th General Conference: Universities as Gateway to the Future Plenary Panel I Mahdi Elmandjra Professor of International Relations, Futurist, University Mohammed V, Morocco Introduction Sometimes through reactions you finally discover what you had meant to say and what you did not say. Some of you might have got a form of schizophrenia. I was rereading the text I wrote and which was distributed in writing. I did not recognize what I had said yesterday, so I am caught up in this dilemma. I think the key points came out and I will comment briefly. I definitely agree with Vice- Chancellor Talgeri, about Globalization and Civilization. I have written over 1,000 pages about Globalization in different articles. You can see them on the Net. I refused to go to Davos, for a lot of reasons, including that. But, the distinction you make is the essential one, one in which there is participation. Without participation you cannot have innovation. With the other one, you will just get a carbon copy. The university is made to make Xerox go bankrupt. No photocopies. Clarifying Distinctions So, Juan Tobias, Academic Freedom, I very much like this distinction. This distinction between the inner and the outer. In economics and development this has been a source of conflict. There is the difference between an endogenous development, which starts by what takes place in yourself; by defining your own priority and then going outside and getting all the assistance necessary. Then there is the exogenous development, where things come from the outside and impose on you all the rest of the system. It is an essential distinction. I would say when I attacked, what I call the academic elite of the Third World, I was not attacking the Ministries of the Interior or the Prime Ministers. I was attacking the professors, who accept it and accept the state of things without moving. I went to the United States as as a university student. It was a period when Academic Freedom turned to something operational. It was the McCarthy Era. I saw professors, students, people playing football, people in the kitchen, everybody mobilized about this principal of Academic Freedom. If we have lost Academic Freedom in the Third World, it is not the Ministries of the Interior. It is the academic staff, which has been complacent. And so is the term used yesterday by the Vice-Chancellor. The Comfort Zone So, thank you very much for that distinction between the interior and the exterior. Let me take an expression we use, the comfort zone. The comfort zone is a psychological phenomenon. For some reason or other, I found myself on the top very early and at a very young age. At home, outside home, etc. I looked at people in power. I looked at the transformation of what I call the three-year cycle. The first year people have all the passion, they have come to a new job. They are learning. The second year they are understanding and preparing something to give. The third year, they give. The fourth year, they start taking. And, once they start taking, it is a drug. They will never let it go until they are kicked out. So, that comfort zone to me, is what I have been always avoiding. Each time I was close to getting something I would then run away. I discovered that that comfort zone is, in fact, an expression of a deep internal insecurity. If you have the internal security for spiritual reasons, as Professor Scott said, or for other, you are above that. You can walk into a Minister's office. If he raises his voice, you raise it three times higher. Learning, Re-learning and Remembering Lidia, you said something that has been written recently by some close friends, Alvin Tofler, and Heidi. They have written this: The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read and write. They are those who cannot learn, learn and relearn. This function, the university has not assumed. Yet, it is a basic one with a speed at which knowledge is developed. A university is a learning place, an unlearning place and a re-learning place. A great Professor of mine at the London School of Economics, Martin White, when I finished passing my exams, said: " Look, you have your PhD now, Mahdi, can I give you two pieces of advice?" I said, "No." (I was joking). He said, "Yes, I will give them. Forget everything you have learned here. You needed it to pass, to get your thesis. You have it,
  • 2. forget it. Go develop other things that you may need out of what you have learned. But, don't go living on it back again and twenty years later, as I wrote in my thesis on page 322, footnote 6." I said: "No." The second I followed. He said. " Never say you are an economist. " So, this learning and unlearning question is good. I would like also to infer from what you said as something that strikes me is really essential. It ties together what you and what Professor Scott said. It comes from Physics, from quantum physics, which if you want to sum them up philosophically or in terms of the epistemology of the development of knowledge. Constancy, Descartes and Meta-physics I went through a degree in Biology and Chemistry, then went to the rest. This quantum revolution has a meaning. It is leading science. According to some people, it is a sort of a very reductionist explanation that I am giving. It is releading science to think of itself as an interpretation of the real, not as a description of the real. The big dogmatic thing in universities and in today's classical education is the non-revitalisation of reality, which prevents you to going and discovering the immaterial and the spiritual. In quantum physics, doubt is very strong. The simple fact is that no longer can any professor of science or philosophy can enter a classroom and say, " We have constancy. The speed of light is a constant." No, it is not. Because, every three, four or five months the perfection of equipment forces us to correct it - maybe by a 1,000 of a second. But, you have shaken the notion of what is an absolute truth from a scientific sense observed in a laboratory. Quantum physics has brought about doubt. I am sorry for the people who think here about Descartes. It has killed Descartes. To still want to be Cartesian today, they say, " Look 1., 2., 3., little a., little b. and little c." A student who does not do that is thought as not being methodical and flunks out. No, now that he has reached a degree of complexity tha very clear desire to find your mental equivalent of the zone of comfort, he says. " Look, I know it all. I put this, I call it a., b., c., I am logical, I am pragmatic. I have read William James, I can explain things and there it is." No, the quantum revolution that has come about in respect to what science means says that the role of science is to interpret science. I mean the interpretation of the real, to interpret it, not to describe it as the real. You cannot describe it as the real. This is where the spiritual dimension comes in. Changes in Knowledge Society I often think that what has happened in what you said in respect of learning. Richard Knight has written alot about the philosophy of the Knowledge Society and Sociology. It entails a very simple description. We have moved from a society of production, where we needed raw materials, cheap labour in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Then, we produce a product and we sell it. With capital, we need capital. Today, the process is different. In the Society of Knowledge, you need knowledge, the human resources, that we are supposed to train in universities. Capital becomes almost something secondary. You can start up companies and societies if you have an idea. People say, 'We can't find jobs.' No, the change with the Knowledge Society was before people went to look for a job. Today, if you are competent, it is the jobs that look for you. You sit back home. The trend? Today, anybody. If I am in a society that is developing and somebody comes adding work in the same company, in the same position for three years, I shall not recruit him. It means he has no sense of innovation. He has not been competing with other things. Before they could say, "Oh, eight years in the same place? Wonderful. Stability, by the way, this also applies to the state. In international relations, stability is death. If you want to kill a country, make it stable. Just keep the army and it is stable. So, in the society of knowledge, the main revolution is that there has been an immaterialiazation of the material. This laptop here does more operations per second than the UNIVAC computer, which was bigger than this room. This process is called the immaterialiazation of the material. You manage to do more things with less and less material things. If I wanted 10,000 telephone communications within a neighbourhood, I needed 50 tons of copper. I had to go and get them in Zambia and Bolivia. Today, with 50 grams of optic fibres, I can do it. I can build you an optical laboratory for optic fibres in 10 square meters. This is an immaterialization of the material. The latest IBM computer can do 12 billion operations a second. And one billion is already 50 years worth of seconds! But, on the other hand, - here I join and will conclude, Sir, with what Professor Scott had said - this immaterialization of the material has brought about with it what is now conceivable, namely, the immaterialization of the immaterial. I go to a British Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine, who says today that we have electronic microscopes that can examine one millionth of a millimetre. It is not excluded that many things that we call as
  • 3. immaterial, like the conscious and other things that will not be able to sustain a material conceptualization of what they are like. It is at this intersection of this revolution, moving from society of productions to societies of knowledge, where the immaterial is taking over. Yes, even in this global society where they are trying to sell us the capitalism of the 19TH Century when they have given it up themselves. Nobody speaks really of capital. Every day this company buys another one. Sometimes, the total assets involved in the transaction are worth the GDP of ten of our countries. New Capital What they are really about is the real new capital. That capital you can call 'the software of knowledge.' You can call it, I would myself prefer it, a 'spiritual capital.' If it is knowledge without the context, you can have all the vocabulary in the world. But, if you don't have the grammar, and you don't have contextual analysis you are brought back to a basic issue: how to use this specific word in this particular context? And whether with this instance, you should do nothing. And, underdevelopment is being able to work out such algebra and equations of development, because we have incompetent people and if they were not incompetent they would not be where they are. So, the role of the university in that sense, is finally as Knight said. Knight summing up his mutation, says, « In a society of production what is important is the product. This was important. I made glasses. This is important. In the society of knowledge this is not important. The process is important. How do I make the process last? Because, with the process with which I make last, I can make eyeglasses; I can make light bulbs, etc. » This is why what I think Lidia Brito said is very important. Learning has three components. It has a place. The physical place historically has been important. Bologna is important, because it was the building first. The Caraouain started as a place, as a building. The Zituna is a building. El Achzar is a building. El Matzuria is a building and so forth. It then transformed gradually from a building, as it was, into a sort of a content, in the educational sense. Then it moved from the building into an institution. The institutionalization of the university has probably taken five, six, seven, eight centuries. Today, I think, we have to think of it as a process. Then, we find the learning process, the un-learning process, the re-learning process. At that moment, the discussion whether it is on ten acres, whether it is in Dundee or whether it is in Johannesburg or whether it is ---- all becomes secondary in so far as you meet all the other conditions of networking, of processing, and of doing. So, if we can make this jump, not negating the past of the university as a place, nor as a place where we can go, a place considered sacred and go to like we go to a church or to a mosque. Secondly, de-institutionalization even if still largely unrecognised - has taken years. It too has to be respected and has to find its place and its reflection in the spiritual thinking about the university which it is its genetic code and which you do not throw away. But, then dwell for a moment on this: unless we think of the university as a process, it will die.