Colegiul National "Moise Nicoara" Arad

The Ontological Axiom


West University of  Timişoara

“The only sense I can give to the verticality

of the human being: the perception of the

                                                           different levels of Reality”[1]

(Basarab Nicolescu, Poetical Theorems)

            An adequate understanding of the transdisciplinary methodology should begin with the explanation of the conceptual pillars on which it is founded. The following lines are dedicated to the ontological axiom formulated by Basarab Nicolescu, that of the existence of several levels of Reality, starting with some conceptual clarifications and focusing on some examples of contextualization which open the transdisciplinary methodology towards unexpected applications in various fields of knowledge.

WHAT IS REALITY? The image formed in school about what Reality means is often either superficial and reductionist or chaotic and confusing. More precisely, there is a tendency to see Reality as being homogenous, governed by universal laws, as well as there is the other extreme, the pulverization of Reality into disparate plots, corresponding to each of the 8000 existing disciplines. The first variant is built in several centuries by the scientific thinking, on the ground of classical physics; the other model of representation of Reality is more recent, o consequence of the disciplinary boom of the last century and an effect of the confrontation with the astonishing complexity of the world. But each of these two versions about Reality offers only a facet of its complete image: on the one hand, unity, on the other hand, plurality. Only the transdisciplinary vision proposes a reunification of these two perspectives, under the sign of the included middle, in a Reality which is in the same time open unity and complex plurality.

            In this context, the question “What is Reality?” (one of the titles of a recent book written by Basarab Nicolescu about his mentor, Ştefan Lupaşcu) has an essential role in the understanding of the transdisciplinary vision. Trying to find a coherent answer to this delicate interrogation, transdisciplinarity assumes the difficult task traced at the beginning of the last century by one of the founders of the quantum physics, Wolfgang Pauli (Nobel Prize laureate): “the formulation of a new idea of reality is the most important and the most difficult task of our times”. Indeed, because all our perceptions, representations and ideas are filtered through the image we have about Reality. In the same time, our thoughts, feelings and actions shape and alter Reality, which is not immutable, as it proves to be dynamic, in a continuous transformation: “Reality depends on us: it is plastic[2]. In consequence, we also bear the responsibility for what Reality is, because we can choose to be in harmony with it or, on the contrary, to disturb it, we can opt for the alternative of evolution or for that of self-destruction.

            For Basarab Nicolescu, Reality is what “resists to our experiences, representations, descriptions, images and mathematical formalizations”[3], while the Real represents “that which is”, but it cannot be totally known, remaining forever veiled. So Reality can be represented and described, transposed into language, images and mathematical formulas, in one word, it can be rationalized. This does not mean that Reality depends only on the manner in which we configure it. Reality is not subjective, a simple theoretical construct, socially modeled, but it is trans-subjective, as it also implies what resists to our experiences, what can be experimentally sustained, verified and confirmed.

WHAT IS A LEVEL OF REALITY? For centuries the scientific thinking started from the premise of the existence of some fundamental laws which govern Reality, the same from the small infinite to the large infinite, the aim of science being their theoretical formulation and their experimental verification. But the universality of the laws of nature had been scientifically invalidated in the first decades of the last century by the quantum revolution, which proved that the laws available in macrophysics are suspended in the world of elementary particles, which interact according to other laws than those of the classical physics. The impossibility of the unification of these two sets of laws, those of classical physics with those of quantum physics, led the quantum researcher Basarab Nicolescu to the revelation of a Reality structured on several levels, each of them with its afferent corps of laws radically different, irreducible one to the other.

            A confrontation of the two levels of Reality taken into account, that of classical physics and that of quantum mechanics, reveals an irreducible opposition of the fundamental concepts. Thus, in the macro-physical world the continuity in time and space is incontestable, as in order to reach from one point to another the passage through all the intermediary points between them is needed. Instead, in the quantum world discontinuity implies the void between any two points from the quantum space, as in between there is absolutely nothing, neither particles nor anything else, except the quantum void. Causality also is totally different at these two levels: if at the visible one local causality implies a chain of immediate causes and effects, at the quantum level the entities are non-separable, as they interact independently of the physical distance that separates them, according to a global causality totally different from the local one. The determinism which implies at the macro-physical level the complete prevision of the physical states through mathematical calculus is suspended at the micro-physical level, where the   indeterminism involves the impossibility to trace a precise trajectory of the quantum entities.

            In the transdisciplinary vision Reality proves to be multilayered, as each of its levels has its own set of laws, different from those of the other levels. In the definition formulated by Basarab Nicolescu, a level of Reality implies a set of general laws (in the case of natural systems) or general rules (in the case of social systems), inadequate to the other existing levels of Reality.

            The levels of Reality are distinguished by the different laws that govern them and they should not be confused with the levels of organization, which belong to the same level of Reality, respecting the same laws, as every level of Reality can have in his structure several levels of organization. Basarab Nicolescu gives the example of different disciplines, expressions of the same level of organization, as classical physics and Marxist economy, which belong to the same level of Reality, as they involve the same set of laws based on determinism and local causality. But this level is radically different from that in which, for example, quantum physics and psychoanalysis are situated, other two disciplines which correspond to two different levels of organization, but which prove to have unexpected similarities (Ştefan Lupaşcu discovered an isomorphism between the quantum world and the psychical world, as both function according to the same logical pattern, that of the included middle). Therefore, what separates the levels of organization from the levels of Reality is the absence, respectively the existence of discontinuity.

WHAT IS DISCONTINUITY? Firstly discovered in the structure of the quantum world, discontinuity has been also intuited by Basarab Nicolescu in between the levels of Reality, in the void that radically separates them, making them irreducible one to another. Discontinuity involves the existence of a zone of non-resistance between and beyond the levels of Reality which cannot be caught in our experiences, representations, descriptions, images and mathematical formalizations, a zone of absolute transparency associated to sacredness. This zone of non-resistance separates the levels of Reality, assuring them the autonomy of laws and rules, sustaining the complex plurality of the Reality. In the same time, this zone of transparency makes possible the existence of the flow of information which crosses all the levels of Reality, assuring the coherence and the self-consistency of the Reality, the open unity of the world. In this way, according to the new Principle of Relativity formulated by Basarab Nicolescu, Reality is not hierarchically structured, as it does not exist a privileged level of Reality, because every level of Reality is what it is due to the other existing levels of Reality. For example, a tiny modification of a parameter at the quantum level would disturb the macro-physical level, which would further influence the cosmic level, making impossible even the existence of the planets.

CONTEXTUALIZATION Which is the place of the human being in this multidimensional Reality? The answer is suggested in one of Basarab Nicolescu’s poetical theorems: “Human being is the link which the levels of Reality lack”[4] (Nicolescu, [2007a], 26). The levels of Reality of the exterior world, which, together with the zones of non-resistance between and beyond them, form the Object of knowledge, have a correspondent in the levels of perception of the understanding Subject. In this way, our perception is also structured on several levels, adequate to their related levels of Reality, assuring the correct understanding of Reality, which can be possible only if each level of Reality is complementary mirrored in its afferent level of perception. The recognition of the multitude of the levels of Reality is illusory if they are related to only a single level of perception (for example, that of the scientific thinking), while the affirmation of several levels of perception is also in vain if the Reality is reduced to only one level (for example, the macro-physical one). Furthermore, this interaction between the Object and the Subject of knowledge is possible if not only their levels of Reality and those of perception correspond, but also their zones of non-resistance which communicate through what Basarab Nicolescu calls the Hidden Third.

            This model of the levels of Reality has been for Basarab Nicolescu a starting point for the discovery of a series of other levels, such as those of language, of representation, of materiality, of complexity etc. The virtual structure levels of Reality – levels of perception – the Hidden Third can be contextualized in useful applications in various educational situations. Here are some examples given by Basarab Nicolescu of contextualized forms of this ternary pattern[5]:

–          levels of organization, levels of structuring, levels of integration;

–          levels of confusion, levels of language, levels of interpretation;

–          physical level, biological level, psychical level;

–          levels of ignorance, levels of intelligence, levels of contemplation;

–          levels of objectivity, levels of subjectivity, levels of complexity;

–          levels of knowledge, levels of understanding, levels of being;

–          levels of spirituality, levels of materiality, levels of non-duality.

Of course, the list remains open…   


[1] Basarab Nicolescu, Teoreme poetice (Poetical Theorems), translated in Romanian by L.M. Arcade, foreword by Michel Camus, Iaşi, Junimea Publishing, 2007, p. 26.

[2] Basarab Nicolescu, Ce este realitatea? Reflecţii în jurul operei lui Stéphane Lupasco (What is Reality? Reflections on the Work of Stéphane Lupasco), translated in Romanian by Simona Modreanu, Iaşi, Junimea Publishing, 2009, p. 127.

[3] Basarab Nicolescu, Transdisciplinaritatea. Manifest (The Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity), translated in Romanian by Horia Mihail Vasilescu, Iaşi, Junimea Publishing, 2007, p. 26.

[4] Basarab Nicolescu, Teoreme poetice (Poetical Theorems), cited edition, p. 26.

[5] Basarab Nicolescu, De la Isarlîk la Valea Uimirii (From Isarlîk to the Valley of Astonishment), second volume Drumul fără sfârşit (The Endless Journey), foreword by Irina Dincă, Bucharest, Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011, p. 289.