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Rethinking Education… beyond the «False Dichotomies»*: the Hypercomplex Society and the urgency of a systemic approach to complexity (1995)


 Concept Map developed by Massimo Conte, Instructional Designer, with Cmap Tools. Click on the image to zoom it.


People think of education as something they can finish

Isaac Asimov

Equality is confused with identity, and diversity with inequality. Every Person is genetically different from every other. However, genetic diversity is not an amount to inequality, a social imposed prescription. People can be made equal or inequal by the societies in which they live; they cannot be made genetically identical, even if this were desiderable.

Theodosius Dobzhansky

Technological innovation is one of the determining variables of the evolution of social systems and organizations, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. Once more, what is needed is culture, shared knowledge and education to allow systems to metabolize change and to efficiently manage the out-of-control phases that accompany the accelerations imposed by technology, which – it must not be forgotten – is always a product of culture and never something “external”





Hurled into hypercomplexity, we are facing a complex process of anthropological transformation (1995), of a shift in paradigms, models and codes, other than an irreversible synthesis of new value systems and criteria for judgment. Our extraordinary scientific discoveries and technological innovations not only open dizzily onto as yet unimaginable horizons and scenarios, but show, ever more clearly, the urgency of radically rethinking education, teaching and training, underlining the substantial inadequacy of our schools and universities in dealing with this hypercomplexity, in dealing with the indeterminateness and ambivalence of the ongoing metamorphosis, in dealing with the radical interdependence and interconnection of all processes and dynamics; in dealing with the global extension of all political, social and cultural processes.

Within the interconnected society, the network and the digital media guide and accelerate the process of change, where communication and information have by now become “primary needs,” capable of impacting social stratification on a local and global level. On top of that — as we anticipated quite some time ago — democratic regimes are basing their lives and praxes more and more often on “rules of engagement” that are defined and constructed (other than carried out) not by the legislator, but within the educational and professional institutions, places where information and knowledge are constructed and processed socially (see, in particular, the concept of the Asymmetrical Society we have proposed).

We are dealing with a new hypertechnological era, ever more subject to entropic and chaotic driving forces that, beyond the undeniable accelerations and advances in every field of human and social praxis, should have defined and determined ideal conditions in terms of control and predictability of behavior, processes and systems. A phase of radical global mutation which, as has already been underlined, forces us to reformulate our thoughts on categories, codes, languages, instruments, identity, subjectivity, cultural norms and models, (open) communities, relational and communicative areas, environment and ecosystems. Never before has technological innovation, with all the risks/opportunities that it implies, brought the social actors and organizations to the brink of making a further, irreversible quantum leap.

Nowadays, as never before, technology has come to participate in the synthesis of new values and of new evaluation criteria. Technological innovation, as well as the post-humanistic challenge (the new Utopia), enable the social actors to perform further – and irreversible – improvements, reaching higher and higher levels of quality. This paper, therefore, has the following objectives: a) to define the limits of this Hypercomplex (and Interconnected) Society by analysing its risks and implications; b) to highlight the urgency of Rethinking Education and of a systemic approach to complexity able to go beyond what I have called the “false dichotomies”. On the other hand, the current ecosystem of communication is causing radical changes in codes, cultures, and in the hierarchical procedures of production and sharing (disintermediation) – an authentic anthropological metamorphosis (1996) – characterized by numerous implications as to paradigm, citizenship and inclusion, all of which heavily influence identity and subjectivity. The risk of such an enormous metamorphosis, implying manifold variables and concauses, has turned out not to be a unique occasion of innovation and social change, but rather a further opportunity in favour of elites and exclusive social groups. Thus, this hypertechnological civilization needs, not only a renewed concern about rules and rights, but above all a systemic approach to complexity, putting into close contact knowledge and skills, too often kept far apart. The interconnected economy requires strategic choices as well as a new ethical attention with regard to the social actors’ problems, to the system of relations and to the importance of knowledge. It follows that a new communication culture is needed, which would be open to sharing and understanding, capable of influencing the social mechanisms in developing and favouring trust and cooperation. On the other hand, communication has more and more necessity to recompose a global context which seems to be fragmented and chaotic. Only when this kind of communication is seen as a social process of knowledge sharing (1996), i.e. of social interaction, will it be an instrument, in all its complexity, for overcoming individualistic egoism as well as for connecting and enhancing the social production of knowledge.

Hypercomplexity is not – has never been – an option; it is a “fact of life”: unfortunately, there is still too little awareness of the fact that the hypercomplexity that we are facing has extended so far as to make it very complicated and difficult to attempt to formulate reductive schemes of complexity or to to analyze it; in fact the resulting view would at best be partial. It has extended so far as to make it almost unthinkable – a utopian endeavor — to try, even more ambitiously, to define a theoretical-interpretive model, (a fundamental but too often underestimated – sometimes considered “futile”- dimension), or a “system of thinking” capable of explaining the ongoing changes, capable of recognizing and comprehending the ambivalence and the interactions at all levels of the problematics that are involved. It is not by chance, in fact, that “old” models and interpretative schemes are often called up, perhaps readjusted with certain flashy neologisms to make them seem original and innovative. We are dealing with a kind of complexity that has been further enhanced by the ever more strategic relevance wielded by communication and by technological innovations, not only in the processes of education and socialization, but also – and above all — in the representations and the perception of dynamics and of the systemic processes of evolution. Complex and problematic dimensions that also have an obvious impact on already hegemonic representations and narratives. The real issue is that we have never been (and are still not being) educated and taught to recognize this hypercomplexity, or at any rate, not by using our own heads (1998 and further works). An inadequacy which has become even more apparent in this society of interdependency and of global interconnections: a “new ecosystem” (Dominici, 1996) in which everything is (or at least, appears to be) linked and connected, within non-linear processes and dynamics, with many variables and concauses that must be considered.

A hypercomplexity that is – it should again be made clear – a cognitive, social, subjective and ethical hypercomplexity that touches every aspect of life and of praxis, and which consequently requires us to rethink our categories, our education, our “forms” of citizenship. As I have written before, in recent and not so recent times, technology has become part of the synthesis of new values and new criteria for judgment, bringing out, even more clearly, the centrality and the strategic function of cultural evolution, which is unrolling alongside biological evolution, deeply conditioning it and determining dynamics and retroactive processes (such as, for instance, the technological progress linked to artificial intelligence, robotics, IT, nanotechnologies, genomics, etc.).

The ‘traditional’ borders between studies in the scientific fields and in the humanities have in fact been completely done away with, owing to the extraordinary scientific discoveries and the continual accelerations brought about by technological innovation, which renders even more unavoidable the urgency of an education/formation that teaches complexity and critical thinking (logic).

Awareness of the complex “nature” of (hyper)complexity must (should) lead us to another fundamental issue: the false and misleading dichotomies between complexity and specialization, between interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary and specialized areas, which, it must be stressed, are in no way antithetical, and by no means constitute/represent dichotomies. It is necessary to start over from the need for the fusion of theory and practice/research, knowledge and skills (not solely technical), human and technological, without falling into the (not merely didactic) trap of “useful” and “useless” fields of knowledge (on the question of the usefulness and uselessness of knowledge there would be much to say: this being the “concept” on which we are building our schools and universities. . .but we will get back to this in another moment).

The “world” and “reality” are (have ever been) complex, or to better put it, hypercomplex, but behind the public discourses that adopt (whenever convenient) those themes and questions that are considered in style (trends), we continue to keep these “two cultures” separate and to teach by using linear interpretative models – falling back each time onto deterministic and reductionist interpretations. We must, therefore, become fully aware — not limit ourselves to parroting ideas — that the social and cultural future (which, as we have always said, is the “true” innovation), belongs to those who will succeed in healing the fracture between the human and the technological, to those who will succeed in redefining and rethinking the complex relationships between the natural and the artificial, to those who will manage to bring knowledge and skills together (and not to separate them), to those who will, furthermore, know how to unite and merge the two cultures (scientific and humanistic), both in terms of education and formation and in defining profiles and professional competences.

Once again, I strongly insist: we must radically correct the structural inadequacies and the appalling nearsightedness that have always characterized schools and universities, (which must be thought of “together”, in order to deal with the age-old question of teaching the teachers), which are the only “true” institutions/”places” in charge of defining and constructing the conditions of social emancipation. What must be promoted is the kind of education that is capable of analytically addressing complexity and responsibility (from the early years of school on), but also and above all, what must be encouraged, not just proclaimed in institutional documents, are critical thinking, complexity, and interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity on a level of scientific research and not only. The benefits would, furthermore, significantly influence the didactic pathways themselves, and thus, evidently, the (continuous) teaching of our future teachers. Preparing ourselves to accept and become accustomed to the idea that the outcomes of these vitally important strategic choices are always, in any case, long-term and will only be “seen” many years into the future.

I would like to conclude by calling up a past reflection, strongly insisting, once again, that schools and universities, teaching, training and education must (should) be solidly (!) placed at the core of every innovative project and process (systemic view), and when dealing with the challenges of citizenship and of “inclusive innovation”, which coincide with the challenges of hypercomplexity but also of responsibility, it is necessary to become fully aware – and not to limit ourselves to parroting ideas or making speeches — that the social and cultural future (which, as we have always said, is the “true” innovation), belongs to those who will succeed in healing the fracture between the human and the technological, to those who will succeed in redefining and rethinking the complex relationships between the natural and the artificial, to those who will manage to bring knowledge and skills together (not to separate them), to those who will, furthermore, know how to unite and merge the two cultures (scientific and humanistic), both in terms of education and formative training and in defining profiles and professional competences. In this sense, the urgency that can be felt is to leave behind what I – long before it came into vogue – first called “false dichotomies”: theory vs. practice/research; scientific fields vs. the humanities; knowledge vs. competences; hard skills vs. soft skills (regarding this last aspect, see in particular): “European Qualification Framework for permanent learning (EQF) ( Quadro europeo delle qualifiche ) and the Dublin Descriptors, (Descrittori di Dublino ), two important references, albeit little-known even in academic circles. Taking special care, with regard to topics concerning school and university, to resist the continuous temptations, the short-cuts, the easy solutions, the reassuringly well-beaten paths that often conceal mere vested interests in power or in economic factors, the ideological views, which incessant promotion and event marketing have done so much to render visible, acceptable and approvable. The definition I have always used is the following: “Innovating means destabilizing”. First of all, however, it is necessary to teach analytical and critical thinking to people, enabling them to use their own heads (and to question themselves and others around them), instead of simply accepting the standard answers / solutions, and to see “objects” as “systems”, rather than vice-versa** (also see Per un’innovazione inclusiva [For an inclusive innovation] ).

These issues, evidently, closely regard the definition and realization of those essential prerequisites which can trigger change and give us the tools for managing complexity and innovative processes: this is why we are facing such urgency in rethinking our schools and universities, still caged inside the “logics of separation”, which are the logics of controlling and of confining fields of knowledge into isolated disciplines. Issues and structural variables which, if they are not soon corrected, are destined to keep us in a condition of cultural backwardness with regard to the accelerations brought about by technological innovation; incidentally, this merely contributes to and reinforces the perception and the widespread belief in the “dual speed” concept of technology and culture, as though techniques and technology were something outside of culture and of the cultural/historical contexts that have produced and developed them. What is needed are significant investments in culture, in education and in schooling, within a general policy of revamping the humanities and humanistic studies, for too long considered unimportant because they are (at least, apparently) unable to produce “outcomes” that are “measurable” in quantitative terms.

As I wrote years ago, we must work on all levels (from individual to systemic) to heal the fracture between human and technological, which, as history shows, cannot be accomplished by a top-down imposition, but needs to be built and processed socially, and, indeed, culturally.

This paradigm shift calls for a new ethic sensitivity, underlining the urgency to put the “Person” back into the center of the innovation process. This need does not consist simply of an extension of traditional values and ethics and/or of a mere adaptation to the new technological praxis, but of the necessity for a New Humanism, which is not, of course, a return to the post-medieval concept of humanism: it is a new perspective of humanism in the framework of a redefinition of the relational and communicative spaces of the new global ecosystem.

All of this implicates the rethinking of the very concepts of liberty and responsibility on a relational basis.



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I have deem developing this approach for years, and researching these topics with great scientific interest and passion. These questions have been discussed in numerous national and international conferences, recently in ever more interdisciplinary fields. I hope that we will have the opportunity to further extend our network of researchers and academicians so as to begin to delineate new projects.


I will discuss some of these topics at internacional conferences (among these conferences: and also at Festival of Complexity. Here it is the link to the program:


N.B. Feel free to share and reutilize this published material, provided that you have the courtesy to always quote authors and sources, even when mentioning conceptual categories and related functional definitions. Let us share knowledge and information, but let us attempt to interrupt the vicious and non-virtuous cycle of the “cut and paste” routine, perpetrated by those whose know-how consists merely of “using” the work of others.

Citations should be made, in the first place, on the principle of honesty, and secondly, because our work (our intellectual production) is always the result of the work of many other people who, like OURSELVES, study and carry out research, helping us to be creative and original, providing us with orientation for our working hypotheses.

I still say that the rewards of sharing are well worth the bitterness for the dishonest behavior on the part of many. My contributions are the concepts, the studies and the topics of research that I have been conducting for twenty years: the principle of sharing carries many risks, but coherence means practicing what you believe in. Read and enjoy!