What makes a 'real' dialogue?
2nd World Knowledge Dialogue Symposium
13 September 2008
The second World Knowledge Dialogue Symposium brought together 300 scientists, researchers, Nobel Prize laureates, entrepreneurs and students in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. 43 volunteers were involved before and during the event to make it happen. The online news featured a web cast and summaries produced by volunteer reporters. Read one of the stories about what makes 'real' dialogue...
In a rapidly globalizing society, dialogue is an important tool to weave together various ideals and knowledge in order to bring out the essence of our humanity. Perhaps what brings us to the level of effectively utilizing this dialogue is the answer to the key question 'What makes a real dialogue?'
Language is a primary driving force for a fully operational dialogue, but Raghavendra Gadakgar, of the Indian Institute of Sciences, also stressed that words and their meanings can only be defined in a limited way. For this reason, issues have to be examined from a multi-level and interdisciplinary approach that is supported by the creation of a cooperative society. Taking the issue of violence through lack of empathy as an example, he questioned through which channels scientists and intellectuals are able to integrate themselves in promoting discussions related to hostility in society?
In the past half century, violence has had the tendency to shift from the international level towards an inter-societal path. According to UNHCR High Commissioner Jean-Pierre HockÃ©, the outbreak of violence on a global scale is most likely to be prevented if localized violence is gradually eradicated and a culture favouring peace can be reinstated within communities that have been engaged in aggressive interactions with others. Ethology, the study of animal behaviour patterns, takes a different viewpoint on violence: that it is deeply rooted in interpersonal affairs.
Relationships have a critical element keeping the flame burning, only when both parties benefit simultaneously from the relationship. According to Frans de Waal of Emory University, the argument is "less about empathy or sympathy, than a reciprocal recognition that "you need the other guy" Thus we might optimistically extrapolate from de Waal's observations on social interactions among apes, that increasing globalization and encouragement of economic ties between states, should lead to a reduction in warfare as the relationship between different countries and their citizens becomes more valuable.
Contemporary research in the medical sciences appears to have drawn closer to the realization that past theories of ideal biological determinism are grossly inadequate and misleading. Prof. Gadakgar emphasized that violent behaviour cannot be fully explained by the nature of genes alone, for if this were so, natural selection of non-violent genes would have already occurred. Rather, negative behaviour can be seen as a complex interplay between one's genetic make-up and the circumstances experienced during one's life span.
Despite the diversity of views brought to the table, the often overlapping ideas are in fact an opportunity for individuals from various sectors in society to engage in a meaningful dialogue. According to Karen Cook of Stanford University, such a discussion need not occur in a laboratory-based, controlled setting; other non-scientific channels such as art and poetry can also be important platforms. Furthermore, participatory research, the search for a common language, and the strong political will of the international community are all essential components of dialogue.
While intellectuals have the obligation to increase the level of knowledge among the general public, putting solutions to the forefront remains the responsibility of all citizens and all actors within the complex network of society.
Today we are in the process of harvesting information of various kinds at the local, national and international level. This can only be synthesized and assimilated through understanding knowledge acquired through different domains of expertise. To begin improving things, a dialogue need not be perfect in structure and the presence of today's interdisciplinary knowledge network, no matter how incomplete, may still provide a robust stepping stone towards finding durable resolutions in the near future.
Click here to read other stories of the World Knowledge Dialogue or watch the online videos.
Posted: 2008-9-13 Updated: 2011-11-13