Ervin Laszlo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am

MUSICAL BEGINNINGS I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1932. My mother was a professor of piano and my uncle, who lived with us, was a philosopher. Both were influences for me as a child.

I started my life as a musician, playing my first public piano concert at nine years old in Budapest, with the Hungarian Philharmonic. I went on to win the Geneva International Music Competition when I was 15, receiving invitations to Paris and New York. When I was 16 I was the youngest individual to receive the highest degree in music - the artist diploma of the Franz Liszt Academy of Budapest.

SCIENCE FRICTION In my late teens and early 20s, I rediscovered an interest I had as a child - namely questions about life: Who are we? Where are we going? How do we fit in and relate to nature? My knowledge of the sciences is self-taught. I would read intensely during train and plane rides - from country to country for performances. I finally decided to write down some of my notions. From 1959, I kept a diary of ideas.

After a concert in Holland in 1962, someone asked me about this interest and I showed him my notes on the relationship between human society and nature. The next morning, he came back and said he'd like to publish them, which he did in 1963. Turns out, he was an editor at a Dutch publishing house. [Laszlo's first book was titled Essential Society: An Ontological Reconstruction.]

There came a point when I was playing a recital in Germany and I noticed in the middle of one of the movements that I was so involved with the ideas I was working on I quite forgot where I was - wasn't quite sure if I was still at the beginning or at the end of a piece. It was tragic because if I made the wrong choice I would either skip the entire movement or I would repeat it. I made out fine that time but it made me realise that I could not do both things if I wanted to do either well. So I accepted an invitation from Yale University [in the United States] to spend a semester at its department of philosophy and do research, even though, at that point, my only degree was in music. Effective immediately, I became a professional academic who occasionally gave concerts for charity. I have since written 69 books and contributed to over 50 other publications, with essays on integral thinking.

DIGGING A WHOLE You could use the term 'wholistic', in the scientific sense, to describe my ideas about life. It is about systemic thinking, thinking in terms of wholes and focusing on what something belongs to, rather than what it is on its own.

In typical Western medicine, if you have a complaint about your liver, [doctors] will focus on that organ. They don't look at it in context. [Now] scientists are starting to look at the entire organism, even the surroundings, in terms of psychological make-up, family conditions and so on - all that enters into health. Traditional Chinese medicine is entirely wholistic.

The integral approach is to see things as elements in larger wholes and those wholes are in turn part of yet a greater picture. Systemic interconnection between all human beings and nature appears to be an abstract idea but it is actually very concrete. In science, there is the discovery of subtle connections, not only on the micro level of synapses or plankton, but on the level of the cosmos. All things are simultaneously connected to other things.

The question is then how we can live together in peace, without destroying each other or the environment? This is now the main task I have in terms of integral thinking.

NEW ERA There is an archetype in several traditional cultures - in Chinese, Sanskrit and American-Indian writing - that 2012 will bring a period of transition from one phase to another on Earth. This will be reinforced by a foreseeable physical phenomenon, which is the increased plasma radiation from the sun, which is probably going to create disturbances in the global communication networks. This will reinforce belief in the idea that there is a major change occurring.

There are already generational changes, different mindsets, non-uniformly cropping up, labelled as alternative cultures, peace cultures, 'cultural creatives', and sustainability and ecological movements.

A mistake would be to go on as we were. 'Business as usual' is possibly the worst thing one can do. This recognition is dawning on young people, intelligent people. But status quo is often embedded into organisations and [leaders] are afraid of change because they fear taking risks on their own positions.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE I would like to devote more research and writing to what I call the cosmic internet - exploring the physical basis of cosmic connection - but I can hardly get to it because I am travelling so much.

Every month I go to Budapest. My last big trip was earlier this fall to the Latin America Business Forum in Mexico, where the other keynote speaker was Bill Clinton. Clinton talked about the need to invest in the United States. He mentioned that the global financial systems are unstable and that the US cannot face the challenge alone. I then referred to what he said when I spoke about the historic responsibility of business leaders in sustainable models of development.

SHIFT WORK Our online Global Shift University will offer high-quality education at low cost and can be accessed anywhere. We expect to reach about half a million students [at its launch early next year], moving up to 20 million. The formal announcement will be on March 21 and we will invite people like [former Russian leader Mikhail] Gorbachev and [singer] Peter Gabriel to help with the launch. Placido Domingo will be our first honorary doctorate.