What Are They Thinking?
Bryn Mawr’s Metanexus Institute taps some of the world’s top minds.
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Metanexus’ main interest is in seeing the world’s wonders. “You can only be in awe if your eyes are open to the cosmos,” Weislogel says. “We’re providing a forum for those passionate about discovery and cosmic fine-tuning. What we really need to know is: How do things hang together?” says Weislogel. “How does it all fit? There might not be a scientific answer, but we may need science to answer it.”
These days, the Metanexus Institute centers on a trans-disciplinary approach. “‘Meta’ means you have to branch out,” Hansell says. “We began with two dialogue partners, but we couldn’t stop at just science and religion.”
Discussions are almost always international, intercultural and inter-religious. Members aren’t interested in looking at issues side-by-side, but rather in seeing the threads between them. “It’s not a cocktail hour,” Weislogel says. “These are serious elements and a serious search.”
The fragmentation of academia worries the institute. Everyone is an expert, but no one knows the answer to anything. That in mind, Metanexus seeks to develop a rigorous approach to research and teaching that respects and utilizes disciplinary expertise while addressing broader questions.
“We’ve become really good with all the small parts, but at synthesis—or seeing the forest through the trees—we haven’t,” Weislogel says.
Metanexus focuses on the relationship between “town” (community) and “gown” (the university). And on the Main Line, with its concentration of prestigious colleges and universities, that makes its locale all the more significant.
“This is a wonderful place with fine academic institutions, cultural opportunity and resources,” says Weislogel, who currently teaches philosophy at Delaware County Community College and is a former assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “We’re always glad to have rich resources. Maybe there are none like we have here, but we’re still interested in these questions, and I’m convinced they should matter to everyone—academics and non-academics, young and old, the boy who works at Borders and also runs his high school philosophy club, and the churches and libraries.”
Metanexus wants to foster the intangible pursuit of wisdom, wholeness and the synthesis of thought. “Wisdom is ongoing,” Hansell says. “Questions like ‘What does it mean to live a good life?’ are timeless.”
“Real wisdom is a collective thing,” Weislogel adds. “You draw out wisdom. The search for it is a form of intellectual and spiritual tourism—and the sun never really sets on such things.”
Among Metanexus’ mottoes is “seeking the whole story of the whole cosmos for the whole person.”
“Finding the whole person equals finding the whole community,” Weislogel says. “The time is ripe. If we’re not going to become more certain, at least we need to learn how to cope with the uncertainty.”
One thing the institute is sure about: There can’t be solutions without a transdisciplinary approach. “We didn’t create the word, but we’re moving it onto the map,” Weislogel says. “It’s what interdisciplinary was, but it moves horizontally rather than vertically in a silo.”
Admittedly, Metanexus struggles with establishing a way to refine, discern and articulate its message to serve a world with many seemingly intractable problems. “Until we have a new way of viewing and questioning, or of knowing ourselves better, we won’t solve any of them or help each other—and that should be on everyone’s agenda,” Weislogel says.
For his part, Hansell speaks of a second Age of Enlightenment. “We need a sense of awe again,” he says. “It comes at a time when the whole world is demanding it.”
Weislogel suggests rethinking Aristotle in the likelihood that his ideas and solutions could propel us to new ones that help the world move forward. “We just want to leave the campsite better than we found it,” he says. “Although we’re not offering answers, we’re hospitable, so it’s OK to hang around with us.”
To learn more, visit metanexus.net.