Albrecht von Müller  Biographical Remarks

 
 
 

Currently I am director of the Parmenides Center for the Study of Thinking, together with my two distinguished colleagues, Ernst Pöppel and Benedikt Grothe. In addition, I teach philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich and strategic thinking at SISSA in Trieste. The Parmenides Center is a multi-disciplinary research center that was established in 2000 by the Parmenides Foundation and the Human Science Center of the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. Its task is to study the foundations and frontiers of thinking. The ten main fields covered by the members of the Parmenides Faculty are: Cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology, neuro-informatics, cognitive psychology, linguistics, evolutionary and developmental biology, complexity science, theoretical physics and philosophy

The research agenda combines two thrusts: (a) research into the basic structures and dynamics of complex thinking and the exploration of the underlying neurobiological processes, and (b) the quest for the conceptual frontiers of human thinking, e.g. at the interface between theoretical physics and philosophy. The combination of “foundations” and “frontiers” has been chosen because it is assumed that the two trusts could mutually shed novel light on each other. (For further information see: www.parmenides-foundation.org)

Throughout my studies and professional career I had the luck to meet and partially work for some most fascinating personalities to whom I owe very much, both in terms of theoretical insights and in terms of an authentic experience of our epoch. On the scientific side I would just like to mention, amongst others, Carl-Friedrich v. Weizsäcker, Robert Spaemann, Hans-Peter Dürr, John A. Wheeler, on the political side Aurelio Peccei, Michail Gorbatschow, Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.

Throughout that last 25 years I avoided to choose between my more theoretical interests on the one hand and some more practical responsibilities on the other. Over the years I served as a scientific advisor to various governments, supranational institutions and some leading companies. This was a privilege and a drawback at the same time. It allowed me to have an, always very limited, but within these constraints rather direct influence on some fascinating issues, like helping to unwinding the conventional arms race in Europe or helping the Mandela government to succeed in avoiding a civil war and consolidating the change. On the other hand, it seduced me to care in my writings much more about real impact than about “impact point”-oriented publishing, as any ordinary scientist should do, today.

Having done quite a lot of work on the possibilities to support the human brain in dealing with complexity, I was asked by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany to develop a novel type of tools for supporting the highly complex, time-critical thinking processes in crisis management. Over the years this turned into a quite powerful methodology that has a visualization of complex reasoning processes at its core. By now this methodology has been applied in approximately 40 governments and roughly the same number of leading companies worldwide.

In the late 90ies it has been proposed that the until then rather boutique-like consulting activities based on this methodology should be launched in a much bigger scale via a public company. This deemed a good idea as it would rapidly expand usage and bring substantial resources for further research and development. As long as things went well, and initially they went even very well, everybody gathered in enthusiastic support and took leadership in commercializing what I had developed. But, as soon as “scaling” the successes turned out to be more difficult than expected – and, coincidentally, the New Economy collapsed - most of the experienced managers and leadership personalities disappeared in no time. I found myself left alone, and heavily attacked in the local media, as the only culprit to be blamed for managerial mistakes and misjudgements. Only later I learned that this kind of “blamestorming” is a well established habit and that already the ancient Mesopotamians had a “formal reserve king” in the pipeline that could be pushed forward when things started to go wrong. Having made this experience, I was happily gravitating back to my home turf of basic research, and I find myself in full accordance with the dictum of Horace: Beatus ille qui procul negotiis1.

The positive aspect of this excursion into the business world was that it left me with the means to create a small science foundation – which by now is able to cover a large part of its annual budget via licensing the above mentioned methodology. As already mentioned, the key questions addressed in the Parmenides Foundation are twofold: (a) How does complex thinking actually work, does it show functional modularity, what are its neural correlates, how did and does the faculty of complex thinking develop, both in phylo- and ontogenetic terms? The second set of questions concerns the frontiers of thinking: (b) What are the conceptual and categorial frontiers of complex thinking, which role play thought patterns, paradigms and heuristics in generating novel insights, and how can complex thinking eventually be supported?

In addition to the ongoing research on these two sets of topics, the foundation is engaged in launching two related projects. EUNICE is a European network of centers of excellence in research and teaching that jointly offers a new type of post-doc qualification. The core task of EUNICE is to foster advanced skills in complex thinking. This task is to be achieved by familiarizing post-doc students with the most important thought patterns, paradigms and heuristics from various fields of science. From cognitive neuroscience we know that in complex thinking novel observations are related to existing thought patterns, thus modifying those and eventually leading to new insights and thought patterns.

The thesaurus of available thought patterns and the ease by which they can be handled play a quintessential role in complex thinking. By familiarizing the participants with the most important thought patterns of cross-disciplinary and cross-domain relevance, their ability to interpret complex structures and dynamics and to break new ground by thinking beyond traditional boundaries should be further enhanced. Directly related to EUNICE is the initiative to launch a new interdisciplinary journal. The proposed new journal with the working title EUREKA should focus on addressing and advancing the today often neglected conceptual foundations and frontiers of the various scientific disciplines.

1 Happy he who is far from the machinations of business.