Conversations About Complex Issues: Intellectual Sovereignty and a New Ontology of The University Part I

Conversations About Complex Issues: Intellectual Sovereignty and a New Ontology of The University Part I

This issue of the TSU Rector’s blog is devoted to the country's intellectual sovereignty and the search for a new ontology of the University, capable of creating and maintaining this sovereignty.

– Professor Galazhinskiy, our “conversations about complex issues” with you began with the topic of technological sovereignty. The past year and a half have shown that the word “sovereignty” has been one of the key words in Russian public and academic discourses and has been used with various adjectives, such as political, military, economic, energy, food, medical, and so on. However, we have started seeing it more and more often as part of the word combination "intellectual sovereignty". How does this type of sovereignty differ from all other types, and why has it been emphasized so vividly?

– As the general crisis that engulfed the globalized world deepens, more and more countries, and Russia above all, have begun to reevaluate the main principles of their existence and interaction with other geopolitical entities. The principle of division of functions between countries in the global production and intellectual “production line” began to quickly give way to the principle of forming and ensuring national sovereignty in all critical areas — military, technological, energy, food, and so on. Hence the diversity of sovereignties. As a rule, sovereignty is understood as independence from something or someone. At the same time, all its types are united by one rule: if you want to survive, you should chart your own course, no matter what sphere of social life it may concern. And this idea of charting one's own course seems to be the essence of the concept of intellectual sovereignty. Hence its special place among all other types of sovereignty, which can be described as the first among equals. In other words, as someone said, the intellectual university is the "trunk of the sovereignty tree." Moreover, it is intellectual sovereignty that is a sufficient condition not only for survival, but also for victory in a military conflict. Opinion leaders and society as a whole began to realize it, which is why there was such a focus on the perception of various sovereignties.

– Does intellectual sovereignty have a nationality?

– I think yes, it does. The people of each country have their own mind, and they live it in their own way. It is due to the cultural and cognitive codes of peoples of different nationalities. A particular feature of the Russian cognitive code is its intention and ability to be a "collector" and a "synthesizer" of heterogeneous phenomena in order to create internally consistent models and schemes out of them. These remarkable properties of Russian thinking are due, first of all, to the Russian language. Not every language is suitable for explaining complex and super-complex phenomena, and even constructing their abstract models. Russian is capable of it. Another thing is that this potential is not always taken into consideration. The same can be said about intellectual sovereignty if we see it as independent thinking: having the ability to think independently and practicing this ability are two different things.

– Do you think that the intellectual sovereignty of Russia is something that should be revived or developed from scratch, as some experts believe?

– Indeed, there are different points of view on this matter. I would highlight three main points. There are researchers who are convinced that Russia has historically never had real intellectual sovereignty, which used to be manifested in its enthusiasm for foreign culture and the desire to imitate it. It can be seen in borrowing from Byzantine culture (13th century), German and French culture (18th century), Western European culture (19th century) and, of course, American culture (20th and early 21st century). The latter was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even Alexander Pushkin mentioned the lack of independence of national culture and science. And it should be noted right away that it was thanks to Pushkin that the Russian language transformed so much that it became “no worse than French” (quote from Pushkin) to reflect the most abstract concepts. All major Russian writers contributed to the development of the national language.


Another opinion is that there is no special Russian civilization fundamentally different from all other civilizations of the Western type. Yes, Russian civilization is original, but it does not belong to a separate cultural line, it is a a version of European civilization. In this sense, there is nothing incomprehensible and "foreign" in the European socio-cultural area for Russian culture. Everything that has happened and is happening there is comprehended by the Russian mind: it is not always approved but understood. Accordingly, great achievements and inventions are comprehensible too. And since Russians inherit the European civilization, it is in their will, by the right of inheritance, to decide what to take from there and what not to take into the future; what to reproduce and what not to reproduce. Moreover, it is the Russian version of European civilization that is capable of leading into the future. Here we can refer to the outstanding German philosopher and culturologist Oswald Spengler, who wrote the book The Decline of Europe and admitted that the third millennium would become the millennium of Dostoevsky and Russian Christian Orthodoxy.

And, finally, one more point of view is that Russia has always been and remains to be a special civilization that has long possessed a sovereign Russian thought, and hence intellectual sovereignty, albeit not always equally understood by all its bearers. However, not only the representatives of the Russian elite, but even the Russian peasants in 1812 clearly understood what they were fighting for: they did not want to live under a foreign tsar. It was their intellectual sovereignty. Due to various external and internal reasons, at times it could weaken, but each time it revived with even more strength. As a rule, it happened when Russia was facing times of severe crises that called into question its very existence in the future. If such revivals had not taken place then, our country would not have remained on the geopolitical map of the world.

Despite different positions, most domestic researchers agree that today Russia's acquisition of genuine intellectual sovereignty faces an existential challenge. And for this acquisition to happen, it is necessary to carry out a huge and honest work to understand when and why Russia began to "live in someone else's mind." This question, finally, has begun to be asked by domestic philosophers, scientists and publicists.


Hence, it can be said with certainty that in Russia the process of realizing the need to acquire intellectual sovereignty is now at its most active stage, and it inspires great optimism. In other countries that have been drawn into the ultra-globalist "funnel", this process has not yet begun. But sooner or later it will come to them that one needs to chart their own course. And if it does not, they will simply dissolve in this ultra-globalism stream without the remnants of any sovereignty and identity.

– And how do you personally define intellectual sovereignty for yourself?

– I am quite satisfied with the definition of intellectual sovereignty as a synthesis of national big science, an effective system of education and culture, in which the Russian cultural code is quite clearly visible, as well as the cultural codes of the peoples living on the Russia territory. Intellectual sovereignty can also be described as the “decolonization” of individual and social consciousness, resistance to the imposition of foreign narratives, as a result of which the subjectivity of the country increases.

– Do you agree with the statement that education and science are primarily responsible for intellectual sovereignty?

– I would concretize this responsibility to the level of such a social institution as the University, since it is here that critical thinking, which is the core of intellectual sovereignty, should be intensively formed. Of course, if we take broader contexts, then education, science, and culture are equally responsible for it. The former two spheres are more responsible for the content of Russia's intellectual sovereignty, the latter — for its image, which is no less important. But only at the University there is real synergy, which enhances the growth of students’ independent thinking. In addition, all these areas are personified by the real personalities of teachers, scientists and creative workers.

– What should happen in order for the Russian University, and by and large, Russian education, science and culture, to be ready to fulfill this difficult, but necessary for our survival, mission?

–  They must change. How exactly? In fact, we talked about this, one way or another, in all our previous “conversations about the complex issues”. Now I would like to focus on three main points: 1) the University and the academic community need to realize the depth and complexity of the problem of the formation of the country's intellectual sovereignty as a result of the formation of independent Russian science and education; 2)  the attitude to "big science" only as a process and fruits of activity of a huge number of scientists should be revised; 3) the relevance of the search (understanding, construction) for a new ontology of the University, which would be able to provide these processes of formation and revision. Let's start with the first one.

For almost 30 years, we have been developing, trying to cooperate as closely as possible with Western science and the higher education system. The main intellectual resources were focused on topics that were of interest, first of all, to Western donors, from whom we never kept any secrets. Nobody was bothered by the principle “if we do not have something, we can always buy it” , moreover, it seemed correct and rational. This led to the fact that, according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, approximately two thirds of 240,000 technologies used by Russian legal entities until February 2022, were foreign. But the sanctions opened our eyes to a direct relation between the state of science in the country and the degree of its subjectivity (independence), "friendliness" on the part of other countries, and the severity of military-political conflicts. For all sensible people, it is becoming obvious that if there is no great science and a highly competitive system of higher education, then one can only dream of intellectual sovereignty and a reduction in military confrontation between Russia and the West.

The process of final insight should be completed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, there are also leaders of scientific projects and individual researchers who, working in Russia, are still grieving over foreign grants, not wanting to understand the meaning of the saying “he who has the gold makes the rules”.

The situation with “brain drain” remains difficult. Just like a hundred years ago, many intellectuals who could not come to terms with the new realities left the country. More worryingly, according to some sources, in the summer of 2022, more than half of Russians aged 18 to 24 wanted permanent relocation. Who were those young people? Surely, first of all, those, who participated in international mobility programs and received “double diplomas”. Opening up new opportunities for them outside of Russia, we did not pay due attention to developing responsibility for the future of their own country.

Today, vigorous attempts are being made to close these gaps. For example, from September 1 2022, all students at all Russian universities started on a new discipline called "Fundamentals of Russian Statehood." Will it help in any way to solve the problem? Yes, if the course is taught by smart, patriotic professors and not as a formality. If it is otherwise, then the result will be the opposite. There is something to think about, isn't it? Moreover, some professors still believe that “it is useless to educate students in terms of their patriotic attitude” and that “it is nonsense”. Such opinions prove only one thing — a primitive understanding of education, while in fact it is one of the most complex and ongoing social processes. There are many ways to cultivate patriotism, as well as to form intellectual sovereignty in a university. Including interesting stories about the discoveries of Russian and Soviet scientists who created a great domestic science. And, of course, a personal example of serving Russian science.

– Can science be “our own”, “domestic”? Does it, like intellectual sovereignty, have a nationality? And in general, is it possible to develop science in a single country, against which there are sanctions that you can only imagine?

– If we talk about science as a set of discoveries and achievements of our Soviet and Russian scientists specifically, then the answer is “yes”. We call such science our own, domestic. But it would be strange to assume that each individual country has, say, “its own physics” with a description of some special laws that do not apply in other countries. As for the answer to the latter question, everything is much more complicated. We began to consider scientific activity almost always as a collective one, and therefore decomposable into separate actions, operations and algorithms performed by separate groups of scientists or individual researchers. In a certain sense, examples of such an approach can be projects related to the creation and use of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, or scientific projects implemented by transnational IT companies in Silicon Valley. Thousands of scientists from many countries of the world participate in them. Of course, such joint work is of significant value for the development of the relevant scientific industry in each of the participating countries. But you need to understand that the main results of this joint work will be used, first of all, by the main stakeholders of the projects. Most often, those are American private and public structures. They know how to make the whole world work for them, convincing it of the "mutually beneficial" nature of such cooperation. It ends, as a rule, with the fact that all valuable foreign specialists who participated in international projects remain to work and live in the United States.

By the way, the tectonic breaks that have occurred over the past three years in the global economy with its marginal division of labor have shown that it is just as vulnerable as the national economy. The same can apply to global science. But when approaching science as a collective activity, one should not underestimate the role of those individual scientists who stand at the origins of such projects and direct them to the final goals. Their creative thought is not discrete, that is, it is not divided into separate mental operations-quanta. In other words, the role of the individual in science, as in art, cannot be overestimated.


We often tend to underestimate this role, while also simplifying scientific activity, presupposing its divisibility into separate actions and algorithms. But in this case, one will have to agree that big numbers will always win over small ones, and that Russian science has no chance of survival and development due to the large outflow of scientists and young talents to the West that has occurred in recent years. For me personally, it is obvious that scientific creativity, along with art, is the most complex type of human activity. Only a few achieve truly outstanding success in this area. This is evidenced, first of all, by the number of breakthrough scientific publications. They do not happen too often despites the number of researchers working on them. This does not mean, of course, that the bulk of researchers produce only compilations. But this speaks of a certain pattern that concerns both the domestic and any foreign academic community.

According to this regularity, the results of the competition for great national science will depend, as always, on a handful of talented scientists who have super-complex thinking and are able to work with super-complexity. And then Russia stays in this game. One needs time to see and evaluate such people and, of course, to create the conditions for fruitful work and to maintain high motivation. One of these important conditions is the ability to combine scientific activity with teaching, which plays an important role in increasing the creative activity and productivity of a scientist. From the history of scientific discoveries, it is known, for example, that the periodic table was discovered by Mendeleev in search for a better way to explain the properties of chemical elements to his students. The young Lobachevsky created his non-Euclidean geometry also as a result of searching for the most appropriate way to explain to adult students the axiom of the non-crossing of parallel lines.

Accordingly, the most suitable place for the implementation of the indicated condition is the University, as a place for many "invisible colleges" at once, where talented scientists can transfer their knowledge and experience to the most talented students and graduate students, ensuring continuity between generations of scientists. But for this, it is necessary to allow the University to engage not only in mass higher education, adapted to the abilities of the mass, average student, but also in the literal sense of the word, elite education, focused on the most gifted students as the future elite. Only talented and independent-minded people can create new knowledge, come to new discoveries, and create the intellectual sovereignty of their country.


(To be continued)

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