Conversation with an honorary doctor, HONORIS CAUSA, RSUH, Ernst Pöppel

On March 27, 2018, an honorary doctor, HONORIS CAUSA, RSUH, Head of the Center for Humanitarian Studies of the University of Munich Ludwig-Maximilian Ernst Pöppel made a presentation at the opening of the conference “Cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies to overcome social and cultural threats”. At the end of the speech, Professor Pöppel answered questions about current trends in world science.

- Mr. Pöppel, how would you rate the quality of the conference held at the RSUH with your participation?
- A conference of this kind is unique at the world level. Such interdisciplinary conferences are simply not held in other universities of the worlds, and I know what I am talking about. The conference theme was designated as “Threats and challenges of the modern world”. Here we can see the political aspect, the environmental aspect and so on - that’s why the participants included scientists fr om very different disciplines: humanities, representatives of exact sciences, and, of course, language specialists, because this area is represented by Professor of RSUH Vera Zabotkina.I am a neuroscientist, so for all of us, people from different countries and different humanities, to have a platform for discussions of this kind is a unique opportunity, and I am happy that I could participate in this conference.

And one more thing, do not consider it flattery. I am a professor from Germany, I studied in the USA, I am a visiting professor in China, I collaborated and collaborated with colleagues from more than 40 countries, many of my students have already become professors all over the world, but I consider Russia to be a truly unique country many aspects. Russian colleagues, scientists do not walk the beaten path, they prefer to think for themselves, which is very important for me. Trust in your own knowledge and pride in them - this distinguishes Russian colleagues from everyone else, even in everyday life. The conference clearly shows this independence and responsibility. Professor Zabotkina, who was able to take the lead and unite scientists from different countries, is especially different, and I even created a special concept for this, it is too long, but you can simply say - “syntopy”, that is, uniting people of different directions in one place.

- What is your impression about the Center for Cognitive Programs and Technologies of the RSUH?

- As I said, here we are talking about a unique perspective and a deeper understanding of language and speech, understanding at the cognitive level, at the level of cognitive science. What I will say now goes beyond the scope of your question: the definition of cognitive science and its understanding and application at the Center of Professor Zabotkina goes far beyond what is being done in other countries. There is only one country that is working on this area at about the same level, but less successfully - this is China. My good friend, Professor Chen Lin from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, does the same, but, you know, it depends on people, specific people, not on committees and organizations. Such specialists and such an initiative are either there or they are not, and in Russia they are. And your Center is a good example of the fact that you have it and even receives sufficient financial support. I had to say this, since the question of the possibility of scientific work is often misunderstood. It is people who are the basis of research and the key to success.

- What is the essence of your speech at the conference?

- My topic was rather narrow compared to the speeches of other colleagues who spoke at a much broader level about the threats and challenges to the modern world at the political, educational and scientific levels, especially at the level of linguistic education. I said only one thing: “Scientists are ambassadors”. This is what I say all the time, because we, the scientists, are the only independent people who are not politically, religiously, financially engaged, we are not affected by public opinion or a specific value system, or something else. It is important for us to understand and develop this understanding in technology. And here I always cite a very specific example from my field - time in itself and how we perceive it. We know that there is a memory phenomenon of a few seconds, which allows us to communicate, it is, so to speak, the basis of cognitive processes. So I was a little isolated speaker at the conference, but I believe that the basic mechanisms of the brain should be studied, we must understand them for a scientific study of the mechanism of communication, because it is communication that connects us.

- Please comment on the trends in world science in the field of interdisciplinary research.

- Let's start with the fact that interdisciplinary research is not a global trend at present. This is what I am seeing in the West now: let us take the science of the west and east coasts of the United States as an example. The specialization of scientists is becoming increasingly narrow and limited in scope. Therefore, the Center for Humanitarian Studies at the University of Munich was organized in order to bring together scholars from various disciplines and to enable them to conduct interdisciplinary research, to give various institutes the opportunity to communicate.

One should not think that everyone meets this initiative with open arms, because, as I said, the trend now is a narrow study of a specific topic. But I advocate a different approach, and this approach has been successful. I often repeat with my graduate student and colleagues: if you want to conduct interdisciplinary research, you should be pragmatic, you must act in line with the general theory, but at the same time you have to work three times more than usual, because in order to look abroad of their specialization, one must have a large amount of general knowledge in other specialties. Only then will your research be successful.

A side effect of interdisciplinary research is respect for other people, not tolerance, but respect. Respect, arising from the understanding that you alone can not do everything necessary, that other areas and fields of science can also teach you something. As they say, consider ideas from other areas, and someday you will have a happy coincidence. After all, the main inventions and discoveries have always exceeded their original boundaries. A good example of such interdisciplinarity, again, is Professor Zabotkina, who created something that had no analogues before. The center in Munich is a similar kind of organization. There are other laboratories, but the scientific community is not very happy about it. For example, Professor Yang Bao from Peking University. She successfully attracts the most intelligent and talented students, her learning atmosphere is beautiful, they constantly make discoveries - but her colleagues do not approve of her initiatives, because the most talented people want to go to her. But this is understandable: students want to have a wide horizon, they want to know the answer to the question - why do we need this science, they want meaning in life, they don’t want to just be exploited slaves.

Therefore, by the way, a Eurasian research project was organized that considered the concept of leadership in different countries - specifically for research, not for the exploitation of students, which would allow receiving grants for unique areas. Moscow is participating in the project as its center, perhaps Singapore will join, absolutely for sure - Taiwan, Vienna, Munich. Thus, we have created a new field of research. And, as I have already said, such projects can be created only in countries in which at the institute level there are people with free thinking, people who are both proud and modest - this is precisely the definition of a good scientist.

- What other promising projects can be carried out together with our Center for cognitive programs and technologies (especially within the framework of an agreement between the RSUH and the Ludwig-Maximilians University)?

- I am not very strong in planning, but we already have something together. The world can continue to exist only if universities start giving people the opportunity to educate themselves as citizens of the world, while, of course, not denying national traits and qualities, such as those of a Russian or a German. And also universities should educate leaders. We need a concept of responsible leadership. Educating such leaders is the task of educational institutions and universities.

I developed a questionnaire, a test for such people, and even a dissertation was written on this topic, in which the types of brain leaders were considered in order to determine scientifically what leadership is. We analyzed more than 300 leaders of our country with the help of this questionnaire. It is called the “Leadership Qualification Questionnaire”, it is translated into English, Chinese, and, in my opinion, one of the colleagues has already translated it into Russian. Our goal was to determine the general parameters of leadership in different countries through comparative analysis. The essence of the test is that the subject analyzes himself, in particular, by the opinions that, in the opinion of the leader, other people have shaped about him and his leadership. It turns out, so to speak, the expected description of self-perception through the opinions of others. This is a certain psychological trick: if a simple self-description and a description of oneself through the opinions of others coincide, then you lie. It is impossible to have the inner image of oneself as identical with your image in the minds of other people. And if you feel that others do not appreciate your leadership qualities or, conversely, appreciate them very highly, and describe it, this is wh ere the real comparative information begins. Such a study is highly desirable in the future in China, perhaps in Taiwan and Russia. This is one opportunity for joint research.

Another possibility, and I have already spoken about this to Professor Zabotkina, is as follows. It is clear that it is necessary to have basic research skills, for example, I work on the issue of time perception, but we must be able to overcome these boundaries and sometimes combine science and art. How to do it? After all, we can learn so much from the people of creativity. I, in fact, lectured on visual perception, starting with the “Black Square” by Malevich, with suprematism. So: the artist already knows how we perceive his work, and we are just starting to explore it, because we all see the retina, so that visual arts, poetry and music can tell us a lot about the world. Therefore, this is another topic that can be disclosed together. Working with China, we can also delve into the difference between Eastern and Western perceptions, and the richness of Russian culture simply directly demonstrates the wide possibilities of joint research.


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