“A. v. Humboldt as a role model
for a scientist of the future”
A dialogue between Wolfredo Wildpret andGünter Koch
HCM Conference on November 15th
at ULL, Lecture Hall of the Faculty of Pharmacy, La Laguna, Tenerife
“Cosmos” – Humboldt’s life œuvre
The first two volumes of the Kosmos (transl. Cosmos) were published between
the years 1845 and 1847. Humboldt had long intended to write a comprehensive
work about geography and the natural sciences. The writing took shape in
lectures he delivered before the University of Berlin in the winter of 1827-28.
These lectures would form "the cartoon for the great fresco of the [K/C]osmos".
The work attempted to unify the sciences then known in a Kantian framework.
With inspiration from German Romanticism, Humboldt sought to create a
compendium of the world's environment.
He spent the last decade of his long life continuing this work. The third and
fourth volumes were published in 1850-58; a fragment of a fifth appeared
posthumously in 1862. The writing period lasted from ~ his 57th
to his 89th
anniversary, i.e. ~ 30 years. Cosmos became very popular in Britain and America.
What is “Humboldtian science“ ?
Alexander von Humboldt thought an approach to science was needed that could
account for the harmony of nature among the diversity of the physical world. For
Humboldt, "the unity of nature" meant that it was the interrelation of all
physical sciences—such as the conjoining between biology, meteorology and
geology—that determined where specific plants grew.
Humboldt viewed nature holistically, and tried to explain natural phenomena
without the appeal to religious dogma. He believed in the central importance of
observation, and as a consequence had amassed a vast array of the most
sophisticated scientific instruments then available. … Nothing quantifiable escaped
his measurement. According to Humboldt, everything should be measured with the
finest and most modern instruments and sophisticated techniques available, for it
was that collected data was the basis of all scientific understanding. This
quantitative methodology would become known as "Humboldtian science".
A. v. Humboldt‘s life œuvre: „KOSMOS“
Kosmos is the German word for Cosmos. A.v.Humboldt’s
œuvre had the complete title “Kosmos – Entwurf einer
physischen Weltbeschreibung” (“Cosmos – the attempt
of a physical description of the world”).
Alexander v. Humboldt as a symbolic figure
• He and his brother Wilhelm took major
Influence on the European university
• He was a real universal and international
scientist mastering a multitude of disciplines
and offering a „grand view“ of the world
• He combined on-spot empirical research with systematic
scientific classifications and anaylysing relations cross disiplines
• He fostered to move South and Middle America in emancipated
self recognition and to become interested in modern science
• He used Tenerife as his base and training camp on his first
four years‘ research excursion
• He started at the age of 57 to compile his life œuvre during
> 30 years, i.e. was performing main science work in elder age
Wilhelm von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) was a minister, diplomat, philosopher, founder
of Humboldt University in Berlin, a friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, and
elder brother of Alexander von Humboldt. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made
important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education.
His political view is best given by one of his famous quotations: “That government is best which
makes itself unnecessary”. (In: “On the Limits of State Action“ 1792)
On university reform: Alexander‘s brother Wilhelm
Humboldt's work as a philologist especially in Basque has had more extensive impact than his other work.
His visit to the Basque country resulted in Researches into the Early Inhabitants of Spain by the help of t
he Basque language (1821). In this work, Humboldt endeavored to show by examining geographical placenames,
that at one time a race or races speaking dialects allied to modern Basque extended throughout Spain, s
Southern France and the Balearic Islands; he identified these people with the Iberians of classical writers, and
further surmised that they had been allied with the Berbers of northern Africa.
As a Minister for Education, W.v. Humboldt's plans for reforming the Prussian university and school system were
not published until long after his death, together with his fragment of a treatise on the 'Theory of Human Education',
which he had written in about 1793. Here Humboldt states that ”the ultimate task of our existence is to give the
fullest possible content to the concept of humanity in our own person [...] through the impact of actions in our
own lives”. This task “can only be implemented through the links established between ourselves as individuals
and the world around us”.
W.v. Humboldt's educational ideal was colored by social considerations. He never believed that the “human race
could culminate in the attainment of a general perfection conceived in abstract terms”. In 1789, he wrote in his diary
that “the education of the individual requires his incorporation into society and involves his links with society at large”.
The university reform in Germany after his ideas lead to the requirement, that higher education and experience
to be made in the real living environment (“Theory and Practice”) shall go hand in hand.
Learnings from both the Humboldts
• Be courageous, even adventurous
• Be open minded
• Be intensively embedded in the social and natural environment
• Be curious and explore what is still undiscovered or is new
• Never stop your mind, never stop thinking and conceptualizing
• Communicate, educate, elucitate
• Base your arguments on facts and figures
• Aim to understand the whole from the parts, don’t miss the grand view over
the tiny perspectives
• Adopt that theory and practice go together, i.e. they are two sides of one coin
• Build abstractions / theories from observations
• Participate actively in the construction of the “picture of the world”
• Aim at social balance
From Wilhelm to Alexander
• Experiment, try out
• Learn in (global) diversity
• Touch and feel
• Go out and explore
• Enter risk
= from University 1.0 -> to University 2.0
What is a „Multiversity“ ?
• A group organised by the New Club of Paris (NCP) initiated by G. Koch
met in autumn 2008 (!) at Commerzbank Headquarters in F rankfurt (G. Szogs)
to first time discuss a new university concept under the headline „Multiversity“
• The NCP idea was on reformation / substitution of university. (NCP Discussion
has been taken up by the European Academy of Science on university reformation)
• Aalto (University) Campus of Society Innovation (ACSI) started in 2010 a new
„education for innovation“ project under the participation of NCP.
Major impulse for the „Multiversity“.
• Multiversity - as a term – was first time introduced by
President of the (entire) Universities of California (UC) Clark Kerr in 1963 (!):
„The ‚Idea of a University‘ was a village with its priests.
The ‚Idea of a Modern University‘ was a town with intellectual oligarchy.
The ‚Idea of a Multiversity is a city of infinite variety… This city is more like
the totality of civilization as it has evolved… and movement to and from the
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