Thursday, April 05, 2012

UNESCO Should Add Cognitive Science to its Portfolio

UNESCO should add Cognitive Sciences to its portfolio when finances permit.
UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.
UNESCO was created to build the defenses of peace through programs in education, science, culture and communications. It has since, at the direction of its member states, expanded its purposes to include more focus on poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialog. It currently has divided its efforts into five programs: education, natural science, social and human sciences, culture and communications (which includes efforts related to the information and communications technology and the information society).

It would seem that UNESCO should have a major emphasis on cognitive science. The interdisciplinary efforts in this field should shed light on how the Organization might best build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. Cognitive science could also be encouraged to illuminate better ways to reduce poverty, to assure the sustainability of development and especially to promote fruitful intercultural dialog. It should inform UNESCO's efforts in the field of education. It is a natural science and one would think the prototypical "human science". Indeed, it should inform much of the communication program, especially that portion concerned with the promotion of the information society.

Yet UNESCO has no program in the cognitive sciences. While it would be difficult to initiate such a program now during a period of financial crisis, such a program should be started when that crisis lifts.

There is no other agency in the United Nations system that would be better suited to lead the system in the cognitive sciences, although many other agencies could benefit from knowledge derived from the cognitive sciences. Moreover, this is one of the most active areas of the sciences which seems likely to begin to spin off applications and social benefits at an increasing rate.

UNESCO does not fund research, nor is it well suited to disseminate scientific information within the scientific community nor to the public. It does seek to create the conditions for dialog among people of many nations. It serves as a clearinghouse of ideas. Increasingly it seeks to find ways that information from the sciences can be incorporated in policy making. Importantly, it serves to create networks through which people outside its bureaucracy can work together to further UNESCO's mission.

A program in the cognitive sciences could serve all these functions. Certainly UNESCO could sponsor workshops and publications to explore the potential of cognitive sciences to improve the various programs of the Organization and to suggest how the results of those sciences could help achieve the Organization's missions. Thus there might be efforts to explore the outputs from cognitive science that could:

  • help build the defenses of peace in the minds of men,
  • support efforts to reduce poverty, focusing on those with incomes of less than $2 per year,
  • support efforts to promote prudent concern for the environment in economic development programs,
  • help to make dialog among cultures more fruitful.
UNESCO could also explore applications:
  • to improve education for all programs,
  • to improve the utilization of information from the natural and social sciences in policy making,
  • to contribute to the development of knowledge/information societies.
UNESCO could promote the creation of UNESCO chairs and university networks in the cognitive sciences. It could encourage National Commissions and UNESCO clubs to include efforts to link the intellectual communities involved in the cognitive sciences with UNESCO's mission and work. It might encourage its network of associated schools to include aspects of the cognitive science in their curricula as well as to examine the implications of the cognitive sciences for schooling. It might ask the global network of World Heritage sites to consider how findings from the cognitive sciences might enhance the experiences of people visiting the sites and how they might help develop public consciousness of the importance of conserving those sites. UNESCO might encourage its Category I and Category II centers and institutes to more fully incorporate the findings from cognitive science in their activities.

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