Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cross-disciplinary work

There is talk in academia. People are unhappy with the segregation of the disciplines. Philosophy will be my example as it is what I know. Biology, physics, medicine, religion, psychology, astronomy, alchemy and anything else you can think of were once the domain of philosophy. Now our powers lie primarily in ethics, history of philosophy, and metaphysics. Metaphysics is a good foundation on which to work. Ethics is useful in other areas and as such taught outside of the philosophy department, and history of philosophy is blatantly cross-disciplinary.

Professors and students from time to time inform me that a cross-disciplinary approach is best. No one says anything more. Either we must learn as much as we possibly can or correspond with people in other disciplines. It was bad enough that we are out of touch with the lay people, now we are out of touch with each other as well. But whenever people mention cross-disciplinary work they commit an error to which up until now I have been unable to respond.

Cross disciplinary work is useful, I am told, because it is a different way of looking at things. This is not always but often false.

It's a bit romantic. Look at the world through the eyes of another. How different it looks! How strange and new. This implies that we are simply narrow. We cannot see across the hill because we are so focused on the flower growing against this tiny stone. The chemist is not looking at the flower. They are off on the other side of the hill blowing things up. It is not simply a different view, it is a different part of the world. It is not as if I look at the forest and talk to the biologist who looks at a certain tree, it is as if I am listening to the stream and the biologist comes running out of the forest to tell me about something they discovered. We are not just looking at the same things in different ways, we are looking at entirely different problems in different ways. That is why it is useful. A superficial knowledge of the tree will let me see things differently, but I need a deep knowledge of the tree in order to really know it and use it.

For example my boyfriend is a physics student. He teaches me something and we can discuss it, but only through him. I couldn't go and discuss physics with someone who knew less then me, I wouldn't learn or advance in any way, and he does not advance in talking to me.

No comments: