lnterdisciplinary – New Cages

IFSR Newsletter 1995 Vol. 14 No. 1 March
Original Dr Stephen Sokoloff article: Raoul France’s Heritage: a Nightmare for Specialists
Reply to original article
Dr. Stephen Sokoloff
Stefan Fechter-We g 1149
A-402O Linz, Austria
Certainly interdisciplinarity is a. valuable approach which is enabling us to see many aspects of our world in new and strikingly different ways. It is enhancing our ability to tackle many problems that previously seemed inaccessible. Besides, redesigning the “cages” that we have pressed knowledge into shows us the artificiality and the arbitrariness of the current categories.
By merely redefining the boundaries we do not, however, broaden or eliminate them. The new interdisciplinary specializations are usually even much narrower than the classical ones. Biophysicists, for example, constitute a smaller – and much more exclusive – club than either biologists or physicists.
Specialization is undoubtedly necessary; how else can one acquire in-depth knowledge, given the complexity of our modern world? Unfortunately, however, specialists (whether classical or interdisciplinary) tend to be oblivious to everything and everybody outside their fields. Even within them they establish rigid hierarchies with the purpose of largely excluding many of the “players” from serious consideration.
The focus of genuine generalist-type activities is quite different. They are concerned with disseminating knowledge and making it more widely comprehensible. Their emphasis is therefore on inclusion rather than exclusion. Of course generalism can also prove useful in establishing new and previously unsuspected interconnections between widely separated fields, and understanding these relationships does sometimes lead to the development of new interdisciplinary endeavors. That is, however, only one of the benefits that generalism can confer.
We human beings do not come into this world as living robots designed to only accomplish a single narrowly defined task. Rather we are characterized by an innate striving for wholeness. We need warm, satisfying relationships, sensual satisfaction and understanding of the people, objects and phenomena that we encounter.
Producing specialized knowledge to fill the journals and thereby winning the admiration or even envy of our colleagues should not be the only preoccupation of academics. We have an obligation to enhance the richness of the world for our fellow beings, for example by teaching, writing and lecturing. Besides, it is irresponsible for the “best and the brightest” to withdraw into cages when people are despairing and even dying in the streets. Specialization may be our daily bread, but man does not live on bread alone. That is an aspect of Raoul France’s heritage which unfortunately is often forgotten.

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