Interdisciplinearity LO22768

John Gunkler (
Wed, 29 Sep 1999 10:07:30 -0500

Replying to LO22749 --


I fear that you and I must agree to disagree. My experience and yours
apparently do not match. For example, you wrote:

>There is also nothing wrong that I can see with being so enamored of art,
>or music, or physics, or carpentry that one wants to become a master
>carpenter or eats,drinks, and sleeps physics or music, and neglects a few
>of the other trades to make room for that mastery.

Well, I'm married to one of those people (musician, at the highest level)
and I see a lot wrong with what she neglected. She doesn't, explicitly,
see it as being "wrong" but lately she's been talking about wanting
desperately to experience other aspects of life. She even asked me, last
night, whether I thought she could sign up with a temporary help agency
and be sent out into various kinds of workplaces (even though she has no
training nor skill right now in doing such jobs) -- because she wants to
know what it feels like to serve customers from behind a counter or file
papers for a boss, etc., etc. [Seems a bit weird to me, but it's a
sincere wish on her part.] I conclude, therefore, that even she, while at
the height of success in her chosen and concentrated-on field, feels an
emptiness that represents what she neglected in her earlier education.

We have argued, respectfully, about whether she would be a better or worse
musician today if she had "only" practiced 5-6 hours per day in the
conservatory (instead of the 8 or 10 hours she actually put in), and spent
the other couple of hours studying other things -- or even just
experiencing life. She, not unnaturally, believes that everything she did
was necessary. I'm not so sure. My own experience has been quite the
opposite. I have found that I learned less, and was less productive,
during those periods when I focused entirely on one thing. When I had
more "balance" in my life, I learned more (in my specialty plus in other
things!) and was more productive (in my specialty) than when I was
entirely focused on the specialty.

But I don't expect my experiences to convince you, any more than they
convince my wife. So I am content to state, respectfully, that I disagree
with you on this point. But I want to add, in spite of this, that I agree
with you on other points. For example, I am also one who rails against
the shallowness of contemporary education and contemporary thinking. I
also believe that depth, in even one area or discipline, informs and
changes everything else one does. And I agree that what the academy tries
under the name of multi-/cross-/inter-/(etc.) disciplinarity is often not
effective and may be harmful. However, just because depth is important,
that fact doesn't dictate how we help people gain depth. Sometimes, to
use a simple-minded analogy, I have found that digging a hole from another
angle sometimes causes the bottom to fall out in my primary excavation
(specialty) making my understanding suddenly much deeper. And just
because what some knuckleheaded academics do under the banner of
(fill-in-the-prefix) - disciplinarity is stupid doesn't mean that there
isn't something worthwhile to do. If people quit trying just because
others (or even they, themselves) have failed, there is no hope for
progress in anything, is there?

John W. Gunkler


"John Gunkler" <>

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