Interdisciplinearity LO22831

AM de Lange (
Fri, 8 Oct 1999 15:16:44 +0200

Replying to LO22785 --

Dear Organlearners,

Richard Karash <> writes:

>I think we risk overlooking the obvious: The value of a
>well-rounded education. Graber, according to Tom, values
>this. But, the comment "Parents hope..." indicates that
>many do not.

Greetings Rick,

I have quiet long enough on this topic to get some of my thoughts in
order. I have deliberately disturbed them with the help of what all fellow
learners had to say. I came up with only one new thought to my previous
ones, one which disturbs me because it gave me a new insight to myself.

This new though forces me to pose the following questions:
(1) What is a well-rounded education?
(2) Who determines what education is not well-rounded?
(3) Should we strive for a well-rounded education?

What is this new thought? In my own mother tongue Afrikaans we recognise
three phases in the development of the pre-school child:

Age Afrikaans English German
0 - 1 suigling infant Saugling
2 - 3 peuter toddler Tuftler
4 - 6 kleuter kiddy Knirbs

I realised with a shock that I never outgrew my toddler phase. In primary
school and secondary school. I was always fiddling with everything which
came my way. I was one of the top ten in my standard (form, peer group),
but never (except for one year) did best in the standard. (In that year
my father scolded me for not demontrating that I was the best.) I was too
buzzy tinkering. I was also a veracious reader. By the age of fifteen I
have read through all the thousands of books (fiction and fact, Afrikaans
and English) in our local municipal library.

In my first year of university I kept on being a toddler. After five
months I was failing all my subjects (mathematic, chemistry, physics,
applied mathematics, descriptive geometry, engineering drawings)
hopelessly. During the holdidays I carefully gaurded the mail box to
remove the report so that my parents would not see it. The next five
months I put my nose into these subjects and DISCIPLINED myself in them. I
became aware that other people called these subjects disciplines. I longed
for an interdisplinary approach. I got three distictions at the end of
that five months. They tasted bitter to me.

I completed my BSc with half more subjects all the way than what was
required. It was my personal solution to learn interdisciplinary. I got my
BSc cum laude, but I hated it because I had far less time for tinkering.
The next two years for a MSc in phsyics it became worse. The more I wanted
to work interdisciplinary, the more I had to discipline myself into
phsyics. I barely had time to read books in general. I got my MSc cum
laude, but rather than keep on hating what it in involved, I decided to
jump off the wagon of traditional science and its disciplines rather than

I landed right into the complexity of soils, hoping to work in an
interdisciplinary manner. Having got the "license of researcher" I was
finally free to tinker once again. I soon realised that an
interdisciplinary approach was like date palm -- the head growing in the
sun while the root was locked into the mud. I discovered the power of
Irreversible Thermodynamics (concerning entropy production and its
consequences) as the discipline to conquer the complexity of soil physics
and chemistry. I made some pretty advances in soil science. By then I was
also very intersted in creativity. It was this tinkering with creativity
which made me aware that my roots were all muddy.

I became aware that I was heading to something beyond even the
INTERdisciplinary approach -- almost like a TRANSdisciplinary approach. I
was thinking in terms of "faculties" within me. My five years at
university helped my "science faculty" to become more mature. But my four
years in soils sceince in particular and agriculture in general mad me
realise that the other faculties within me were almost non-existent. So,
using this tinkering of my toddler phase which I never really have
outgrown, I worked on the other faculties (typical of what a university
has) within me. Some say it makes me a "jack of all trades". Perhaps
working on all the faulties did make me so.

Soon I realised that I am not doing what I love to do more than anything
else -- teaching. I discussed it with my dear wife and typical of her she
said whatever I do she will go along. As for the rest (my family, my
friends, my colleagues at the agricultural reseacrh institute and at the
university) they were shocked because I was wasting my talents. Some of my
professors even refused to talk to me again. It was wierd -- they ignored
me when encountering me as if I was a mirage.

It is now thirty years later.

(1) What is a well-rounded education?
For me a well-rounded education is to develop all the faculties
within me. I know of no university in South Africa with a program
which come even close to it. I know students (5-10%) who want
to do on university exactly what I had to do outside university.

(2) Who determines what education is not well-rounded?
I have studied subjects from A (like anthropology) to Z (like
Zulu) as MY need and quriosity for discplining me in a particular
subject arised. Universities prescribe degrees so as to ensure
that community gets a graduate of high quality. They do not
prescribe, nor even allow graduation in subjects taken from
the entrie academical spectrum -- too much chaos to ensure
quality in such a case.

(3) Should we strive for a well-rounded education?
I have studied subjects in a pattern which fitted to my own
Personal Mastery. As a toddler I began tinkering with everything
coming my way. I am still doing it. This tinkering I recognise
today as creating my "experential knowledge" from which my
"tacit knowledge", then my "fromal knoweldge" and eventually
my "spaient knowledge" emerge. This thinkering with things
coming my way is not well-rounded, although well-rounded
in experience. I "know" of many things from the books which
I would love to tinker with, but I do not have enough time or
money to get to them all. I LOVE reading about all these things
beyond my horizon. But I would HATE to write any exam on
them because I cannot experience them trhough tinkering.
This is what makes higher education a closed system for me.
Fortunately their libraries are open to me -- and I have free
access to Internet

>I think our topic here is how ordinary people (managers,
>engineers, citizens... even consultants) should prepare
>themselves to be most effective in the world.

Rick, I like your word "prepare". Preparation makes the participation an
unforgetable event. Preparation is the great grand mother of wisdom and
the great grandfather of love. Praparation opens the gates of compassion
and bravery. Preparation keep the fool from the grave of ignorance.

>I have these personal observations about interdisciplinearity
>as a personal growth strategy:

My observations above were exactly the same. I will regret the day when
they become the "tyranny of an expert".

> 1. I find it remarkably refreshing to dive into a new area from
>time to time. I seem to oscillate in 3-5 year cycles between
>going deeper in whatever is my main line at the time and
>branching out to related fields.

Exactly the same here!

>For example, during the past few years, I've been reading some
>philosophy to better understand the background and
>underpinnings of this org learning field. In my prior education, I
>purposely ignored philosophy as non-productive.

Perhaps you also have not outgrown your toddler phase of many years ago.

> 2. I think there's a basic tradeoff between going deeper in a
>specialty and going broad.

Yes, but the LEM (Law of Excluded Middle) does not work here. In many
cases working deeper and wider is very, very profitable.

How I wish I could make, what are long stories, very short. (Is it a
tradeoff working here too, ot its opposite?) In the majority of scientific
BREAKTRHOUGHs they came as a result of working deeply and widely. Take any
subject like phsyics, chemistry, geology, botany or zoology and take any
breakthrough in that subject. Trace its entire history to see its
evolutionary path. I know that the history of subjects of natural science
is avoided even more than philosophy or theology. But do as I say. You
will not find many books helping you much and you will have to search
among many books for a piece or two of the puzzle before you are able to
fit the whole puzzle.

So why does working deeply AND widely often lead to
breakthroughs? Working deeply has much to do with the
essentiality sureness. See for example
Essentiality - "identitity-categoricity" (sureness) LO17823
Working widely has much to do with the essentiality
wholeness. See for example
Essentiality - "associativity-monadicity" (wholeness) LO18276

These are two of seven essentialities. All seven play a vital role when
chaos have to emerge into order. When one or more of the seven are
impaired, the bicurcation at the edge of chaos does not result in a
constructive emerge, but a destructive immergence.

Scientific breakthroughs are emergences. Although either sureness or
wholeness may work in the foreground, the other one together with the
other five have to work in the background to enable the emergence from

Managing a tradeoff between one (or more essentialities) and the rest of
them is the last thing we should ever try to do. It is a certain way to
manage destructive immergences -- to hit the dust.

>3. I really worry about the "Parents hope..." quote above.

Me also. But as grandparents we have to worry even more. What is in stake
for the formal education of our grandchildren?

Please do not make the error which I have made so many times in my life.
We cannot hope for an emergence because hope comes with the the emergence,
not before it. (Hope is one of many adjoints of emergences in the human
spirit.) For example, a mother hope her baby will be normal only when she
carres the baby in her womb after the emergence called conception. Hope
and the other adjoints have a different function. They raise our free
energy so that we can prepare ourselves sufficiently for the next

Parents who hope education will be good got that hope from their own
education and specifically the emergent learning in it. They have use that
hope wisely to prepare a good education for their children and
grandchildren. We do not have an unlimited source of free energy in our

>4. More on the liberal arts... I've had the opportunity to create in
>technical fields and in art.

The same here.

I now even try to do technical things in a artful manner.

>(As for my art... Well, I've never been tempted to quit my day job!)

Do not be so sure about the future too! It takes but one creative collapse
and you will be born irreversibly an artist.

> 5. For making a contribution to the world, there's a role for
>the narrow specialist... and for the more rounded thinker who
>accurately sees applications.

Again, why so much emphasis on only sureness and wholeness in the academy?
What about liveness, fruitfulness, spareness otherness and openness. Do
they have to operate outside a formal institution?

Take liveness, for example. See
Essentiality - "becoming-being" (liveness) LO17651

At our university, like most others, the dust of controversy between
theory and practice never settles. Theory focus on the being of a subject
and practice on its becoming. There is a truce between the science faculty
(which focus on theory) and the engineering faculty (which focus on
pratice). In the meantime we have a saying in my mother tongue "Tussen die
hand en die mond val die pap op die grond" (Between the hand and the mouth
the porridge falls on the ground). Stydents never get the opportunity to
experience the push-pull action of practice-theory.

What about fruitfulness (which is for many what creativity is about --
efective connections). The majority of learning problems for most students
in chemistry cannot be solved by themselves. These problems have nothing
do with the faculty of natural science, i.e chemistry and its two
sustaining subjects, phsyics and mathematics. These problems arise because
the students have almost no functional education in the other faculties.

Take language for example. They are functionally illiterate whenever a
sentence has more than a object, a verb and a subject. Put two qualifiers
(adverbs or adjectives) in a sentence and they will stop noticing even one
of them. Put a connective like "or" in a sentence if you want chaos in
understanding. Complexity shuts them up like hot water does to clams.

Take phsyiology and psychology for example. They expect their bodies and
souls to function in ways which defies even the most commonly recginised
patterns. They sleep for a few hours and assume that they will still be
able to concentrate in lectures. They fill their heads with negative
judgements and assume they will still make progress in their subjects.
When some of them finally make it to my office, I have to untangle this
crow nest while teaching them to do it self when it happens again.

Specialising in a discipline to make better use of time creates so many
problems that to solve those problems takes much more time than the time
supposedly gained by specialisation.

>In summary: As a personal strategy for being effective in
>the world, one can go narrow or add some dabbling around the
>main theme. I find it more fun *and* more productive to include
>a very broad education and some continuous dabbling around
>the edges.

Dabbling? Or developing all faculties like a river meandering to the sea?
Show me two rivers meandering the same course! I can show you hundreds of
students meandering the same curriculum (degree course). Once a week or
two I meander through campus to observe the body language of our students.
I do it because that what I observe cause so much pain in me that its
entropy production drives me to insights how to help them. What do I
observe -- happiness, curiosity, expectation, discipline? Do the same and
see what their bodies tell you.

>But, each person has to make their own choice.

Alas, only among the boxes which the system offers. The system has become
like a gigantic MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) -- a supermarket with
shelves loaded with all kinds of thinsg which you can buy, except the one
you are looking for.

Thanks Rick for your mature contribution to our dialogue on this topic.
Were it not for you, I probably would have lurked on this topic. I felt
that there is too much emotion of all kinds in me to make a harmonious
contribution. Academy is for me Hans Anderson's story of the king without
clothes. My tinkering (since the age of one and which I never could
outgrow) makes me that child to see that old king academy has no clothes

Who listen to children? Which kindom belongs to them?
The one of which the king has no clothes on?

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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