TED Conversations

Steven Nikolidakis

Student, The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art


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Does society need more interdisciplinary work? Or more well-rounded individuals working together?

This week in my Bioelectricity class there was an emphasis on learning about muscle physiology. One facet of the musculoskeletal system which I find especially interesting is the notion of having specialized muscle tissue for certain actions or scenarios in life. Muscle is composed of individual fibers called myocytes, each containing protein strands which grab and pull on each other to induce muscle contractions. Muscle fibers can further be broken down into two types, namely Slow Twitch (Type 1) and Fast Twitch (Type 2). The Slow Twitch fibers are extremely efficient at converting oxygen into usable energy and allowing athletes to perform tasks for extended periods before they fatigue, such as running a marathon. The Fast Twitch fibers, on the other hand, don't use oxygen to create fuel and can recruit motor neurons for a short but powerful burst, which can be useful in a sprint. Each muscle may contain any combination of each of these fibers in order to perform an activity.

In this case, specialization proves to be an imperative characteristic to the completion of a task. In today's world, people immerse themselves in a vast array of fields in order to help the society advance. So I ask the TED community: Is it more beneficial to society to consist of people who are experts in one field, or those who have a well-rounded background in many fields?


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    Mar 30 2012: What a great conversation to start my day! I run a transdisciplinary Masters programme in the UK, across technology, e-sciences, digital arts and the humanities, and for the students on my course the ability to work across and beyond discipline boundaries is extremely exciting (and challenging!) and leads to really innovative products/processes/ideas. (If you're interested, you can see the kind of work that this kind of transdisciplinary approach leads to at www.ioct.dmu.ac.uk/masters). It's not just having the specialist knowledge from different disciplines that is beneficial but also the practical understanding of the different working practices and processes of different disciplines. Being able to communicate and across disciplines is the key, leading to a deeper understanding of connections, which can result in groundbreaking work. Having people in the workforce who can work in this way, with a understanding of the value of different disciplines and how they work together can surely only be beneficial for society.

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