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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: We need both A specialized perspective and wholesome perspectives creates growth in balance. Should we only have one or the other we'd find ourselves getting stuck as a community. Each offers momentum like a professional ballroom dancing -l one person leads direction and the other balance. This makes the dance seem effortless and graceful and yet there's a lot of muscle, thought and physics happening in the dance. If both lead and balance you get chaos and not much grace.
    • Apr 3 2012: Melissa,

      I enjoyed reading your comment. The dance metaphor is a really good way to visualize the relationship between generalization and specialization. I’m especially intrigued by the idea that one person leads and the other follows. Perhaps, this sort of division is also necessary in society. That is, we need people who are extremely specialized in their field and people who are familiar with a range of disciplines to create balance. Sure, I believe that it is possible to be an expert in a field as well as a well-rounded individual. However, I don’t think we can be equally good at being both. Speaking from personal experience, people seem to lean more toward one or the other side of the specialization/generalization spectrum. But, if we think about the specialization/generalization dichotomy in light of what we know about muscle contraction, it does not seem as problematic. Just as the different components of muscle work together to create movement, people who fall on different sides of the specialization/generalization spectrum can work together to maximize their productive potential.

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