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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    Apr 2 2012: I think we need to ask ourselves what is the goal of making the decision between specialization versus being interdisciplinary. What sort of benefits do we want for society? Specialization can be seen as a huge benefit to society as it allows for mass production. We no longer need artisans to craft a single product, rather, we have people who specialize in one very specific skill. Specialization also allows us to ignore the need to learn a lot or do a lot to give ourselves more time to focus on other things which can benefit society (like the use of dishwashers, etc versus doing it ourselves)

    Of course, this also introduces a problem. People are free to ignore some knowledge to obtain other knowledge; but people are also free to not learn at all. I believe a person's choice not to do anything beneficial to society is the crux of the problem. We cannot all specialize, we need people who are like systems engineers, who can see how all the piece fit together. The issue is that society lacks trust and the sense of duty. If one were to specialize, that one has to trust that systems engineers are around to piece things together. And there has to be a sense to duty for others to become systems engineers. This is analogous to one who is missing a limb. Phantom limb syndrome occurs and we think a limb is there, but the limb (specialized components) are missing.

    To sum up, we definitely need both. I'd like to emphasize "working together". I think regardless of whether we're specialized or not, we need to have engrained in ourselves that our intentions should be to benefit society, else we become the malignant parts of society and instead of continuing to benefit society, society needs to waste time and effort to fix the malignant parts.

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