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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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    Apr 2 2012: I think that while well roundedness and interdisciplinary work are admirable, for much of how our society functions, specialists are vitally needed. For instance, if one were to need a specific medical procedure done, they would want a doctor who knows that one procedure inside and out and has done it hundreds of times. Obviously, if you're considering a team working on a large project, you hope that the members of the team know the context of what they're doing, but you also hope that each of them is a specialist in the work they're responsible for.

    Also, while interdisciplinary fields are important for advances in new science, after a while, they stop really being considered interdisciplinary. Take for instance Biomedical engineering. It used to be considered a cross between chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering, but is now just considered a specialized field.
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      Apr 3 2012: Nicolette,

      I think this quote by the philosopher and economist Bernard Mandeville really captures what you are saying:

      "But if one will wholly apply himself to the making of Bows and Arrows, whilst another provides Food, a third builds Huts, a fourth makes Garments, and a fifth Utensils, they not only become useful to one another, but the Callings and Employments themselves will in the same Number of Years receive much greater Improvements, than if all had been promiscuously followed by every one of the Five."

      He, along with yourself, seems to indicate that specialization in fields is definitely needed (and preferred), not only for the society, but also to advance the field in isolation. His Hut-builder can easily be compared to your doctor who knows a certain procedure "inside and out." I find both of your ideas of having the person who is an expert in a certain field conduct that specific task very interesting, although I seem to believe a mix between the two is needed. Thank you for your comment!

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