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 3 2012: I think we need both specialists and generalists in our society, and i also think there are not enough generalists. Also a group of generalists has better problem solving power than a group of specialists in diverse fields, simply because they can communicate and understand each other more easily.

    In my opinion a generalist also has a better understanding of the world he lives in and probably a more flexible thinking.
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      Apr 3 2012: Moving forward with this line of thinking, I feel that it is a matter of finding a balance between the two. I feel that now, as we become more specialized, we become less aware of anything outside this specialty. This really is a shame. To me, it is very gratifying to be able to discuss various topics outside of a chosen, specific field. Although it is great that people are becoming more specialized and more cutting-edge work is done, it is very difficult for me to entertain the idea that our world becomes so specialized that we lose the ability to understand the world from various perspectives. This is why what we need is balance, so that we can blend together the specialists and the generalists.
    • Apr 4 2012: I definitely agree with your opinion that there has to be a balance between specialists and generalists. While specialists are immensely important to our society in their function as experts in a given field, generalists are necessary to synthesize the specialists' expertise. I firmly believe, however, that even specialists should have a wide range of experience outside of their chosen industry if only to be well-informed citizens.

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