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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: Yes, society obviously needs more interdisciplinary work. Art and science go hand and hand to create magnificent feats of architecture, design, machinery, and innovation. Schools often put subjects in silos. This needs to be changed immediately.

    I am a student at Syosset High School in Long Island, New York. I am writing a book on education reform — Time to Think Different: Why America Needs a Learning Revolution.
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      Mar 30 2012: Nikhil,

      Thank you for your comment. Being an engineering student, I definitely see the importance and necessity of interdisciplinary work and using different fields to compliment each other. I am also interested on your thoughts as to why you think schools put subjects in silos, or even how that affects society. Fritzie Reisner, in her comment on this thread, seems to think that it is the individuals who yearn for this specialization in one field, while you think it is more because of the education system. However, both of you do agree that interdisciplinary work is what society needs. I would love to hear your thoughts, and would also appreciate if you would let me know when you're done with your book. Here is a quote by R. Buckminster Fuller on the problem of society operating on the theory of specialization which you could think about including in your book, or just enjoy for yourself.

      Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking. - R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983), Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1963
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        Apr 3 2012: For me personally, the question of specializing in one field versus focusing on a lot of diverse areas has an important temporal aspect. Often, it seems important to learn one subject really well. Before a test, trying to get a job, training for a job, or even just studying a specific area for pleasure. I think that in the long-run, however, it is important both to have experiences in specific areas as well as a broad interdisciplinary base.

        This has some interesting analogs to human health and biology: I liken focusing on a specific area to a sprint, working those fast-twitch muscle analogs in the brain, working to all but exhaust your curiosity. Interdisciplinary learning is more like running a marathon--It is really a life-long journey, and it exercises your mind in a different way. Ultimately, you need to practice both to have a healthy background, but it is clear why certain situations require one style of learning or the other.

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