Dyed All Hues

Thinker and Experimenter,


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Super Specialization in a single field of study VS Shallow Knowledge/Understanding of many fields of study

Where are we supposed to be on this polar spectrum or is one of these poles a good way to live life?

Update: Is this spectrum quantifiable? Can you provide a tangible number of fields of study or is only one specialization a probable number?

I want to clarify the topic to be the knowledge of a certain field, in stead of a pure notion of a pursuit of profession(s).

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    May 2 2012: I think we should be in the middle, like real "university" students. The invention of the "University" a few centuries ago, wanted to make "universal" men - men who know a lot.

    -an ingenious engineer who has no clue about history or sociology, will never invent useful things, or will not be able to place his inventions in an interesting context ("what to do with my stuff"). History and the social sciences guide technologies, show what's useful, what's important and what's not.

    -but a historian without some knowledge of the natural sciences will never understand the context of how science and technology influence society.

    In short, I think all engineers and scientists should at least have basic notions of philosophy, history, sociology and perhaps art. Conversely, social scientists should have a minimal baggage of the natural sciences.

    Ultra-specialisation often leads to monkeys who know how to pick termites from hole with a straw.
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    Apr 26 2012: It's probably optimal from the standpoint of problem solving, creativity, and advancing human knowledge for some people to have highly specialized knowledge and for others to be interdisciplinary in focus. I don't think being invested in understanding multiple disciplines necessarily implies superficial understanding. Disciplinary boundaries are to some extent arbitrary, as the fields we, or a university, might define as separate for organizational purposes are not as separate as one might think.
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      Apr 26 2012: Fritzie,

      Intriguing comment:

      "I don't think being invested in understanding multiple disciplines necessarily implies superficial understanding"

      That is very true and I definitely agree with you. Human capacity to multi-task is limited though, so when I imagined fields of study, I imagined an infinite amount or at least more five fields of study.

      I find that the more I participate on Ted.com the more initiatives arise for me to gain superficial knowledge from other members on the site. I figured that I am gaining superficial knowledge from many fields, but I don't understand them all and trying to understand all of them at once really drains my brain. I do have difficulty with finding a single idea and riding it through the whole 30days, 2wks, 1wk, or 1day before my mind pops several new inquisitions, ideas, and conflicts.

      Maybe its a personal issue, but I am struggling to gain focus through multiple foci of topics. At the end though, I wouldn't trade my spontaneous thoughts for anything.

      Is there a quantifyable numeration that a person should stop at "X amount of fields of study"?
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        Apr 26 2012: Multitasking usually refers to doing two things or more actually at once.
        Think of everyone in college who has a double major. Let's take a girlfriend of my younger daughter's who is majoring in physics and math and will now attend graduate school in economics. Then there is another young person I know with degrees in chemistry and anthroplogy who is now headed to law school.
        Either of these girls can continue to read in any of the fields she has studied. and once an attorney or a businesswoman, they can choose also to become proficient in playing the guitar as a hobby. Both may be functionally conversant in a foreigh language already. Neither yet has had the chance to learn to be a good mother but either may already have learned at home before college to be a good cook.
        I think the number of subjects a person can pursue with the hope of getting a competent level of understanding depends on the person. This does not mean the person would be equipped to do path-breaking specialized work in the field. It depends how seriously the person attends to keeping up and depends on the field.
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          Apr 27 2012: I am curious about how many possible fields of knowledge can one human contain?
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        Apr 27 2012: I just don't think there is an answer to that question. Different people will comfortably retain and be able to use different types and amounts of material. In my experience and from what I have learned, it is useful to gain mastery of one or two areas first. Once you feel what it is like to have a mastery of something (which of course doesn't mean you know everything or are at the end of learning it), you come to understand how that feels and can add in other areas. Some areas involve a longer path to mastery than others.
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          Apr 28 2012: Thanks, that is some good advice. =)
  • Apr 25 2012: There is nothing wrong with specializing as long as a person understands when they are no longer special. People get burnt out and actually dislike like their job. Their job becomes just a job and they are no longer advancing their station in life; they then become a burden to their peers.

    Be good at what you do, but always have a plan B.
  • Apr 26 2012: Both.
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      Apr 27 2012: (I got that , I agree with you .)
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      Apr 28 2012: It's not that I don't agree, but I am just looking for more elaboration if possible?

      I don't want to assume anything because both could mean many things....
      • Apr 29 2012: Well, I am a scientist, and my "specialization" is in genomics and metagenomics. So, actually, my specialization requires me to learn about many many things in biology, though perhaps not as deeply as other things. But I have always been very curious about many things in science, so perhaps, it would look to the outsider as if I am very specialized, but science is so broad that I am not really. I read about science, its history, developments here and there. A few articles on things I don't work on, hear talks, many not in my area of work, and so on. But I would not say that I have very deep specialization and then everything else is shallow, I would say that there are all kinds of levels in what I know about one thing and another. I remain curious, and thus I remain conscious. I think it is a huge mistake to just specialize into a narrow area. if anything, we should specialize in being able to move beyond our comfort zones all the time. Otherwise we risk "extinction" at our individual level, by renouncing our basic humanity, and at the social level by denying ourselves the pleasures of talking, exchanging, and enjoying what we humanity have to offer (and our possibilities to continue offering). We can't know everything, but life is much more enjoyable if we are still curious.

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          Apr 29 2012: Gabo,

          You say, "...I would not say that I have very deep specialization and then everything else is shallow", I meant by shallow in comparison to some very deep subjects/fields. We won't know everything, so I am going to safely(possibly naively) say that most subjects will have an infinite or unmeasurable amount of depth.

          "I think it is a huge mistake to just specialize into a narrow area. if anything, we should specialize in being able to move beyond our comfort zones all the time."
          One of my personal motto's is "Try to always live outside of your comfort zones". I do believe that is the way to reach a feeling of more fulfillment in life.

          "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back [to life]." =)
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    Apr 25 2012: i will go with super specialization in a single field of study!!!
    when you feel your specialized in your field of interest then i think its good to explore and gain knowledge in other field of studies!!