Approach to Knowledge: Specialization vs Generalization
Focusing only on one discipline at the cost of others is inevitably going to create a “fragmented” tunnel vision in students. It leads to biases, imbalances, narrow and sometimes extreme ways of looking at things.
The trade-off alluded to in the title above is an important debate on one’s approach to knowledge as an endeavor. On one side of the debate, people support specializing and zooming into one specific field of expertise. In contrast, people on the other hand opine that ‘instead of knowing a lot about one thing one should know at least something about everything’.
Historically speaking, students of knowledge have generally been inclined towards being polymathic. Contemporaneously, we seem to have more number of specialists. The simple reason for this transition is the explosion of knowledge that we witness in our recent past. The amount of information that we have on a single subject is simply immense. We have some researchers, for example, who have spent decades of their lives “inside a bacteria”. Such is the state of information saturation! Comparatively, the body of knowledge in our previous times was smaller and therefore the dominance of polymaths.
The information explosion and the dominance of specialization has done a whole lot good to humanity by finding causes and cures of diseases, improving the standards of living by virtue of various goods and gadgets and expanding the body of knowledge as a whole. But it has also lead to certain discrepancies in the pursuit of knowledge that we need to rectify. The biggest of them is what we can call ‘the fragmentation of thought’. Focusing only on one discipline at the cost of others is inevitably going to create a “fragmented” tunnel vision in students. It leads to biases, imbalances, narrow and sometimes extreme ways of looking at things. Whereas on the other hand developing a polymathic tendency in our young students is going to lead an ‘integration of thought’!
It is worthwhile to mention here as many students would have realized that it is simply impossible to study a subject in isolation. There are healthy encounters, overlaps’ and intersections between various academic disciplines. Therefore integration becomes essential. It is a historical fact that a majority of modern-day sciences, both physical and social (from Psychology to Biology and from Metaphysics to Physics) were all part of one single discipline of ancient Philosophy. Moreover, just like physical forces seem to taper towards oneness in the famously known ‘theory of everything’ similarly different subjects are now coming under the purview of common projects like Quantum biology, where biology meets Physics. Holism and Oneness seem to be a pervasive feature of reality itself!
On a pragmatic plane, we will undoubtedly be associated with one specialized field but we need not restrict ourselves within the confines of those specific subjects. We need to expand our area of study for ourselves.
There is a counter-argument, though presented in support of sheer specialization. It is lamented that by focusing on polymathic tendencies, we are bound to create a society of amateurs with no specialties whatsoever that are indispensable and important to run a society. It is important to understand that nurturing polymathic tendencies does not at all translate into us bidding farewell to our respective fields of expertise. On a pragmatic plane, we will undoubtedly be associated with one specialized field but we need not restrict ourselves within the confines of those specific subjects. We need to expand our area of study for ourselves.
Another worth mentioning point here is that our Science students need to acquaint themselves with different social sciences as well. Since the topic is too diverse and much can be said but let me just conclude by mentioning one aspect here. The whole modern science that our young physicists, biologists and other students study is based on a whole paradigm of Cartesian dualism, which is nothing but a philosophy (one amongst many in the vast, rich and diverse history of philosophical discourse). Therefore, science students need to study philosophy with equal emphasis to comprehend the foundations and first principles that influence the dynamics of the subjects they study.
Similarly, our social science students need to familiarize themselves with the modern currents of physical theories of both the cosmic and subatomic scales. A mind that can synthesize various sciences and theories is bound to inch closer to the truth and that is required in today’s world where tons of information on a single subject can significantly derail one’s thought process leading to confusion, extremities and errors.
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