19.227 failure of interdisciplinarity

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 08:01:19 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 227.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Richard Shroyer <Shroyer_at_uwo.ca> (10)
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [2] From: "Joseph Raben" <joeraben_at_cox.net> (12)
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [3] From: tatjana.chorney_at_smu.ca (190)
         Subject: RE: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [4] From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org> (28)
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

         Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 07:16:29 +0100
         From: Richard Shroyer <Shroyer_at_uwo.ca>
         Subject: 5th International PhD School in Formal Languages
and Applications

In this (should I say despairing and a bit self-congratulatory) piece
from 1980, nowhere do I see the problems that are to be solved by
this non-existent, metasystemic approach to knowledge. If
interdisciplinarity is of no use, what are the questions to be
answered by this non-attached, autonomous beast. Does the rest of the
work tell us?

R.J. Shroyer

e-mail: shroyer_at_uwo.ca

         Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 07:17:32 +0100
         From: "Joseph Raben" <joeraben_at_cox.net>
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

All I can say, Willard, is amen. In the 20 years I edited CHum, I
strove to include articles and items from as many disciplines as
possible to emphasize the concept that by struggling to figure out
how computers could aid our research we had to cross the old
disciplinary lines, not only into arcane fields like computer science
but into nearer disciplines, so that English majors, for example,
could learn from classicists or historians who were developing
techniques for their own studies. How much we still lean over each
other's shoulders is hard to tell now, but I look forward to reading
others' comments on this provocative quote.

Joe Raben

         Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 07:17:08 +0100
         From: tatjana.chorney_at_smu.ca
         Subject: RE: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

In response to the citation below--I am grateful that it was brought to
attention, since it seems to articualare the greatest current malaise of
the academic world. I look forward to reading more, but underlying the
text is both a sort of resignation over the apparently insurmountable
level of difficulty involved in actually changing something for the
better, and an implicit call for a radical shift.

Talk of radical shifts, however, since they mean facing the Unknown and
relinquishing the Safe Harbour of Sameness, justifibly or not, usually
make others very nervous, and incite responses pointing out not only the
number of obstacles in the way of change, but also the positive aspects
of the status quo, and the utopian, or even worse, clearly uninformed
perspective of those who seek change. After all, it is very comforting
to look back --instead of forward--and conclude that things have worked
well for so long, and that likelinhood is, the perceived need for change
will surely "blow over" as it were.

Our inability to imagine a system that is essentially a-systematic as a
form of organization seems to reveal the limitations of our outlook.
What I am saying here is that I agree with the ideas expressed, but
wonder where to take them further. One thing that strikes me in relation
to the perceived impasse is that surely the defintiion of "good
scholarship" would have to change in a way that responds to the
"interconnectedness" informing the global world, and life in general.
Part of the problem, I think, somehow lies deeply in the very foundation
of disciplinary knowledge, and the possessive and passive-agressive
claim that a specialist is supposed to and does lay to his/her bit of
knowledge. Another part of the problem, which may be linked to the
previous one, may lie in the spirit of individualism encouraged by
political and social systems where competition and ownership of goods as
well as ideas are promoted as a the epitome of democracy and freedom.
This spirit, bent as it is on establishing boundaries between "me" and
"others," "mine" and "yours," as well as between various apparently
self-sustaining and apparently well-functioning systems, is generally
not amenable to openinig itself up, since that would somehow mean
relinquishing a grasp on a kind of power that comes with certaintly and
a sense of rightful ownership. In the current climate, many disciplines
implicilty and explicilty define themselves through a form of negation:
they see their own identity in terms of their difference from other
disciplines, rather than their similarities.

So then, I guess, the new kind of academia, if it is to achieve forms of
metasystemic engagement with knowledges, would need to undergo a process
of change the stages of which would include a moment in time when we are
all willing to profess without fear and embarassment a profound
ignorance of the workings of other systems, and to feel genuine
curiosity about them. This process will lead to willingness to learn
about something that may be very diferent from whatever we have become
used to; the process would entail having to see with open, curious and
critical eyes the shortcomings of the idea of compartmentalized
knowledge, its ultimate inadequacy, and, well, uselessness, for the
state of the world. I am citing here, of course, my profound belief that
knowledge of whatever kind must be self evidently relevant to the larger
world, and that those who produce knowledge should be able without much
hesitation and difficulty to explain to anyone they meet walking in the
park what they do and how it matters to all. And, not for one moment do
I think that this is either easy or painless. I have tried.

Another part of the problem, as well as possibly part of a solution, is
the equasion of knowledge primarily with content and not method. If
knowledge is defined not only as content but also as method, a method
which would be clearly articulated, then we would avoid having to
conclude that we could't find anyone to teach a radical kind of
interdiciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity fails primarily because we
associate knowledge with the contents of various disciplines and our
ability to cite facts or studies as a demonstration of our knowledge and
expertise. No one person can ever lay claim to all systems and all
knowledges. But once we stop identifying expertise with the notion of
"ownership" of facts, we would focus on a method of interconnectedness,
and the teaching of a method of integration, a process which would no
doubt very frighteningly for most of us mean relinquishing that secret
hold on power that comes from the ownership model of expertise. In
short, we would have to unlearn many things about who we think we are,
without being defensive, and keep an open mind.

So then, perhaps, the first metasystemic step would consist of committed
reflection on the nature of the system we participate in and its
limitations. Examining self critically current practices would already
constitute one step toward being open to Difference of various kinds and
other systems, and would show willingness to incorporate and integrate
new knowedges/methods into whatever one calls one's intellectual
home/domain. Somehow the idea and value of specialized knowlede (an its
identification with discipline-specific memorized data) has taken
complete hold over institutions, and has caused us to fail to see the
real value of seeing farther, of seeing beyond, and of being able to
perceive--let alone practice--interconnectedness.

This is a long comment, but the bit below tapped into something I had
been thinking about for a while, and I would be very interested in
hearing other responses. I should also say that i have only recenlty
joined this discussion group, and have already had the great pleasure of
reading postings that engage with exceptionally interesting issues,
crucial to the humanities. The terms "humanist" and "humanities" are
already hopeful, and part of the solution to the problem cited in the
posting below, in that they refer to and encompasses a variety of
disciplines all connected by their concern with what is relevant to
being human in the broadest and most meaningful sense.



Dr. Tatjana Chorney
Department of Enlglish
Saint Mary's Unievrsity
Halifax, Nova Scotia

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 224.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 16:49:55 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
>The following is quoted from the Preface by Sir
>Stafford Beer to Humberto R Maturana and
>Francisco J Varela, Autopoiesis: The Realization of the Living
>(1980): 64-5.
> >A man who can lay claim to knowledge about some
> >categorized bit of the world, however tiny,
> >which is greater than anyone else's knowledge of
> >that bit, is safe for life: reputation grows,
> >paranoia deepens. The number of papers increases
> >exponentially, knowledge grows by
> >infinitesimals, but understanding of the world
> >actually recedes, because the world really is an
> >interacting system. And since the world, in many
> >of its aspects, is changing at an exponential
> >rate, this kind of scholarship, rooted in the
> >historical search of its own sanctified
> >categories, is in large part unavailing to the needs of mankind.
> >
> >There has been some recognition of this, and
> >inter-disciplinary studies are by now
> >commonplace in every university. But will this
> >deal with the problem? Unfortunately, it will
> >not. We still say that a graduate must have his
> >'basic discipline', and this he is solemnly
> >taught - as if such a thing had a precise
> >environmental correlate, and as if we know that
> >God knew the difference between physics and
> >chemistry. He learns also the academic mores,
> >catches the institutional paranoia, and proceeds
> >to propagate the whole business. Thus it is that
> >an 'interdisciplinary study' often consists of a
> >group of disciplinarians holding hands in a ring
> >for mutual comfort. The ostensible topic has
> >slipped down the hole in the middle. Among those
> >who recognize this too, a natural enough debate
> >has ensued on the subject: can an undergraduate
> >be taught 'interdisciplinary studies' as his
> >basic subject? But there is no such subject;
> >there is no agreement on what it would be like;
> >and we are rather short of anyone qualified to
> >do the teaching. Those who resist the whole
> >idea, in my view correctly, say that it would
> >endanger the norms of good scholarship. There is a deadlock....
> >
> >The dissolution of the deadlock within the
> >disciplinary system that I described above has
> >got to be metasystemic, not merely
> >interdisciplinary. We are not interested in
> >forming a league of disciplinary paranoids, but
> >(as Hegel could have told us) in a higher synthesis of disciplines....
> >
> >In the mounting pile of new books printed every
> >year that are properly called scientific, one
> >may take hold of one's candle and search like a
> >veritable Diogenes for a single one answering to
> >the honest criteria I have proposed for a
> >metasystemic utterance. There is only a handful
> >in existence at all, which is not surprising in
> >view of the way both knowledge and academia are
> >organized. And yet, as I have also proposed,
> >herein lies the world's real need. If we are to
> >understand a newer and still evolving world; if
> >we are to educate people to live in that world;
> >if we are to legislate for that world; if we are
> >to abandon categories and institutions that
> >belong to a vanished world, as it is well-nigh
> >desparate that we should; then knowledge must be rewritten.
>[NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend]
>Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for
>Computing in the Humanities | King's College
>London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London
>WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980
>|| willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Signature file open error: file not found (%X00018292)

         Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 07:18:03 +0100
         From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org>
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity


I read the item below, this morning, not long before reading your
post. Perhaps it has a bearing on the interdisciplinary challenge. If
so, would have interesting implications for the
supercooker-status-seeking-pressure to do with "prizes and other
rewards" that increasingly define "excellence" in academic settings,
as if creativity and "genius" for lack of a better word, was
something as easy to quantify and measure as stock market prices. The
need creativity is greatest in interdisciplinarity -- and so is the
challenge of measuring success, cross-discipline.

Book #1 "The Courtesan Prince" (SciFi)
and related novellas "Kath" and "Mekan'stan"
http://www.okalrel.org lynda@okalrel.org
6.  Inner motivation
This is the driving force to create, not for reward but for its own
sake.  For the enjoyment, satisfaction, challenge.  Research has
consistently shown that work evaluation, supervision, competition for
prizes, and restricted choices in how to perform an activity--all
these undermine intrinsic motivation and inhibit creativity in
workers . Research on children has also supported these results.  A
June 25, 1994 summary article in Science News magazine (which
summarizes papers and publications in various science fields)
reported that, in studies with children, creativity in artwork and
written stories drops significantly for children who receive or
expect to receive prizes or other rewards.
from http://tarakharper.com/k_creatv.htm
Received on Thu Aug 25 2005 - 03:11:26 EDT

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