19.229 failure of interdisciplinarity

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 06:22:21 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 229.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Hartmut Krech <kr538_at_uni-bremen.de> (27)
         Subject: Re: 19.227 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [2] From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net> (42)
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity

   [3] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (45)
         Subject: Discipline, Study, Environmental Correlate

         Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 06:12:42 +0100
         From: Hartmut Krech <kr538_at_uni-bremen.de>
         Subject: Re: 19.227 failure of interdisciplinarity


a metasystemic (or nondisciplinary) integration appears to me like
trying to devise a universal language without taking the pains to
construct the vocabulary, define the syntax and meanings and teach
its application.

All natural languages (and perhaps even the artficial ones, if they
are taken to address themselves to some subject area or problem)
developed as efforts to subject certain limited and naturally given
environments to human control. Metalanguages or interlanguages seem
to rest upon mental structures that were acquired in previous
instructions in at least one natural language. But what is "one's
intellectual home/domain" from where we could build "methods of
interconnectness and integration", as Tatjana Chorney would have it
in her contribution ?

By definition, the scope of any discipline is limited. If we want
(and need) to transcend disciplinary boundaries, we need to know
more, not less, about the disciplines or "intellectual homes" involved.

One suspicious circumstance about the term "interdisciplinary" is the
fact that we do not seem to know when and how it was first defined or
used. There is some indication that it turned up among pragmatist
scholars around 1928 within the context of programs of polytechnical
instruction for applied sciences. Any more precise information is
highly welcome.

Best regards,
Dr. Hartmut Krech
The Culture and History of Science Page

         Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 06:13:18 +0100
         From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net>
         Subject: Re: 19.224 failure of interdisciplinarity


While my sympathies lie with Beer's phrases such as "disciplinary
paranoids" and "league of disciplinary paranoids," I am not so
certain that we are awaiting the proscribed cure:

> >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.
Aren't there figures from the 20th century, such as Donald Knuth,
Norbert Weiner, Noam Chomksy, Marvin Minsky, Umberto Eco, and others
that one would be hard pressed to describe as "disciplinary paranoids?"

That is to say that the solution is always waiting to be found by the
individual scholar and not in the presence or absence of some
particular structure or program in the modern university, whether it
can be said to be a "league of disciplinary paranoids" or not.

It seems to me that the university, conceived of as libraries and
librarians, research facilities and a gathering of inquisitive minds
provides all the opportunity necessary to transcend the boundaries of

Why attempt to routinize or mechanize what is at its core a personal
choice to embark on a journey of discovery?

Hope you are having a great day!


Patrick Durusau
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
Member, Text Encoding Initiative Board of Directors, 2003-2005
Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!
         Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 06:14:00 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Discipline, Study, Environmental Correlate
The quotation from the Stafford Beer preface provides as some subscribers
to Humanist have indicated an example of the slipperiness of vocabulary
shifts in the midst of making an argument. Beer ptiches the case for
reform around a swirling constellation of terms. There are:
          "[fields of] study"
Be that as it may, there is a dearth of terms for "possession" in the
snippet you quoted. There is the verb "to have." I suspect the play of
associations with this one verb (absent a fuller treatment of the concept
of "possession") gives rise to the enthymeme that the "possessor
possessed." The product of schooling (the graduate) is formed by that
schooling. Isn't this a tabla rasa view of students? "We" don't always
view the student as a "he".
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
To posses a practice, to have been trained in a discipline, means, to my
mind, to be able to recreate the conditions of practice elsewhere. There
appears to be a significant dose of reproductive angst in the passage from
Beer. As if all those trained in a discipline will continue to practice
that discipline.
It is worth recalling that Beer's brand of management cybernetics focussed
more on the organisation and less on the environment. Interinstitutional
arrangements escape notice. When one considers the extra muros, the
displinary walls seen rather permeable. Their permeability depends upon
their being walls.
An horticultural view would see expertise (as opposed to "discipline") as
worthy specialization whose fruits are sharable. For the fruits of
expertise to be sharable they must be offered. Hoarding is of course
anathema. There is room for the green grocer, the transportation engineer,
the culinary stylist in such a world: offering is not a simple effortless
moment in the cycles of cultivation and composting.
Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
Skill may be the capacity to manipulate perceptions of knowledge.
Magic is.
Received on Fri Aug 26 2005 - 01:33:05 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Fri Aug 26 2005 - 01:33:06 EDT