Ripples in Time and Space, Part 3

There was a time, centuries ago, when an educated man was an educated man. Equally capable of discoursing in Latin or following complicated equations, the educated man was interested and educated in all fields. Inside one brain, geography would interact with geology and chemistry with philosophy. Is there a better way to advance the cause of knowledge than that? Is it not the complex interplay of seemingly unrelated topics that sparks off something truly new and takes humankind in a hitherto unforeseen direction?

Of course, it is no longer possible for any one person to understand everything in every discipline. We have advanced so far and learned so much that the training required would be time consuming and very expensive. However, even with this in mind, we have become too insular in our approach. Why, for example, have I had no training in biology? If one were to split science into three, biology would make a significant third of all science. How, then, can I call myself a scientist, when I am so wholly ignorant of the field of life science?

I do not advocate that our children are required to learn everything in the world at school: this is obviously untenable. However within our departments and labs and faculties we inhabit discrete worlds, which, though they may be separated only by a wall, might as well be in different continents. As a physicist, I do not feel welcomed in a biology lab. Their world of white coats and test tubes is alien to me: something I encounter only rarely. Likewise is it usual for physicists to look down slightly on biology, considering it the easy option for those who cannot handle the maths required for physics. It is this attitude that must change if we are to move forward.

You can find the complete version of Ripples in Time and Space, Part 3 in issue 58 of TBD.

Joanna McKenzie