Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

Synopsis

Our current intellectual system provides us with a far more complete and accurate understanding of nature and ourselves than was available in any previous society. This gain in understanding has arisen from two sources: the use of the "scientific method", and the breaking up of our intellectual enterprise into increasingly narrower disciplines and research programs. However, we have failed to keep these narrow specialties connected to the intellectual enterprise as a whole. The author demonstrates that this lack of connection to the overall enterprise causes a number of difficulties. We have no viewpoint from which we can understand the relationships among the various disciplines. We lack a forum for adjudicating situations where different disciplines give conflicting answers to the same problem. We seriously underestimate the differences in methodology and in the nature of principles in the various branches of science. This provocative and wide-ranging book delineates these and other related difficulties, examines their sources in detail, and suggests solutions. The book erects three overviews of the complete intellectual terrain, creates a quantitative measure for the complexity of any system, and examines the important effects of the limitations of the human mind on scholarship.

Excerpt

The system concept forms the basis for the first overview of how the disciplines of knowledge are formed and how they relate to each other. As we will see, the system concept has many uses and is closely related to the ideas of domains and truth assertions.

The system concept is the single concept that most sharply differentiates ancient from post-Newtonian modes of science. The concept (sometimes with different names, such as the client, the control volume, the free body diagram, the market, the culture, and so forth) is utilized in setting up the basis for essentially every branch of science. In some, but not all, fields of science, the system concept is used explicitly at the beginning of every problem analysis. The system concept provides a window through which the non-technical person can understand both the power and the limitations of what we call science. The technical worker in science and engineering needs to understand the limits of the system concept in order to understand how her or his discipline connects to the larger ideas and problems of the world.

Let us begin to elaborate the system concept in sufficient detail so it can serve these purposes. We can start by looking at the usages given in standard dictionaries. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1946 edition) lists eighteen meanings for the word "system"; the Random House Unabridged (1966 edition) lists thirteen. Surprisingly, none of the meanings given in either dictionary corresponds with the way the system concept is used as a basis for science. Since it is clear from many entries in both dictionaries that the editors were well aware of the importance of science in the twentieth century, this extraordinary omission highlights what C. P. Snow some decades ago dubbed "the Culture Gap." Snow (1969) discussed the difficulties scientists and literati have in communicating . . .

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