Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

By Stephen Jay Kline | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Disciplines at One Level Disciplines and the Human Design Process

The demonstrations in preceding chapters show that neither of the two conflicting positions (or overviews) that have tended to dominate thought in Western culture since the time of Galileo (reductionist and synoptic) is sufficient. Neither is a wrong, both are important. However, both are seriously incomplete in the sense that neither is capable of generating the totality of information of vital concern to humans, despite many claims that each is complete or can be made complete. We have shown these results for hierarchically structured systems, but thus far we have said little about systems lying in the same level of the hierarchy of constitution. Nor have we examined how we design systems with many hierarchical levels.

Can we derive all the results we need at a given level in the hierarchy of constitution from one discipline that applies to that level? In some cases we can, but in others we cannot. The answer depends on the complexity of the systems in the level of concern and the way we have defined the domains of the relevant disciplines. Let's look at the details. The theory of dimensions can help clarify the question.

When the behaviors within a given level are fully described by the same set of variables and parameters in two or more fields (either as equations or in taking data and correlating), the answer to our current question normally is affirmative. There seems to be no bar to deriving results in one field from the other. For example, if we want to know about how atoms join to become molecules, atomic theory and correlations from lab data are sufficient. Thus we can derive important results in chemistry from our knowledge of physics. Even when the details of some problems are too complex to solve at a given instant, we can expect to do more and more problems within the domain of interest over time. For example,

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