Feb 12 2010

Cycles of science

Published by at 9:41 am under it's science!,ruminants ruminating,the lab

One of the very common ways we humans learn things, from infanthood on, is an “engineering mindset”: we first break things down into enough component parts that we can gain a measure of understanding about the parts and how they work, then the cycle moves to the phase of putting the pieces back together to see what they now make (which is never quite the same as what it was, of course), then testing and studying and learning from the more complex concept. Physical, mental, emotional, even philosophical learnings can all follow this path of knowledge acquisition (not the only path available, but the one we’re discussing here).

Since the explosion of scientific progress from the Renaissance onward, it seems as if scientists have been engaged on a nice little run of reductionist scientific methods. This is not being criticized in and of itself; as anyone can see, we’ve exponentially increased our knowledge and understanding of ourselves and the world and universe we inhabit, in numerous different knowledge areas. My theory is that we are at or incredibly near the point where in order to make further large leaps in greater understanding we need a long period of interdisciplinary scientific explorations, where multi-discipline groups aren’t just allowed but actively encouraged, and a trend of larger-picture learnings is actively sought (and funded).

I think there are already the first signs of this trend now visible in some of the scientifically and technologically innovative research fields. I hope the rest of the 21st century brings the start of the synergistic renaissance. What do you think?

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Cycles of science”

  1. Derekon 12 Feb 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Nice topic! Although I think we have touched on this topic before in our many interesting conversations, it is always a fascinating one.

    I have never looked at it quite this way, but I suppose you’re right that in the last couple hundred years or so we have been in a collective “breaking down” phase which has led to the extreme specializations in science and medicine.

    When you say “interdisciplinary scientific exploration”, do you mean an actual merging of different scientific disciplines, or merely a more cooperative environment between disciplines to share information? Personally I think the former would be much more difficult to pull off than the latter.

    In which specific fields do you see these trends becoming visible, out of curiosity? My guess would be fields like nanotech and biotech, but correct me if I am wrong.

    I love the term you used, “synergistic renaissance”!

  2. Reesaon 12 Feb 2010 at 1:00 pm

    @Derek – I don’t know if I mean precisely either of those two options, but something in-between, though I suppose that defines the ends of the spectrum well enough. Instead of a simple open inter-sharing of information, or some mega-discipline amalgam (though we’ll likely see examples of each), more often I expect the norm of the bell curve to be some combo of trained specialists from different disciplines working side-by-side on research projects, aspects of which are likely only possible to succeed when multiple spheres of ideas are brought to the solutions.

    Sometimes it’ll be sharing of data, sometimes it’ll end up creating a new discipline. Most of the time I expect it will provide jumps in understanding within most or all of the various fields of the people collaborating as well as synergistic results that might points out new angles of research. Ways to actively encourage this would be studies and grants that specifically focus on intersections of knowledge requiring interdisciplinary cooperation to achieve, among other ideas.

    Hmm, I’d agree nanotech is good in concert with biotech as well as several other fields, but I had more in mind at the time of writing trends in things like combining neurology, endocrinology, and psychology that I’ve seen hints of recently.

    Two areas I’d like to see work more closely together in coming years are plastic surgery specialists and body modification experts. I think there could be some really interesting, provocative, and artistic things to result from that, though perhaps not everyone would call that an advancement. 🙂

    Oh there’s all sorts of cool hints, too many to fit here. Have you read articles about bacterial computing, with possible bio-integration options? or Tree computers? Or the possibility that advances in quantum physics understanding will lead to better battery tech (among other things)? Whee!

    Not to mention my pet rant lately: the development of the first true social science will need to result from the synergistic blending of information from several disciplines if it’s to have any chance of successfully modeling what it attempts to study.

    And yeah, I do love me some alliterative phrasing.

  3. Derekon 12 Feb 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Well, perhaps one wouldn’t be more “difficult” than the other. I’m not sure what I was trying to say there so scratch that. =)

  4. Lynnon 17 Feb 2010 at 4:20 am

    Having done a lot less reading on the subject of social science and biointegration (read: almost none except the occasional odd documentary or New Scientific article link that crosses my path) I would say that one stumbling block I see are when ‘newage-y’ types talk about collective consciousness in terms of quantum mechanics (see the movie ‘What the bleep do we know?’). The universe repeating itself down to the quantum level so if we can scale up and down in ways we haven’t realized. Way off-base from the technologies you’re talking about but I think it drives some people back into the more conservative (relatively speaking) sectors of biotech. It’s like they want to hack the brain but only for useful, mechanical stuff (recreating the 6 million dollar man, or the perfect soldier) but nothing farther. Hope that makes sense.

  5. Reesaon 18 Feb 2010 at 3:14 pm

    @Lynn – I agree, one of the problems I see ongoing in any attempt to create a more sound scientific base for social sciences is that a large number of people, even otherwise intelligent ones, have a lot invested in the realms of the mind/emotions/soul/interpersonal interactions remaining a “black box” beyond true understanding. Hacking the brain for interesting tech purposes doesn’t automatically require you to question the foundations of the society and culture and the self in which you live. Hack your brain far enough in understanding social dynamics and you cannot help but question. Which is threatening to those invested in the status quo. And so on. It’s a mess! But one, I think, worth tackling.

  6. Lynnon 20 Feb 2010 at 12:37 am

    Rereading my comment, what I meant to add is that it seems as though it all boils down to a capitalist society only wanting to hack the brain if it can get us more money (power) and not for the sake of elevating humanity.