Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beyond Interdisciplinarity #2: The Seven Liberal Arts Aren't Disciplines Either

For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I remain convinced that INTERDISCIPLINARITY is a lost cause. It’s the utopian desire of disciplinarity, whatever that is, and its pursuit can only lead to the reinforcement of disciplinarity. The fact is, I NEVER sought to be interdisciplinary. And I’ve never really thought of myself as crossing boundaries or being particularly daring in that respect. I’ve just been trying to get the job done.

But the job had NEVER been defined in disciplinary terms. And, for that matter, I doubt that any intellectual task within a discipline is so defined either. The only thing that’s defined in disciplinary terms is policing the boundaries.

But where do those boundaries come from in the first place? Yeah, sure, they come from an ontology. What’s the principle behind THAT ontology? Because I’m operating from a different principle, whatever it is.

And, sure, we’ve got an institutional problem. We’ve defined our institutional org structure in terms of disciplines. But that disciplinary structure came first. And it’s got to go. It’s not a matter of new disciplines, nor of getting rid of disciplines. It’s a matter of SOMETHING ELSE that simply WALKS AWAY from disciplines.

* * * * *

Clue #1: Why have biophysics and psycholinguistics worked, while semiotics and systems theory haven’t?

Clue #2: Science and engineering may both be families of technical disciplines, but the two families are organized toward different ends. Science is about analysis, generalization, and abstraction to laws. Engineering is description, design, and construction of particulars. How to combine the two principles into ONE? What different ways do we have of doing that?

Clue #3: How do Clues #1 and #2 bear on one another? Is it about implementation?

Clue #4: Does project-based learning have anything to do with it? Or is it another kind of discipline-based utopianism?

* * * * *

Clue #5: The medieval seven liberal arts are NOT to be conceived of as a different disciplinary division of knowledge space. It’s not about disciplines at all. It’s something else, but an older something else than the one we’re looking for.

The trivium is the foundation of the quadrivium.
Trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
What’s the principle behind THAT? Whatever it is, it’s surely different from the one that yields science, engineering, social science, humanities, and the arts.

The medieval principle is Rank 2. That means its some kind of rationalization. The discipline principle would thus seem to be Rank 3, making it about theories. And perhaps the Rank 4 principle is whatever it is that’s given us psycholinguistics and biophysics and the like. It’s what’s creating those interdisciplinary centers that dot the Rank 3 administrative structure of academia.

And now Rank 4 is upon us, yo.

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