Monday, June 25, 2007


Generalization versus Specialization

"A man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
--Robert Heinlein

It seemed like a pretty sound opinion to me. It really stuck in my mind this morning. Reminds me of the early American pioneers or men of the Renaissance age. So then my biddy Chris says, "At this point in scientific proces, does it not seem rational to assume that, deep penetration into a subject area is only possible through specialization? Certainly all these fields of knowledge described are attainable by you and I, especially through transference of understanding; however a relevant question is, If we were to journey into each area, to what degree would our understanding of each delve? To reach new levels of proufoundity in modern science it seems that a high degree of specialization is necessary. Consider this: if a person has a certain amount of force to exert into learning and experimenting, will the force penetrate deeper into a singular field of study or multiple feilds? I would even speculate that through the process of specilization the breadth of knowledge available to an individual extends via transference. If a person understands minutae in one field, learning another feild to that degree could, in theory, become facile as the process becomes compartmentalization and identification rather than a paradigm shift."

Then Oboe says "It was very eloquently stated, and wrong. The sentiment is the same one that's gotten us into the super-advanced scientific state we are in today. Sadly, we lack the broad knowledge base to understand the ramifications of the "minutae" in our individual fields. Human nature is to be self-interested, it's a survival trait long developed. We aren't a hive creature that can trust to the others in our hive to look out for us as we do them. The ones who develope deep understanding of certain subjects want that knowledge rarefied and parceled out at the highest price. Which is quite understandable in a sense of self-preservation. Insure that the skill you have commands the highest price possible. I think Chris is certainly one of the more enlightened people I know, however, in this case his argument is just Utopian wishful thinking."

And then Chris had a couple more rambling points then...

i'm not arguing the necessity of ordered, societally ascendant specilization. i'm simply stating that to further aspects of the human existance to new frontiers and experiences, specilization is important and should not be cast aside. specializtion this is not a utopian ideal, it is a current reality.

generalists are excellent as the functioning body of society. they are not the group theorizing or pushing intellectual boundries; they are the individuals implimenting and fabricating the fruits of those ideas set in motion by the specialists. keep in mind, the argument is not desirious of keeping the man down, when a generalist has enough experience in an area, the potential exists for that individual to become a specailist and able to innovate.

if you do not think this is occuring, look at the current interntaional economic and intellectual system. the u.s. still maintains a stronghold on the worldwide university level academic system. yes it is weakening, however it is still at the top of the list. ideas flow from the specialists at the top of the system and filter to the generalists to be further developed and fabricated. where are these generalists? in other countries where education systems are lackluster and the main body of the population is unable to become specialists.

the current international system is standing proof that specialization is not only commonplace but the driving force of technology, medicine, exploration, mathematics, physics and philosophy. ergo: if you enjoy video games, drive a car, fly in a plane, are thankful for bars of xanax, look at pictures from the hubble, are amazed by string theory, or believe in evolution, at least consider that you would have none of those things without the body of knowledge produced by specialists.

yes it is about competition, but when was life not? arguing that a non-scientific state would not be rampant with problems sounds like avoiding reality and seeking the utopian ideal to me.


Ed norton, Ralph cramden...

Eddie Murphy