cj#680> The chains of scientific specialization


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

Here's a posting that went out today to the "memetics" list.  It deals with
"memes" - self-replicating ideas.  It looked interesting, but the traffic
turned out to be an infinite elaboration of semantic non-issues expressed
in esoteric jargon.

Many interesting comments have been sent in recently - will be posted soon.


To: •••@••.•••

I unsubscribed in frustration, then decided to try once again...

There is a meme regarding science, I'm not sure when it started, but its
effect is to emasculate science, to separate it from its broader context.

When we see Hans--Cees Speel write:
  >I hope I can persuade at least a few of you to start discussing in a
  >more formal way in our journal. That will in my opinion put memetics
  >on the map in the scientific community stronger.

Then we know that what he means is to be more abstract, more detached from
all other disciplines and considerations - to refine Memetics into an
independent and esoteric branch of pure science.

This is what gets points in the academic community - to be able to speak
with a specialist jargon that only other officianados [sic] can comprehend,
to be able to wink at insider references, to stake out a new domain in
which popularly undecipherable papers can be published.

The meme I refer to is the REDUCTIONIST/SPECIALIZATION/JARGON meme - the
meme that glorifies objective, detached investigation above all else, and
blindly accepts the sterile limitations such a fundamentalist approach

There are scientific and political limitations:  the compartmentalization
of science fragments research and understanding; the emphasis on
"laboratory reproducible" results slows science to a dull plod; the
pecking-order credentials-ladder channels the imaginations of young
researchers; jargon conceals the relevance of science from the people;
specialization makes science subservient to a-scientific political masters.

If you consider this message off-topic, then your mind may have internally
replicated this insidious meme.

Bucky Fuller - a Galileo-class hero who devoted his life to tilting at the
reductionist/ specialist windmill - traces the origin of the meme to the
establishment of the Admiralty War College in Imperial Britain - the power
of the meme to protect existing political interests being well understood
by the founders.  Bucky's own scientific investigation - being uninfected
by the meme - was rooted in human relevance, linked to applied engineering,
and explained in terms laymen could understand.  The _scientific_
superiority of this approach is testified by the unique and considerable
contributions made by this single, under-funded investigator.

At the macro level, specialization enables the political elite to contain
and control the revolutionary potential of science - imperialist
divide-and-conquer applied to knowledge.  At the micro level,
specialization satisfies the ego-territorial needs of individual scientists
- who may be liberated thinkers about their "subject", but who are
otherwise, like the rest of us, socially-conditioned cogs proceeding
according to borrowed beiefs and values.

None of this detracts from the considerable power added to human learning
by the objective-research paradigm - the point is only to illuminate the
prison bars which arise from a fundamentalist devotion to this one
prinicple to the exclusion of others.

The excision of this meme permits science to expand its potency to its
natural, and more humanly useful, boundaries.  Specialists would continue
to exist, but unfettered they would give balanced priority to several
investigative goals:
        - understanding relevance to broader social context
        - making results accessible outside the specialist community - via
          clear, up-to-date, lay-terms publications
        - maintaining currency in many related fields - with the help of
          such more-accessible publications
        - exploration of synergies with other fields
        - openness to suggestions by outsiders - even if clumsily expressed
        - awareness of the evolutionary nature of knowledge - avoiding fixation
          on today's "truth"
        - expanding the specialist frontiers [OK as _one_ of many goals]

A fluidity would be introduced into the scientific community, with a
proliferation of cross-disciplinary investigation topics.  Previously
unsuspected synergies would emerge, and scientific progress would become
combinatorial rather than linear.

Single-point examples of profound cross-disiplinary breakthroughs aboud
(eg- double-helix), but the meme reigns on nonetheless.

Scientists of the world, throw off this meme - you have nothing but your
chains to lose!  (:>)  Jargon serves as a protective cloak, but a cloak
that severely limits mobility.


Bibliography: "Learning How to Learn", Idres Shah.


Posted by Richard K. Moore - •••@••.••• - PO Box 26   Wexford, Ireland
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