Monday, February 8, 2010

Ramblings on a Snow Day

When I was younger, particularly around the high school era, I was deterred from thinking about entering academics because I had it in my head that we had already pushed the boundaries of knowledge. History was all settled, Psychology, Communication, Economics, the Natural Sciences, pretty much everything except very advanced physical science was all known, and the limit wasn't unknown things to be discovered or rethought but making sure that you digested what other people had already written. Part of that impression is from the way that school is taught up through High School, where uncertainty and interpretation take a back seat to memorization, a legacy I'm sure in some way left in place from positivism in science, even in classes like English. Part of it might have been the general feeling of the 90's and early 00's, embodied in Fukuyama's pronouncement of The End of History after the Cold War ended, with a corrolary in the economy with The Great Moderation.

Well, The End of History didn't last very long, High School ended, and the Great Moderation wasn't so great. Of course, not enough college professors (that I had at least, especially early on) let students in on how dysfunctional Academia really is. We all knew that Keynesian economics didn't work anymore, we all knew WWII ended the Great Depression, we all knew bla bla bla. Maybe it was a little less cut and dry in Ethics, but pretty much everyone agreed that Ethics all just boiled down to taste. And De Gustibus non est Disputandum.

One of the most fascinating things to me since I've become more acquanted with academia is academia itself. The relationship within and between disciplines is just fascinating. I know I've written about overspecialization in academia before, but I continue to be fascinated. Economics and Sociology are pretty much the exact same subject, namely that of human behaviour and human interation. I am probably not stretching if I assume that a first year graduate student in Economics is getting a very different education than a first year Sociology student, the methodology between the two subjects is so different. The same with subjects like Anthropology, Psychology, and Political Science. They're all studying human behaviour from a different lens, and it would make sense for them all to work relatively close together.

I've had a perverse craving to draw some sort of diagram of the sciences , somehow showing the relationship between the human sciences/humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences. I have since come to the conclusion that I need three dimensions, which makes me sad, because I want to create order.

I have been listening to old Econtalks, and listened to the 03/23/09 podcast with Nassim Taleb. Near the end he goes on a diatribe against theoretical searches for knowledge. He believes that Universities have, on whole, done more harm than good in the search for knowledge.

Alright, enough rambling. I'm going to use another snow day and reread Michael Polanyi's "The Republic of Science," it's good stuff!

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